Friday, 27 November 2015

Dead Letter Office

Welcome to the 345th WWR post - and the last this year before we begin our annual Christmas cavalcade.

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan (September 2, 1923) Victor Lundberg was an American radio personality and newscaster best known for his spoken-word record An Open Letter To My Teenage Son, which provided him with a US Top 10 hit in 1967.

The record, written by Robert Thompson, imagines a stern father talking to his teenage son. Whilst the Battle Hymn of the Republic plays in the background, Lundberg touches on such topics as long hair, the existence of God, the Vietnam War, and the expectation that all good Americans should fight for the freedom of their country. The song ends with Lundberg telling his son that, if the teen decides to burn his draft card then he should also burn his ‘birth certificate at the same time. From that moment on, I have no son’. That denouement is slightly at odds with Lundberg’s own liberal views and with the song’s earlier line that ‘your mother will love you no matter what you do, because she is a woman; and I love you too, son’.

The B-side My Buddy Carl, is more representative of Lundberg, and hides a plea for equal rights for people of all colours within a similar, Vietnam-themed soliloquy.

An Open Letter became a surprise hit, making number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, number six on Cash Box and selling over one million copies, earning a gold disc and a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Recording (it lost to Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen's similar Gallant Men). Encouraged by this success, Liberty released an entire album of Lundberg's musings, also entitled An Open Letter although that failed to chart. In January 1968 Life magazine printed a scathing review of Lundberg’s disc, dismissing it as ‘an item that anybody can hate’.

Victor Lundberg who, according to an article in The Village Voice  (November 16, 1967) spent WWII working for the Psychological Warfare Department (presumably the joint Anglo-American Psychological Warfare Division) died on February 14, 1990. His daughter Terri (commenting on in 2006), stated that Lundberg ‘died a drunken man on state aid in Michigan alone in a run down apartment’. There was no love lost between Lundberg and his family: ‘He was estranged from all of his children and never provided financial or emotional support to any of them,’ Terri wrote.

Unsurprisingly there were a good number of  "response" records to An Open Letter To My Teenage Son, and I’ve included three of the best here for you today: Keith Gordon's A Teenager's Answer, A Teenager's Open Letter To His Father by Robert Tamlin, and Open Letter To The Older Generation by radio and television personality and the World's Oldest Living Teenager Dick Clark.


Note: I'm trying out a new MP3 player and download site. Let me know how you get on with it!

Friday, 20 November 2015

Welcome To My Life Tattoo

The diminutive actor best known for his roles as Nick-Nack in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and as Tattoo in the hit TV series Fantasy Island, Herve Villechaize was born on April 23, 1943 in Nazi-occupied Paris to his English mother Evelyn and French father André Villechaize, a doctor. At a young age he was diagnosed with an acute thyroid condition, resulting in dwarfism and leaving him with a full-grown height of just under 4 ft tall.

A gifted artist, in 1959 he entered the École des Beaux-Arts, two years later becoming the youngest artist to ever have his work displayed in the Museum of Paris. In 1964 he left France for the USA, settling in New York, and taught himself English by watching television. He continued to work as as an artist and photographer, and began acting in Off Broadway productions. He even did some modelling for National Lampoon magazine.

In 1974, after appearing in Oliver Stone’s debut film Seizure he got his big break, landing the role of the tiny villain Nick-Nack in The Man with the Golden Gun. A move to California, where he met Aaron Spelling, resulted in his being cast opposite Ricardo Montalban in a 1977 ABC Movie of the Week pilot called Fantasy Island. A sequel - Return to Fantasy Island - followed in 1978 and a series was soon commissioned. Fantasy Island went on to run for six seasons from 1978-1983, making a household name out of Herve’s character Tattoo and his catchphrase ‘The plane! The plane!’ 

