Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: As one with an old-fashioned name, Melba, I was surprised when a former co-worker asked if I'd ever heard what is probably the only song ever titled Melba.

She even sang a line, something along the lines of kissing Melba goodbye. I know it is very generic, but it's all the info I have. Still, I would like to know more of the story.

Though we have since lost touch, I know this person came from Auckland. I mention this in case it is a song known only in New Zealand.
—Melba Smith, York, Pa.

DEAR MELBA: There is an element of truth in your Pacific Rim speculation, since the song in question is “Melba from Melbourne,” a 1964 track by Marty Robbins.

Just as the popularity of “El Paso” peaked in the El Paso area, the hottest spot for “Melba from Melbourne” would be Australia, and probably New Zealand.

As with so many of his great recordings, Marty composed “Melba from Melbourne.” It first appeared as the lead track on his “R.F.D.” album (Columbia 2220/9220).

Departing from his familiar cowboy and old west themes, this tune finds Marty in present-day San Francisco, where he finds work aboard an Australia-bound trans-Pacific tanker.

Arriving in Melbourne 19 days later, Marty meets Melba his first time ashore and quickly falls in love.

Unfortunately, Melba wouldn't leave Melbourne and Marty could not stay there — a dilemma leading to their parting and the farewell kiss you recall.

“Melba from Melbourne” may be the best known “Melba” song, but it is not the only one. Here are just three others that come to mind:

Lalo Schifrin wrote a beautiful piece named “Melba” for the film “The Cincinnati Kid,” and recently issued on “The Reel Lalo Schifrin” CD (Hip-O 076744012722).

A 1963 LP by the jazz trio, [Dave] Lambert, [Jon] Hendricks & [Yolande] Bavan, titled “Recorded Live at Basin Street East” (RCA Victor 2635), includes “Melba's Blues.”

Another jazz album, “Last Chorus,” a 1958 issue by the Ernie Henry Octet (Riverside 12-266), has a track titled “Melba's Tune.”

Also worth mentioning are two not-so-old-fashioned singers who share your name: Melba Montgomery and Melba Moore.

Each of these gals has 30 or more hits to their credit.

Now let's revisit the western side of Marty Robbins:

DEAR JERRY: I have the album “Marty Robbins - More Greatest Hits,” which I bought not long after “El Paso” was a No. 1 hit.

My question is about the times provided on the back cover, where they list “El Paso” as running 4:22.

Also in my collection is the original 45, which shows the length as 4:37.

I have listened closely to both versions and simply cannot figure out what is missing from the LP, or what is added to the single.

Maybe it is just a misprint.

Can you do what no one else has and explain this 15 second discrepancy?
—Leo Abrams, Scottsdale, Ariz.

DEAR LEO: In less time than it takes to catch a good one (horse) that looks like it could run.

“More Greatest Hits” inexplicably omits one complete verse found on the single — four lines that, if you sing them to yourself, you will find consumes about 15 seconds:

“Just for a moment I stood there in silence
Shocked by the foul, evil deed I had done
Many thoughts raced through my mind as I stood there
I had but one chance and that was to run”

IZ ZAT SO? In the early years of Top 40 radio, the average time for a hit record was about two and one-half minutes.

In 1959, when “El Paso” came along at about two minutes longer than anything else on their play lists, some stations either refused to play it, aired it only at night, or took it upon themselves to edit it to under three minutes.

Responding to this situation, Columbia themselves edited the track to 2:58 and pressed the condensed version back-to-back with the full length one.

Made exclusively for dee jays, this Special Edition promotional single is a now nifty collectible (Columbia 41511), and is valued at $30 to $40.

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