Friday, 27 January 2023

Ol' Blue Eyes's Bark

Frank Sinatra is one of those singers who always gets a pass, the commonly-held belief that he was a great singer makes him seemingly untouchable when it comes to the kind of folk – like me – who write about bad music.

 

But that’s a shame because there are some truly horrific examples in the Sinatra canon, a couple of which I offer up for you today.

 

Singer and actor Francis Albert Sinatra (born 12 December 1915), known as the ‘Chairman of the Board’ and ‘Ol' Blue Eyes’, Sinatra was one of the most popular entertainers in the world. He began performing in the mid-1930s, performed with bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey and, after signing as a solo artist with Columbia Records in 1943, became the idol of the bobby soxers, selling out venues and starring in the weekly radio show Your Hit Parade (more about that later).

 

He also forged a highly successful career as a film actor, appearing in 60 movies and winning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in From Here to Eternity in 1953. Among his screen credits are the hugely popular musicals On the Town (1949), Guys and Dolls (1955), and High Society (1956). He left Columbia and signed to Capitol, releasing critically acclaimed albums including In the Wee Small Hours (1955), Songs for Swingin' Lovers! (1956), Only the Lonely (1958), and Nice 'n' Easy (1960).

 

Sinatra left Capitol in 1960 to start his own label, Reprise Records, and released a string of successful albums: through his lifetime he sold over 150 million records. Sinatra may be best known for his string of classic performances, from Fly Me To the Moon to Strangers in the Night and, of course, My Way, but he also recorded a significant number of clunkers during his career, especially in the early years. While with Columbia he was often at loggerheads with Mitch Miller, then head of A&R at the label. It was Miller who insisted that Sinatra record the execrable Mama Will Bark, as a duet with shapely starlet Dagmar, which Billboard dismissed as ‘a silly novelty piece [which] proves that Dagmar is better seen than heard’. Legend has it that Sinatra was so angry with Miller that he never forgave him: when the pair passed each other in a hotel lobby, Miller extended his hand to greet the singer, but Sinatra snarled, ‘Fuck you! Keep walking.’

 

Then there’s Sinatra’s version of Woody Woodpecker. In the 1940s Sinatra was starring on the radio show Your Hit Parade and, as a consequence of this, was often called on to perform songs that were doing well in the charts that week… one of which was Mel Blanc’s Woody Woodpecker, a major hit in 1948. Although Sinatra’s lacklustre performance of this monstrosity was never supposed to be released, in 1974 British budget label Windmill Records put it out on a collection of Sinatra rarities, I’m Confessin’, and the recording has been in circulation ever since.

 

He made the occasional misstep during his Capitol years too: take, for example, the ridiculous version of Old Macdonald (awful, but admittedly better than Elvis’s stab at it, and his 1960 campaign song High Hopes With Jack Kennedy. That’s not to say his later career was free of faux pas. His disco version of Night and Day is truly horrible (the disco-fied All or Nothing at All was more successful, but still nasty), as is his cover of Paul Simon’s Mrs. Robinson, where Sinatra alters the lyrics (most egregiously the line ‘Jesus loves you more…’ becomes ‘Jilly loves you more…’, and confused an entire generation) and attempts to turn a rather wonderful pop song into a big band swing number.

 

Outside of his recording career, Sinatra’s somewhat colourful personal life included turbulent relationships with wives Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow, and rumours of his association with mob bosses followed him his entire career, leading to his being investigated by the FBI for his alleged relationship with the mafia. He became one of the best-known members of the Rat Pack, an informal group of Hollywood stars and recording artists that originally included Sinatra, Errol Flynn, Nat King Cole, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (Bacall and Sinatra were set to marry following Bogart’s death, but Sinatra called the wedding off after shortly after the couple became engaged, in mid-1958), but is probably best known for its Las Vegas iteration, of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. In 1963 his son, Frank Junior, was kidnapped and Sinatra paid $240,000 ransom for his safe return.

 

He died, aged 82, in May 1998, leaving behind an incredible body of work, including the two songs I present for you today, Mama Will Bark and Woody Woodpecker. Enjoy!

 

Download Mama HERE 

Download Woody HERE 

Friday, 6 January 2023

The Future Is Now

Happy Friday, my friends, a happy New Year to you too, and a big welcome to the world of New York-based outsider musician Neil Dick.

