Friday, 16 March 2018

This could be a job for Mulder and Scully

Gillian Anderson: actor, activist, writer… pop star?

Released in 1997, Extremis was Gillian’s only credible stab at the pop charts. The actor met musical collective Hal when Gillian narrated BBC documentary series Future Fantastic. Hal - a quartet that included house producer Pascal Derycke, Duncan Lomax – a.k.a Savage - Padi Staid and Raheem, the stage name of the late Paul Gallagher – produced the soundtrack for the series and Gillian let it be known that she would like to work with them. Extremis, built around a tune the musicians had already composed for the title sequence, was the result.

It’s not actually that bad, in a Madonna Erotica kind of way, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, and the lyrics are just awful:

A melting of minds, a cerebral mesh,
A union of liquid and virtual flesh.

Automaton love, your caress is pneumatic.
I'm a slave to your touch, my response automatic.

The circuits burn out, and the paradigm shift,
It’s elision. My emotions drift.

Two of the band appeared with Miss Anderson on TV to promote the single. As Gillian told it: ‘I don’t sing [but] Virgin was interested in doing something if I put down some sort of vocal something… it’s their music and I just kind of slipped in and put down a few words.’ The original release featured four different mixes of the same song. Thankfully the team decided not to reunite for a follow up, although Anderson did compile a double CD of electronica, which featured the track as well as other music by Brian Eno, Harold Budd and others.

Released at the height of X-Files mania, Extremis made the UK Top 30 and, apparently, did rather well in a number of other countries. It was denied the Number One spot in Greece by the Spice Girls. Derycke, as Halspirit, is still making ambient music today.

‘We had a lot of fun, and that, basically, is what this has been about,’ Gillian told Rodrigo Stecher of Axcess magazine. ‘It’s not about me putting out a single, and it’s not about me and my song, and it’s not, “Hey, look at me, I have an album,” you know? It’s got nothing to do with that. It was just an idea that expanded and expanded and we have a little song. I did not for one second feel that this is the beginning of a pop career, nor do I want it to be.’ I like her attitude.

As there's only one track today, I've also included the video. 


Download Extremis HERE

Friday, 9 March 2018

Statement Free

Time for some classic outsider madness!

Norwegian legend Arvid Sletta has issued nine albums to date. The latest, Fast And Slow, is credited to Arvid Sletta and his regular collaborators Anders Sinnes and Oddbjørn Tvervåg, and was released earlier this year. Sinnes and Tvervåg are accomplished musicians, and their sheen adds an interesting polish to his work, but I prefer the oddball earlier works, all solo and all utterly mad.

Born in January 1960, Sletta began his music career in the mid 1980s in the band Easy Riders with his brothers Reidar and Øyvind. The band – according to Wikipedia, anyway - issued one 45 (Call Me Tonight/You Drink Too Much) and two cassette-only collections Brilliant Kind Of Works (1988) and In Love (1990), although they all appear to have been incredibly limited. However you can find much of their output on YouTube, if you search for 'Easy Riders (Frøya)'. 

The band split in the early 1990s, by which time Arvid had already issued his debut solo album. His music has been featured in the short films Size 5, No Coke, Statement Too (a documentary about Arvid which was dong the international Film Festival circuit a couple of years back) and Little Red Hoodie.

Here are a couple of tracks from his rather wonderful early work, his debut LP Statement and second album Name. Issued in 2005, a full 15 years after Statement, Name features 31 tracks, many of them under a minute in length and only two over two minutes long. Statement is the only one of Arvid’s albums to appear on vinyl, all of the others have been self-published on CD. If you want more there’s plenty on YouTube, Spotify and iTunes for you to discover.


Download I Love You HERE

Download Sexism HERE

Friday, 2 March 2018

Touched by the Hand of George

A rogue, a cad… immortalised on the silver screen in countless iconic roles, including the brilliant Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (for which he won an Academy Award), married to a Gabor, the voice of Shere Khan, Batman’s Mr. Freeze… George Sanders was a true star.

Russian-born but raised in Britain and of aristocratic stock, Sanders and his family fled to Britain in 1917. He began his career on the stage in musicals, after his friend Greer Garson suggested he take up acting. Prior to that he had run a tobacco plantation and worked in advertising. His first recording, Regency Rakes, was from the 1934 production of Noel Coward’s Conversation Piece.

He appeared in several British movies during the 30s, but it was when 20th Century Fox cast him as the villain in Lloyds of London that sanders started to attract attention. Lloyds of London was a big hit and Fox put Sanders under a seven-year contract. His first leading role came the next year, in Lancer Spy. Next he was cast as The Saint in a series of movies, and began a successful association with Alfred Hitchcock, appearing in both Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent. When RKO, the producers of The Saint series fell out with author Leslie Charteris, they created the role of The Falcon for Sanders.

