Saturday, 30 June 2012

One in a Million

For a short period at the tail end of the 70s, perhaps as a backlash to the riot of punk and new wave, the British charts were plagued by a spate of hits performed by children’s choirs, and today’s slice of aural vomit illustrates the hideousness of these ghastly kiddie singalongs perfectly. My Mum is One in a Million was a number 27 hit for the Children of Tansley School in April 1981 and followed hot on the heels of another revolting set of brats the St Winifrid’s School Choir – who had the 1980 Christmas number one with the equally vile There’s No-one Quite Like Grandma.

Much of the blame for these awful records must lie with Brian & Michael, the pop duo best known for their 1978 number one hit Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs which, incidentally, also featured the St Winifrid’s School Choir on backing vocals. The pair went on to write and produce the hit The Sparrow for yet another kiddie choir (The Ramblers) in 1979 and It's 'Orrible Being in Love when You're Eight and a Half, a number 13 hit for Claire and Friends in 1986. My Mum is One in a Million was written by Gordon Lorenz, who also penned the equally horrible b-side have You Read the Story: a vile ditty about the birth of Jesus. Lorenz, who was one of the most prolific record producers in Britain producing over 800 albums (believed to be a world record), was also the author of There’s No-one Quite Like Grandma…’s all a bit incestuous, isn’t it?

Thankfully this musical aberration seems to have run its course; the Tansley kids follow up - Our Family/We’re Going to a Birthday Party - sank without a trace as did their album (also called Our Family) and they were quickly sent back to Derbyshire by EMI. It’s been a fair while since the UK charts last saw a kiddie hit. Let’s hope it stays that way.


Friday, 22 June 2012

Espana Por Favor

An old favourite which, I’m shocked to say, I’ve failed to post here until now.

Steve Bent was born in 1952 and initially trained as an actor, making his television debut in 1970 in the Richard Beckinsale comedy series The Lovers. His first big break was in the TV soap Crossroads (as Gerry Hurst), and, like many of his co-stars of the day - including Kathy Staff and Paul Henry – he was soon ushered into a recording studio to cut a 45. The result was the self-composed I’m Going to Spain, originally issued as a 45 on Bradleys Records (home to the Goodies) in 1976 and compiled on the seminal bad music compilation Kenny Everett Presents the World’s Worst Records (K-Tel/Yuk!) a couple of years later.

Hardly the sort of record to encourage one to visit the Costa del Sol unlike, say, Sylvia’s Y Viva Espana, Steve quickly realises that there was no future for him in music and so tore up his Musician’s Union card. Outside of this one horrific 45 and a fabled appearance on the TV talent show New Faces, his recorded output consists of a handful of tracks which appeared on a couple of charity albums put out by the Showbiz XI, produced by another bad music alumnus Jess Conrad. