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    Bob Thompson's landmark orchestral tribute to wheels, wings, and whirly birds
    by Irwin Chusid

    In the late 1950s, when Mexican-born Space Age Pop avatar Esquivel was in his prime, orchestra leader/composer/arranger Bob Thompson was his American stylistic counterpart. They recorded for the same label (RCA Victor), employed many of the same musicians and vocalists, and experimented with sound in the same Los Angeles studios.

    His RCA albums, Mmm, Nice!, Just for Kicks, and On the Rocks, embody 1950s orchestral pop: brimming with sparkle and sophistication, an appealing soundtrack for the Good Life. Thompson won a number of Clio awards for excellence in advertising music, and in 1959 the title track of Just For Kicks was Grammy-nominated for Best Performance by an Orchestra.

    Thompson took temporary leave from RCA in 1960 to record The Sound of Speed. This "concept" LP rhapsodizes the technology of human transport, from Vespa scooters to Le Mans racers, from tricycles to rocket ships. Each of the dozen vehicular vignettes is book-ended by authentic sound effects, with vivid stereo motion. The music was composed and arranged by Thompson, and the album was recorded in Italy by the Orchestra dei Concerti de Roma, conducted by Paul Baron.

    Thompson is a long-admired Hollywood music figure who worked with Rosemary Clooney, Judy Garland, Van Dyke Parks, Duane Eddy, and Bing Crosby, among others. But why take our word? Take Henry Mancini's: "Bob's writing skill has always impressed me." Or that of Van Dyke Parks: "Bob Thompson is a giant. In music and character, a true romantic with an edge. His arrangements are incomparably thoughtful, subtle, flamboyant, and circumspect. With them, he brought the art of arranging to a new symbiosis."

    The Sound of Speed is an overlooked gem from a bygone era of orchestral elegance. It has been masterfully re-mastered by Sundazed svengali Bob Irwin in wide-angle stereo in the year that its creator, Bob Thompson, turns 85.

    The Sound of Speed is your ticket to explore the universe -- not in coach, with a bag of salted nuts, but in First Class. Cocktail?

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