Friday, 26 June 2015

John Steed, In Memorium

Sadly, at the ripe old age of 93, the TV legend Patrick Macnee - best known as John Steed in the long-running drama the Avengers - passed away yesterday.

Daniel Patrick Macnee (6 February 1922 – 25 June 2015) was born in London. Descended from the Earls of Huntingdon, his father trained race horses and his mother was a lesbian, whose partner was referred to by Macnee as "Uncle Evelyn". Educated at Eton, where he met the future Goon Show star Michael Bentine, he was one of the honour guard for King George V during the late monarch’s lying in state at St George's Chapel in 1936. Legend has it that he was expelled from Eton for selling pornography and being a bookmaker for his fellow students.

He began acting while at school, appearing in Henry V at the age of 11, with the later Sir Christopher Lee as the Dauphin. Macnee joined the Royal Navy during WWII, becoming a navigator on torpedo boats in the English Channel and North Sea and, after the war ended, he returned to acting, gaining valuable experience onstage in London’s West End before accepting some minor film roles, including that of Young Marley in Alastair Sim’s classic version of A Christmas Carol. But when the call came from David Greene, a director friend at CBC in Toronto, he left England within 48 hours and spent much of his adult life in Canada and the United States. Whilst in America Macnee appeared in supporting roles in a number of films, notably Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948), in Gene Kelly’s Les Girls (1957), with Anthony Quayle in the war film The Battle of the River Plate (1956) as well as playing dozens of small parts in American and Canadian television and theatre.

When working in London on the documentary series The Valiant Years (based on the World War II memoirs of Winston Churchill), Macnee was offered a part originally known as Jonathan Steed in a new TV series called The Avengers. Originally conceived as a vehicle for Ian Hendry, who played the lead role of Dr. David Keel, Macnee was to play his assistant, but moved into the lead role after Hendry's departure at the end of the first season.

Macnee's other significant roles include Sir Godfrey Tibbett in the James Bond film A View to a Kill, This Is Spinal Tap and on TV he appeared in Alias Smith and Jones, Hart to Hart, Columbo, Magnum PI, Murder She Wrote, Battlestar Galactica, The Love Boat and The Twilight Zone. He made his Broadway debut in Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth in 1972, and has the distinction of playing both Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson – the latter with his old friend Christopher Lee.

Back in 1964 he did something quite extraordinary. At the height of his fame he recorded a brace of duets with co-star Honor Blackman – and it’s these recordings we celebrate today.

Originally issued on Decca in the UK (and on London in the US the following year) and reissued twice – in 1983 (on Cherry Red) and in 1990 on Deram (when it reached the UK Top Five), Kinky Boots is a mad, bad, camp classic – a truly great record and one of my all-time favourites. I hadn’t heard it until the Cherry Red reissue, but fell in love with it then and there and, more than 30 years on, still absolutely adore it. Same goes for the B-side, the excruciating Let’s Keep It Friendly, a stilly song and a silly performance – but utterly beguiling.

At the same time as this 45 was issued Blackman also released her only album, Everything I've Got, although neither side of the single was originally included (the A-side was included on some later reissues). Everything I've Got is a not-terribly-good album on which Pussy Galore attempts a handful of torch songs, a few lounge standards and a cover of the Lennon-McCartney song World Without Love. The album was reissued by Cherry Red in 1983.

Belgian record executive, producer and songwriter Marcel Stellman has worked with hundreds of acts over the years, including repeat WWR offender Jess Conrad, and famously owns the rights to the TV show Countdown. Musical Director Mike Leander (Michael George Farr, 1941 –1996), began his career at Decca in 1963, working with people including David McWilliams, Gary Glitter (he co-wrote many of Glitter’s major hits), the Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull, Joe Cocker, Billy Fury, Marc Bolan, the Small Faces, Van Morrison, Alan Price, Peter Frampton, Shirley Bassey, Lulu, Roy Orbison, Ben E. King and the Drifters, Gene Pitney and the Beatles, scoring the arrangement for She’s Leaving Home.

Here are both sides of this fabulous 45, plus a track from Honor's album, Men Will Deceive You.


