Popcorn was a style of music popularized by DJs at Belgian dance clubs in the '60s devoted to the fine art of playing it cool rather than getting hot. While popcorn encompassed soul, rock & roll, vocal group sounds, pre-rock dance styles, jazz, pop, and more, the common threads were slinky slow or midtempo rhythms that were suitable for dancing close or lounging around, depending on the mood of the listener, and playful melodic twists that enhanced the cool factor of the music. Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne is a devoted fan of classic popcorn, and he compiled and released (via his Croydon Municipal label) Popcorn Exotica: R&B, Soul & Exotic Rockers from the 50s & 60s, a collection that brings together 22 playfully outré sides from the golden age of popcorn. As the use of "Exotica" in the title suggests, many (but not all) of these tracks are influenced by the mysterious faux-tropical sounds of Martin Denny, Les Baxter, and those like them (especially Carl Stevens' "Call of the Jungle," the Islanders' "Forbidden Island," and "Voodoo Drums" by Les Elgart & His Orchestra), though there's plenty of soul and pop to go with the vintage bachelor pad sounds on this collection. The Enchanters' "Cafe Bohemian" plays like a part-homage, part-satire of the hipster pursuit of exotic sounds, and the Afro-Cuban percussion on Mr. Acker Bilk's "Take My Lips" suggests anyone could be exotic for at least an afternoon. There are also surprises from echo-laden rock & roll shouter Gary U.S. Bonds ("Time Ole Story") and French pop thrush Sylvie Vartan ("Tout les Gens"), an effective late-night mood piece from Abbie "Available" Baker ("The Web"), and a charming jungle-themed novelty tune with superior Alvin Chipmunk-style vocals from Danny Staton ("The Riddle of the Papawhos"). Popcorn enthusiasts or folks with a taste for offbeat pop from the '50s and '60s will all find plenty to like in this well-sequenced and smartly annotated collection.
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