 

I first heard of Neil through his inclusion on one of Irwin Chusid’s Songs In the Key of Z collections: a home cassette demo of The Future Is Now, which appears on the third volume of the series. More recently I was reminded of his brilliance by fellow incorrect music enthusiast and Sheena’s Jungle Room DJ Miss Mei, who posted his entire 2006 album, also called the Future Is Now, on YouTube after CDBaby decided to cease production of physical discs and make it almost impossible to find Neil’s album.

 

Which is a huge shame, as it really is a wonderful thing. As Neil himself said at the time of release, ‘I take great pride in presenting my debut album… Having been a music lover nearly all of my life, I consider this album as a coming to fruition of really “finding myself” musically.’

 

Neil was, he tells us, ‘An avid listener of popular songs on the radio as early as the age of five.’ A few years later, at his mother’s insistence, he ‘Took piano lessons for a couple of years… which came in handy in the future. In high school, I discovered I had a good singing voice. I would sing many of the popular songs of that era to myself, but was too shy to pursue this skill before audiences. Decades later, having overcome my shyness, I started performing in karaoke events in clubs.’ These karaoke spots emboldened him and encouraged him to pursue his dream of releasing his own music.

 

Neil purchased his own synthesizer, and found himself a studio, Olive Juice, to record his debut full-length album. Eleven of the 12 tracks on The Future Is Now were written by Neil himself: the twelfth, Broken Heart, was composed by his friend Andrew Singer, aka rap artist soce the elemental wizard (all lower case, just like k.d. lang). Many of the tracks on the album originally appeared on a demo cassette, released in 1998 under the name Neil Darins. That cassette also includes several Neil Dick originals that would not be re-recorded for The Future Is Now, including the rather sweet I Really Flipped Over You, and The Edmonton Song.

 

In the 1950s, Neil was at school with Chuck Negron, a founding member of the band Three Dog Night. The pair reconnected backstage in 2004, and one of the tracks on the album, It’s a Small World tells the story of their friendship.  

 

An active member of New York’s LGBTQ community (he gets a credit on the soundtrack to the 1995 film Wigstock: the Movie), having recently turned 78 (he celebrated his birthday on 21 December), Neil is no longer making music but is still working, currently as part of the staff of the New York Language Center.

 

Enjoy a couple of tracks from the extraordinary The Future Is Now, Neil’s ode to Chinese cookery I Love That Red Sauce, and the magnificent, uplifting title track The Future Is Now. For more, check out mei Clover's YouTube channel, where you can find the entire album, as well as a couple of tracks from Neil's 1998 demo cassette.

 

Enjoy!


Download Sauce HERE

Download Future HERE

Friday, 23 December 2022

Christmas Cavalcade 2022: Part Three, the Wing Wing

Ho! Ho! Ho! (again) and welcome to the third and final instalment of this year’s Christmas Cavalcade.

 

I’m finishing my Christmas Selection Box for 2022 with four tracks from the utterly wonderful Wing Han Tsang – an artist I have regularly featured on the World’s Worst Records radio Show, but who will be known to many of you from her appearance on the 2005 South Park episode ‘Wing’.

 

I have featured Wing on the blog before, but that was way back in 2011, so it is probably best that we have a quick recap. Wing Han Tsang, usually known simply as Wing, is a Hong Kong-born singer, who began her career in music after emigrating to New Zealand at the beginning of the 1990s. She began by entertaining patients at nursing homes and hospitals in and around Auckland, as well as busking in shopping centres (check out YouTube for some superb footage of Wing doing the latter), and singing in hotels in the Auckland area.

 

Her popularity prompted suggestions that she release a CD; the result was Musical Memories of Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera Performed by Wing, released in March 2001 and recorded at the Otara Music Arts Centre, based in the Otara Shopping Centre, Auckland. The second album, I Could Have Danced All Night, followed six months later, and by 2015 she had released 20 albums and Eps.

 

Following her ‘discovery’ by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Wing toured the US,  appearing in San Francisco, at the famous Birdland jazz club in New York and at the 2008 South by Southwest festival. In May 2008, she performed on the BBC Introducing stage at Radio 1's Big Weekend, in Maidstone, singing songs written by Abba and Elton John. She has since made many more television and radio appearances around the globe.

 

In 2015, Wing announced that she retired from the music business via her official website. A sad loss of a singularly unique talent.

 

Anyway, here are four Christmas-themed tracks from the magnificent Wing; Jingle Bells  and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town from her 2007 collection Everyone Sings Carols With Wing, plus the wonderfully daft Santa in a Helicopter and her reading of the classic Silent Night from her 2014 EP Carols - Rap and Sing a Beautiful Christmas With Wing.