Friday, 19 June 2015

Close Encounters

Digging through my audio files, looking for material I haven’t featured here before, I found these – tracks I snapped up in 2009 from one of the most peculiar albums I had ever encountered and promptly forgot about. Until now, that is.

Issued in 1971, Encounter: Once You Understand is a peculiar moral fable, a mix of hippy, happy-clappy Christian youth camp songs and poorly-recorded, poorly acted-out vignettes featuring parents of teens wringing their hands over their kids’ drug use. Credited to ‘Think’, the album was written and produced by Lou Stallman and Bob Susser. Bob Susser (born Robert Howard Susser, July 18, 1942) is an award winning songwriter, producer and performer, best known for children's music, and has sold over 5 million children's albums. Writer and arranger Stallman’s credits stretch back to the early 1950s (he co-wrote the 1954 single I Was Meant For You by The Four Knights) and has had songs recorded by Dion, Perry Como, Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde, the 4 Seasons and dozens of others.
The year after the album appeared the opening track was covered by a Toronto-based act called The Leonard Family, was issued in the US as a single and charted – leading Beacon records in the UK to license it for release too. ‘Now and again a record like this comes along’, the Beacon press release reads . ‘There was Deck of Cards and The Deal to name but two. Both registered.’ Interesting that they should choose to compare this rubbish to two of the worst records ever released!

 The Leonard Family cover is pretty much identical, although - for me at least - the original is a little more histrionic and crazed. The opening track has been sampled by a number of rap and hip-hop acts, including Biz Markie and De La Soul. 

Here are a brace of tracks from Encounter: Once You Understand, the opening track and the wonderfully loopy Gather, plus both sides of the Leonard Family 45, Once You Understand and It Won’t Happen Again. If you can bear it, the whole album is available at WFMU.


Apologies, but Divshare is down yet again! I'll update these links as soon as possible.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Teen Age Sing Along

Issued by Warner Bros in the US in 1960, Crazy, Top 40 & Cool is a precursor – of a kind – to those awful Top of the Pops albums that filled supermarket shelves in the 60s and 70s here in Britain (and consequently fill the shelves of charity shops today).

The premise is pretty straightforward, get a bunch of studio musicians together, add in a few sound-alike vocalists and a gaggle of enthusiastic teenagers and get them to record a selection of current chart hits: issue it at a budget price that every parent can afford and it back and watch the cash come in.

Only what we get here is nothing short of an abomination: the gaggle of teenagers are loud, shrieky, off key and annoying; the song selection is muddled - it's pretty much all novelty hits that would appeal to either the very young or the very old, hardly teenage fodder - and the end result would more likely drive people from your home than encourage your friends and neighbours to stay and party. Subtitled 'fun for all the family - the new party craze', the whole sorry mess was put together by a faceless collection of producers and publishers using the epithet Free-Sac Productions: Free-Sac were credited as publishers of the 1959 45 Tres Chic by Geoff Gilmore and the Sheiks. 

The vocalist on this disc is one Dick Kerr - or rather the disc 'features' Dick Kerr and the Sing-Along Teen-Agers. Kerr, a renowned singer, comedian and impressionist who sadly died in 2010 at the age of 80 after a long battle with cancer, sang at venues in his home area of Turtle Creek, and Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania as a boy. Leaving high school, he joined the United States Air Force, where he was discovered by Horace Heidt, who was looking for a fourth singer for his shows and already had a young man from each of the other branches of military service. Kerr founded the Air Force Tops in Blue entertainment programme, which still exists today under another name.

Kerr performed at Carnegie Hall with Heidt and at every famous showplace in America during the seven years they worked together. Heidt built a show around a group of performers that included Kerr, and they filmed a one-hour television pilot in Hollywood. Kerr worked in theatres, radio, television, Las Vegas and top hotels, nightclubs and concert halls around America; he performed in Europe and Asia and entertained troops stationed overseas.

Anyway, here’s a brace of cuts from the album: an awful teenage sing-along version of Chubby Checker’s massive hit The Twist, and a dreadful cover of the Ivy Three’s dreadful novelty disc Yogi.


