Forgive me for repeating her story (which previously appeared in The World's Worst Records Volume Two), but for those who are not yet acquainted with the wonderful Miss Marty, here goes...
Of Swedish descent (although the liner notes on her one and only album attest she is actually half Norwegian and half Irish), Ellen Marty’s real name was Mary Ellen Mart. Born in the American mid-west but schooled in New York, she appears to have started writing songs at an early age, copyrighting her first compositions - See Saw Love and My Christmas Gift - in 1957. Moving from New York to California, Mary Ellen based herself in Hollywood and started her own publishing company, Lycklig. Mary Ellen chose the name Lycklig as it’s the Swedish word for ‘happy’.
She initially tried to break into showbiz as an actress, appearing in at least two films: Spring Affair in 1960 (as a waitress) and the 1962 cult prison drama House of Women. Neither of these films were going to make Ellen a star, and it seems that she quickly decided to concentrate instead on her musical career.
Ellen seems to have made most of her recordings pre-1968, releasing 45s under her own name and also as Buttons. Although she recorded several sides as Buttons there’s no connection between her and the many other acts who used the same name. There are at least four Buttons 45s on the Rain Coat label and several others under Ellen’s own name on Raincoat, the interchangeable name of the record company which seems to have existed primarily (and, quite possibly, exclusively) to handle Ellen’s recordings. All of Ellen’s 60s recordings were produced and arranged by Joe Leahy, the bandleader, arranger, writer and producer who previously set up the Unique Records label (which issued Leona Anderson’s collection Music To Suffer By).
Ellen also recorded an album, Mixing and Making, for her own Marty Records, an album given three stars by Billboard magazine. That LP - on which Ellen was backed by a stellar line up of musicians including drummer Hal Blaine and guitarist Bud Coleman - included her cover of The Man in the Raincoat (retitled Man In A Raincoat), which was later issued as a 45 (catalogue 601) on both the Raincoat and Marty record labels under its correct title. She followed this up with the 45 Bobby Died Today which, despite rumours to the contrary, has nothing whatsoever to do with the death of Bobby Kennedy. There are no dates on any of these releases, but Bobby Died Today appears to have been issued in 1966, two years prior to Senator Kennedy’s assassination.
All of Ellen Marty’s recordings are a delight: her voice is unconventional to say the least, veering from a kittenish whisper (as on the 45 Lovetime) to that of a truculent teenager (vis Bobby Died Today) and she occasionally sounds as if she’s about to slit her wrists. Her lyrics are distinctly odd (her single The Barn Is So Far From The Steeple starts off with the line ‘On a day that was warm I decided to be born’, for example), and her sense of scansion and timing is often at odds with what pop record buyers are used to - as in the odd, hiccoughing rhythm of Give Me A Raincheck, Baby which, when I first heard it, had me rushing to ensure that the needle of my tone arm was not skipping across the precious vinyl. One of her earliest 45s – A Petal A Day/Baby Blue Eyes – is a fine example of her slightly off-kilter world. I love the B-side, with its wailing police sirens and jaunty tack piano accompaniment, and the little giggle in Ellen’s voice towards the end is a real winner. It could easily be the soundtrack to a cartoon about a prohibition-era speakeasy. The more subdued plug side, A Petal A Day, is a miserable little ditty about unrequited love whose lyrics clash ridiculously with the jolly backing track: a suicide note sung to a fast food jingle. Locked Up And Bolted (which originally appeared as Locked Up and Bolded, resulting in some poor soul having to correct the labels on each disc by hand), the flip of the circa 1966 single Raindrops, is one of the most fun recordings you’ll ever hear, reminiscent of the Patrick Macnee/Honor Blackman song Let’s Keep It Friendly. The one thing you can say about Ellen’s material is that it genuinely deserves the epithet extraordinary.
Unfortunately Ellen Marty the recording artist, songwriter and erstwhile actress seems to have retired. She briefly resurfaced in Nashville in the mid-70s when, as Elie Marty, she released a brace of singles again on Rain Coat. However this time her mentor Joe Leahy was not available to help out, having passed away the previous year, and the ‘prestigious’ Hollywood address had been swapped for a PO box in Music City. The unusual, beguiling voice is the same, but the quality of the songs – a cover of the 1920s standard Do You Ever Think of Me and Bob G Dean’s Paper Planes (later covered by Pat Alexis; Dean was the co-author of Stella Parton’s hit I Want To Hold You In My Dreams Tonight) among them – can’t hope to compare with the best of her 60s work.
Since then there’s been no sign of her. My research has lead me down several dead ends, and the former Lycklig offices – just a stone’s throw away from Hollywood Boulevard - are now part of an apartment complex.
Perhaps I’ll never know who the ‘real’ Ellen Marty is (or was). Maybe I don’t need to. At least she has left me the key to her treasure chest of ever-so-slightly peculiar recordings. And for that I shall always be grateful.
Anyway, here's my latest find, the Vaudeville-inspired 1967 45 Cats Have Whiskers/It All Depends on You.