Friday, 21 July 2017

Steamed or Creamed?

With their roots in the early 60s folk scene, and best known for their sunshine pop hits Windy, Cherish, Never My Love and Along Comes Mary, The Association are beloved by fans for their close harmonies. The six piece (later seven piece) band will forever be famed for appearing as the opening act at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 – the first ever large scale pop music festival, but by the time they issued their fifth (and eponymous) studio album in 1969 things had soured somewhat for them, the hits had stopped and they were trying desperately to do something different.

And what they did was this: Broccoli. Ridiculous. ‘I like to eat it with my mouth’? Seriously, which other organ are you able to eat with? Written by guitarist Russ Giguere, presumably as some sort of joke, the album’s failure precipitated his leaving The Association and releasing the psych-influenced solo album Hexagram 16.

The band recorded their last album of new material, Waterbeds in Trinidad!,  in 1972. The following year founding member and bassist Brian Cole died, aged 29, of a heroin overdose, and over the next few years although the band issued several singles they struggled to find direction and gradually fell apart. Drummer Ted Bluechel kept the group going but soon retired. He began leasing the group name out, allowing oldies tour packagers to send out a version of The Association without any of the original members. After dealing with the legal issues caused by that catastrophic error of judgement (Dollar/Bucks Fizz, anyone?) several of the original members reformed the band and they have continued to tour ever since.

Larry Ramos, a former member of the New Christy Minstrels who joined in 1967, sadly passed away in April 2014, three years after suffering a heart attack and just over two months after his last appearance with the group. The Association are still gigging today, featuring original members Jim Yester and Jules Alexander plus friends and relatives: Brian Cole’s son Jordan plays keyboards for the group, and Larry’s brother Del plays bass.

Anyway, here’s a brace of songs you’ll seldom hear the Association perform, the thoroughly ridiculous Broccoli and, from the same album (known amongst fans as the ‘Stonehenge’ album), I Am Up For Europe, co-written by Brian Cole. If only they had been around for the Brexit vote…

My thanks to The Squire for alerting me to this particular vegetable.

Enjoy!




Right click HERE to download


Right click HERE to download

Sunday, 16 July 2017

No Business

A couple of days late... but here we go!

I can’t believe that it has taken me almost a decade of writing about rubbish to finally get around to blogging about The Ethel Merman Disco Album.

The veteran American Broadway performer Ethel Merman released The Ethel Merman Disco Album on A&M Records in 1979. Over the years this dreadful record – which features Merman performing several of the songs she was most closely identified with, including her signature belter There’s No Business Like Show Business - has attained the status of a camp classic, with original vinyl copies highly sought out by collectors.

Known primarily for her distinctive, powerful voice and leading roles in musical theatre, Merman recorded 14 songs for the record, although only seven were released on the original version (one of the others, They Say It's Wonderful, finally saw the light on the 2002 CD reissue; the six remaining songs have yet to see official release). Each of the songs was recorded in only one take and arranged vocally the way she always recorded them, with the ‘disco’ backing track added later. It’s probably worth noting here that the woman was 71 when this turgid monstrosity was unleashed on the world.

Stories about Merman (born January 1908, died February 1984) are legion. My personal favourite concerns her five week marriage to Ernest Borgnine (the fourth, last and briefest of her marriages). It was a disaster: Borgnine himself described it as the ‘biggest mistake of my life. I thought I was marrying Rosemary Clooney!’ Merman’s 1972 memoir, Merman, includes a chapter entitled My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine that consists of nothing more than a single blank page. Borgnine later told the Australian actor Frank Wilson that he spent most of his short marriage ‘fighting like cats and dogs’ with his wife, who was eight years his senior, and told him that ‘One day she came off the set of a film and said, ‘the director said today I looked sensational. He said I had the face of a 20 year old, and the body and legs of a 30 year old!’ I said: ‘did he say anything about your old cunt?’ ‘No’ replied Ethel, ‘he didn't mention you at all!’

Then there is her scene-stealing cameo in Airplane! (released a year after The Ethel Merman Disco Album and her last film performance), where she plays a traumatised soldier who is convinced that he is Ethel Merman.

Although she is beloved by gay men of a certain age she professed a distaste for the number of homosexuals involved in musical theatre . At a rehearsal she once shouted to newspaper columnist Jerry Berger ‘have you ever seen so many faggots in your life?’; she is also said to have accused Borgnine of being ‘a fag’ when he could not perform in bed. perhaps unsurprisingly it is rumoured that she had a lesbian affair with trash novelist Jacqueline Susann, and that Susann based her Valley of the Dolls character Anne, an ageing stage actress, on Merman.

There are those who will insist that The Ethel Merman Disco Album is great. It isn’t. And to prove my point here are a couple of primo examples of Ethel’s flirtation with the demon disco: Everything’s Coming Up Roses and I Get a Kick Out of You. Just horrible. And why the disembodied arm holding the hat? What's all that about?

