Friday, 30 March 2012

The Sins of the Mother

This week’s slice of vile audio was released 40 years ago. The world has changed a lot in those four decades, yet listening to it again this morning I still find it utterly repugnant. File under Letter To An Unborn Child.

Produced by country superstar Chet Atkins, and featuring Elvis’s backing singers the Jordanaires, Lorene Mann’s clumsily-titled and self-penned  Hide My Sin (A – b – o – r – t – I – o - n N – e – w Y – o – r – k) is the shocking tale of how a good old country girl has had to fly to New York, hand over $300 at a backstreet clinic and have a foetus terminated. Please don’t get me started on the rights and wrongs of this process – I strongly believe that it is a woman’s prerogative to do what the damn well she pleases with her body and that no Government or Right Wing talking head can tell her otherwise. There are dozens of reasons for wanting or needing to have an abortion and it’s not up to me or to anyone else on this planet to interfere. Oh damn, I did get started, didn’t I? Never mind; back to the music.

Born in 1937, Lorene Mann’s career in country music began when she signed in late 1964 for RCA. Often recording with singer Archie Campbell, she released a number of singles and several albums between 1965 and the mid 70’s but then she all but disappears from view. There’s an obscure mention of her having undergone ‘several bouts of surgery’ in a 1970 issue of Billboard, which she clearly recovered well enough from to produce this piece of garbage, and then she became active as an officer in the Nashville Songwriters Association. It appears that, at this point, she put her singing career behind her to concentrate on writing. Jerry Wallace recorded a number of her songs including the mawkish I Wanna Go To Heaven, and in 1974 she won an award for the Most Promising Country Music Writer of the Year, even though she had maintained a successful side-line in writing songs for other artists for some years. She appeared in a minor role (as Dolorosa Sister Number One) in the Burt Reynolds stinker W W and the Dixie Dancekings in 1975, and that’s about it.

What kind of woman would write something as disgusting as this? How much self-loathing must you be carrying around? Or are we missing the point? Perhaps this isn’t the tale of a lonely, frightened woman slinking off in shame but of a woman who is steadfast in her desire for an abortion but who knows that she will not be able to have one in her own community? In 1970, New York passed the most permissive abortion law in America and virtually overnight a new industry sprang up, promoting itself to women across the States with ad tag lines such as ‘Want to be un-pregnant?’

A month after its January 1972 release Lorene’s single was hailed in Billboard thusly: ‘the reaction to Lorene Mann’s “My Sin” (sic) is so incredible that she has taken off on a tour of the major metropolitan cities. The wire services have done feature stories on it and Miss Mann, with RCA, may have a big hit on her hand (sic). She’s the first to write and sing about abortion, and Chet Atkins not only produced it, but played the fiddle (not the guitar) on the session.’

I’d love to think Lorene saw this as a rather back-handed song about empowerment – she did, after all, also pen a song called Don't Put Your Hands on Me, which was a call to arms for any woman who had been hit on by a drunk in a bar. But if that’s the case why call it Hide My Sin and end with the line ‘God be kind to me on Judgement Day? Why the shame? It just doesn’t add up.

Thank goodness the world has moved on some.


Friday, 23 March 2012

Go To Praises

Something new to blight your weekend: a gaggle of politically-correct, multi-cultural Californian kids and a talking song book called Psalty performing simple Christian songs to an upbeat, jaunty backing. This week the World’s Worst Records would like to introduce you to Kid’s Praise!, a series of albums which kicked off at the beginning of the 80s and that has to date produced more than two dozen discs of smiley, sugar-sweet, jaw-achingly cloying niceness.

Originally appearing on the Maranatha! label, and distributed in the UK by Word, I picked up two albums in the series in a charity shop for just 99p each. Written by Debby Kerner and Ernie Rettino, who also provides the voice of Psalty, the couple have been working on the Kid’s Praise! concept since the early 70s – many of the songs on the debut album were written some eight years before its release – and it’s clearly been a labour of love: Ms Kerner and Mr Rettino are also a real-life married couple. Kids Praise! has turned into a multimedia extravaganza. Just take a look at their Psalty website: cds, dvds, books, goes on and on. Your three year old would look fantastic in a Psalty hoodie.

The one thing I’m struggling to get my head around though is how Psalty the singing songbook managed, by album three in the series, to have acquired an entire family of his own: a wife, Psaltina and three ‘booklets’ – Melody, Harmony and Rhythm – who all live together in a little house in Happyville. I guess if Jesus’ mother could become pregnant without having had sex it’s no great struggle to believe a songbook could do the same.

According to Maranatha! “The Kids Praise! series is chock-full of fun-filled praise and worship tunes kids love to sing! Performed by kids for kids! Fresh, easy arrangements will keep little ones entertained for hours while teaching them how to worship in spirit and truth!” They really, really like their exclamation marks, these people. It’s difficult to be unpleasant about Kids Praise! and Psalty – it’s all very worthy and so very, very nice. I’m sure the target audience love it – and even a committed atheist like me would rather my kids (should I have any) listen to this than the garbage spouted by a purple dinosaur – at least their using real instruments and, on occasion, adapting some rather wonderful music to carry their message. True, I have a problem with the message itself but I believe that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. In fact I felt quite mean about posting this particular song – until the kid singing the last solo opens its mouth that is, and then I want to go out and break something.


Friday, 16 March 2012

Loch Ness Giant

Born in Camberwell, London, to Irish parents in 1948 Martin Ruane – better known in the UK at least as Giant Haystacks – was a professional wrestler known for his huge height (6’11”) and enormous weight – 48 stone at his heaviest.

He also, in 1983, released this slice of hokum his one and only single Baby I Need You. Supplied once again by Mick Dillingham, I haven’t bothered to include the b-side of this particular audio catastrophe as it was just an instrumental version – the same track without the vocal.

Martin was a big baby, weighing 14 lb 6 oz at birth. Although born in Camberwell by the age of three his family decided to up sticks and relocated to Salford, Greater Manchester, a city which would remain home for the rest of his life. As a young man he worked as a labourer and as a nightclub bouncer before, in 1967, embarking on a career in professional wrestling. Beginning with the stage name Luke McMasters, by the early 1970s he adopted the name Giant Haystacks, after the American wrestling star Haystacks Calhoun.

 In 1975 Martin, or Giant if you prefer, joined forces with fellow wrestler Big Daddy (who, rather splendidly, had been christened by his parents Shirley Crabtree) and the pair worked as heels (a wrestling term for bad guys), gaining notoriety on TV for the brutality of their act (don’t for one second think that professional wrestling was anything more than choreographed, calculated entertainment). Dressed in his trademark caveman outfit, Martin reputedly ate three pounds of bacon and a dozen eggs every morning to maintain his strength.

Giant Haystacks was the man that everyone loved to hate but, according to those who knew him, Martin was a sensitive, intelligent and deeply religious man devoted to family. Earlier in his life he had ambitions to be a musician but his inability to master an instrument because of his huge hands put paid to this. As many as 16 million viewers would tune in to ITV's World of Sport on a Saturday afternoon to watch him wrestle. Fame for the pair was assured but in 1977 Big Daddy decided to change his act, became a hero (also known as a blue-eye or, in America especially, face) and they dissolved their tag team partnership, becoming sworn enemies – in the ring at least – until Big Daddy retired in 1993.

In 1996, at the age of 48, Martin began wrestling in the United States under the ring name Loch Ness and fought with Hulk Hogan. However ant chance of his finding fame in the States was cut short when he was diagnosed with cancer. He returned home to Salford, where he died in 1998.


Friday, 9 March 2012

Completely Batty

Apologies for the poor quality of the photo - it's the only one I have.

I’m dipping into the bag of tricks kindly supplied by Mick Dillingham again today to bring you this utterly awful slice of kitsch, Benny by Kathy Staff.

Many of you will remember the late Kathy Staff for playing the redoubtable Nora Batty in BBC’s endless, pointless ‘comedy’ Last of the Summer Wine – a show about three old men which seemed to run for about a million years and which ended each episode with the old men falling over a wall. Oh the hilarity! One of them (Compo, played by the late Bill Owen) was head-over-heels in love with Nora Batty, a battle-axe in wrinkled surgical stockings who was married to the world’s dullest man. That’s about as much as you need to know. For some peculiar reason Last of the Summer Wine became the world’s longest running sitcom, with 31 series between 1973 and 2010.

Benny stems from an earlier period in Kathy’s life, when she played the role of motel cleaner Doris Luke in the much-maligned daily soap opera Crossroads. If you don’t know the show you might know that Paul McCartney and Wings recorded a version of the theme tune for their 1975 album Venus and Mars, which was later played over the show’s closing credits. Critically derided for its low budget, wooden acting, wobbly sets and ridiculously melodramatic scripts, the show originally began in 1964 and ran until 1988; it was revived in 2001 but the revamped show lasted just two years before being axed for a second time. Kathy joined the cast in 1978 and stayed until the end of its original run; she also turned up in the revamped version but soon left, unhappy with the sexy storylines. Incidentally, the opening exterior scenes used during the early 80s were filmed just a couple of miles from my childhood home.