Unfortunately Herve’s newly found fame – and reported $25,000 an episode pay cheque – would also lead to his downfall. He met actress Donna Camille on the set and in September 1980 she became his second wife. The marriage quickly turned sour, with Donna filing for divorce in December 1981. A little over a year later, after demanding the same money for his role on Fantasy Island as front man Montalban, ABC dropped Herve from the show.

Herve quickly found himself short of money and was forced to sell his 2.5-acre and move into a rented house in North Hollywood. It was reported that he would often consume two bottles of wine in a single night – a huge amount for such a diminutive man. His health was suffering too: in increasing pain from internal organs that were too large for his body, Herve was forced to take a cocktail of pills each day to alleviate the symptoms. Unsurprisingly he began to suffer from frequent bouts of depression.

In the early morning of September 4, 1993 Kathy Self - Herve's friend of 14 years - found his body in the yard of his house. Herve had written a suicide note and, ghoulishly, also made and audio recording of his last moments. After saying goodbye to Kathy he aimed his gun into a pillow placed against his chest and pulled the trigger. The tape recorder caught the sound of Herve cocking the pistol and of Kathy arriving on the scene. She rushed him to hospital where he was declared deceased. He was 50 years old. Herve's body was cremated and the ashes scattered at sea. A sad, sad end.

However he did leave us with a legacy. Luckily for us Herve made several stabs at a recording career: in 1980 he released the single Why/When a Child is Born. Both of these tracks also featured on the charity album Children of the World: the Time is Now…and both of these tracks are included here for you now.


Friday, 13 November 2015

Blather About Bladder

I’m massively indebted to David Noades and WFMU for rediscovering this curio back in 2007, and to eBay and Discogs for helping me land a copy of my own!

It’s not often that you get to listen to the sound of a surgical procedure put to music, but that’s exactly what the Dutch-based pharmaceutical company Norgine (established way back in 1906) decided its’ UK sales force needed to help them sell their laxatives to chemists’ shops around the country in the mid-1960s.

Livingstone Recordings, a short-lived London-based label that specialised in religious recordings and had previously put out an album by Billy Graham, manufactured the disc.  The B-side features A Representatives Visit, an audio vignette which features a Norgine salesman selling Normacol to a GP: ‘can we begin by talking about constipation?’ Ugh! ‘Now let’s jump from the bowel to the stomach’

But it is the A-side that’s the pip.

Tableau of a Lithotomy was written by the 17th century French composer Marin Marais. A busy man, as well as writing several books of instrumental music and being a court-appointed musician to the king, he also managed to find the time to sire 19 children. The piece, as described on the gatefold sleeve of the disc, is ‘a musical description of a bladder operation’ It appears that Marais intended that Tableau of a Lithotomy would demonstrate the versatility of the viol (also known as the Viola da Gamba), a bowed string instrument similar to the cello.

'Some 250 years ago a French composer, Marin Marais, wrote - to the best of our knowledge - the only musical description of a surgical operation. He called it "Le tableau de l'operation de la taille" or "Tableau of a Lithotomy". This most unusual offering was taken from an old edition of the Library of the Conservatory of Music in Paris; it had not previously been performed in modern times.

Marin Morais (1656-1728) - the greatest player of the viola de gamba of his time - was a pupil of Lulli and a soloist in the Royal Chamber Orchestra at the time of Louis XIV. He wrote profusely and brilliantly for the viola da gamba, but his compositions for this 7-stringed instrument are in such complicated polyphonic style that they defy transcription for the 4-stringed violin-cello and today, unfortunately all but forgotten.

Our recording was made by the famous Dutch viola da gamba player Carel Boomkamp, accompanied by the distinguished harpsichordist, Millicent Silver.

The verbal commentary which you will hear with the music, announcing the phases of the operation as it progresses, is based on the composer’s original annotations, which were intended to accompany the music’.

A lithotomy (from Greek "lithos" (stone) and "tomos" (cut)), is a surgical method for removal of stones formed inside organs such as the kidneys, bladder, and gallbladder, that cannot exit naturally through the urinary system.

