Sunday, 26 October 2008

It Sounds so Good

Bad records turn up in the most unexpected places.

Over 20 years ago, actually probably closer to 25 years ago now, I worked as the assistant manager and singles buyer at the HMV shop in Gloucester. One of the guys who worked at the same store, Dave, was a keen Northern Soul collector, always on the search for obscure promos to play when he DJ'd at all nighters. He would buy boxes and boxes of obscure US releases from people in the hope that the stash would yield one or two gems and I, being keen even then on bad records, always looked forward to the days when he would toss a crumb my way - a tune useless for him but an essential addition to my bulging bad record collection.

This is one such item.

I know next to nothing about the US soul combo the Polyunsaturates; I've yet to discover if they made any other records - although with its out of tune, singalong kid's choir vocals and insipid lyrics it's highly unlikely that anyone connected with the disc ever made a career out of music (unless they holed themselves up in the Sesame Street band, that is). yet it's composer, Steve Karmen, is another matter altogether. Karmen is most famous for jingles including the New York State song, I Love New York (not the Larry London paen of the same name), the Exxon Song and the Wrigley's Spearmint Gum 'Carry The Big Fresh Flavour' tune. Apparently unique among jingle writers, he was the only one of his peers to receive royalties every time one of his jingles was performed on TV or radio, rather than a flat fee, leading to his informal industry title The King of Jingles.

Originally conceived as a jingle for Diet Rite Cola (a product that had one of its ingredients, cylamate, banned by the FDA), Everybody Likes It is just one of the hundreds of jingles that Karmen has written over the years, although thankfully not all have made the transition from 30 second commercial to full-blown pop pap.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

Surely one of the most idiotic of the many hundreds (thousands) of song-poems released over the decades has to be this little number, Cara Stewart's masterpiece of inter-cultural understanding Song of the Burmese Land.

Released on AIR records around 1962, it's one of a large number of four track EPs put out by this company. Written by one L Hazlewood (one would assume not Lee, the author of These Boots are Made for Walkin'), this particular release also featured Bob Brown singing You're My Lucky Number, Lang Crosby performing Little Bell by Bright McWhorter, and Sonny Marshall with the odd ode Ben Sira In The Garden.

So great is this catastrophic calypso that I feel duty-bound to share the words with you:

Burmese Land is Like Monkey Land, a bothersome, troublesome place
Burmese Land is Like Monkey Land, listen, I'll tell you so

The ??? Government told the people: When ten o'clock strikes night
Don't make a noise, don't be a nuisance, let the people sleep
Let the people sleep

If a permit you should get you can make a noise
If anyone asks, you can say: 'A permit we have got'

Always at this feast, always at that feast - Chinese, Burmese, Indian
Doom doom doom dang dang dang
Boom boom boom bang bang bang
A permit we have got
A permit we have got

Burmese Land is Like Monkey Land, a bothersome, troublesome place
Burmese Land is Like Monkey Land, to the lunatic asylum I'm going

With the recent political upheaval in Myanmar (Burma) the rediscovery of this little gem could not have come at a better time. If you fancy more like this, hike on over to the ever-wonderful WMFU, where you can download two whole collections of similar song poem nonsense, MSR Madness Volume 5: I Like Yellow Things and Volume Six: Rat a Tat Tat America!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Setting Race Relations Back a Century

Two for one today, to make up for the lack of postings over the last few months.

I just don't know what to say about this - apart from 'NOOOO!', that is!

Composed by John Kelly, also responsible for City Hospital's Patients, Cloud Nine and I've Found my True Love, it's another of the hundreds of tracks put out by one of the many shyster vanity recordings outfits such as MSR, AIR, Preview and so on in the 50s and 60s, yet another gem from the song-poem subculture. It's singer is not mentioned on the disc's label - credited as it is to the MSR Singers - but it sounds to me too much like MSR stalwart Buddy Raye to be anyone else on lead vocals.

This blatantly racist paean, which kicks off like a rip-off of the great Billie Holliday standard Strange Fruit, defies description; just listen.

God Forgives, the Black Angels Don't!

There's a chance that, if you consider yourself to be a bad record aficionado, you're probably a fan of bad movies too. I love the work of Edward D Wood (Plan 9 From Outer Space, Glen or Glenda et al), the exploitation films of Kroger Babb (Mom and Dad), and others far to numerous to mention; check out the listings for the Paranormal Channel (who have recently come up with such delights as the Corpse Grinders, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla and The Bat) if you want to get an idea of what I mean.

The late 60's, early 70's produced a slew of terrible movies, many of which fed on middle America's fear of pot smoking hippies and biker gangs, including She Devils on Wheels and the execrable Black Angels. Which is where we come in.

The Black Angels is a dreadful, dreadful, little piece of schlock (so bad it's actually quite good) about the turf war between two gangs, with a little race rivalry thrown in for good measure. For years the white Serpents and the black Choppers have battled each other, united only by their mutual hatred for a local police officer, Lieutenant Harper. A Chopper member is killed in a fight with Chainer, the leader of the Serpents, and after the Serpents accept new biker Johnny Reb into their ranks, they ride into town to mete out punishment. Returning to their hideout, the gang launches a wild party, which Johnny Reb further enlivens by dipping into his stash. As the gang becomes drowsy and vulnerable from the pills' aftereffects, one of the cyclists, Frenchy, discovers that Johnny Reb is actually a black Chopper member passing for white. Before Frenchy can warn the others, however, Johnny Reb stabs him to death and then signals the Choppers to attack. The two gangs massacre each other while Harper observes the bloodbath from a distant hilltop. Lovely.

But we're not here to glorify gang violence, drug taking or indeed manufacturers of Z-grade movies. What draws our attention is the brilliantly awful soundtrack. Uncredited, but performed by actor/musician Aesop Aquarian, a man whose remarkable 40-year career (occasionally under the names Aesop T. Aquarian and/or the more worldly Stephen Morrell) has included guest spots on TV shows Starsky and Hutch and the Rockford Files and appearances in movies including Don't Mess With the Zohan (often as an ageing hippy or rabbi), the soundtrack to Black Angels offers a couple of bland, nondescript rock songs, but nestled amongst them is this little gem.

The Cigarette Song is a lovely little ballad extolling the virtues of the noxious weed, including lung cancer. Have a listen, but pay close attention to the third verse...

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