 

Enjoy! And I'll see you all again after Christmas.

 

Download Jingle HERE

Download Town HERE

Download Helicopter HERE

Download Silent HERE

Friday, 16 December 2022

Christmas Cavalcade 2022: Part Two

Ho! Ho! Ho! Everybody: who is up for another selection of Christmas-related catastrophes? Two singles, four tracks, and all of them worthy of inclusion on your own Christmas playlist

 

First out of the snow-covered barn door is (or, rather, are) Dick and Richard, and both sides of their 1963 seasonal offering Santa Caught A Cold On Christmas Eve and the even sillier Stinky The Little Reindeer. The A-side song was written by Dave Barbour, first husband of the singer Peggy Lee (the couple were married for eight years between 1943–1951), her son-in-law Dick Foster (husband of Lee and Barbour’s only child, Nicki Lee Foster) and Richard Addrisi, Dick and Richard being the son-in-law and Mr Addrisi.

 

Jack Marshall, who produced the disc, wrote the flip side; Richard Addrisi also performed with his brother, Don, as the Addrisi Brothers, and as Dick and Don. Previous to that, the brothers had been part of a traveling trapeze act, The Flying Addrisis, with their parents. The brothers were successful songwriters through the 60s and 70s, and in 1972 scored a minor Billboard hit with their song We’ve Got To Get It On Again, but this particular clunker failed to chart.

 

Next up is a coupling from our old friend Red River Dave, with both sides of his 1980 single, the atonal horror that is Santa's Watchdog Archibald (featuring the dulcet tones of Gloria May), backed with the political polemic The Night Ronald Reagan Rode With Santa Claus. I featured Red River Dave on the blog back in August, and you can read more about his career HERE.

 

Apparently, The Night Ronald Reagan Rode With Santa Claus was penned by Dave 'Red River McEnery 'in the spirit of Christmas forgiveness’. The song features then-president Reagan issuing a pardon to striking air traffic controllers, with Santa telling the Pres that 'Santa Claus counts on air controllers all over the world. He's counting on a safe sky as he flies round the world with Christmas greetings and toys for good little girls and boys.'

 

Enjoy these, and I’ll be back before the Big Day with the third installment of this year’s Christmas Cavalcade.

 

Download Santa HERE

Download Stinky HERE

Download Archibald HERE

Download Ronald HERE

Friday, 9 December 2022

Christmas Cavalcade 2022: Part One

Well, here it is... almost. Just over two weeks to go until the Big Day, so I had better pull my finger out and give you some Christmas-themed music, hadn't I?


And how better to kick off than with three tracks from Eilert Pilarm's seasonal offering from 2001, Eilerts Jul or Eilert's Christmas?


I haven't featured Eilert on the blog for a long time, more than 11 years in fact, although he regularly pops up on The World's Worst Records Radio Show. Just this week I was reminded, by regular blog and show contributor Stephen 'Beany' Green, of this particular album, and it felt like an entirely appropriate opener for this year's Christmas cavalcade.


Eilert, for those previously unacquainted with his genius, is (or was, he stopped performing over a decade ago) Sweden's number-one Elvis impersonator. A cult figure in his home country, Eilert became semi-famous on TV, appearing in adverts cooking while dressed as a cut-price Presley, and singing his off-key renditions of the King's greatest hits. 


Born in 1953, his original surname was Dahlberg, but he changed it to Pilarm to give himself the same initials as his hero. Championed here in Britain by the late John Peel, Eilert first appeared on stage - playing in an ice hockey arena in the town of Husum - in his Elvis garb in 1992, while working at a paper mill. A local radio DJ saw him, got hold of a couple of cassettes of Eilert doing his thing and began to feature him on air, National stardom soon came: Eilert issued six albums and a couple of EPS between 1995 and 2006, he appeared on TV in Britain and the USA, and in 2001 alone he played over 150 gigs across Sweden.


Here are three tracks from the brilliant Eilerts Jul: Eilert's cover of the Elvis standard Blue Christmas, a Swedish version of Silent Night (Stille Natt), and a traditional Swedish carol from 1898, Nu Tandas Tusen Juleljus, which roughly translates as A Thousand Christmas Candles are Lit.


Enjoy!


