Friday, 15 August 2014

This Bites

 
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Today’s disc is a fine example of that age-old mantra ‘sports stars cannot (and should not) sing’. It’s also a sobering ‘there but for the grace of God’ tale…and it highlights my dislike of Queen (but that’s another story). A triple whammy.

Former Detroit Lions player Jimmy ‘Spiderman’ Allen was born in Florida in 1952 but was brought up an aunt and uncle in Los Angeles. An exceptional athlete, while studying at Los Angeles City High School Allen shattered all city records in several swimming events and, in 1972, he even tried out for the Olympic team.

As well as swimming, he played for his high school football team, earning the nickname “Spiderman” due in part to his coverage abilities. He went on to play for the UCLA Bruins alongside quarterback Mark Harmon, whose would find greater fame on TV in shows such as St Elsewhere and NCIS.

After playing for UCLA he went on to join the Pittsburgh Steelers and, finally, the Detroit Lions, And it was while he was with the Lions that he recorded this little nugget, an early ‘rap’ version of the Queen hit Another One Bites the Dust with team-mates Dave Hill and Jimmy Hunter backing him up. The story has it that Jimmy heard the original song whilst driving out to the airport and thought it would be worth adopting as the Lions’ theme song. Unfortunately for the team they took ownership of the song at exactly the wrong time: the Lions lost match after match, and Another One Bites the Dust instead of being a celebratory ‘come and have a go at us’ anthem became a major embarrassment. The video – which features Allen flicking a feather duster around in an all-too literal reading of the lyrics – seems to have vanished form the face of the earth. Well, it ain’t on Youtube!

Backed with the short Spider’s Delight, a brief bit of freestyle with more than a nod to the Shugarhill Gang, the single was a local hit in Detroit and – apparently, although I’ve been unable to find any evidence - Allen’s son Jimmy Jr. followed his dad’s lead into the rap and hip-hop scene.

It’s horrible. Sure, other sportsmen (and women) have done worse, but it’s a prime example of what not to do when let loose in the recording studio. It’s a reasonably passable cover of the song (the cheap click track backing aside) and not to embarrassing a performance – that is until Jimmy starts to rap: clearly the man was the inspiration for our own John Barnes and his ridiculous performances on World in Motion and The Anfield Rap. And what’s with the weird animal noises? I assume they’re supposed to be (Detroit) Lions’ roars – I certainly can’t imagine a spider making that kind of noise. Unless it’s a giant spider from a 50s B-movie of course.

Jimmy’s professional career ended with the 1981/2 season. In 1982 the Lions traded Allen to the Kansas City Chiefs, but he was revealed to have an irregular heartbeat and never played for the team.

It’s here that Spiderman’s story plumbs darker depths.

This abrupt end left Allen unprepared to meet the challenges of life after a successful sports career. Returning to Los Angeles he invested his savings in a laundromat, but the business went under after a few years forcing him to sell the family home and move his wife and children into a small apartment. As the years passed he began to struggle with his health and spiralled downwards into substance abuse; he separated from his wife Cora in 1992.

Jimmy found some temporary work working for the city of Los Angeles as a lifeguard but by 2000 he had become homeless, living on the streets of Los Angeles and occasionally turning up at the home of a friend or a relative. Now 62, photographer Kevin McCollister took a portrait of him on the streets of LA last year, still very obviously down on his luck.

I wish him well, and hope he gets his life back on track. I just hope he doesn’t decide to record again.


Friday, 8 August 2014

It's Not Easy Being Green

 
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Now, as you all well know, I try and steer clear from novelty records wherever and whenever possible, but this is a little bit different. I discovered this shockingly awful piece of garbage in a charity shop yesterday and felt compelled to share it with you immediately.

This odd little disc features a brace of cover versions sung by a young woman by the name of Catherine Chaplin. The A-Side. If You Were a Tadpole. was written by veteran songwriter Hal Shaper and the internationally revered actress and singer Julie Andrews: Julie originally performed the song in her 1975 US TV special My Favourite Things.

