Friday, 27 February 2015

This Is Elvis

Come on in and meet the elusive Elvis Pummel, the primitive rock ‘n’ roller often referred to as Swedish but seemingly from Dortmund, Germany – a place where genius and madness merge into a subtle duet.

Equipped with a '50s Hofner guitar Elvis Pummel first came to prominence in 1998, appearing on the Voodoo Rhythm compilation The Penetrating Sounds Of,,,, although he’d been playing his own brand of psychobilly since at least the mid 1980s, first in the band Barnyard Blitz before striking out on his own, weird musical journey.

Since then he’s issued at least half a dozen EPs and 45s. Many of his songs last for a minute or less: eight tracks appeared on his first EP Original 50s Punk; ten were crammed on to the 2001 EP Elvis Pummel And His Wild & Primitive Soundsystem – On Board. The majority of his earlier releases were complied on the 56 track collection Elvis Pummel – Recalled To Be Executed, issued in 2006. He’s still gigging – and issuing sporadic releases - today

Reviewing his first release, Blue Suede News magazine wrote: ‘If you think Hasil Adkins with his distinctive, raunchy one man-band music is a true stylist and genius, you might like this effort.’ I think that undersells him somewhat. Adkins has a similar primitive rock ‘n’ roll approach, and there can be no doubt that both musicians have been resolutely ploughing their own perverse furrow, but Adkins’ productions are akin to Phil Spector’s when compared to Pummel’s – and Adkins can (or at least could) sing: no matter how much you may like Pummel’s distinctive voice you could hardly call him a great singer.

Anyway, have a listen to a few tracks from Elvis Pummel And His Wild & Primitive Soundsystem – On Board and decide for yourself. 

Enjoy!


Friday, 20 February 2015

Dave Allen at Large


Issued in February 1969, The Good Earth is the only single released by the legendary Irish comedian Dave Allen. If you don’t know whom I’m talking about get Googling now: Allen was easily one of the best and most important comedians of the last 50-plus years. His irreverent, religion bating monologues, jokes and sketches are priceless, and his knack of kicking against the establishment whilst gaining a huge TV audience was unprecedented.

David Tynan O'Mahony (6 July 1936 – 10 March 2005) was – certainly until the 1980s - Britain's most controversial comedian. His relaxed, intimate style (on TV he would sit on a high bar stool, smoking and sipping from a glass of what looked like whiskey, but was in fact ginger ale) charm and besuited respectability allowed him to get away with more than any other comedian had dared do before – especially on prime time television. A religious sceptic, religion (and especially Roman Catholicism) was an important subject for his humour, mocking church customs and rituals rather than beliefs.

So it’s a bit of a surprise to discover that the great man released this piece of sentimental claptrap.

Called a ‘somewhat whimsical but certainly sincere counter-cultural contribution timed to coincide with the moon landing’ by Allen’s biographer Graham McCann, The Good Earth uses the image of an astronaut looking down upon our planet, a very contemporary message at that time. Written by Ben Nisbet, The Monkees also recorded the song during sessions for their 1969 album the Monkees Present, although their version remained unreleased until Rhino Records reissued the album on CD in 1994.

The B-side, A Way Of Life, is worse: to the tune of Greensleeves, Allen recites a ridiculous poem which offers up such homilies as ‘listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant: they too have their story’. The writer credit on A Way Of Life reads ‘Martin/Kelsey’ however the words are actually by the American poet Max Erhman and, correctly named Desiderata, would provide an enormous international hit a couple of years later for Les Crane. Calling it Spock Thoughts, Leonard Nimoy also performed the poem on his 1968 album Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy.

Unsurprisingly the record was not a hit. Allen went back to comedy, leaving this sole disc an obscure footnote in an otherwise remarkable career.


Goodnight, and may your God go with you.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Margaret Raven

A short post today - sorry. I had written something much longer only to discover, as I checked through my previous posts, that I had already featured that particular track. Well, 301 posts down the line, surely you can excuse an old man a touch of forgetfulness?

Todays brace of badness comes courtesy of the ever-brilliant Music For Maniacs, an essential blog for lovers of the obscure and perverse, and where, back in 2010, I first discovered the delights of Margaret Raven

There's very little I can tell you about the obscure Margaret Raven, apart from that they were based in New York and recorded one album - probably only issued on CD-r and passed around family and friends. 

