“Isle of Love”
Inferno – 1959
By Don Ralke’s fortieth birthday he had become a force in the Los Angeles music world. Having recorded with artists such as Sam Cooke and for labels like Warner Bros, Ralke’s band was primed to become one of the most sought after orchestras in the United States. However, Ralke possessed a knack for working with smaller, lesser-known producers, in environments where creativity and innovation could flourish.
He would find such an environment with the Inferno label, co-founded by the mysterious and ambitious Vic Gargano. Only twenty-three at the time, Gargano had both the ear and the drive to become one of the premier pop producers of the era, but neither luck nor money management skills would ever fall his way, and his short career would be defined by failed label after failed label.
That’s not to say that the music he wrote and produced was lackluster; in fact it was far from it. Gorgano-produced music ranges from the mid-century kitsch of the late-fifties to the pop and psych rock of the late-sixties; and much of it stands amongst work from some of the biggest acts of the time. Gargano even scored a hit with Kathy Young & the Innocents’ recording of “A Thousands Stars,” which would sell over a million copies in the early-sixties.
Creatively, Gorgano would never match the peaks of the 1959 single, “Isle of Love,” in which he utilized the talents of the Don Ralke Orchestra and obscure vocalist Carmen to create one of the standout exotica recordings of all-time. The percussion and strings of Ralke’s orchestra combine to create an atmosphere that lulls the listener into a hypnotic trance, as Carmen’s voice flies through the clouds of this auditory world.
Carmen’s singing is only bolstered by the breathtaking backing vocals that support her throughout the track. From the first word she sings (around 30 seconds into the song), to the almost call-and-response that she has with the backing vocalists (at approximately the 1:25 mark), the singers are perfectly arranged to work off of each other, never overstaying their welcome.
Unfortunately, much like the largely-forgotten artists behind its production, “Isle of Love” would seemingly be lost to the decades, only to be found in the nerdiest of circles and neglected bins in record stores. Yet, this track – and the stories of those who brought it to life – illustrate just how much amazing music can still be discovered off of the beaten path.