Thursday, 24 November 2011

Say May-Vin

A quick, slightly early post to round off November. From next week I'll be bringing you the usual annual debauchery known as the World's Worst records' Christmas Countdown. Until then, let me introduce you to  Mavin James.

I know very little about Mavin (Say May-Vin) James apart from the fact that this middle-aged crooner released at least three 45s on his own Havasong label, based in Rochester, Kent, in 1986/87.

The following info is almost entirely gleaned from the sleeve of this particular single, the third in the series, My Dad/Together in Iceland (complete with any errors in punctuation, spelling and/or syntax):

Mavin was born in King’s Cross and lived in Bloomsbury, London until the age of 10, when he moved with his family to Greenford, Middlesex. There he lived until the age of 22 thereafter moving to Rochester in Kent and becoming by adoption a “MAN OF KENT”.

Whilst living in Greenford he began Playing Piano at Parties and soon found, that in addition to enjoying himself he was also being paid. His enthusiasm knew no bounds and soon he was known to one-and-all as HE WHO NEVER STOPS, himself considering no party a success, unless all were exhausted.

Moving to Rochester, by now lucky enough to have a lovely Wife, fortune smiled and life was able to be lived to it’s full, Piano playing becoming but a distant memory. INEXPLICABLY MANY YEARS LATER whilst working, Mavin began to sing. Two Hours later his first Song was complete, Words and Music.

Thus was born, Mavin the Songwriter.

Single 3, written by Mavin some time ago, relates to most everybody in varying degrees and Side B, is for those who enjoy a Lively beat.

I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a ‘Lively beat’? Clearly Mavin himself was a bit of a fan: his first single – He-Be-Har-Be/Me-Me and You – is described on the sleeve as a ‘Disco Dance’, and you don’t get a more lively beat than that. Incidentally there was a second Havasong Music, which existed at the same time as Mavin’s company, which published songs by Billy Childish (for acts including the Milkshakes and Thee Headcoatees) and the Prisoners. By strange coincidence Childish (real name Steven John Hamper) originally hailed from Kent, but he had already been living in London for some time when the two Havasongs were in business.

There's something utterly beguiling about Mavin's delivery of the a-side; it's a sweet, naive little ditty which you could easily imagine being performed by Clive Dunn. However nothing can prepare you for the b-side. Together in Iceland, drenched in reverb and with its blippy organ sounds more like a lost Joe Meek masterpiece than the late 80s electropop you'd assume Mavin was going for.

I'll guarantee after a listen or two you'll be humming this one, or suddenly catch yourself singing snatches of the infectious lyrics: "I'll come with you to Iceland, I'll be there to keep you warm," or "In Iceland together, together we'll be."

So, enjoy both sides of Mavin James' third - and seemingly last - single: My Dad/Together in Iceland.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Broken Face

A wonderfully pugnacious, mean spirited and misogynistic piece of pop from Norm Buns (this time accompanied by the Five Stars), the chief vocalist on the Sterling song-poem label during its golden years and the performer of such song-poem classics as The Human Breakdown of Absurdity, Black and I’m Proud, Darling You Make Me Angry and Set Your Date on Time.

There are a number of song-poem records about spousal abuse (My Husband, Lover, Friend by Bobbi Blake, for example, written by a stupid woman who forgave the asshole who beat her) but this particular track, Hard Head, is exceptionally vicious: “When I’m through with you the doctor’s will scream, your face will look like it’s been in the mixing machine….”, “I’ll strangle you”, “I’ll break up your nose” and so on. It reads like a check list for the Women’s Aid helpline; the fact that it comes all dressed up in a happy, country-lite sauce only serves to underline how little respect is shown (or at least used to be shown) to the victims of domestic violence.

The song is credited to Charles Storr (the man who obviously had issues with his Missus) and Lew Tobin, the Boston-based song-poem veteran who set up Sterling records and also ran the Five Star Music Masters demo facility. Lew’s song-poem empire was one of the longest-running of them all, having kept itself busy from the 1940s up until the 1990s soliciting lyrics from would-be songwriters with ads in magazines such as Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Billboard, Railroad Magazine and, later, Ebony. Tobin himself was active from the 1920s: he co-wrote a song called Lonesome Willie Blues, which was copyrighted in 1925, and he scored the music for an unknown number of songs for the song-poem sheet music company Nordyke in the 30s and 40s before establishing Five Star, Sterling and their various spinoffs. His wife, Shelley Stuart, was also a singer who appeared on a number of Lew’s releases, notably Yummy, Yummy Dum-Dum (recorded by Five Star for Delicks Records and the brilliantly-named album The 12 Most Unpopular Songs) and Vampire Husband.

It's just a shame it's so short: at a touch over 100 seconds long Hard Head  must beone of the shortest songs I've posted for you so far; but it;'s also one of the best. 


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Jailhouse Sucks

Welcome, my friends, to the mad, mad world of Eilert Pilarm – a land where every day is Christmas and everyone spends their evening at karaoke. Born Eilert Dahlberg in 1953 in Anundsjö, Sweden, Eilert Pilarm (the name chosen because it had the same initials as his hero) has to be the world’s worst Elvis impersonator. In a world full of bad Elvis impersonators, that’s one hell of a boast.