Although best known for these two roles, Kathy had a long and distinguished career, which began in touring repertory companies in 1946. Opting for the stage name Katherine Brant she changed this to Katherine (or Kathy) Staff when she married John Staff in 1951. Taking time off to raise her family, she started working again for Granada Television in the 1960s and appeared in the seminal British movie A Kind of Loving in 1962. Her later roles included Vera Hopkins in another long-running soap, Coronation Street, and as Mrs Blewitt in the Ronnie Barker comedy Open All Hours. Kathy also appeared on stage in roles including The Importance of Being Earnest’s Lady Bracknell, Blithe Spirit’s Madam Arcati and Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals.

Born Minnie Higginbottom in 1928, Kathy’s ode is a tribute to one of Crossroads’ most popular characters, the local village idiot Benny Hawkins, a simple-minded handyman played by Paul Henry, whose trademark was a woolly hat worn all year round. Henry had already traded on the role, recording Benny's Theme with the Mayson Glen Orchestra which reached no.39 in the UK Singles Chart in January 1978. Like Kathy/Doris, Henry’s ‘performance’ was spoken word, so it’s a bit of a surprise that this was also not a minor hit: mind you, although his hit was also awful, it’s nowhere near as toe-curlingly bad as this horror, and he did have the major-label might of Pye behind him, rather than the tiny independent Monarch company – a label which specialised in pipe band and country dance music but who also released ‘comedy’ records by Scot's wifeswapping children's entertainers The Krankies and 70s camp stereotype Larry Grayson - with their miniscule promotional muscle.

You’d have thought that this abortion would have been enough to put Kathy off making records for life, however in the same year as this travesty was released, 1983, she teamed up with Bill Owen (in character as Compo and Nora Batty) to record the dismal Nora Batty’s Stockings for CBS imprint AVM.


Saturday, 3 March 2012

V for Victory

I was incredibly saddened by the news this week of the death of Davy Jones, the former jockey-turned child actor who, along with Mickey Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork, became one quarter of The Monkees – the greatest manufactured band of all time. In a career that spanned just four years the band produced a slew of classic singles, a couple of truly great albums and, in Head, one of the most underrated acid movies of all time. You can say what you like about them, dismiss them if you will, but the Monkees were incredibly important: they used and brought to prominence the best young songwriters in America in the 60s; they promoted the careers of – amongst many others – Tim Buckley, Frank Zappa, Jack Nicholson, Neil Diamond and Neil Young; they were the first band to use a Moog synthesiser on a pop record; they were the first pop act to rebel against their hit-making mentors and insist on writing, performing and producing their own material...the list goes on. Far from being four lucky actors, these were real innovators.

I was lucky enough to catch them play live several times: twice seeing the original four-man line up. I also saw the reformed Velvet Underground at around the same time. The Monkees were far, far better. Rest in Peace Davy; thanks for the memories.

Anyway, to this week’s offering. I could have chosen something from the Monkees’ canon (it’s not all good, not by a long way – the last album, Changes, is virtually unlistenable) but that would have been too easy. Instead I’ve thought laterally and proudly present for your delectation the warbling of another singing jockey, one Harvey Smith.

Born in 1938, Harvey Smith is a former British show jumping champion and one of the most recognisable faces in British sport. Standing out like a sore thumb from the usual crop of well-spoken show jumpers because of his broad accent and blunt manner. He’s famous for flicking the “V’s” (a bit like flipping the bird) to the judges following a winning round in the British Show Jumping Derby in 1971 which led to his being disciplined although that ruling was overturned on appeal. He competed in two Summer Olympics and later became a television commentator for the BBC, covering equestrian events at the Los Angeles Olympics.

For some strange reason, at the height of his fame, someone thought it would be a good idea to drag Harvey into the studio to record a single. The result – True Love/End of the World - is bloody awful, just as you’d expect. Issued in 1975, a year before ex-Beatle George Harrison released his version of the same Cole Porter standard, this dull, atonal claptrap was never going to lead to a successful second career as a crooner, was it? To me he sounds (especially on the B-side) like Elmer Fudd. Actually, now I have that in my head I can’t really hear anyone but Elmer singing this. Unfortunately the woman singing backing vocals on True Love is unnamed on the disc or sleeve, so Harvey will have to bear all of the blame for this horror.  


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