He bore a striking resemblance to his elder brother, Tom Conway (real name Thomas Charles Sanders), and the latter was often cast in Sanders-esque roles. Conway took over the role of The Falcon from his George, the two of them appearing together in that film. The only other time they appeared together on screen was in Death of a Scoundrel (1956), in which they also played brothers. Tom Conway died, of alcoholism, in 1967. His career never reached the same heights as his brother, but like him he had also worked for Disney, voicing two minor characters in 101 Dalmatians.

Released in 1958, The George Sanders Touch is not the worst singing actor album you’ll hear, but it is still awful. The lush orchestrations – by Nick Perito (who was closely associated with Perry Como for much of his career) and Don Costa (best known for his work with Sinatra and Paul Anka) – are gorgeous, but Georgie boy is out of his depth. His bass-baritone croon is ok, and he just about gets away with it on Try A Little Tenderness, but his range is severely limited, as you can hear for yourself on the dreadfully out-of-tune As Time Goes By. It’s all downhill from there. He murders September Song, one of my favourite songs, with a ridiculous (and, frankly, obscene) spoken word intro that lifts him in to the stratosphere that will later be occupied by Barbara Cartland. Rather appositely he performs If You Were the Only Girl In The World, massacred by Dame Babs herself on her Album of Love Songs. The song Such Is My Love, was composed by Sanders himself. 

In later life Saunders suffered from dementia. He became deeply depressed and, when he found that he could no longer play his grand piano, he dragged it outside and smashed it with an axe. On 23 April 1972, he checked into a hotel in , a coastal town near Barcelona. He was found dead two days later, having gone into cardiac arrest after swallowing the contents of five bottles of the barbiturate Nembutal. He left behind three suicide notes, one of which read:

Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.

Sanders’ last role was in the low-budget British horror movie Psychomania (released in the US as The Death Wheelers), which hit cinemas in 1973.

Here’s George crooning a couple of tunes. Enjoy!

Download September HERE

  Download Time HERE

Friday, 23 February 2018

The First (and Last) Noele

A couple of weeks a go, during a small social gathering at a friend’s house, conversation turned (as it so often does with me) to bad music. During that conversation I was reminded of a record that, I believed, I had featured here years ago. I was amazed to discover that, in fact, I had not. So, it’s time to put that right.

Noele Gordon will be best known to British readers for playing the part of Meg Mortimer (nee Richardson), the imperious owner of the eponymous Motel in the long-running soap opera Crossroads.

A trained dancer, Joan Noele Gordon (she got her middle name because she was born on Christmas Day, 1919) first appeared on the screen in 1945, in the British film 29 Acacia Avenue. She was also the first woman to ever appear on colour television in the UK, appearing in several tests made by the BBC in the 1940s. Stage success followed (she was in the London cast of Brigadoon) before, in 1955, she joined the fledgling Independent Televison network, first as a presenter for Associated Television’s first-ever programme, The Weekend Show before helping launch ATV Midlands in 1956. For the best part of a decade she worked both as an on-screen presenter and, behind the scenes, as a producer. Then, in 1964, Crossroads was launched. The character of Meg Richardson, head of the family-run motel, was created especially for her.

Crossroads was famed for its wobbly sets and ridiculous storylines: many of the earlier episodes were broadcast live, and the acting often left a lot to be desired. However the show was enormously popular with viewers, and Noele went on to win the TV Times award for most popular television actress on eight occasions. Her sacking came about while ATV was being restructured (it became Central TV on 1 January 1982). The programme was an embarrassment: network bosses hoped that audiences would abandon the show and they could cancel it. Bizarrely that didn’t happen, and it limped on for several more years.

She died of cancer aged 65, just four years after she was sacked, in 1985. Many then and now blame her untimely demise on losing her job as matriarch of the Crossroads family. Sadly for her many fans the show had been planning to bring her character back…

But anyway: the music. Noele (or Nolly as her friend Larry Grayson would always refer to her) left us with several classically awful recordings. A few of the stage shows she appeared in have associated ‘original cast’ releases, but it is her solo discography I wish to celebrate today. It began in 1974 with the diabolically awful To My Daughter, issued on Jonathan King’s UK record label. Luckily for those of a nervous disposition, she did not appear on the disc’s b-side. To My Daughter is diabolical: a spoken word atrocity in which the unmarried Noele waxes lyrically about a baby girl born eight-weeks premature. It’s brilliantly bad.

Shortly after a whole album of Noele doing her best Barbara Cartland impersonation appeared. Noele Gordon Sings features the great woman massacring such classics as These Foolish Things and The Nearness of You, and her on-screen marriage to Hugh Mortimer (played by John Bentley) resulted in an album’s worth of nonsense, sold to viewers as the Crossroads Wedding Party. Mixed up with tracks by Stephanie de Sykes, duets with Bentley, medleys from the Crossroads cast and (naturally) the theme to the show itself, were highlights from the show’s wedding service. It’s a camp classic.

Noele’s recording career ended the same year as her Crossroads career did, with the 45 After All These Years/Goodbye. A quick attempt to cash in on the publicity around her sacking, it sank without troubling the charts.

Here, for your delectation, are a couple of cuts from Noele, her first single To My Daughter, and her last one, Goodbye. I’ll rip After All These Years when my copy (purchased this morning from Discogs) arrives and add that later!


Download Daughter HERE

Download Goodbye HERE

Friday, 16 February 2018

Trouble on the Old Plantation

I was blissfully unaware of the tracks in today’s selection, until WWR regular Nigel Richardson alerted me to one and, like the Alice down the rabbit hole, I became lost in an alternate universe.

I was a little surprised to discover that I had not blogged about American record producer and record label owner Shelby Singleton before, especially when I have written several pieces on his contemporary, Major Bill Smith. Smith, producer of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, was the man who brought the original version of Hey Paula to Singleton (on Smith’s LeCam label); Singleton then reissued the disc through Philips and an international hit was born.

At the age of 17 he married his first wife: Margaret was just 13 at the time. It seems highly appropriate then that he went on to produce (and, through his acquisition of Sun, control much of the back catalogue of) that other celebrity child-marrier Jerry Lee Lewis. After serving in the US Marine Corps in Korea (he was wounded and spent the rest of his life with a metal plate in his head), Singleton worked in a munitions company before being hired to promote the country music catalogue of Starday Records. Starday was distributed by Mercury Records, and when that deal came to an end he moved over to the larger company. Throughout his career Singleton exhibited an unusual flair for picking hit novelty records, including Ray Stevens’ Ahab the Arab, and he was also involved in the careers of Roger Miller, George Jones, Faron Young and many others.

In 1966, after eight years with Mercury, Singleton branched out on his own, forming several music labels, including SSS International and Plantation Records. Two years later he was rewarded when Jeannie C. Riley’s recording of Harper Valley PTA went to Number One (remember that title: it’ll come in handy later!) In 1969 he purchased Sun Records from Sam Phillips, including its rock and roll catalogue.

But it’s Plantation we want to look at today.

Plantation was an odd label, and a place where pretty much anything went. It’s a company that is impossible to categorise, with everything from space-age pop instrumentals to political polemics, with a dash of yodeling CB/trucker trash thrown in for good measure. Here are just a few of the many oddities.

First up – and the song that took me down that rabbit hole in the first place - is The School Bus by T. Tommy Cutrer. Cutrer was a DJ and television presenter who also cut a number of rock and roll sides for, among others, RCA and Dot. Cutrer had also recorded for Starday (as T. Tommy “the Big Daddy”) when Singleton was working for the company. However his one-off 45 for Plantation, The School Bus, defies belief. Make of it what you well. Is it pro-segregation? It’s certainly anti-government, and utterly horrible.
Johnny Moore’s Sold to the Highest Bidder starts off as your typical country tearjerker, but 22 seconds in it turns in to a real-live action, presided over by real-live auctioneer Colonel Tex Herring. Odd doesn’t begin to describe it. Finally, here’s a cover of Singleton’s biggest hit, Harper Valley PTA, re-imagined in ‘comedy’ Chinaman style as Happy Valley CIA by Ray “Wong” Riley. Wong? It’s just wrong, on so many levels. Saki to me!

If you want to hear more I can highly recommend the two disc, 58 track collection called Plantation Gold: The Mad Genius Of Shelby Singleton Jr. via Australia’s Omni Records.

The Nashville-based Singleton died, aged 77, on 7 October 2009, following a battle with brain cancer. Several years earlier he had been arrested for growing a 14ft marijuana plant, the biggest that narcotics officers had ever seen.


Download SCHOOL here

Download BIDDER here

Download HAPPY here

Friday, 9 February 2018

Carphone Cathouse

Naomi Campbell: superstar. One of the original super models (although I’m sure Janice Dickinson would argue that one), she’s an infamous diva, a former drug addict and, apparently, a bit of a bully (with a spot of community service to show for it). Oh… and she also released an album.

First issued in 1994, Naomi Campbell’s Babywoman is regularly ridiculed as one of the worst albums ever. The album was a commercial flop here in the UK, although it did better in some other countries (especially in Japan) and has sold over a million worldwide. Not bad. It was not her first foray in to the music biz: three years earlier she had appeared on the lead track to the Vanilla Ice flop film (and soundtrack album) Cool as Ice (Everybody Get Loose).

To be honest, it’s not as awful as it could be. Helped by a stellar line up of guest musicians, writers and producers (including Chrissie Hynde, Luther Vandross, PM Dawn, bits of it are passable pop of the period. The Millie Jackson-esque photo adorning the front is a nice piece of self-depreciation. But it is seriously patchy, and that’s not helped by having eight different producers and using six different studios to record in. Opener Love and Tears (a Top 40 hit in the UK) starts off ok, with Naomi’s breathy vocals luring you in. Co-written by Bomb the Bass’s Tim Simenon and Gavin Friday of the Virgin Prunes, this really doesn’t sound too bad, you reason. In all fairness Naomi’s years of stage training (her mother was a dancer, and from the age of three, Campbell attended the Barbara Speake Stage School and, later, the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts) mean that she knows how to sing, even if she’s not a ‘natural’. The reviewers were probably just being snobbish.