Quite why Shaper would then decide to re-record this horror with this prepubescent simpleton is beyond me, unless that is he sniffed a potential hit and couldn’t get Julie to agree to issue her version. Ah, but it gets odder: this single was released in September 1977: in November Julie would once again perform the song, singing the tune to the green puppet that inspired it in the first place in an episode of The Muppet Show (the episode was broadcast in February 1978).

The B-side is no better: the young miss Chaplin attacks the classic You Made me Love You (originally published in 1913 and recorded in that year by Al Jolson) – bastardising Judy Garland’s cute, Clark Gable-dedicated intro. It’s vile. The Garland version, which this cut so evilly mocks, was originally adapted for Judy to sing to Gable at a birthday party thrown for him by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. MGM executives were so charmed by her rendition that she was added to the film Broadway Melody of 1938. Garland recorded her version on September 24, 1937. It’s a classic: Catherine Chaplin’s version is not.

But what do we know of young Catherine Chaplin? Bog all, if truth be known. This appears to be Catherine’s one and only release as a solo artist, although in the same year she also added her vocal skills to You Shan’t Come and Play in our Yard, a track from the John Inman album I’m Free (also issued as the B-side to the I’m Free 45). A Catherine Chaplin is also listed as a backing vocalist on French singer Jean Claude Petit’s 1980 album The Best Of All Possible Worlds and as one of the voices on the 2001 release A Classical Kids Christmas – although I doubt (in the latter case at least) that this is the same young lady.

And that’s all I’ve got. If anyone out there knows anything else about this peculiar little record – or its performer – please do get in touch.

Enjoy!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Introducing Gary Bradford

It had to happen.

When I wrote about Christian ventriloquism in the World’s Worst Records Volume One I knew there had to be other wretched examples alongside the better-known Little Marcy, Geraldine and Ricky and so on. Today’s find represents, for me, the gold standard in bad Christian ventriloquism.

Gary Bradford is one of those names that turns up again and again in lists of the world’s worst record covers, however very few people have actually heard the content of those infamous sleeves – until now!

Gary Bradford issued at least five albums – Sings for You and You and You (1975, as Gary Dee Bradford), I’m Not Handicapped – Just Inconvenienced, I Am Loved (1979), Hymns for You (1980) and his most recent effort, 2002’s Safely Home. There have also been a couple of 45s. According to his official biography, Gary was ‘born without arms and having hands at his shoulders from birth’. This rare congenital disorder is known as phocomelia: Gary’s twin brother, similarly handicapped, died in infancy. He also suffers from rickets, the predominant cause of which is vitamin D deficiency. The majority of cases occur in children suffering from severe malnutrition in Third World countries, usually resulting from famine or starvation during the early stages of childhood.

Although many factors can cause phocomelia, tens of thousands of cases worldwide came from the use of the drug thalidomide in the 1960s. Phocomelia can result in abnormalities to the face, limbs, ears, nose, vessels and many other parts of the body. If he had been born a few decades earlier he could have followed the career trajectory of Stanislaus Berent (1901  – 1980), the American sideshow freak who performed under the stage name of Sealo the Seal Boy, but brave little Gary wasn’t going to let a massively debilitating handicap ruin his life. He went on to a career as a musical minister (and, clearly, occasional ventriloquist), touring the US and giving performances at churches and conventions. He has performed at the Southern Baptist Convention, with Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker's Heritage USA, and on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

In 2006 Gary was in the news for suing the University of Houston for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act over a professor's refusal to provide assistance taking notes. As a result, he was forced to drop out just hours shy of his music degree. The lawsuit was one of 16 filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project accusing the government and private companies of failing to comply with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Gary had enrolled at the university because he wanted to complete about 20 hours of course work needed for a bachelor's in music. You have got to admire his tenacity and stoicism.

As far as I am aware Gary only employs his dubious ventriloquism skills on I’m Not Handicapped – Just Inconvenienced. What I can’t understand is why bother in the first place? He’s just rotten: Danny’s ‘joke’ about a Deacon and a Pastor (at least I think that’s what it is about) is unintelligible. Clearly not having fully developed arms is a major inconvenience to a ventriloquist – but Gary is in a recording studio, not appearing live from the altar of a church. He could ‘pretend’ to be controlling little Danny the wooden wonder boy rather than struggling to talk through gritted teeth mispronouncing almost every word and sounding like Chuck and Bob from the classic 70s/80s comedy Soap. Mind, Gary’s own diction isn’t exactly spot on: I swear at around 1:38 he sings the line ‘’cause I can sure handle the cocksucker way’. Surely not?

