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!



7 comments:

  1. 2/6/15
    RobGems.ca Wrote:
    "James Bong" was hilarious! It should have been the chart hit rather than "Baby", as it was far less morbid. It's also catchier, too. However, Vee Jay, which distributed Tollie Records was losing money after a former executive (Abnor Spector)allegedly stole some of their finances and then losing both The Beatles to Capitol Records and The Four Seasons to Philips Records in mid-1965, and probably couldn't really distribute "James Bong" any further than a regional seller. Dee-Jays were probably aware of any more "sick humor" discs at the time and probably ignored the "James Bond" parody with caution. Too Bad. Jimmy was also a minor-league actor on TV shows during the 1960's. His most notable performance on TV was the harried dance instructor who tries to ward off Sally, his assistance who's fresh with the customers, and assigns her to teach Ted Cassidy (as Lurch) how to dance on "the Addams' Family" episode "Lurch Learns How To Dance".

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for that info Rob. I have all of the Addams Family episodes on dvd: I'll check that one out today!

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    2. Hi Rob. The acting Jimmy Cross appears to be a different man: http://imdb.com/name/nm0189194/

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  2. Do you know there's a cover version of "I Want My Baby Back" by British R'n'B act "The Downliners Sect"? It's on an EP called "The Sect Sing Sick Somgs".

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    Replies
    1. I did not know that! I must search out a copy

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  3. The original EMI/Columbia EP (see here: https://rateyourmusic.com/release/ep/downliners_sect/the_sect_sing_sick_songs/) is rather rare, but for some strange reason it became reissued on the CHARLY label in the 80's with a different (uncharitable) cover, which is also not easy to track down, even over here in Europe.

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  4. 2/6/15
    RobGems.ca Wrote:
    Wow, there were two fellas in the entertainment business named Jimmy Cross? I never knew, I always suspected that this was the same performer for at least 35 years. Thanks for clearing up that mystery. Maybe this other Jimmy Cross (the actor) was the reason why Vee Jay/Tollie Records changed the billing to "Jimmie Cross" on the James Bong release; it was to distinguish the difference between the two men. After checking it out, you were right; somehow the acting Jimmy Cross does not resemble in speaking tone as the other Jimmie/Jimmy Cross. One biography from Dr. Demento stated that the Singing/Comedic Jimmie/Jimmy Cross started out as a dee-jay. Gil Garfield, on the other hand started out as one the three members (with actor Bert Convy) as of the 1950's singing trio The Cheers. Their three Top 100 hits in the US on Capitol Records: "Bazoom" in 1954, "Black Denim Trousers (and Motorcycle Boots") in 1955, and "Chicken" in 1956. Perry Botkin Jr, would later form his own record label with long time partner Barry DeVorsion (Valliant Records) and would reach the Top 30 in 1963 as "Barry & The Tamerlanes" with the single "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight". They would also sign The Association, Shelby Flint, and actor Charles Boyer to recording contracts with Valliant Records. Valliant was sold to Warner Brothers in 1967; The duo (Botkin Jr./DeVorsion) would later have a smash hit in the US with the instrumental "Nadia's Theme" (A/K/A: "Cotton's Dream" and also "Theme From The Young & Restless") originally recorded for A&M Records in 1971 for the movie "Bless The Beasts & The Children", but only released as a single in 1976 with the title change to "Nadia's Theme".

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