Friday, 27 October 2017

Now She's in Purple, Now She's a Turtle

Now, as you know, I seldom post novelty records here but the story behind this one is just too good to ignore. Here’s Crazy Little Men by the world’s best-known trans woman, Christine Jorgensen.

Born in May 1926 (as George William Jorgensen Jr.), Christine grew up in the Bronx, convinced that she was trapped in the wrong body. After graduating from school in 1945 young Jorgensen was drafted in to the Army, where she came across an article about a Danish doctor who was experimenting with gender therapy by testing hormones on animals. Shortly after leaving the services Christine began a course of hormone therapy to build up the amount of oestrogen in her body – the first step in her journey towards gender reassignment. In 1950 she headed to Copenhagen; her family were Danish, and it wasn’t hard to explain away a trip to the Old Country. However Christine chose not to tell anyone about her real intentions – to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

In 1952, shortly after the surgery took place, Christine wrote to her parents: ‘Nature made a mistake which I have had corrected, and now I am your daughter.’ Then, on December 1, 1952 the New York Daily News ran a front-page story Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty, telling readers that Jorgensen had become the recipient of the first ‘sex change’. She wasn’t: Danish artist Lili Elbe transitioned in 1930, and there had been unsuccessful attempts at surgery in the 1920s, but she was the first American to break cover. Christine’s experiences, as I’m sure you already knew, were liberally adapted by the auteur Ed Wood Junior for his film classic Glen or Glenda, a.k.a I Changed My Sex.

Christine became an overnight sensation, a regular guest on talk shows and earned money as a nightclub performer, talking about her experiences and singing in a very passable, Dietrich-esque smoky voice. In 1953 she played the famous Hotel Sahara in Las Vegas, and in 1954 it was reported that she was earning up to $8,000 a week – a phenomenal sum. She also managed to get caught up in the 50s craze for ‘little green men’ novelty discs, releasing the incredibly rare (I snaffled this - and the image - off the internet, although there is a copy currently for sale at Discogs) 45 Crazy Little Men, along with the Transfusion-influenced b-side Nervous Jervis, on the tiny Jolt Records in late 1959. Sounding to all the world like Lucia Pamela, Crazy Little Men is a nutso record, well worthy of its inclusion here.

Jolt had been set up by Joe Lederman, a well-known juke box operator from Newark, New Jersey in September of that year, and Christine as the first artisit signed to the company. ‘Miss Jorgensen is going to record albums and singles for us,’ Lederman announced to Billboard. ‘We have already heard from a number of writers with special material for her. The first project will be a sort of party type of LP record, but there will be nothing offensive about her songs. Her first single will contain Crazy Little Men and Nervous Jervis.’ As far as I am aware, the scheduled album did not appear. Other artists signed to the company included singers Dolly Dawn and Cathy Castro, ‘a luscious looking doll of 19 who will easily be the next Connie Francis’. Indeed!

A biographical film, The Christine Jorgensen Story, appeared in 1970. Christine also released an interview album, Christine Jorgensen Reveals, in 1958 and a live album of her nightclub act, I Enjoy being a Girl, in 1983. Gay performer Ray Bourbon claimed that he too had surgery and announced to the world, via his album Let Me Tell You About My Operation, that she was now to be known as Rae - however it seems that Ray never actually underwent gender reassignment. You can read more about him (and his crazy life) in my latest book, David Bowie Made Me Gay.

An eloquent spokesperson for trans rights, Jorgensen died of cancer in 1989. She was 62. You can find out more about Christine at JD Doyle's Queer Music Heritage site.


Download CRAZY here

Download NERVOUS here

Friday, 20 October 2017

Burt's a Singer

Burt Reynolds: 70s sex god, all-round macho man and seemingly, aware of his shortcomings. ‘I was an asshole,’ he once told the Mirror’s Rod McPhee. ‘I made some stupid mistakes and I haven’t been the nicest guy in the world about keeping my mouth shut about women’. It’s not just his mouth he should be guarded about, as the former women in his life who have talked openly about domestic violence and spousal abuse would no doubt agree.

Reynolds is an actor who gets that the whole notion of celebrity is faintly ridiculous… as ridiculous as that wig he insists on wearing (which, unlike some actors and singers we could mention, at least he acknowledges). Still, celebrity he is… and we all know what that (potentially) means.

Yes, in 1973 Burt, still riding the crest of a wave of fame brought about by his starring role in the film Deliverance the previous year and his appearance as Cosmopolitan magazine’s first nude male centrefold, made a record. He was nominated for Academy Award for his performance in the movie, but it was the Cosmo spread that turned him into a bone fide celeb. After more than a decade beavering away on TV and in low budget movies, he was a star; a star who was about to launch his singing career. The thoroughly dreadful record in question contains eleven cuts of vaguely-country flavoured schmaltz, ‘sung’ by a man who cannot sing. Not that it should surprise any of you that I was going to hate Ask Me What I Am, as the whole project was masterminded by that arch fiend Bobby Goldsboro.

It’s catastrophically bad. Goldsboro’s songs are as sickly sweet as you’d expect and he pulls every trick out of his albeit limited bag: there are songs about children and childhood, relationships, spoken word pieces and, oh dear lord, there’s even one of his trademark religious epics in There's A Slight Misunderstanding Between God And Man. Burt tries his best, God love him, but the whole album is dreadful and There's A Slight Misunderstanding Between God And Man is every inch as awful as you’d hope.

