Richard Marino
The Magic Beat!






The Magic Beat! is a Space-Age album of arranger and violinist Richard Marino made for a very specific clientele, even though it pains me to write this. Then again, so is every Space-Age or Exotica album. The pain grows. Egad! Released in 1961 on Martin Denny’s house label Liberty Records, The Magic Beat! sports the expected 12 renditions of material ranging from Hollywood themes, far-away places and modern classics. The front artwork looks promising, the selection is indeed delicate, and the orchestra lives up to an Exotica and Space-Age fan’s expectations: not only are there drums aplenty on board, ranging from timpani over bongos to boo-bams, there are also exotic flutes and ubiquitous mallet instruments in the limelight all the time.


Space-Age aficionados, meanwhile, can look forward to the appearance of harpsichords and organs, even though the latter do not turn up as regularly as they could. Everything looks fantastic on paper, there should be no problem with this album whatsoever, but unfortunately, an important sort of instrument is left out, despite Richard Marino’s prestidigitation on the violin: the strings are completely amiss. With the exception of the occasional harp and the double bass, you need to search elsewhere for the susurrant power of these devices. So the magic derives from the mallet instruments, right? Unfortunately, no. The reason, as will be carved out over the course of this review, is a curious – to say the least – focus on a carnivalesque atmosphere. It is not the tropical kind of carnival with Latin beats and Samba rhythms, but the sort of comic relief that feels strongly out of both place and touch in the given frame wich the record label and the orchestra leader himself set. Strength is to be found amid the chlorotic haze, so not every arrangement can be panned, nor should it.


I would not say that the opener of The Magic Beat! is a disappointment per se, but its raucously sleazy femme fatale cityscape does not necessarily reflect magic realism, but anyway, here comes Eddie Cooley’s and John Davenport’s smasher Fever, otherwise astutely realized by Martino’s orchestra with murky double bass runlets, portentous timpani, snaps’n fillips and dirty saxes. However, the luminosity of the performance grows once exotic ingredients enter the mephitic scenery: scintillating vibes as well as pentatonic pianos and flutes add a soothing veil of mirth over the dark diorama. Dimitri Tiomkin’s and Ned Washington’s High Noon aka Do Not Forsake Me is Space-Age par excellence, not just because of its woodpecker marimba spirals and fluffy flutes, but the steamy Wurlitzer organ that is introduced at the track’s apex or, well, its high noon.


Ziganette by Diana Ross and Janis Joplin then depicts a vitreous crystal cavern whose glassy vibraphone walls and march-like glockenspiel reflections evoke both an unwanted comic relief and the pristine purity of a lagoon, with Richard Rodgers’ and Lorenz Hart’s Lover resembling the sleaziness of Fever, but otherwise enchants qua its bubbly flutes, a mellow saltatory set of sparkling vibraphone tones and a downright crazy harpsichord intermission that is too surprising and weird to be considered a mere mirage. Dick ReynoldsRots-O-Ruck captures the magic theme best and sees a circus theme added to its nucleus, (d)evolving into a cheeky marimba-fueled clownery with orchestra bell adjuvants, silly trombone undercurrents and a few stomping drums when the time is right. As if this wasn’t humorous enough, Kenneth Alford’s famous march Colonel Bogey off the legendary Hollywood picture Bridge On The River Kwai (1957) finishes side A with the expected fusillade of Chinese gongs, cascading vibraphone glitters, bone-grinding timpani and a hyper-memorable melody.


Side B starts with an actually oft-considered Exotica classic due to its wonderful Asian aura: The Trolley Song by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. However, instead of being inspired by the string-heavy beauty of Warren Barker’s version off A Musical Touch Of Far Away Places (1959), Richard Marino floods the panorama with Space-Age harpsichords, only to let the Far East shine through via galloping drumlets, Chinese gongs and aerose wind chimes in adjacency to marimba blebs. Circus fifes and comical whistles round off a kooky performance. Ross Bagdasarian’s Badgad Express meanwhile ventures into the Orient and enchants with its lively tempo, boo-bam placenta and pointillistic marimba-and-trombone dialogs, whereas Raul Portela’s eternal sparkler Lisbon Antigua unleashes a Mediterranean flair via harp washes, frilly flutes and majestic trumpet solos on the one hand, and finds solace in reintroducing the listener to the emaciated gloss of the Baroque harpsichord on the other hand.


Meredith Willson’s Seventy-Six Trombones is up next; known by Exotica fanatics due to its appearance on Arthur Lyman’s concept album The Legend Of Pele (1959), Marino’s two-minute ride is unexpectedly breezy and soothing, never over the top despite the churning timpani. The fuzzy marimbas are a boon and add a wonderfully cavernous atmosphere. Felix Slatkin’s Hot Sombrero sees these marimbas in a sun-dappled Mexican scenery which neglects the appearance of horns most of the time (with only a single trombone appearing) but enchants with syrinxes and many moments of quietness. Even the Mexican Hat Dance is included at one point. Les Baxter’s Poor People Of Paris kisses the Space-Age traveler goodbye with glockenspiel sparks, blue flutes and harpsichord goodness, making this symphonic piece a tipsy alloy of inebriated savoir vivre.


The Magic Beat! sports many wonderful textures and emanates the aura of a big-budget LP. Given that this is released on Liberty Records, it should not come as a surprise. However, the wonderful array of mallet instruments, organs, harpsichords, flutes and the omnipresence of a medulla-emptying drum or two faces questionable arrangements of top-notch compositions… or does it the other way ’round, which is not of much help either. The principal problem of The Magic Beat! is not the bold statement of its title; even though this is the case, it is the same on many other Easy Listening albums and Space-Age gems. So no matter how nonexistent a notable beat and auroral magic really are, there is something that is too painful in the given context: the comicality of the vast majority of the material, making this more of a matinée full of animal tamers – with that circus stench included – than a spacy vestibule to otherworldly experiences. The Magic Beat! is mercilessly comical, almost saccharified to a degree where the fun ends and torture is slowly unraveled.


Songs like Colonel Bogey have that cheerful spirit within them right from the get-go, fair enough, I do not demand an Exotica version full of birdcalls or eclectic rhythm patterns in this military march. I do, however, wish for a more enthralling, at times serious and dedicated effort. As usual, my criticism comes decades too late and is of no importance anyway. And yet there is delight. The dreaminess of Lisbon Antiqua and the conviviality on Bagdad Express offer satisfying listening experiences, the harpsichord is not as nerve-racking as on Henry Mancini’s Music Of Hawaii (1966), and last but not least Richard Marino’s way of arranging leads to two other albums: Marino’s own Out Of This World (1961) which is much better in virtually all regards, and Marty Gold’s Skin Tight (1960) whose drum-oriented exoticism is aptly reflected by the album title. The Magic Beat! is therefore not recommended by me. Collectors (need to) own it anyway, sure, but since it is not yet available in a remastered digital version, it is best to avoid spending stupid amounts of money for the vinyl unless you are really fond of that circus kind of sound. Then, of course, you should be Richard Marino’s vict— er guest.


Exotica Review 348: Richard Marino – The Magic Beat! (1961). Originally published on Jun. 7, 2014 at