Again: ugh!

Apologies for the poor quality of the B-side: I'll replace the link after I've converted my own copy. 


Friday, 6 November 2015

Cry Me A Loser

There is absolutely no excuse for this.

Yummy Yummy Yummy by the Ohio Express is one of the most diabolical bubblegum hits ever inflicted on the world – a truly wretched record (although, to be fair, it’s not quite as abominable as the follow up Chewy Chewy). So why on earth would the wonderful Julie London – the angel who crooned the definitive version of  Cry me A River – decide to cover it?

You can’t really blame the members of Ohio Express, as the band didn’t really exist. ‘They’ were a studio project put together by Jerry Kasenetz's and Jeffrey Katz's Super K Productions with an ever-changing line-up: at one time Ohio Express featured the four men who would go on to form 10CC. Miss London, however, should have known better.

Born Julie Peck on September 26, 1926 in Santa Rosa, California, Julie London began acting in movies in 1944. Ten years later the sultry singer signed to Liberty Records and issued her first album, Julie Is her Name, in December 1955. Here first four albums were all top 20 hits in the US. She died in 2000, having never fully recovered from a stroke suffered some five years earlier.

Released in 1969 – as her 29th and last LP for Liberty - London’s album Yummy Yummy Yummy is a misguided hotch-potch of contemporary covers, including Light My Fire, And I Love Her (as And I Love Him), garage band favourite Louie Louie and Bob Dylan’s Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn).

It’s beyond ridiculous. And that’s why I’m including it three of the tracks from this awful album here, for your delectation.


Friday, 30 October 2015

The Music of L Ron Hubbard

You’ll have all heard about L Ron Hubbard, the mediocre pulp sci-fi writer, bigamist, inveterate liar, convicted felon and racist who founded the cult of scientology… a ‘church’ populated by crazies who believe that anyone can attain immortality so long as they have the money.

I don’t need to go in to details here, but unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll be more than aware of the controversies that surround this so-called religion; the numerous court cases, the allegations of human trafficking, of holding people against their will and the exploitation and blackmail of stupid rich people. As Hubbard once noted: “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion."

I’m not here to poo-poo their bizarre beliefs, to argue about people being dropped down volcanoes millions of years ago, to talk of Xenu or Thetans, to discuss Hubbard’s battle with mental illness (he was diagnosed with schizophrenia: a recent documentary, Going Clear, produced letters Hubbard wrote begging for help with his illness) or even about why Shelly Miscavige, the wife of cult leader David Miscavige, has not been seen in public for eight years – for all we’re interested in today is the godawful ‘music’ made over the years by L Ron Hubbard (usually referred to as LRH).

For Hubbard was not only a writer of fiction, he also fancied himself a musician, writing, producing and helming several ridiculous musical projects in an effort elicit funds from his faithful followers.

Alongside endless albums of lectures, readings and interpretations of Hubbard’s personal philosophy, there are at least four records that fans of bad music need to be aware of: Space Jazz, Mission Earth, the Road to Freedom and the Joy Of Creating.

Space Jazz, conceived as the soundtrack to the book Battlefield Earth, was released in 1982. There were plans too to turn the book into a movie, with Scientology poster boy John Travolta in the lead as hero Jonnie Goodboy Tyler. However the movie did not appear until 2000, at which point Hubbard was long dead (well, his physical body was, anyway) and Travolta – now far too old to play the hero - was cast as the villain Terl instead. The film was a huge flop. However Space Jazz remains an essential listen.

Overseen by Jazz great Chick Corea, the album features dull piano pieces, snippets of comic-book dialogue and childish sound effects. It uses the then-new digital sampling synthesizer the Fairlight CMI throughout – most notably in the utterly ridiculous Windsplitter – an instrumental track that sounds like it was recorded for a ZX Spectrum game and is peppered throughout with neighing horses.

