You can easily imagine vividly dressed patrons dancing up a storm on some ’70s vacation cruise.
A special subgenre within the world of dollar-bin private-press lounge records is the cruise ship band record. Released to give vacationers something to remember their trip by, such albums are easy to find cheaply and in nearly unplayed condition. Whatever musical memories that a leisure suit-wearing combo may have provided for an evening’s dancing, it’s enough to simply take home the album as a colorful object and not as something anybody would ever want to listen to again.
An undated album by the Italian-American cruise ship band Rolando’s 5 is the pleasantly forgettable work of competent entertainers, and its 12” postcard cover probably the most lasting memory you’ll retain. Shots of the five band members surround an illustration of a cruise ship pulling into Hudson River in New York City, the Statue of Liberty in view. It’s hard to make out the insignia on the poorly printed cover, but the yellow crown could mean this is a Crown Cruise line. But contrary to a title that promises a Lasting Memorable Souvenir, nowhere on the album is the name of the cruise ship or its destinations mentioned. In a further retort to that broken promise, a white sticker with the group’s name is hastily pasted on the album cover.
The group’s repertoire is a mix of Italian and American pop songs delivered in a subtly strange accent. An opening “Frug Medley” samples both flavors, with “Ciao Ciao Bambina” and a song listed as “Mama” that turns out to be “Ma! He’s Making Eyes at Me,” originally recorded in 1921 but perhaps best known in a 1974 version by obnoxious child singer Lena Zavaroni. Assuming Rolando is the one singing, he reveals his unusual accent in the way it sounds like he singing, “She’s making heyes at me.” Did this enter the band’s repertoire because of Zavaroni, placing the album sometime in the mid-’70s? The moderately-sized lapels on the band members’ jackets seem more in line with the late ’60s, which matches the time period of the American pop hits they perform, like the banal cover of O.C. Smith’s 1968 hit “Little Green Apples.”
One of the few tracks that may bear repeat listenings is a rare vocal version of “Alley Cat,” best known as an instrumental by Danish pianist Bent Fabric that became the score for a memorable dance by Chris Elliot in an episode of his ill-fated sit-com “Get a Life.” The singer’s accent is so strange that it barely seems like he’s singing in English, but he is. Further research into this infectious number leads you to Siw Malmkvist’s German-language version, “Schwarzer Kater Stanislaus,” which thanks to those powerful German consonants sounds for all the world as if the singer is ordering her cat to commit the most heinous war crimes.
While I have been unable to uncover any details about the members of Rolando’s 5, that white sticker with the band’s name (pasted on the back of the album and, on some issues, on the record label itself), points to minor intrigue. Discogs lists two versions of the album by different artists but with identical track listings. The first edition is credited to the Maiorani 5, and, like most albums of this ilk, the back cover is autographed by the entire band, including Rolando and Maiorani. Yet on my copy of the Rolando’s 5 version, Rolando’s autograph is prominently displayed with no Maiorani in sight. Did Maiorani have a falling out with the band? Did Rolando stage a hostile takeover?
These questions are mildly more intriguing than the music. The back cover of the album has a hopeful message: “It is our pleasure to bring you this lasting memento of your cruise. Close your eyes and relive those wonderful days we spent with you.” The album doesn’t fulfill this promise until the very end with a loosely swinging rendition of “For Once in My Life,” best known as a 1968 hit for Stevie Wonder. If you close your eyes as you’re listening to this inspired closer, you can easily imagine vividly dressed patrons dancing up a storm on some ’70s vacation cruise.