But then she starts to shout. Well, bray like a sick donkey would be a better description. The voice that tempted you in over the first verse goes to pieces, and by 3:45 - when she mangles ‘tee-hee-hee-hears’ it’s all over.

Her cover of Marc Bolan’s Ride a White Swan is truly horrific. She sounds like a a million other women attempting the song at a karaoke session after a particularly hard-drinking weekend. It’s given a vaguely trip-hop sheen by producer Youth - whose credits include Killing Joke, The Fireman (with Paul McCartney), Kate Bush, Bananarama, The Orb, Pink Floyd and Yazz – but, and let’s be honest here, it’s dreadful, as most vanity projects usually are. Campbell once made headlines for hitting her maid in the head with a mobile phone; after listening to this you’ll wish that the offending instrument had been travelling in the opposite direction.


Download LOVE here

Download SWAN here

Friday, 2 February 2018

Father Francis Revisited

Back in November 2014 I featured a disc that, at the time, I raved about being quite possibly the worst thing I had ever heard in my life, a single by Father Francis the Singing Franciscan Monk. Diabolical, it was. Truly horrible.

Well, while recently trawling the net I cam across a veritable goldmine of Father Francis albums for sale, and I can tell you from experience that once you have gone down that particular rabbit hole there’s no return. You see, Father Francis has released 41 – yes, 41 – albums. And then there’s the DVDs, the joke books, the Father Francis tea towel… He also likes to crochet, and Dr Who fans can by a Tom Baker scarf, hand crocheted by their favourite Franciscan, for just £9 (plus P&P) from his website.

But let’s put the Catholic homeware aside for a moment, as were here to talk about the music. 

Father Francis’s take on the John Lennon classic Imagine comes from his 31st album, Ave Maria. I cannot imagine (if you’ll excuse the pun) how this came about. There’s no way that the Lennon Estate would have ever given permission for Father Francis to change the lyrics of Lennon’s anti-religion epic in to this anodyne paean. It defies belief. Every line, every message, every single sentiment in the original has been twisted. ‘Imagine there’s no heaven’ becomes ‘Imagine there’s a heaven’; ‘No hell below us, above us only sky’ becomes ‘there’s a hell below us, you’d better choose before you die’. It’s simply abominable. And while we’re on the subject, Father, why is it ‘Imagine there’s a heaven’ anyway? Surely if you believe ion such things then there’s no ‘imagine’ about it at all?

The album also includes such perverse covers as I Just Called to Say I Love You, Sylvia’s Mother and The Living Years. This is hateful stuff… although the contrarian in me would simply love to hear Father Francis tackle a whole album of Andy Partridge’s atheistic compositions. ‘Dear God, glad you got my letter, thank you for making it all better down here… We all need another 10p on a pint of beer…’ And I need to buy a copy of his album of Abba covers, Thank You For the Music, if just to hear what he makes of Does Your Mother Know.

The good Father is still preaching today, and still doing good works: he’s particularly interested in helping raise funds for starving children (and that’s a very good thing indeed). In fact he seems like just the kind of priest you’d hope for: humble, wise and kind. It’s just a shame he feels the need to perform musical transubstantiation in this way.

Anyway, here’s two cuts from Ave Maria, Imagine and He’s My Forever Friend. And yes, I know it’s the wrong cover image (above) but the sleeve of Pot Luck is so ridiculous that I just had to share it.


Download Imagine HERE

Download Friend HERE

Friday, 26 January 2018

Zorba the Creep

Three years after his huge success in the international hit movie Zorba the Greek, Hollywood’s go-to swarthy he man (in the days before Telly Savalas became a megastar) Anthony Quinn recorded a talk-sing single… and it’s everything you would hope it would be.

I Love You and You Love Me is horrible. The flip side, Sometimes (I Just Can’t Stand You) is slightly redeemed by its’ intended levity.

Released in 1967, both sides of this horror were written by Harold Spina, although I’m not sure how he dared cop a credit for I Love You… as the music is a complete rip off of Spanish Eyes. Spina (1906-1997), was an American composer of popular songs, best known for his work with lyricists Johnny Burke and Joe Young on songs such as Annie Doesn't Live Here Anymore, My Very Good Friend the Milkman (recorded by Fats Waller), The Beat of My Heart, and I've Got a Warm Spot in My Heart for You. He also collaborated with lyricist John Elliot for several songs, including It's So Nice To Have A Man Around The House, a hit for Dinah Shore.

A further 45, Fall In Love in Rome and Carissima, was issued in some European countries. During the 70s Quinn would make a number of other recordings, many in Italian. he even took a pop at Eurodisco on the terrible French 45 Nous Deux... C'est Fini.