Still, who am I to judge? Here’s the opening track from Gary’s 1979 classic I’m Not Handicapped – Just Inconvenienced. Thanks to bizarrerecords.com for the cover art

Enjoy!

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Speciality of the Day

 

I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about Marvin A Waters, the man behind this week’s audio atrocity, or about his companies Marvin Waters Records and Marvin Waters Music (BMI). I can tell you that he was born in 1940 and that he’s still alive, aged 73, and still living in Columbus, Georgia, where he built his empire. I can tell you that he was raised in Cordele, Georgia before relocating to Columbus and – before he started to list himself as a ‘songwriter and singer’ – he was involved with the US Job Corps service, working from centres in California and Indiana and using the pages of their magazine the Corpsman to solicit young female pen pals in 1969.

He’s listed in the US phone book. Maybe one day I’ll give him a call.

Today’s tracks come from a 1989 release on Marvin Waters Records. Marvin Waters Records appears to be some sort of song poem/vanity hybrid – an operation not dissimilar to those of Norridge Mayhams and Nick Gilio – so this particular record is a bit of an oddity, with both Speciality You and You Can Go Take a Walk having been written by someone other than Marvin himself. Unfortunately the composer (one Miguel de la Vega) seems to be even more elusive than Mr Waters: there are other people of the same name (including a young Latino singer) around and active today, but this particular Senor Vega seems to have vanished.

Speciality You is a hopeless recording if there ever was one, suffering from stumbling keyboards, dreadful delivery from Marvin and what appears to be the wrong title: it’s clear from Marvin’s vocals that the song should be called ‘Specially You, not Speciality You – my guess is that the title on the label is a misprint. B-Side You Can Go Take a Walk is little better: both songs were clearly recorded in one take and one must assume that Marvin is also responsible for the useless keyboard playing. Rarely has the instrument sounded more tortured – apart that is form the truly horrific piano plonking on Grace Pauline Chew’s releases.

There were at least four 45s released on Marvin Waters Records, although judging by the catalogue numbers that have so far surfaced I would assume there are a load more somewhere:

A-9144: If You Ever Need Jesus/Why Don’t You Wake Up (both sides written by Marvin Waters) (1987)
A-9179: Speciality You/You Can Go Take a Walk (both sides written by Miguel de la Vega) (1989)
A-9190: Tired of my Kisses/Bayou Blue (1989)
A-9209: Get Out of Here/Wanted Again (1990)

Marvin composed several other songs – some of which may well have featured on other Marvin Waters Records releases, including God is so Good to Me (1983) and In the Night (also 1983), with music by Marvin Waters and words by Robert Gerold Register. To add to Marvin’s song-poem credentials, God is so Good to Me was originally recorded by song-poem superstar Buddy Raye (aka Elmer Plinger, Dick Castle and so on) on a Sunrise records gospel compilation Praising His Heavenly Light.

Enjoy!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Absolute Agony


You’ve got Paul Nashman, the former proprietor of the infamous Nasher’s second-hand record shop in Walcot Street, Bath to blame for this one, for until he alerted me to it earlier this week I was blissfully unaware of its existence (Nasher’s late and much lamented shop featured on the front cover of the 2002 Van Morrison album Down the Road).