Mission Earth is an altogether different animal, issued as a solo album by guitar great Edgar Winter in 1986. The words and music were written by Hubbard, with the album produced and arranged by Winter. Sessions began in 1985, but were not completed until after Hubbard’s death in January 1986. Apparently Hubbard left detailed instructions and audio tapes for the musicians and producers to follow when making this album, which Winter has described as "both a return to rock’s primal roots and yet highly experimental". It isn’t: it’s perfectly dreadful. Mission Earth was published by Revenimus Music Publishing, the music publishing division of the Church of Scientology, which also published The Road to Freedom the same year.

Credited to L. Ron Hubbard & Friends, The Road to Freedom features John Travolta, Chick Corea, Leif Garrett, Frank Stallone, and Karen Black amongst others. According to the Church of Scientology, the album achieved gold record status within four months of release, although to the best of y knowledge it has jet to be awarded anything like a framed disc from the RIAA.

A March 20, 1986 press release put out by the Church of Scientology announced a series of tribute events in honour of LRH’s birthday, and stated, "Crowds applauded the surprise release of an album of popular music composed by Hubbard entitled The Road to Freedom, featuring leading artists John Travolta, Chick Corea, Karen Black, opera star Julia Migenes-Johnson, Leif Garrett, Frank Stallone, and more than two dozen other recording artists and entertainers." According to Wikipedia, The Church of Scientology directed its’ members to order multiple copies of the album to give to associates as a means to introduce people to the concepts of Scientology. The advertising calls this album "the perfect dissemination tool". Jonathan Leggett of The Guardian wrote that "the lyrics are rotten. At one stage Travolta croons: "Reality is me, reality is you. Yeah, yeah, yeah..." Although praised on websites as 'a musical masterpiece' it actually sounds like the kind of jazz noodle that they used to demonstrate CD players in Dixons in the 1980s." Luckily for us, The Road to Freedom features a performance from LRH himself – the preposterous L’envoi, Thank You for Listening.

And so to The Joy of Creating. Subtitled The Golden Era Musicians And Friends Play L Ron Hubbard, this pile of dross features Isaac Hayes, famously ousted from his role as Chef on South Park after refusing to poke fun at Scientology on the programme – although he was happy to take their dollar when producers Matt Stone and Trey Parker extracted the Michael from other belief systems. Other artists include Doug E. Fresh and our old friends Chick Corea and Edgar Winter.

Cobbled together from Hubbard’s writings and released 15 years after his death, The Joy of Creating (according to the CD booklet) “reminds us that a being causes his own feelings, and this truth alone has revitalized many artists and professionals the world over.” What it actually does is reinterpret the same piece of shabby writing six times, slathering LRH’s words with fake smiles and forced bonhomie. It’s nasty, dated, unnecessary nonsense and sounds like a Cosby Show soundtrack. Just awful.

Anyway, here we have a track from each of these four albums: Windsplitter from Space Jazz, Joy City from Mission Earth, L’envoi, Thank You for Listening, from The Road to Freedom and Doug E Fresh’s The Joy of Creating from the album of the same name.


Thanks to The Squire for inspiring this week's blog post!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Moon the Buffoon

Two Sides of the Moon, Keith Moon's 1975 solo album, has been described as "the most expensive karaoke album in history". It’s a horrible album made by an inspired drummer who – bizarrely – decided not to play drums (he jumps behind the kit on just three tracks) but to sing instead, even though Keith was not known for his vocal prowess. He had recorded a few lead vocals for The Who, most notably Bucket T (from the Ready Steady Who EP) and Bellboy from Quadrophenia (he would go on to sing Fiddle About on 1975’s Tommy soundtrack; the original 1969 version was sung by the song’s author, John Entwistle), and had recently appeared on the misfiring Beatles tribute All This And World War II singing When I’m 64, but the man known as Moon The Loon would cheerfully - and honestly - admit that he was completely tone deaf.