Quinn was born Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca on April 21, 1915, in Chihuahua, Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution… the same conflict that had brought Cosme McMoon, Florence Foster Jenkins’ accompanist, and his family to the States. The star to-be grew up in El Paso, Texas before the family moved to Los Angeles. As a young man he took up boxing to earn money, then studied art and architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright. When Quinn mentioned that he was drawn to acting, Wright encouraged him. Quinn said he had been offered $800 per week by a film studio and didn't know what to do. Wright replied, ‘Take it, you'll never make that much with me.’ Quinn later revealed that the contract was for less than half of that. He began his film career in 1936.

A fecund old devil with at least 12 children to his credit, during a long and (mostly) distinguished career, Quinn won two Oscars and was nominated for several more. He appeared or starred in such classics as Viva Zapata!, La Strada, Lust for Life and in the controversial religious epic  Mohammad, Messenger of God; the title was later changed to The Message after a spate of terrorist attacks and death threats. He also flirted with the mafia… but then, who didn’t?

The a-side (and both sides of the European 45) resurfaced two years later on the album In My Own Way… I Love You, but by that time Quinn’s style of sing-speak had been usurped (and would be taken to the Number One spot in the UK) by Lee Marvin and Wand’rin’ Star. According to Spina, the idea for the album came about after the pair got drunk together at a California beach house. They ended up with a whole LP’s worth of mostly unlistenable and barely-concealed chauvinism. Dig out a copy at your peril!  

Quinn died in Boston in 2001, aged 86.

Apologies for the quality of the B-side, I had to crib it off YouTube. I’ll replace the link once I find a better copy, but until then…


Download Love HERE

Download Sometimes HERE

Friday, 19 January 2018

Pounds, shillings and nonsense

“Hey! Who’s that little old man?”

Wilfred Brambell is an actor who will forvever be identified with two roles, that of the aged rag ‘n bone man Albert Steptoe and of Jimmy McCartney, Paul’s ‘very clean’ Irish grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night. Brambell committed the cardinal sin (and it would not be his only one) of being coaxed in to the recording studio one day in 1970 to record The Decimal Song, a single bemoaning Britain’s abandonment of our dear old pounds, shillings and pence (ha’pennys, thruppennys, farthings, ten bob notes and all) in readiness for our entrance in to the European Economic Union, or the Common Market as it was more popularly known.

Side two, Time Marches On, a poem about the break up of The Beatles set to music, was written by Malcolm Taylor. In 1966 Liverpudlian Taylor had released an album of poetry, Auparishtaka, based on the Kama Sutra and the Perfumed Garden. That same year he had released the 45 I Got You under the name Sheil and Mal: Sheil was noted actress Sheila Hancock, then starring in the hit TV comedy The Rag Trade.

The A-side was written by Taylor with the songwriting team of Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, a duo who got their first break with Joe Meek – they penned the British number one single Have I The Right for the Honeycombs – and who would later write for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch, Peter Straker, gay glam act Starbuck (Do You Like Boys), and had songs recorded by Petula Clark and Elvis.

Born in 1912, Henry Wilfred Brambell is a divisive figure these days, a closeted gay man and alcoholic noted for his outrageous behaviour – according to a piece in the Guardian ‘on one infamous occasion he exposed himself to a woman at a party’ and ‘he routinely told adoring fans who met him in the street to “fuck off”.’ He began his acting career after the Second World War, debuting in British-made films in 1947, but became a household name after Steptoe and Son debuted in 1962. Brambell was homosexual at a time when it was unheard of for public figures to be openly gay, not least because male homosexual acts were illegal in the UK until 1967.

Brambell died in 1985. In 2012 two men accused him of having abused them when they were teenagers: the charges came 27 years after his death, and at the height of the independent inquiry into sex abuse by Jimmy Savile. He was never arrested or questioned over sex acts with minors during his lifetime, although he had been arrested in a toilet in Shepherd’s Bush for cottaging (importuning) in 1962 and given a conditional discharge.

The Decimal Song was issued just three days before Decimal Day, 15 February 1971. Can’t say I’ve heard anything as remotely beguiling to celebrate our abandonment of our European partners as we tumble headlong in to the mess that is Brexit.


Download Decimal HERE

Download Time HERE

Friday, 12 January 2018

The (Almost) Complete Ellen Marty

Updated and, dare I say, authoritative: the Ellen Marty Story! Some of you will already know the bare bones of this (especially if you've read my first book), but read on anyway... it's worth it!

 One of the most wonderful things about immersing oneself in obscure and odd recordings is that occasionally you’ll rediscover an artist who has been criminally ignored - one whose genius seriously deserves reappraisal. That’s certainly true of the wonderful Ellen Marty, composer and chanteuse who released a series of what can only be described as eccentric 45s in the 1960s and 70s. There’s something wonderfully engaging about Ellen Marty, from her charming, almost naïve voice through to her unusual material and occasional odd choice of rhyming couplet.

