Saturday, 9 April 2011

Letter to an Unborn Child

Dear God, how vile is this? It’s another of those awful, maudlin spoken word things – like The Shifting Whispering Sands or Deck of Cards – which America couldn’t get enough of. Everyone was doing it: Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, Telly Savalas – we’ve even had examples of it here with Red Sovine and Orson Welles. Today if you can’t sing your producer simply pumps your caterwauling through autotune. Back in the 50s and 60s there was no such gimmick available, and the world had to endure dozens of spoken word atrocities.

Letter to an Unborn Child is performed by Scott Muni, a US radio DJ who, during the 1950s had been a member of the United States Marine Corps where he made his broadcasting debut reading "Dear John" letters on Radio Guam. After leaving the Corps Muni began a massively successful career on the air, starting out in 1955 in Akron, Ohio and carrying on until early 2004, when he was forced to retire following a stroke. He died the same year. Hugely influential at a time when radio really mattered, a friend to John Lennon (Muni spent the vast majority of his career working in New York) and a champion of the British music scene, God only knows why he chose to record this piece of junk.

What makes this even more distasteful, for me at least, is that the original 45 appeared in a picture sleeve which announced – falsely, of course – that ‘this letter was found on the body of an unknown soldier during World War II’. How sick is that? Coming out at the height of the Vietnam conflict, how many grieving family members were conned into buying a copy? Not many, thankfully, as the single failed to trouble the charts. One has to wonder why, when it was so obviously pitched at blissed-out hippies celebrating the summer of love. Maybe it was the b-side, a woeful reading of the 23rd Psalm.


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