Issued as the second 45 on the tiny Monza record label in 1980 (the first was a cover of 10CC’s I’m Not in Love by Edwina Rigby; the third, and last, was a 45 which coupled reggae versions of the Dallas and Waltons themes), Rabies is a Killer is the sole single from Leicester’s Agony Bag, a bizarre Rocky Horror/Jayne County hybrid four piece (plus their two delightful female dancers) which sprang from the ashes of heavy rock act Black Widow. Inspired in equal measures by Jethro Tull and the teachings of black magic witch/occultist Alex Sanders (known to his followers as Verbius) Black Widow scored a minor hit with their first album Sacrifice, which included their best-known song Come to the Sabbat. Imitating near-neighbours Earth (who, in August 1969 would rename themselves Black Sabbath) Black Widow had themselves risen from the remnants of bluesy pop band Pesky Gee! I’ll tell you more about them another day, and maybe share Nasher’s tale of the day he ran into BW’s guitarist and songwriter Jim Gannon (if he’ll let me), but one fun fact is that their line-up once included Romeo Challenger, the drummer from Showaddywaddy.

But for now, back to Agony Bag.

Often dumped into the catch-all NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) grab-bag, Agony Bag was formed in early 1976 by former Black Widow members Clive Jones (flute and vocals) and drummer Clive Box (known professionally as Bok). The band eschewed Black Widow’s infamous satanic stage show (where the band would mock-sacrifice a nubile young woman) in favour of a poorly executed Kiss-in-drag look. After four years of slogging around the Leicester pub circuit the band released their one and only single, Rabies is a Killer backed with Never Never Land, both sides of which were written by Jones. The group made a video to accompany the release, which I urge you to check out (it’s on YouTube), if only for the sight of a makeup-caked Jones dressed up in stockings and suspenders swinging from the rafters of a Leicester rehearsal room. He looks for all the world like Frank-N-Furter imitating a chimpanzee.

Little wonder that, shortly after the recording, bass player Geoff Bevan left the band and joined the fledgling Diesel Park West. Clive and Bok added Ian Watts on guitar and Mick Wright on bass but this new line-up lasted fewer than two months: the band folded altogether when Clive decided to leave at the end of November 1980.

Agony Bag were “a most unusual band and well before its time,” Clive Jones told Polish metal website Doomsmoker. “It also gave me the chance to write more and do lead vocals. Agony Bag was great fun and we were for sure the only band to have sex onstage and not always with our girl dancers! We did many tours of Germany and have a great fan base over there.” This would explain why the tracks were recorded in a German studio and why one chorus of Rabies is a Killer is sung in German.

Agony Bag recorded several other tracks, most of which are now available on the 2001 compilation Feelmazumba, and Rabies is a Killer recently turned up on the soundtrack of indie horror flick Jessicka Rabid. In recent years Clive has once again been playing and recording as part of a new line-up of Black Widow. If you’d like to know more about Agony Bag I urge you to check out überfan Phil Mulvaney’s website at www.agonybag.co.uk, but for now, here are both sides of Agony Bag’s brilliant Rabies is a Killer.

Enjoy!


Friday, 11 July 2014

Put that Spoon Down!

Vilified as a fake by some, feted as a phenomenon by others, psychic Uri Geller has probably garnered more column inches in recent years for his friendship – and very public falling out - with the late Michael Jackson and for his numerous failed sporting predictions than for his celebrated spoon bending abilities.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1946, he began performing in night clubs in the late 1960s and in 1972, having already gained a huge following in Israel, he moved first to Europe and then to America where his act soon garnered coverage in the national media. By 1973 he was a household name in Britain, with TV and radio appearances by the bucket load, and major articles about him in the press.

Little more than a year after he first came to prominence he was propelled into the recording studio to cut his first (and thankfully only) pop album. Uri Geller features Uri’s own pretentious poetry put to music by pianist (and personal friend) Byron Janis. The result is a unique trip inside the mind of a notorious personality which will probably remain unmatched until turquoise jumpsuited New Age nutcase David Icke decides to commit his crazed beliefs about lizards running the world to vinyl.

Never exactly backwards at coming forwards, it may come as a shock that the utterly shameless self-promoter is surprisingly self-effacing when it comes to claims of vocal prowess. “Promoter Werner Schmidt...originally wanted to do a musical about my life,” he wrote on www.uri-geller.com. “(He) brushed off my claims that I couldn’t sing... until I opened my mouth to demonstrate. Horrified, he sent me to a voice coach in Zurich. The best I could manage, though, was a cross between a raven and a frog.” 