A couple of the tracks on the album originally appeared on MySpace in 2009: at some point before 2011 the band split. One of the former members of Margaret Raven, posting on the (author and Shaman) Carlos Castaneda forum Sustained Reaction, had this to say: "Margaret Raven was my band. We made really crazy music, nothing like you've ever heard before. Anyway, the music we made was very heavily influenced by Carlos Castaneda. I learned how to play my instrument, Rainmaker, from the devil's weed. There is an old saying that goes "you always know when you hear a crow, but when you hear a sound and have no idea what it is, that's a raven". Our band consisted of Rainmaker, Theremin, and drums. Please give it a listen. These songs are quite a few years old."

I can tell you that an earlier Margaret Raven was a playwright who published the play The Alchemist in 1912, but that's about it. I wish I had more, so if you know anything else about them please do share! 

For now here are two tracks from Margaret Raven: Run Me Rainbow and Fire Atop The Pyramid.

Enjoy!


Friday, 6 February 2015

The Almost Complete Jimmy Cross

***update: better versions of Hey Little Girl (Do You Want to Get Married) and Super Duper Man now uploaded, as well as the missing instrumental Chicken Track. Thanks Ross!***

When I started this blog way back in September 2007 I had no idea how (or even if) it would take off, and I’m immensely grateful and humbled that so many people seem to enjoy it. Today’s WWR entry is a bit of a milestone – it’s my 300th blog dispatch – and for today’s landmark posting we’re going right back to where it all started, revisiting the career of the man who performed one of the most infamous bad records of all time, the late Jimmie/Jimmy Cross. If you've read the book you'll already know most of this: you may want to skip to the end of the post and simply grab the tracks!

There are an alarming number of records about traffic accidents - but the sickest has to be I Want My Baby Back by Jimmy Cross. Routinely considered the worst record of all time – and feted as such by the first Kenny Everett Bottom 30I Want My Baby Back is the king of the teenage tragedies. Written and produced by Perry Botkin Junior and Gil Garfield, the song is a parody of records like Last Kiss and Leader of the Pack, two releases which describe the aftermath of traffic accidents in rather graphic detail, although neither of them go into quite as much depth (if you’ll pardon the pun) as Jimmy Cross does:

Over there was my baby,
And over there was my baby,
And way over there was my baby…

(I Want My Baby Back, written by Perry Botkin Jr and Gil Garfield. Released by Jimmy Cross on Tollie Records. © 1964)

Born in Dothan, Alabama in 1938, although radio producer Jimmy Cross had dabbled in song writing (co-writing I Still Love Him, which was produced by Garfield and Botkin for girl group The Joys) I Want My Baby Back was his first release as a featured performer*, and the only one of his singles to chart. Issued on the Tollie label in December 1964, the single reached number 92 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following February.

Knowingly referencing both the Beatles (the group that supplied Tollie with its only major chart hits) and Leader of the Pack, I Want My Baby Back is a song which describes – in graphic detail - how the singer’s girlfriend is fatally dismembered and how he, after several months of torment, decides that the only way to overcome his grief is to desecrate her grave, crawl into her coffin and join her for all eternity.

I’ve tried, believe me I have tried
But I just can’t make it without my baby
So I decided I’m gonna have her back one way or another
Oh baby, I dig you so much!

(I Want my Baby Back, written by Perry Botkin Jr and Gil Garfield. Released by Jimmy Cross on Tollie Records. © 1964)

It’s ghastly, and thoroughly brilliant – and hearing it for the first time in the early 1980s was a defining moment for me. This (and Fluffy by Gloria Balsam) is entirely responsible for kick-starting my interest in bad music. Bizarrely the song was covered (not very well, in my opinion) by British R'n'B act The Downliners Sect for their 1965 EP The Sect Sings Sick Songs.

The moderate success of I Want My Baby Back was reason enough for Tollie to order a follow up, so Jimmy was put back to work. His second single for the company was The Ballad of James Bong, a comedy record (credited to Botkin, Garfield, Cross, Price and Cole) based on the James Bond phenomenon, where Cross’s character is trying to save the world’s rock and roll stars from being annihilated. It was released (this time credited to Jimmie Cross) in 1965 and sank without a trace – as did Tollie Records. Red Bird Records, the company set up by songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, then signed Jimmie and he released a further 45: Hey Little Girl (Do You Want to Get Married), a timely Herman’s Hermits pastiche, backed with Super-Duper Man, a tribute to the man of steel. Both tracks were co-written by a 24-year old bank clerk who, a few years later, would go on to much greater fame: Harry Nilsson.