Accompanied by a pull out poster featuring the oh-so hairy gentleman clad from head to toe in baby blue polyester, Billboard liked it, calling the album a ‘good personality-as-singer package with lots of Burt beefcake photos’, and claiming that the ‘actor actually has pleasing, pro-quality voice’. Evidence, as if you needed it, to believe in the old maxim ‘don’t believe everything you read in the press’, as Burt’s voice on this album is paper-thin and as fragile as sugar glass. This record is easily as bad as anything Leonard Nimoy or William Shatner produced.

Despite everything Burt and Bobby remained friends. The same year the album was released Goldsboro and Reynolds appeared on the TV special Burt Reynolds’ Late Show and the following year the pair were brought together on a US telethon, helping raise money for people with cerebral palsy. In 1993 Goldsboro would provide the music for Burt’s hit TV comedy Evening Shade.

According to the engineer on the sessions, Ernie Winfrey (writing on YouTube) ‘I have to give Burt credit for having the balls to even try it. My boss, and his friend Buddy Killen, got together with Goldsboro and decided that, considering Burt's huge popularity at that time, they would sell tons of records based solely on his fame.

‘I know that Burt knew in his heart that he didn't really have the chops to bring it off but he may have expected me to perform miracles on his voice. I know this because when I was out adjusting his mic he whispered “Ern, please help me sound as good as you can”. As you can see I have only so much control over that; all the effects in the world will not make a bad singer sound good.

‘But the most important thing to me was how humble he was and how down to earth he was. After we finished recording all his vocal tracks Buddy invited him to go out and eat. They left and I was putting all the tapes back in the boxes and I heard “Hey Ern!” Burt stuck his head in the door and said “Come on man...We can't forget our engineer.” That’s the type of guy he was. I understand that it was the stunt men and crew that Burt hung out with on his movie sets.

‘The most endearing thing that Burt did was to call Dinah Shore (who he was dating at the time) every night after that days sessions were over and play her the results holding the phone up to the speakers. I kept his vocal down in the mix so it was hard to tell how really bad it was. But he seemed to be so proud of his shot at being a recording artist. Although Burt will never be that recording artist he wanted to be, I can truthfully say from my observation that he is one of the nicest, most humble guys I've ever worked with in the studio. It kills me to see the problems he’s gone through the past few years.’

The problems that Ernie Winfrey alluded to include divorce from wife Loni Anderson and her revelations of his abusive behaviour, bankruptcy (in 2011 his 153 acre ranch, where many of the scenes for Smokey and the Bandit had been filmed, was seized), addiction to prescription painkillers (which he began taking after an on-set accident), back surgery, and a quintuple heart bypass in February 2010. Reynolds, who apparently was once in the running to play James Bond (producer Cubby Broccoli went with George Lazenby instead) and Han Solo in Star Wars, is now a frail 81 year old. He’s a fighter though and he’s still acting, appearing in five movies this year alone.

This would not be the only time that Burt flexed his tonsils. Apart from singing on a number of TV variety shows (including the Dinah Shore Show) he also sang the song Let's Do Something Cheap and Superficial on the soundtrack to Smokey and the Bandit 2. Here’s a brace of tracks from Burt’s 1973 album Ask Me What I Am, Room For a Boy and the title track.


Download I Am here

Download Room here 

Friday, 13 October 2017

It Took Two

Seriously. Footballers cannot sing. We’ve proved the point on numerous occasions in the past but here is yet more irrefutable evidence that no footballer should ever be let loose in a recording studio.

Yes, it’s infamous ladies man and famous alcoholic George Best as ‘a creepy computer voice’ (as Howard Wolowitz would put it), the man who – in my household – is important only because his moniker provided the name for the debut album by the awesome Wedding Present.

Back in the 80s there was this mad fashion for celebrity keep fit albums. Kick started by Jane Fonda (although less well-known names had been making exercise records since at least the 1930s), by the time Georgie Best Superstar (wears frilly knickers and a Playtex bra) had teamed up with Mary Stavin (Swedish actress, former Miss World and Best’s current squeeze) to release this abortion the Shape Up And Dance series had reached nine – yes, nine – volumes. A whole nine albums worth of wretched nonsense from the likes of Isla St Clair, co-presenter of the TV show the Generation Game, Jay Aston of Bucks Fizz, actress Felicity Kendal, newsreader Angela Rippon and (of course) Lulu. The series would end, after just three years, with volume 10 presented by singer Patti Boulaye.

The music featured on the albums usually consisted of anonymous cover versions of hit records, so what a coup the producers of the series must have felt when they managed to persuade George and Mary to record a cover of the Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston hit It Takes Two. Sadly, although the track was also issued as a single (coupled with an instrumental version), it was not a hit (neither was the album it was culled from) and is to the best of my knowledge the only time George attempted to launch a career in pop music… although he may well have appeared on other, football related recordings by any of the various teams he played for. The b-side, Sasquatch, is thoroughly ridiculous and will give you a taste of the rest of the album.

Stavin, who had previously released the Eurodisco single Feeling Good, Being Bad in 1979, appeared in two of Roger Moore's James Bond films. In Octopussy (1983), she played an Octopussy girl, and in A View to a Kill (1985), she played agent Kimberley Jones. She also played the Icelandic businesswoman Heba in Twin Peaks (Season 1, Episode 6), and appeared in the videos for two Adam (and the) Ant (s) singles, Ant Rap and Strip. Once described by The Irish Football Association as the ‘greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland’, Best sadly died in 2005 of multiple organ failure, the legacy of a lifetime of heavy drinking.

Download TWO here

Download SASQUATCH here

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