Inspired by the fact that all of the other members of the Who had been indulging in solo projects (with distinctly different levels of success), Two Sides of the Moon should have been Keith’s moment to shine. However even bringing in a bunch of his superstar friends - including Spencer Davis, Bobby Keys, Rick Nelson, Harry Nilsson, John Sebastian, Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh and Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan from the Turtles/the Mothers of Invention) failed to raise the LA recording sessions above carnage, and the resulting album is a travesty. The bastard cousin of other mid-70’s studio excesses – Nilsson’s Pussycats, the Lennon/Spector sessions that resulted in Roots/Rock ‘n’ Roll and the bloated, brandy and cocaine-fuelled Goodnight Vienna sessions - Two Sides of the Moon shines as a beacon of the unrestrained generosity of the music industry. Who today would fork out $200,000 (well over $1million today) for such an exercise in vanity?

Preceded by a single, a cover of the Beach Boys’ Don't Worry Baby (re-recorded for the album with Keith singing in a lower register: both versions are horrible), the album consists of cover versions – he revisits the Who's The Kids Are Alright, massacres the Beatles' In My Life " beyond all recognition – and new material provided by his pals, including Ringo (who ‘duets’ with Keith on Together), Harry Nilsson and John Lennon, who provided Move Over Ms L. Lennon would later re-record the track as the B-side to his hit cover of Stand By Me.

One school of though has it that Two Sides of the Moon was supposed to be messy: how can anyone take this seriously? The reversible inner cover for the LP, which shows Keith’s naked bottom doing a ‘moonie’ out of his car window, should have been sign enough that this project was meant to be a joke. Why then did he begin sessions for a follow up, shelved after the appalling sales of Two Sides of the Moon?

Recent reissues have added a slew of bonus cuts, including tracks recorded for the aborted second solo album. Would it have been any better? We’ll never know. Moon died three years after this sole solo project came out.

So, to save you the pain of having to listen to the entire album, here are three wholly representative cuts from Two Sides of the Moon, the aforementioned Don't Worry Baby, In My Life and Together.


Friday, 16 October 2015

Corny Cornes

Big thanks to WWR reader Graham Clayton for suggesting today’s horror.

Born March 31, 1948 in Melbourne, Vietnam veteran (he served with the 7th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment) Graham Studley Cornes is a former Australian rules footballer, coach, and sports presenter.

Luckily for us, he also fancies himself as a bit of a musician, fronting Cornesy's Allstars, playing guitar and taking on some of the vocal duties. A surprise really, as his vocal prowess – or distinct lack thereof – had already been showcased on his appalling 1977 45 I Gotta Girl, with its glam rock (some might say Status Quo rip-off) pomp, and the equally atrocious B-side Untying the Laces – which drops every football-related metaphor and simile in to the lyrics you can imagine in under three minutes.

Cornes played for Glenelg Football Club in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) between 1967 and 1982. In 317 games for Glenelg he kicked 339 goals. Graham represented South Australia 21 times, including as captain in 1978. He was selected in the All-Australian team in 1979 and 1980, winning the Tassie Medal in 1980 and the Simpson Medal in 1979.

He went on to become coach of the Adelaide Football Club, and played 47 games with them in 1983-1984. After leaving South Adelaide he returned to Glenelg in 1985 as coach, winning premierships in 1985 and 1986 and also taking them to three Grand Finals in 1987, 1988 and 1990. He was the All-Australian coach in 1987 and 1988, and in 1991 was appointed the inaugural coach of the Adelaide Football Club in their first year in the AFL. Cornes is now a football media personality, hosting televised football matches since the 1990s and writing regular sports commentaries News Limited.

Both sides of this turkey were written by Evan Jones, another Vietnam veteran, who was co-author of The Pushbike Song, an international hit for The Mixtures in 1970. He really should have known better.


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