I simply loved The Guns Of Navarone. No, not the movie, although it was pretty good. Well, actually, the follow up hit “Force 10 From Navarone” (starring a very young Harrison Ford, who was still at the time getting over his new-found Han Solo high) was really much better. But really, that isn’t the point at all, and I don’t believe I’ve ever digressed this early on in a post before (please don’t tell me if I have – a fella’s got his reputation to consider, you know). Anywho (or, as I suppose an actual writer would say “at any rate”), The Guns Of Navarone I’m thinking of wasn’t the International Ska hit that resulted from the movie either, even though I do find myself humming both The Skatalites and The Specials interpretation of it from time to time. And yes, there is so too a difference between each version – slight – but recognizable none the less. No, the “Guns Of Navarone” that I’m speaking of is actually the 70’s era play set put out by the folks at Marx. THE play set to beat all others.
I distinctly remember first and foremost the overwhelming size of the box it came in. And while many other play set boxes made promises of good times to be had within, the Navarone slick did not fail to deliver. Now, I’m sure that the actual container was no greater than three feet in height, but at my young age it seemed to have damned-near touched the ceiling. It had to be big, to contain the mountain within – an item made of grey molded plastic – one solid piece. Light enough to be moved around easily by a young lad of sixish (?), but big enough as to provide for hours (if not days) of non-stop imaginary warfare. Like many of the other play sets of the era, this came with a plastic sheet that had some sort of cartoonish geography slapped carelessly upon it. And like many of the other play sets, this item served only to make my mother nervous that we might somehow be suffocated by it. Don’t ask. Just. Don’t. Ask. She needn’t have worried however, since again, like those from most of the other play sets, it was usually trashed by the end of the first week.
The set came with a full compliment of Germans (or “bad guys”) molded in grey, and Americans (“good guys”), molded in green. The mighty guns atop the mountain were a very realistic day-glo yellow (of course) and there were flimsy plastic flag masts – of the same color – included as well. By far, the Germans had cooler poses, helmets and “gadgetry”, but I knew that was all just a ploy to pull me over to the “dark side”. The Americans didn’t need cool poses to show how tight they were, I suppose, but there was one in particular that I eventually just had to show to my dad for clarification. The soldier in question was the one who seemed to be walking forward – gun raised high above his head – possibly in an effort to boldly stab a giant in his kneecap, or maybe kill a tree. My dad explained that the men positioned like this were so because what they were actually doing was wading through water, and the guns were raised high to keep them dry. The play mat didn’t have nearly enough “water” to place them all in, and I’m still none to pleased with their inclusion as a result. Conversely, my personal favorite were the soldiers who were carrying the stretcher. I liked them because they “walked” in a fashion very similar to my own, only I do it without the aid of a stretcher.
The set was loved so much that after the first was literally worn out, a second was brought in to relieve it. And as with the first, the damned plastic mat didn’t survive even a week.
So, what’s the point here? None really, I just happened to remember the play set, oddly enough, with my recent purchase of a three disc set of Enoch Light’s “Persuasive Percussion” series. Five long-playing albums in total, strung out over the three discs, with each and every song being arranged and played by Terry Snyder and his All Stars (brief side bar: there seem to have been so many musical groups of the lounge era who used the moniker “All Star”, and yet damned few are remembered today. That doesn’t seem very Allstarish now, does it?). At any rate, I purchased this musical gem knowing full well that I already owned all the material on the first disc and a smidgen of the second. I know that that seems to go against my usual bent of not allowing myself too much guilty pleasure, but with a price tag of under fifteen dollars, I gladly got myself down from the cross this time and indulged.
And am I ever glad I did! The three discs contain a total of sixty tracks, with not a bad one in the lot. No matter how hard I try, none of these “soldiers” can be found to be in awkward poses. Honest and true lounge, the hits include “Hernando’s Hideaway”, “Brazil”, “Perfidio” and a bevy of other tunes that sound all the better with the use of bongos and those other instruments normally associated with latin percussion (no, I have no idea what any of them are called. And no, I have no desire to look them up for the purpose of this post. Let’s just say that there’s a whole lot of chicka-chicka, bongo-pop and reeka-reeka cacophony that results when they’re used, and the albums are simply delicious to the ears as a result. All crazy mamba jamba rhythym, but with a wafer-thin air of nonchelance and a wink of cool confidence still intact). In addition to the music, there’s the whole idea that – while for years, Mr. Light has had his name emblazoned all over the stuff (and therefore given the credit – as can be seen by the accompanying link) – it was actually Mr. Snyder that pulled through with all the hard work and the creativity – Bob Crewe, take note. Trust me, after hearing Enoch Light’s stuff sans Snyder, it’s plain to see Terry as being the mastermind and mad scientist in charge of this musical treat. Once again though, fame trumped talent – and that very much appeals to my still jaded though aged punk rock leanings.
I’ve listened almost exclusively to these discs since the moment they arrived in the post (we actually use the term “mailbox” in the states, but “post” always sounds so much classier), and they are still fresh, with each and every listen – much like every time I used to empty that Box O’ Navarone onto my floor. I’m thinking I should try to first see if Terry Snyder is still alive, and if so, determine which All Star nursing home he may be a resident of so that I can send him a note of thanks. I may even ask him if he had ever given thought to calling his All Stars “The Guns Of Navarone” instead. Musically speaking, he seems like the kind of cat who could’ve. Don’t believe me? Sit back, prepare for your mind to be blown, give it a listen…