Download Blue HERE

Download Silent HERE

Download Candles HERE

Friday, 18 November 2022

No Ordinary Star

Sir Anthony Hopkins is, unequivocally, a star. Having made his first professional stage appearance in 1960, in Swansea Little Theatre’s production of Have a Cigarette, in 1965, he was spotted by Laurence Olivier, who invited him to join the Royal National Theatre in London. Hopkins became Olivier’s understudy and filled in when Olivier was struck with appendicitis during a 1967 production of Strindberg's The Dance of Death.

 

He made his movie debut in 1968, playing Richard the Lionheart in the Peter O’Toole/Katharine Hepburn vehicle The Lion in Winter, and big screen stardom soon followed. Subsequent films included When Eight Bells Toll (1971), A Bridge Too Far (1977), International Velvet (1978), Magic (also 1978), The Elephant Man (1980) and The Bounty (1984). He is, undeniably, a major international icon of stage and screen.

 

But following his turn as Captain Bligh in The Bounty, he had a little misstep. Perhaps it was appearing opposite Mel ‘I’m not a racist’ Gibson that did it. Something went wrong: film parts dried up, leaving him to work mostly on television… And then this.

 

In December 1986, possibly in a feeble attempt at a Christmas hit, the Welsh acting legend issued his one and only single Distant Star, backed with  Ordinary Man. Remarkably, it managed to reach number 75 on the UK singles chart.

 

The tracks were co-written by Jonathan Kermode, who had previously been a member of the soft rock/disco group Half Brother with former Wings drummer Henry Spinetti and Howard Goodall, best known to most of us I would assume for his stellar work on television and in film. The group gained its name as Goodall and Kermode are indeed half-brothers. 


The lyrics to Distant Star were written by the late Jackie Trent, Mrs. Tony Hatch, who wrote for countless stars from Petula Clark (including the pop classic I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love) to Scott Walker, but will be best remembered for writing the lyrics to the theme from Neighbours.

 

Thankfully Hopkins was able to redeem himself, going on to win the Best Actor Oscar for the 1991 chiller The Silence of the Lambs. He was knighted in 1993, and since then he has continued to appear in hit after hit. He has even turned his hand to classical music, issuing the 2012 album Composer. According to Discogs he also appeared on the 1953 Peter Ustinov single Mock Mozart, playing the harpsichord. However our Hopkins would have been 15 when the single was recorded, and still at school: Ustinov’s keyboard player is a different person.

 

But whatever he has or will achieve in his acting or composing career, nothing can ever compensate for the twin horrors that are Distant Star and Ordinary Man.

 

Enjoy!

 

Download Star HERE

Download Man HERE

Friday, 4 November 2022

Waltzing With Alan Gillett

A couple of weeks ago, on the live message board that accompanies each episode of the World’s Worst Records Radio Show, a regular listener brought my attention to the incredible Alan Gillett, and it would be remiss of me not to share what I have gleaned of him with you.

 

Hailing from Peoria, Illinois, Alan is (or possibly was) one of the three children of Cliff and Vivian Gillett. He came to fame, or infamy if you prefer, through a series of appearances on public access television, especially those he made for a talent competition (possibly Nashville Starseek) which aired in the early 90s by the Music City Television Network of Nashville, Tennessee… described by WFMU as ‘a sort of low budget American Idol for the country crowd.’ He also made an appearance, in 2000, on Chicago’s public access TV show Chic-a-Gogo.

 

Alan clearly enjoys what he does. On both shows he bounces around joyfully while he’s singing his songs, dragging the audience and the hosts with him. Interviewed on Chic-a-Gogo, Alan reveals that he sees singing as the ‘peak of self-expression’, and that ‘there’s harmony and disharmony, both, in music, and that’s what expresses humanity and human nature. We need that balance of both harmony and disharmony in order to keep life exciting. Music is an expression of that.’ I could not have put it better myself.

  

Alan Gillett issued two 45s on Frontier Records, sometime in the 1990s, Silver Threads Among The Gold backed with Blue Side of Lonesome, and the double A-side Paper Roses, coupled with Waltz Across Texas. They appear to be the only two releases on the label, so Frontier may have been his own vanity outlet. There are no address or contact details on either disc, but they were mastered by Nashville Record Productions (NPR). NPR does not operate a pressing plant, but I would guess that Gillett had his discs manufactured locally too. Apparently, he recorded an album’s worth of material which was available, direct from Alan, on CD-R. The album is reputed to include a killer version of Ave Maria.

 

Here, from his two known singles, are Silver Threads Among The Gold and Waltz Across Texas. Check out Alan’s videos, below, for his amazing performances of All Shook Up and Personality.

 

Enjoy!

 

Download Waltz HERE

Download Silver HERE

 


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