Of Scandinavian descent, Ellen Marty's given name was Mary Ellen Mart. She was born in Centerville, South Dakota in 1935, the daughter of local electrical store owners Fred and Lenora Mart (nee Amundson). Fred had established his store, Mart’s Radio and Electrical, in 1928 and the couple married three years later. They named their firstborn after Fred’s sister, a nun: yes, Fred’s sister was Sister Mary Ellen Mart.

Educated at Centerville High School and the University of South Dakota, by 1960 Mary Ellen was in New York studying drama. After winning several acting awards while still in High School, the young Mary Ellen had grand plans to become an actress, and after moving to New York she appeared in at least two movies, Spring Affair in 1960 and House of Women in 1962. Her sojourn in New York didn’t last long, and by 1962 she was living in Hollywood.

Mary Ellen started writing songs at an early age, copyrighting her first five compositions in 1957. Upon moving to Hollywood and discovering how hard it was going to be to make it as an actress she started hawking her songs around various record companies, eventually coming to the attention of Joe Leahy. ‘I was pedalling my music around Hollywood and ran in to Joe’s office,’ she explains. ‘He was kind enough to listen to my tapes.’ A bandleader who was also a talented arranger, writer and producer, Leahy began his recording career in the late 40s and, in set up the Unique Records label in 1955 where he discovered the 14 year-old Canadian singer Priscilla Wright and had a sizeable hit with her debut waxing The Man in the Raincoat. Within a year TV, film and radio company RKO had purchased a 25 percent stake in the company, changing the name of the company to RKO/Unique; under that name the company that would issue Leona Anderson’s collection Music to Suffer By

Leahy left Unique in April 1957 after selling the rest of his shares to RKO and, taking over the old Unique studio on New York’s Broadway, he established a new company, National, with several ex-Unique staffers. Before long he had moved to Felstead and then, in September 1959, to Dot - home, of course, of the doyenne of bad records Pat Boone, although as collector Bengt Wahlstrom says 'I have never actually seen any proof of his connection to Dot other than a rumour in Billboard when he
broke up from Felsted. Instead of Dot he got work, thanks to his friend Le Roy Holmes, at Everest and produced at least four albums: two with Walter Brennan, one with actress Ann Blyth and a fourth
with a faked girl group the Bel-Aire Girls, all in 1960.' Bengt is right; even if Joe did sign to Dot he does not appear to have ended up working on any of their releases. Still, what is known is that he moved to Hollywood where he also set up his own independent company RPC (Record Producers Corporation), with the intention of issuing nostalgia albums by ‘established movie and TV names’.

By now using the stage name Ellen Marty, her meeting with Joe Leahy was fortuitous; by 1963 (according to a report in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader which appeared on August 25, 1963) she had ‘contacted 15 recording companies and made at least eight different recordings’. That figure is easy to believe, as between 1957 and 1963 Ellen copyrighted 25 of her own compositions. ‘He heard a sound in my voice that he liked, and just like a flash we went in to a studio and recorded Man In a Raincoat’. Ellen nailed her vocal on the first take. She established her own publishing company, Lycklig, which had an office at 1216 Cole Ave, Los Angeles. Ellen chose the name Lycklig for her publishing company as it is the Swedish word for 'happy'. 

Joe was looking for his own studio, and he and Ellen recorded in several different places around Hollywood before he finally settled on the right space for him to work. Sadly, although the pair made some fantastic records together, the breakthrough hit eluded them. They established two different record labels, Marty and Rain Coat, but although Joe had an enviable track record and they employed Hollywood’s best pluggers they could not get the radio play that they so desperately needed. In 1965 she released her sole full-length album, Mixing and Making with Marty. 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 had first appeared as a 45 in 1963 on the Rain Coat label and was later reissued on the Marty imprint (Rain Coat’s offices were originally on Vine Street before moving to Lillian Way – immediately behind the Lycklig office). Ellen recorded two further albums, neither of which were issued: the first included Haciendo and Mesciando, a Spanish-language version of her song Mixing and Making. The unreleased (and untitled) collection was later reworked into a children’s album which including the 1966 recording A Sunbeam and a Dewdrop, and her single Baby Blue Eyes. Sadly this album also remains unreleased.

After and a handful of great but criminally-ignored singles in 1966/67, including the brilliant Bobby Died Today (which, despite rumours to the contrary, has nothing whatsoever to do with the death of Bobby Kennedy) Ellen changed her stage name yet again, releasing her next five 45s under the name Buttons. Although she recorded several sides as Buttons there appears to be no connection between her and the female vocal act The Buttons who recorded for Dot and Columbia around the same time, nor with the act of the same name who recorded for RCA later in the 1960s. It is odd though that Joe was one of Dot's lead A&R men during The Buttons’ time at the label, and there is a distinct possibility that Ellen may have recorded as Buttons in an effort to emulate some of the success of The Buttons. 