Friday, 5 June 2015

Dream On

Only one track today principally because – on this particular record – the same track appears on both sides. The only difference between the two versions of Like a Dream is that, on the A-side of the disc, the song plays backwards!

The first (and, I believe, only) release on G.H.M Records, Freda Gothenburg’s Like A Dream sounds like a reject from an amateur production of The Rocky Horror Show or similar: I can certainly hear major similarities between Freda’s performance and the vocal technique employed by Little Nell. G.H.M stood for Mike Gatton, Roy Hurley and Ken Murray, the writers of the song and the men who came up with the idea of a backwards-playing disc. Issued in 1979, other credits for the trio of Gatton, Hurley and Murray include the songs Late Night Lady (recorded by Wild Willy Barrett the same year) and What Hit Me (recorded by UK act Rich Gypsy in 1980). As a duo, Gatton and Murray wrote several songs on Barrett’s debut solo album Call of the Wild (Polydor, again 1979).

Ken Murray now runs his own recording studio and song writing business in Rochester, Kent. Mike Gatton, who sadly was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year, recently wrote a musical for schoolchildren, Delahaye the Dog, which focuses on the issue of bullying and its impact on victims. Bassist, sound engineer and songwriter Roy Hurley is still gigging today, as part of the four-piece band Elliot’s Sleeping.

Freda Gothenburg was a studio backing singer, and today is pursuing a career as a writer and proof reader; Like A Dream was her only release under her own name. It’s an awful record, but this is not her fault: she was clearly encouraged to sing the song as playfully and exaggeratedly as she could. As she herself put it when responding to a post on “I reserved my 'good' singing for the session work I did. It was a blast making this record…even if it doesn't have listen appeal!” I’m unsure who the Charlie-boy mentioned in the song is (if indeed it is meant to be anyone): it could be Prince Charles, who in 1979 was still, young, free and single and seen by the press as the world’s most eligible bachelor (it would be two years before he would marry Diana Spencer), or Charlie Townsend, the forever-unseen titular star of Charlie’s Angels.



Friday, 29 May 2015

And Dream Of Sheep

In the second volume of The World’s Worst Records I wrote a chapter on singing animals, mentioning the first of today’s brace of badness. However I’ve only just become aware of the second disc, so here – especially for ewe – is classical composer Adrian Munsey with his two wonderfully woolly 45s.

Issued by Virgin Records in 1979, The Lost Sheep is a mediocre slice of sub-classical dullness which features a lamb bleating whilst a small orchestra – replete with bassist and drummer - play the most maudlin music you’re ever likely to hear. Credited to Adrian Munsey, his Sheep, Wind, and Orchestra, the composer even performed this peculiar piece ‘live’ on television, accompanied by a lamb, it’s mother and an eight-piece ensemble. As the lamb was struck with stage fright, Munsey himself stood at the microphone, straight-faced and cradled the poor animal while he performed the recalcitrant beasts’ part.

Virgin must have sensed a hit, for they allowed Munsey to follow this up with C’est Sheep , a dreadful marriage of classical, disco and early techno which failed to sell despite also being issued as a disco-friendly 12”. C'est Sheep, a reader of this blog informs me, was produced by Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks, and was later included on the Virgin compilation Methods of Dance. Three years later Virgin main man Richard Branson – as Jeff Mutton - sat in the producer’s chair for the one and only time to oversee the 1982 Christmas single from The Singing Sheep - Baa Baa Black Sheep backed with Flock Around the Clock.

Munsey has enjoyed a long career as a film and TV producer, documentary film-maker, author and composer. A history scholar at King’s College, Cambridge and a graduate of the Royal College of Art, Munsey’s also promoted Elton John’s first paid gig. In 1982 he founded Odyssey Video and has since released and distributed over 500 films on video or DVD. Music has been a lifelong passion for Munsey, with Classic FM describing his compositions as “unashamedly melodic and heart-warmingly nostalgic, capturing the emotions stirred by visual imagery”. He has released several albums of vocal and instrumental compositions, including Four Suites and Incognito (both 2005), A Wider Sky (2006), Requiem (2008), Songs (2010) and Full Circle (2013). His latest album, Agnus Dei, was issued in March 2015. He has also enjoyed commercial and critical success with his Music Infinity record label, releasing albums by the bestselling Classical Brit-winning boyband Blake, soprano Lesley Garrett (her album A North Country Lass reached No. 1 in the classical charts) and showbiz legend Neil Sedaka.