The former farm hand and labourer began performing in 1992, almost always to backing tapes, and started to build up a loyal following. TV and radio appearances in Scandinavia and further afield followed (he even appeared on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast in 1999) and by 2001 he was the most-booked live act in Sweden. Eilert’s TV appearances were, to put it mildly, often rather odd: on many programmes he would turn up, bedecked in an Elvis-ish jump suit, and start cooking, imitating Elvis at the same time. Kind of like the Muppet’s Swedish Chef, but dressed by Liberace and singing a bad version of In The Ghetto.

He self-released three cassettes - the stunningly originally-titled Elvis 1, Elvis 2 and Elvis 3 - before the big time came a-knocking: his debut CD Greatest Hits was released in 1996 on MCA, the same year that Eilert finally got to visit Graceland. "I can't work out whether he's brilliant or just incredibly stupid and doesn't realise what he's doing," said iconic DJ John Peel at the time, calling Greatest Hits one of his favourite albums of 1996.

Three more CDs followed; Eilert is Back! In 1998, Live In Stockholm in 2000 and Eilerts Jul (Eilert's Christmas) the following year, a collection which often appears in lists of the worst album covers of all time.  His rise to notoriety amongst bad record aficionados was complete when he appeared in the Irwin Chusid book (and accompanying CD) Songs in the Key of Z, the must-have guide to the world of outsider music.

After performing more than 600 gigs, the Swedish Elvis retired from live appearances in 2002. However we still have Eilert’s music and here, for your enjoyment, is what must rank as the highlight of his entire recorded oeuvre – Eilert Pilarm’s version of the Elvis classic Jailhouse Rock.


Saturday, 5 November 2011

Bob and Bobby

Here’s a real stinker for you, another song poem from one of my all-time favourite performers and companies.
Bob Storm‘s Bobby, an ode to the assassinated Robert Kennedy, is another great from the Halmark stable. Typical of Halmark’s output, the song sounds like it was recorded in the 50s, although Kennedy didn’t meet his untimely end, at the hands of Sirhan Sirhan, until June 1968 and Halmark itself had been established in 1967. With lyrics by Stella Smith, the music was written by song-poem pioneer Ted Rosen and it appeared as the B-side to a dreary little ditty entitled Rosary of Kisses.
The lyrics to Bobby are just awful, and full of the usual song-poet non-sequiturs: 

Far away from home and family
Lying in a cold and silent grave
Is the man we knew as Bobby
And we never shall forget
Taken away from his nation by a cruel assassin
In the prime of his life

Now that voice is stilled forever
We’ll never miss him in days to come
He was loved by millions
‘Round the world and everywhere

Many hearts are saddened
Because he is not here
And for the oppressed
Bobby always did his best

Ted Rosen, who we’ve featured on these pages before, grew up in Boston, spending his time, according to his son Jeff (who these days runs the company his father established) with “a smile on his face and his head up in the clouds, writing new songs every day”.  Moving to New York in pursuit of his dream of working as a full-time songwriter, his first break came when he wrote the children's song Herkimer the Homely Doll. Released as a 78, in a rather fetching picture sleeve, by Sterling Holloway on Decca in April 1954 Jeff would have you believe that ‘it ran up the Billboard charts’; it didn’t, but you can’t blame a son for being proud of his dad, and it was heavily featured on the hit kid’s TV show Captain Kangaroo which began its record-breaking 30-year run the following year. Ted also claimed to have written a hit song for Rosemary Clooney, but nothing obvious appears in the Clooney discography.

His companies - Talent Incorporated, Halmark, Grand and Chapel – often used the same musical beds for their output; this means that the same music track would appear as backing to a political song on Halmark, an overwrought ballad on Grand and as the tune to a hymn on Chapel, for example – and he didn’t care how often these tracks were used. It made life simple for his stable of performers: all they had to do was walk into the studio, have a quick squint at the lyric sheet and fit them as best they could around a track they had heard time and time again. One particular bed turns up so often it’s unreal: Memories (Genevieve Leahy), A Friend to All (G M Fogarty), the Galveston Rose (Nathan Ricketts & Don Richards), Near to Your Heart (Walter D Rogers), Tomorrow (Mrs Marvell Wyrick) and countless other would-be hit writers have had their material shoehorned into this tune.  

Unusually, Rosen was hauled over the coals by the Songwriter's Review magazine, a publication which existed almost exclusively to advertise the services of other song-poem outfits, in 1972. ‘Listen to what Ted Rosen told the Better Business Bureau and didn't tell you or the other 7,000 amateur songwriters he does business with. He [said] his services appeal to the egos of the would-be Hammersteins and the chances of any amateur receiving royalties or making money are very remote...He also doesn't promote nor sell songs; all you're sure of receiving is one record. As for his own experience, Rosen said only one of his songs, entitled "Herkimer the Homely Doll", resulted in royalties. You all remember what a smash hit that was! ‘

Never mind. We love Ted Rosen here at the World’s Worst Records…and I promise that this will not be the last time you hear from him.


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