Uri is rather proud of his album: “By talking over Byron’s beautiful music, putting all the passion and meaning I could into the lyrics which I had seemed to channel from above, I recorded an album that became a sensation. I truly believe nothing like it has ever been made.” You're not kidding. Featuring a brace of duets with British soul singer Maxine Nightingale, Beck is a huge fan: “The combination of surging romantic strings and mind over matter (and forks) poetry is a potent one. I picked this up on vinyl in the early 90's and it was a favourite to listen to while we were recording Odelay.” Allmusic.com’s Matt Collar describes it as ‘something like Peter Lorre doing a spoken-word album backed by the Carpenters’


In his 1975 autobiography My Story, Geller writes that ‘When the record did appear in Europe in 1974, it was played over the radio in Switzerland. Sure enough, the station received hundreds of phone calls from people reporting that cutlery and keys were bending in their homes.’

Interestingly, around the time that Polydor were readying the Uri Geller album for release, Geller was to have appeared in a movie based on his life. The Geller Effect was to be produced by Aussie impresario Robert Stigwood with songs and incidental music by the Bee Gees. The project, which Maurice Gibb later described as “a sort of Star Wars-cum-Love Story” was abandoned, but 20 years later the legendary Ken Russell was behind the direct-to-video Mindbender, a film about Geller which co-incidentally did feature the Bee Gees on the soundtrack.

Uri Geller was reissued on CD in the UK in 1999. In recent years he has released several self-help and meditation CDs; thankfully none of them including material from Uri Geller. In 2007 Uri hosted a TV series in Israel on which he attempted to find his psychic successor: the show went on to be picked up by TV networks in America, Sweden, Turkey, Hungary, the Netherlands and Russia. Who could have predicted that one?

Enjoy!

 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Reco (the Return)


Today we're taking a short foreign vacation, going back to Scandinavia to revisit an old friend.
 
 
Back in October 2012 I posted what is easily one of the most bizarre recordings I have ever encountered. Released by Odeon in Sweden in 1971, Jolly Jolly Buddy Buddy and the even more perverse B-side Molly Cow Teddy Puff (which, even if it is billed as one composition on the disc's label, is clearly two distinct 'songs') appear to be the only two tracks recorded by Reco, the pseudonym of one Reijo Kääriäinen.

 
Sung in what appears to be fake English, a conceit which was also utilised by Daniel Catellano on the ridiculous Italian pop song Prisencolinensinainciusol (covered in the UK by comedian Mike Read, and featured here), Jolly Jolly Buddy Buddy and Molly Cow Teddy Puff are completely unintelligible. Reco played most of the instruments on the two (or is it three?) tracks, with Ulf Andersson on flute and Ulf Söderholm, a former member of 60’s Stockholm six-piece beat group The Telstars, on drums. Both songs were produced by Tommy Hallden who, in the 50s and 60s, fronted his own band the G-Men and Tommy Hallden and the Rocking' Jupiters. Although he played flute on the single, Ulf Andersson was one of the most sought-after saxophonists in Sweden: he would later play the famous sax break on the Abba hit I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.

 
Although this appears to have been Reco's only record, as Reijo Kääriäinen he did release at least one further 45; and it is that recording I offer for your enjoyment today. Issued not in Sweden but in Finland (on Gold Discs in 1978), Pahalta Tää Kaikki Näyttää/Kuka Mä Oon? translates as something like All the Evil in the World/Who Am I? Brilliantly, the act is credited on the sleeve as being Kääriäinen and the Geniuses. No argument here.
 
 
A bizarre new wave/disco hybrid, there’s no mistaking Reco’s ranting vocal, but sadly there's very little else I can tell you about this particular recording or indeed about Reijo.  Described by his family as “a very colourful person,” Reco sadly passed away in 2005. He left a pile of cassette tapes to his only daughter, a treasury of unreleased recordings. Perhaps one day the world will be allowed to hear them.  He did bear more than a passing resemblance to Finnish singer Jorma Kääriäinen: does anyone out there know if they were related? Apologies for the poor quality of this - if I ever track down a better copy you'll be the first to know.
 
 
Enjoy!
 
 
 

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