So here are both sides of both of Adrian Munsey’s sheep-related singles.


Once again Divshare is up the creek. I'm using The Box for these tracks but you may have issues downloading as I have limited free bandwidth. I will replace these links with Divshare ones once they have sorted out their problems. 

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Friday, 22 May 2015

Not Like A Song At All

Although I have been editing this blog for almost eight years now, I think that this maybe the first time I have featured an instrumental as the plug track. Sure I’ve included instrumental B-sides in the past, but unless my memory fails me (and, at my age, that is starting to become a regular occurrence) I don’t believe that I have ever presented you with an entirely instrumental selection.

Well, today I aim to address that. And how.

This spectacularly inept disc – Your Voice Is Like A Song backed with Take A Cup Of Kindness - was issued in 1971 by song-poem supremos Tin Pan Alley, but it’s not a song poem. Oh no: the writer of the two tunes, one Elmer S Galloway, also performs them – or should I say attempts to - with all the élan of a three year old picking up his or her first toy guitar.

This is a vanity pressing. A few song-poem outfits also allowed erstwhile composers to perform their own material, and would knock out a handful of discs to said tunesmith for a fee. Our Elmer clearly thought that as he had composed these two tunes, who could be better than him to perform them?  Unfortunately the answer to that is ‘anyone’; one of more of Tin Pan Alley’s regular roster of catastrophically awful musicians would have done a better job that poor old Elmer manages.

It’s clear, judging by the mistakes and the chronically poor timing, that Elmer had but one chance to commit his precious - albeit preposterous - tunes to vinyl: what a shame then that this was the best performance he could muster. I can’t tell you much about the man, apart from the fact that he was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in August 1921 and that he died in December 2001 aged 80, just four days before Christmas. 5’ 6” high, Elmer served as a private during WWII. He was a prolific songwriter, and in March 1976 alone he copyrighted 18 tunes, including Space Age Holiday, You Were Great and Play For Me A Melody. 1976 was a good and productive year for Elmer: in the previous year he had only copyrighted four songs, and three of those were co-writes. He was still composing in the early 1980s (his song Can't Love You Now, Love You Later was issued on cassette in 1981).

Happily, my copy of the disc comes with a lead sheet for Your Voice Is Like A Song; my guess is that if Elmer had been willing to spend more money someone like Billy Grey or Madelyn Buzzard would have recorded the vocal version of the song. Perhaps they did: maybe there’s a second version of this, still waiting to be discovered that included a tortuous vocal performance to match Elmer’s rotten words. I hope it exists, and that it was Madelyn Buzzard who had to suffer the ignominy of singing the line ‘singing like a songbird in the sullen air’. Wouldn’t that have been delicious?


Friday, 15 May 2015

If You Go Down To the Woods Today

Today’s brace of badness comes from veteran British rock ‘n’ roller Jackie Lynton – who same of you may know through his association with Status Quo – still rocking and rolling today after more than 55 years in the business.

Born John Bertram Lynton in Shepperton, Middlesex in 1940 Jackie first began singing in his church choir. However he was bitten by the rock ‘n’ roll bug early on – Elvis was a huge influence – and, after performing Blue Suede Shoes at a talent show he and his band (originally known the Plect-Tones, before changing their name to the Teenbeats) started to attract attention. In no time at all he was playing at the famous of rival agents: consequently, by the time he got around to establishing a residency at 2 I’s Coffee Bar in Soho: proprietor Tom Littlewood subsequently became Jackie’s first professional manager.

Under Littlewood’s guidance Jackie graduated to the Larry Parnes package tour circuit where he worked alongside Billy Fury, Vince Taylor & the Playboys, Wee Willie Harris, Terry Dene, Lance Fortune, Screaming Lord Sutch & His Savages (Jackie tells a story of how he and Sutch almost jumped into the Serpentine for a publicity stunt...until they both realised that neither of them could swim), John Leyton, Freddie Starr & the Midnighters and others. Soon after Littlewood managed to score a recording deal with Pye’s new Piccadilly label.