The whole album is readily available on the YouTubes if you fancy more, but until next time...

Enjoy!


Friday, 7 July 2017

Won't Somebody Think of the Children?

There are a multitude of reasons for this week’s post. Partly it has been inspired by Pride taking place in both London and Bristol this weekend, and partly it has come out of a number of interviews I have conducted and articles I have written recently about Pride and politics ahead of the publication of my forthcoming book, David Bowie Made Me Gay (SPOILER ALERT; lots of shameless plugs and paragraphs full of self-promotion ahead: you may wish to skip ahead to the music now!)

Yes, my new book, David Bowie Made Me Gay, is coming out soon, and people seem to like it. It’s ‘an excellent book’, according to Gay Star News, and ‘a comprehensive and compelling work, in terms of its extensive discussion of music, history and, of course, a human struggle for tolerance, acceptance and respect’ according to Nudge Books. Tom Robinson, who I had the good fortune to interview for the book, calls it ‘Lovingly detailed and exhaustively researched - easily the most readable and comprehensive guide I've seen to this fascinating hidden history.’ As I’m sure you can imagine, I’m pretty stoked!

Here’s an excerpt from the official blurb: ‘From Elton John to Little Richard, Bessie Smith to Dusty Springfield and Boy George to Sia – via lesser-known and cult musicians such as trans composer Wendy Carlos, Jobriath, and Divine – David Bowie Made Me Gay is a collection of hidden histories, pulling back the curtain on the colourful legacy that formed our musical and cultural landscape. Through new interviews and contemporary reports, David Bowie Made Me Gay uncovers the real story of LGBT music-makers, revealing the lives of the people who made the records, and witnessed first-hand the cultural revolution that they helped to create.’

Anyway, back to the music. I have spent the last year or so researching and writing about LGBT musicians, and on my travels I found much to admire. Sadly I also uncovered some terrible nonsense that should never have seen the light of day. And, naturally, it’s a couple of examples of the latter that I present for you today.

Anita Bryant was a beauty pageant queen, singer, actress and the spokesperson for Florida orange juice. She was also a terrible homophobe, the kind who equates homosexuality with child abuse. A perfectly passable singer, she had a few chart hits (her version of Paper Roses went Top 5 in 1960) but as she became more politically active her singing career all but dried up: her last charting 45 was in 1964.

I first came across Bryant when I read Armistead Maupin’s More Tales of the City in the late 1980s; Maupin’s character Michael ‘Mouse’ Tolliver talks about her in his coming out letter home to his parents. At the time the novel was set, Bryant was heading the political coalition Save Our Children, a right-wing Christian-led campaign to overturn local legislation that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Florida had long been opposed to LGBT rights: the city’s officials had been closing down bars and enacting laws to make homosexuality and cross-dressing illegal, and until 1975 the government was legally empowered to refuse employment to anyone thought to be homosexual. Established in 1956, the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee (known as the Johns Committee) hunted down LGBT people in state employment and universities and in 1964 published Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida (a.k.a. the Purple Pamphlet), a highly inflammatory document that portrayed homosexuals as predators and a threat to children.

Bryant became the bete noir of the gay community, and protests against her and against Save Our Children saw her lose a lucrative TV series. In June 1977 more than 130,000 people marched to demand equal rights for LGBT people in the United States, with marchers bearing signs attacking the former singer. Peaceful demonstrations were also held in London, where around 1,000 turned out to march, and in Amsterdam 2,000 people marched through the city carrying banners that read ‘Against the American witch-hunt on homosexuals’. In San Francisco, according to police estimates, more than 100,000 took to the streets and the gay community received heavy support from predominantly heterosexual organisations.

Naturally a number of artists recorded songs both in support of and attacking Bryant and Save Our Children: you can discover many of those at JD Doyle’s excellent Queer Music Heritage website here, but for today I’ll leave you with one of the oddest, most confused and certainly NSFW of them, renegade country singer-songwriter David Allen Coe’s Fuck Aneta Briant, which appeared on his 1978 album Nothing Sacred and was also issued as the B-side to his single Cum Stains On The Pillow. You can also have a listen to Anita’s 1962 Top 20 hit Wonderland By Night, her vocal version of the Bert Kaempfert hit. I wonder if she knew that the song was originally the theme tune to a German ‘art’ film whose story included lurid (for the time) depictions of prostitution and lesbianism?   

Published in the UK on September 7, you can per-order David Bowie Made Me Gay here (UK) and here (US). We’re holding a launch event at the British Library on September 8, with music from k anderson and Drake Jensen, and a limited number of tickets for that event are available here. I’ll be touring the country in September and October to promote the book – if you would like to keep up to date with details I have a dedicated Facebook page set up here - and if you’re in the area it would be great to see you there.

Enjoy!


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