Unfortunately this single also missed the mark and Jimmie quietly returned to the day job. Hey Little Girl was re-issued, this time with an instrumental version on the B-side (curiously renamed Chicken Track on some copies, Hey Little Girl Part 2 on others, and credited to the Jimmie Cross Orchestra) on the Vee-jay imprint Chicken Records: in 1967 Nilsson would offer Super-Duper Man and Hey Little Girl, along with half a dozen other songs, to The Monkees. They turned them down but did opt to record his other compositions Cuddly Toy and Daddy’s Song.

Yet that would not be the end for I Want My Baby Back. In 1977 British DJ Kenny Everett began featuring I Want My Baby Back on his Capital radio programme The World's Worst Wireless Show although initially, probably because of the credits on his later release, Everett wrongly assumed that Jimmy Cross was in fact a nom de plume of Harry Nilsson. Even though he got his facts wrong, the interest in the song created by Everett inspired Wanted Records in the UK to re-issue the single, complete with its original B-side Play the Other Side (a short, instrumental version of the A-side) and a new picture sleeve but without bothering to officially licence the damned thing. They even had the cheek to add a jokey sleeve note and credit it to Jimmy, even though the poor devil knew very little (if anything) about the release.

Jimmy died of a heart attack that same year at the ridiculously young age of 39 in North Hollywood. Perry Botkin Jr went on to fame and fortune working with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Van Dyke Parks and Carly Simon as well as writing and producing the music for many successful TV series including Happy Days, Mork and Mindy and Laverne and Shirley. Gil Garfield, sadly, passed away in 2011 after a long battle with cancer. Jimmy is buried at the Forest Lawn Cemetery. I hope that he’s finally been reunited with his baby.

Jimmie’s daughter, Kellee Cross Raymer, is (rightly) rather proud of her father’s most famous three minutes: “Yes, some would say that I Want My Baby Back is just a little bit out there; but never the less, it must put smile's on people's faces!”

Here, for your enjoyment, is every track recorded by Jimmie (or Jimmy) Cross. I’ve also included the instrumental B-sides to I Want My Baby Back (Play the Other Side), The Ballad of James Bong (Play the Other Side Again) and Hey Little Girl (Chicken Track).

Enjoy!

* There’s an earlier single by Jimmie Cross, Pretty Girls Everywhere (probably the same song which was originally recorded by Eugene Church and was later covered by the Walker Brothers) issued in 1961 on Recordo Records. However I’ve been unable to ascertain if this is the same Jimmy/Jimmie Cross as our hero. If anyone out there knows, do tell!



Friday, 30 January 2015

I've Got The Power

Today we’re revisiting the career of one of the perpetrators of one of the earliest posts on this blog, actor Tony Randall.

Way back in September 2007 I featured The Odd Couple Sing, the dismal tie-in from the two stars of the TV series The Odd Couple, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. The Odd Couple Sing is a stunningly wrongheaded album, featuring some of the worst performances I've ever come across. Released in 1973, the mismatched pair must have blinded by the huge piles of money on offer – or simply unable to contain their own egos - when they agreed to record this embarrassingly awful collection.

Flash forward six years and Randall was at it again, only this time replacing TV’s Quincy ME with actress Lynn Redgrave.

The Power is You is an utterly bizarre musical project, some sort of self-help album consisting of catchy Broadway-style show tunes about the power of human potential interspersed with preachy narration by the record's celebrity hosts.

Issued by Clarus Music in 1979, The Power is You was written by lyricist Rosemary Caggiano and composer Bernie Fass. The duo also composed the tracks on Randall’s earlier album Children are People Too and co-authored the book and accompanying album The Four Seasons (Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring a Musical Journey for Children Through the Four Seasons With Eleven Songs and Narration). The titles of the songs on The Power is You read like the chapter headings of a particularly poor self-help manual: We’ve Got to Get Back to Basics, Your Power to Dream, There's Always Room for Change, The Power to Love and so on. Apparently this nonsense was designed to be used in the classroom, rather than sold to the general public.

According to the promotional blurb ‘Tony Randall and Lynn Redgrave campaign for the power of human potential in a new recording by Clarus Music called The Power Is You. Ten songs in a modern pop style, and appealing passages by Randall and Redgrave exalt the abilities of the human mind and form.’ That’s probably about as much as you need to know, but here are a couple of tracks from the record for your enjoyment, the opener We’ve Got to Get Back to Basics and the embarrassingly corny Make People Laugh.