Two of the tracks Ellen recorded (as Buttons) use the same backing tracks that Joe had previously used on a release by the actress Cynthia Pepper at Felstead: First Time Love and Baby Blues. Cynthia starred in the TV sitcom Margie, broadcast on ABC from September 1961 to April 1962, and the two songs, written by Joe, appeared on both sides of a 7” issued in August 1962. Cathy, who had previously appeared in the hit sitcom My Three Sons, would go on to star as Midge Riley in the Elvis Presley film Kissin’ Cousins. Six years later, with new lyrics written by Ellen, Baby Blues became Baby Blue Eyes and First Time Love became Lovetime. Joe also worked with 50s hitmaker Kathy Linden at Felstead and she also recorded for him at RPC, appearing on the Dick Powell album The Wonderful Teens (under the pseudonym Linda Wells) and releasing a one-off solo single in 1961. All three women had similar voices, and with singers using pseudonyms and Joe reusing music beds it’s more than possible that Ellen may have appeared on other releases during her years working with Joe. 

Ellen Marty’s recordings are a delight: her voice is unconventional (to say the least), veering from a kittenish whisper (as on 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 (The Barn is so Far From the Steeple starts off with the line On a day that was warm I decided to be born), 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 for example which, when I first heard it, had me rushing to check that the needle of my tone arm was not skipping across the precious vinyl), but the more of her work I discover the more in love with her I am becoming. 

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’s a far better record than the Cynthia Pepper original. 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. It’s 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. The one thing you can say about Ellen’s material is that it genuinely is out of the ordinary. 

Try as she did, the hits did not happen. Things went quiet for a four-year period between 1969 and 1973 before she rocked up again, this time as Elie Marty. She released a single, again on Rain Coat, however this time her mentor Joe Leahy was not available to help out: ‘Joe was having health problems so I went out on my own,’ she says. One 45, Leave Me Like You Found Me/Some Days are Good (Somes Bad) using old music beds recorded by Joe in the 60s, was issued before Leahy passed away in 1974; Leave Me Like You Found Me utilises the same backing track as Such a Sad Face, the flip side of her 1968 release Little Mouse in the House. While back in Centerville to nurse her ailing mother, Elie met her parents’ neighbour Ron Backer, a former film editor and NASA employee who was also a keen painter. ‘He was visiting his Mom after he had lost his wife in a car accident,’ Elie explains. ‘It wasn’t long until I left Hollywood to go South and marry the boy next door!’ 

The couple moved to Nashville so that Elie could continue recording, swapping her prestigious Hollywood address 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. When that failed to provide her with a hit Ellen/Elie turned her back on her recording career. She did not give up music altogether, writing many news songs inspired by her husband’s depictions of historic events in US history. ‘Ron retired to become a full-time painter and we formed what we called “music around the paintings’. We came back to LA and did our little show to help Ron get more established with his art and it worked!’ 

Ron is an accomplished artist who has exhibited in many galleries across the States, and Elie often appeared at his exhibitions, singing the songs she wrote. Although the couple no longer do their shows they keep busy, and Elie continues to write and record to this day: ‘I still write country and western and the music I guess I’m known for. Part of my kitchen is like a recording studio’, she says. The former Lycklig offices – just a stone’s throw away from Hollywood Boulevard - are now part of an apartment complex.

The following is a list of all of the Ellen Marty/Buttons/Elie Marty releases and copyrighted songs I am currently aware of. Huge thanks to Elie herself for helping me complete this list:

