Friday, 2 November 2012

Two Sides from Mrs Slydes

A serious rarity for you all today from the doyenne of bad singers, Leona Anderson.

Now, I’ve written about Leona before but it’s worth a recap, especially as I’ve unearthed a few more details about this extraordinary woman, proudly proclaimed by her own publicity as ‘the World's Most Horrible Singer’.

Born in 1885, Leona Aronson was the younger sister of early cowboy movie star Broncho Billy (not his wife, as stated elsewhere) and began her showbiz career at 15. She seriously thought about a career as an operatic singer before appearing in a number of films - thankfully all silent - in the first two decades of the century. One - Mud and Sand - satirised Rudolph Valentino and starred the great Stan Laurel (as Rhubarb Vaseline, not Vaselino as I originally wrote; Leona played Filet de Sole), another (In the Park, 1915) starred Charlie Chaplin and a third (Broncho Billy's Mexican Wife) was directed by and starred her brother.

By the mid-1950s Leona had developed her unique singing style and made many cabaret appearances sending up opera singers: she once said she chose this career because “Opera singers just can't kid themselves properly; they never can let their voices go.” She recorded a single, Fish, a 78 rpm released by the small New York City label Horrible Records (motto: if it’s really a Horrible Record it’s bound to be a hit) credited as Leonna Anderson which, the label on the disc claims, was recorded in the Holland Tunnel. TV comic Ernie Kovacs heard it and invited her on his show. That appearance led to her recording a cover of the Pattie Page hit The Mama Doll Song (backed with I’m A Fool to Care) for Columbia – of which Billboard wrote ‘her cracked tones, sadly out of tune (have) the same macabre appeal as the miserable chirping of Florence Foster Jenkins’. Both sides of her second (and last) 45 for Columbia, Limburger Lover and Yo-Ho the Crow, later turned up on her RKO/Unique Records album Music to Suffer By. (UPDATE: Leona re-recorded the tracks for the album: the cuts on the 45 are markedly different.)

A short piece on Leona which appeared in the July 1957 edition of Song Hits magazine tells us a little more about how the great lady started her recording career: ‘Leona bills herself as "the world's worst singer", although there are people who have different opinions. Leona says that an artist mustn't expect complete objectivity from everyone - there will always be those who will not appreciate her act.

‘Miss Anderson was discovered by Tom Murray and Tony Burrello, who felt that since the world was apparently interested in buying terrible records, they would help meet the demand. They organized Horrible Records, signed their songs to the Miserable Music Company and released them through Terrible Distributors.

‘She was stolen from Horrible Records by Columbia, who had her satirize other record companies' artists, with sides like "I'm a Fool to Care" and "Mama Doll". Leona wanted to do a recording based on one of Columbia's big hits, but for some reason they said no. Stanley Borden, of RKO-Unique Records, knowing how effective Leona is, signed her to record for them. They have just issued her first album, "Music to Suffer By" (or "The Worst of Leona Anderson"!).’

Shortly after the release of her only album, she appeared in the Vincent Price horror film The House on Haunted Hill (as the demonic Mrs Slydes). She died, on Christmas day 1973, in a retirement home in Fremont, Alameda County, California at the age of 88, a little less than three years after her brother.

Music to Suffer By is well-known and readily available; her first recording, Fish, turns up from time to time on compilations but, to the best of my knowledge, her Columbia debut is currently unavailable. So here, in all its glory, are both sides of that first Columbia 45: The Mama Doll Song and I’m a Fool to Care. Enjoy!

UPDATE: You can read more about Leona - and her amazing career - in The World's Worst Records Volume One.


  1. Another excellent choice. The weekend music can only get better.

  2. 11/2/12 Wrote:
    The Late Mitch Miller obviously thought this was funny enough to take Ernie Kovac's Reccomendation to sign Ms. Anderson to Columbia Records for these two awful songs. And speaking of god-awful opera singers, Mr. Miller eventually thought that rival RCA Victor Records was doing all right with the legendary horror singer Frances Floyd Jenkins, so he and the A&R staff Columbia Records thought, well,why not? we can sign her to a contract and get a few laffs..... A great rare find in the treasure trove of low-brow recordings .

  3. Florence Foster Jenkins eat your heart out. Terrible. Awful. Tears of laughter all round. A treat. Thank you.

  4. 11/5/12 Wrote:
    Anonymous: Thanks For correcting me on the name of Florence Foster Jenkins;I Knew I was going to mis-interepet the name of that legendary bad opera singer.

  5. ye gods. Where do you people find this stuff?

  6. That guitar solo on "I'm a Fool To Care" is terrible!

  7. Darryl, this is absolute freaking genius! She sounds so horrible, but sincere, it's actually kind of sweet in a weird way. Thanks for sharing these ;)


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