If you’re crazy enough to want to hear the whole thing you can find it at http://glorifytheturd.com/?p=1373

Enjoy!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Star Crust

Stephen F Singer established the song-poem label Star-Crest in the late 50s. Stephen was the son of Mortimer Singer, who founded the Nordyke song-poem factory in 1943. Laughingly referred to as Star-Crust by collectors because of the dated sound of its releases, Star-Crest is best known for its albums. The company had two distinct album series, Music of America – which usually featured a mix of singers (‘with orchestra’; although, as fellow song-poem enthusiast Bob Purse has noted: ‘rarely actually featuring more than four instruments, and often fewer than that’) and the New Favorites of… series, which would feature one singer, such as the risibly awful tenor Robert Ravis or the super-bland Tony Rogers, accompanied by a jaunty pianist. You can find a whole album’s worth of Ravis’s ravings from Bob’s own collection (if you can bear it) at http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2007/02/365_days_59_rob.html I have a couple of Star-Crest albums in my own collection (New Favorites of Tony Rogers, released in June 1961 and one of the many Music of America albums), but frankly life is too short!

They also released several 45s, four of which I present for you today.   

 
It’s often difficult to track down exact information about song-poem companies, but thanks to Singer’s shady practices we can be pretty certain about how long Star-Crest existed for. Adverts for their wares appeared in the back pages of magazines such as Ebony and Popular Science throughout 1959, 1960 and 1961 and then vanish. More than that, because Star-Crest was one of the few song-poem outfits hauled through the courts for their dodgy practices, e can ascertain a pretty firm date for when the company folded.

In late 1960 the Long Beach Independent (Nov 28, 1960) reported (under the headline Composers Bilked, Says FTC) that ‘the Federal Trade Commission charged Stephen F. Singer with using false royalty claims to obtain fees from songwriters for recording their songs’. The FTC complaint said that 'Singer did not pay royalties as advertised to those whose songs were accepted’. Instead, Singer 'paid them a royalty for each record sold, but sales were so limited the artists never were able to recover their investments’.

It wouldn’t take long for Billboard to pick up on the scandal, accusing Singer of using ‘false royalty claims and other deceptions to get fees from songwriters for recording their songs.’ The report continued to reveal that the Federal Trade Commission were taking Singer to court because ‘songwriters never actually collect royalties from Singer, that the recording talent is far from the “outstanding’ type offered in Singer’s ads, and that his “Music of America” albums do not, as claimed, contain current hits.’

Singer was given 30 day in which to file an answer the complaint, which he did, but the FTC won their case. In July 1961 it was reported that the Federal Trade Commission had been granted an order that ‘prohibited Stephen F. Singer of the Star-Crest Recording Co., Los Angeles, from using false royalty claims and other means, to obtain fees from song-writers for recording their songs’.

The chief cause of this litigation was the wording included in the contract Singer gave to his songwriters: ‘Our primary interest is in selling albums and earning money for our writers and ourselves. Writer agrees to pay for the test recording session at a special 50% scale rate of $96.20. We have with us some of the most talented and respected singing stars in Hollywood. Our "Music of America" series will contain well-known singing hits. Successful numbers that have already sold millions of copies and are being bought and played every day’. It was further alleged in the court proceedings that Singer wilfully misled songwriters in to thinking that their material would be recorded by the Chicago-based blues singer Jimmy Rogers, rather than the unknown Tony Rogers. As a result, Singer was issued with a cease and desist order. He could no longer advertise that hit artists would make his recordings, or that royalties would be paid to songwriters. For a few months Singer tried to continue without making these outrageous claims, altering the wording of his ads and removing any promises of royalties.

In March 1961 the company moved offices, from North Highland to Lexington Ave (both still Hollywood); the move happened just as Singer was attempting to move away from song-poems to more legitimate material. The first album issued by the newly legitimate Star-Crest was Curtain Time by impressionist Arthur Blake. According to a short news item in Billboard (March 1961) the company had also signed three other acts, Robert Linn, Freddie Bell and Kenny Miller, but none of them appear to have released any material for Star-Crest.

Star-Crest vanished for good some time in the early 60s. The Star-Crest name and logo would reappear, gracing a brace of singles in 1986 by soul artist El-Roy, but it’s unlikely that the company was in any way connected with the original Star-Crest.

Still, back to the music.