Unrecorded: See Saw Love (© 1957)
Unrecorded: Doodle Lamb Daddy/Tired of Being What I’m Not/Yellow Trees (all © November 1957)
Unrecorded: I Shall Recall/If you Come Back to Me/I’ve Fallen in Love with You/Lonely/Lost Without You/Round the Bend/That Sammy Boy/Think a Little Thought (© Jan-June1958)
Unrecorded: I Still Cry/Sand Clock Love/Why Did you do It (© August 1958)
Unrecorded: Eddie, the Waiter/Worth a Wait (both © 1959)
Unrecorded: Democrats Now Are In Again/Lolita (both © 1960)
Unrecorded: Go Away Little Boy /Moment With the Lord/Moon Behind a Tree/Those Swayin’ Trees (all © 1961)
Unrecorded: One & A Two & A Three-a (© 1962)
Recorded, possibly unreleased: All of These Things You Are to Me (© 1959); Jungle Love (© 1961). Note: Jungle Love was recorded, according to Elie, by Carl Geren (possibly Carl Green?) for an album.
Raincoat 601: Man in the Raincoat/You're Such a Comfort to Me (1963) 
Marty 101: Our First Date/Your Words Were Sweeter (1964)
Marty 102: Xmas Gift/I Wanna (1964) Note: Xmas Gift was copyrighted in 1957 as My Christmas Gift
Marty 103: Haciendo and Mesciando (Mixing and Making in Sparnish)/?
Marty 103: Mixing and Making/Johnny Had (1965)
Marty 601/602: Man in the Raincoat/This Time of Year (1964)
Raincoat 602: This Time of Year/Billy Back
Marty EM 101: Mixing and Making - Man In a Raincoat/You're Such a Comfort to Me/Johnny Had/I Wanna/This Time of Year//Our First Date/Don't Ask Me, Don't Bug Me/Your Words Were Sweeter/I Wish I Knew/Mixing & Making (1965)
Marty 603: Don't Ask Me, Don't Bug Me/This Time of Year (1964)
Raincoat 104: Forgive Me, Johnny/Love Is Fairytales
Marty 105: I Think I’ll Cry (You Lied, Lied, Lied Again)/I Will Come to You Some Night (1965)
Unrecorded: Sittin’ in This Chair/Super-Dooper-Ooper-Pooper (both © 1966)
Recorded, unreleased: A Sunbeam, A Dewdrop (© 1966)
Rain Coat 105: Raindrops/Locked Up and Bolted (label originally read Locked Up and Bolded) (1966)
Rain Coat 109: Bobby Died Today/Give Me a Raincheck, Baby (1966)
Raincoat 700: Cats Have Whiskers/It All Depends on You (1967) (as Buttons)
Rain Coat 701: Big Ben/Rain, Don’t Rain (both © 1967)
Rain Coat 702: A Petal a Day/Baby Blue Eyes (as Buttons) (1968)
Rain Coat 703: The Barn is So Far From the Steeple/Lovetime (as Buttons) (1968)
Rain Coat 704: Little Mouse in the House/Such a Sad Face (as Buttons) (1968)
Unrecorded: Be Still/Carousel/Every Now and Then/’Neath a Tree, Near the Sea/One Teardrop a Day/Railroad Tracks/So Afraid of Me/To Ride (all songs © 1968)
Unrecorded: EFILFOREVOL (Lover of Life)/Posse from my Past (both w Jared Warner, m Elie Marty) (© June 1973)
Rain Coat 705: unreleased
Rain Coat 706: Leave Me Like You Found Me/Some Days are Good (Somes Bad) (as Elie Marty) (1974)
Rain Coat 100: Do You Ever Think of Me/Paper Planes (as Elie Marty) (1977) 
Unrecorded: Jesus Was a Baby Small (w Jared Warner, m Elie Marty) (© August 1977)
Recorded, not released: Motel Mornings (w Jared Warner, m Elie Marty) (© August 1977)
Unrecorded: Empty Saddle & A Stetson Hat (© 1982)

My thanks to Bengt Wahlstrom and to Elie Marty Backer for their help with this article.

Now, the good stuff. Not one, not two but 23 tracks by Ellen Marty, Elie Marty and Buttons. Everything I currently own copies of, in one handy zip file. It's all here, and you can download it from my Dropbox account so you should not have any issues with pop up ads or the like, and anyone should be able to download it without having to sign up for an account. If you're having issues just go to the page, click on the three dots in the top right hand corner and download.


Friday, 5 January 2018

Kinky Reggae Party


The multicultural poppets Kids International were, in fact, anything but international, having been put together by BBC TV producer Ernest Maxin for the 19882 series of the Les Dawson Show, as Louis Barfe reveals in his excellent biography The Trials and Triumphs of Les Dawson. The majority of them stepped straight out of a London stage school. Their only experience of culture outside of Britain would have been eating at a branch of KFC.

‘I decided to get a United Nations of children together, between the ages of six and eleven’, Maxin said. ‘I auditioned about a thousand kids of all different races within the Home Counties radius.’ Designed as comic foil for Dawson, as well as providing musical interludes, the act proved so successful that Maxin was ‘getting letters in to my office in dustbin liners. Thousands of them.’ It was at this point that Dawson’s agent decided to drop the little scene-stealers from the show.

Their success lead to the act being signed to Magnet records, and two 45s were issued: You Promised Me/Sing a Song of Love and Reggae Round the World/If I Had a Hammer/Danny Boy. No doubt hoping to cash in on the then-current craze for kiddie reggae (Musical Youth would soon hit Number One in the UK with Pass The Dutchie), the a-sides of both singles feature Kids International performing the kind of pop/reggae hybrid that could not possibly offend anyone but, actually, offends me to the very core.

Reggae Round the World was co-written by Maxin and Ivor Raymonde, who we’ve featured here before. Raymonde also produced both singles. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, Ivor was Whistling Jack Smith, as his son, former Cocteau twin Simon raymonde, revealed to me a few months back. In a long career Ivor arranged Laurie’s wonderful I Love Onions, worked with Joe Meek and Dusty Springfield, arranged and conducted the orchestra on Kinky Boots etc. etc. Simon tells me that he’s working on a 2-LP compilation of his later father’s work, for release via his Bella Union label this year. I’ve no idea what became of the youngsters involved… my guess is that many of them are now appearing in EastEnders or in local rep, desperate to live down their brief brush with pop fame.

Here’s both sides of that second 45: Reggae Round the World the poptastic If I Had a Hammer and a truly vomit-worthy rendition of the old Irish standard Londonderry Air, rendered here under it’s better-known alias Danny Boy.


Download Reggae HERE

Download Hammer HERE

Download Danny HERE

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