His first disc – a version of the Judy Garland showstopper Over The Rainbow - was an odd choice and it failed to chart, although it did pick up some decent reviews. Oddly, Lonnie Donegan also covered the song around the same time. Hailed by New Musical Express as ‘Most Promising Newcomer’, Jackie was widely tipped to make it big – but never quite did. The follow up, Wishful Thinking was a silly song with a ridiculous cha-cha-cha arrangement that – quite rightly – also failed to hit the charts. Then came a rocking version of the classic All Of Me, which marked the recording debut of blues guitarist Albert Lee.  The single was well reviewed, but despite selling steadily it again missed the charts. Similarly I Believe also failed to find an audience.

It was at this point that Jackie’s career took a bizarre twist: his next single – and the first of today’s tracks - was an insane version of the children’s song The Teddy Bears' Picnic. An utterly ridiculous record, it however went on to become Jackie’s best selling single and was the closest he came to scoring a bone fide chart hit. But, like all of the singles that preceded it, The Teddy Bears' Picnic also proved unsuccessful.

One of the many Brit rockers to find an audience in Hamburg, he recorded 16 tracks in the city in just one day in 1964, although these were released credited to Boots Wellington & His Rubber Band, as he was still under contract to Pye/Piccadilly. After a couple more releases, including decent covers of Chuck Berry and Beatles compositions, Jackie left Piccadilly records. The sessions he had performed on had been graced by some of the biggest names of the early 60s rock scene - Big Jim Sullivan, Jimmy Page (who played on Jackie’s version of the Lennon-McCartney song Little Child), Herbie Flowers, Clem Cattini and Albert Lee among them. There was even talk of him forming a band with the young Ritchie Blackmore as early as 1962: apparently the pair were to be mentored by legendary producer Kim Fowley. 

He issued one last single on Piccadilly, Laura, before he left the music scene for a while. However the stage still beckoned and, in 1965, he cut a number of independently-produced sides with Ray Horricks (who had produced Teddy Bears' Picnic) – two of which turned up on a Decca single (and one of which provides our next audio disaster) Three Blind Mice/Corrina Corrina – easily one of the most peculiar singles released by one of the vanguards of the first wave of British rock ‘n’ roll, a freakbeat nursery rhyme which never stood a chance of charting in the UK. An utterly loopy record, I can’t but wonder if David Byrne was channelling Jackie when he recorded his vocal for Talking Heads’ brilliant Blind.

Jackie went on to cut three singles for Columbia, all produced by Mark Wirtz – famous for his compositions A Touch of Velvet, A Sting of Brass and Excerpt From a Teenage Opera – but again he failed to score that elusive hit which would have finally taken him into the big time. With little in the way of steady income from his recordings Jackie maintained a day job, working as a painter and decorator (he worked on John Lennon’s Weybridge mansion) whilst gigging at weekends and cutting the occasional disc. During the 70s he became a member of Savoy Brown (and finally charted – in the US at least – with the album Jack the Toad) and, in 1974, finally issued his first full-length solo album The Jackie Lynton Album, which included his live favourite The Hedgehog Song.

He spent a few years dabbling in the pop ballad field: he recorded a few sides for European release (his band The People issued a 45 on the Spanish label Explosion), recorded the vocals for an Ennio Morricone song The Ballad of Hank McCain – which featured in the movie The Untouchables - for the Italian market and even made demos for smug repeat offender Mike ‘Ukip Calypso’ Read. Then, in 1978, Status Quo scored a massive hit with Again And Again, co-written by Jackie and Quo’s Rick Parfitt (Lynton had appeared as MC on the previous year’s Quo Live). The following year he assembled a host of old friends - including Parfitt, Clem Clemson, Chas and Dave and several members of Manfred Mann's Earth Band - to record his second solo album, No Axe To Grind. Since then he’s continued to gig and record (although he has now retired from painting and decorating), enjoying several successful appearances at the Reading Rock Festival and as a guest of The Quo. Jackie issued his most recent album - All's Fair in Love and Rock 'n Roll - in 2011.


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