There’s no definitive discography of Star-Crest on the net, but the following is a list of all of the company’s known 45s: The ones that you can listen to today are in bold. So far as I am aware all Star-Crest 45s were issued in a fragile clear red vinyl. Three of the ones I own come in stock picture sleeves like those on this page. 

1: Tony Rogers - Sin Duda/Fickle Baby
14: Linda Collins with Orchestra - I Love Only You (Henderson Fisher)/Tony Rogers with Orchestra - On The Oxmore Trail (Andrew Scruggs)
40: Tony Rogers with Orchestra - Waiting For My Baby (W.L. Tisdale)/Down In The Valley (Millie Lancaster)
43: Tony Rogers with Orchestra – Winds Across the Prairie (Rhea Ball)/Flash! Flash! Flash! (Martin Belle-Isle)
71: Tony Rogers with Orchestra - What a Fool I Was (Mary Mancuso)/Homework (William E Cobb) You can hear this now at bobpurse.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/tony-rogers-does-his-homework.html
88: Linda Collins - Please (Ida Phillips)/Tony Rogers - My One and Only (Janette Sumrall)
90: Tony Rogers - All Yours (Ruby Sanders)/Linda Collins - That Old Man Of Mine (Violet Carter)
96: Tony Rogers with Orchestra – Moonlight and Distant Guitars (Ann C Fautsch)/Won’t You Marry Me? (Ernest Vanilla)

What really intrigues me is massive difference in the quality of Star-Crest’s product. My guess is that those with a full band arrangement would have cost the songwriter considerably more than $96.20 to have had recorded. Several of those songs sound to me like the product of the Globe studio – home to Sammy Marshall/Sonny Marcell and whose own recordings were issued on a slew of different labels over the years – but Globe was based in Nashville, and there’s little chance that a cheapskate like Singer would have paid for Tony Rogers to travel all that way to lay down a few sides. Could Globe have provided Star-Crest with music beds which they would then add their own vocalist to, or did Singer and Rogers travel to Nashville and spend a couple of days recording as many songs as they had time to fit in? If Gene Marshall could record 55 songs in one four-hour session couldn’t Rogers/Star-Crest have done similar? When you consider that the vast majority of Star-Crest tracks last under a minute and a half the duo could easily have beaten Marshall’s song-poem record.


Enjoy!

Friday, 16 January 2015

A Load of Old Cox

The avant-garde is, at best, a peculiar beast.

Today’s selection comes courtesy of WWR regular Ross Hamilton, who found this virtually unlistenable nonsense hidden away as an extra track on the third disc of the otherwise excellent compilation Love Poetry And Revolution: A Journey Through The British Psychedelic And Underground Scenes 1966 To 1972.

Sung virtually acapella by a gaggle of young kids (save for sparse accompaniment from a badly-plated flute and a drunk bashing away at a piano), this atonal version of the Beatles’ classic I am the Walrus originally appeared on the 1971 album Ear of the Beholder, issued by Lol Coxhill via John Peel's Dandelion label.

George Lowen Coxhill, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 79, was a noted figure on the UK underground jazz and rock scene. His saxophone playing appeared on recordings by Kevin Ayers (Coxhill was a member of Ayers’ group The Whole World), Caravan, John Otway and even The Damned. Recorded between July 1970 and January 1971, the Ear of the Beholder was Coxhill’s first solo album, and features contributions from Ayers, Mike Oldfield and David Bedford amongst others. A peculiar grab-bag of an album, it features everything from covers of outdated music hall songs such as That’s Why Darkies Were Born (performed by Coxhill in protest at its ridiculousness), tracks recorded al fresco with children from a Brixton primary school and poorly-recorded, interminable improvisations such as Rasa Moods. Genuinely everything including the kitchen sink.

Although he had been playing professionally for many years, it was Coxhill’s relationship with Peel that brought the free-improvising saxophonist to prominence: he is reputed to have been spotted by Peel while busking outside the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank in 1968. Coxhill forged strong links with the Canterbury scene, playing in jazz-rock groups including Kevin Ayers and The Whole World and Delivery, later working in small groups and intimate duos with the likes of Canterbury pianist Steve Miller. He was well known for his unpredictable solo improvising and for gigging in unconventional locations – such as his infamous 2004 tour of Yorkshire market towns, Lol Coxhill In A Skip.

Called ‘one of the most uncompromising albums of its age’ by Goldmine magazine, the original double album sold very few copies and is now quite hard to find. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your viewpoint) it has been reissued a couple of times in recent years.


Enjoy!

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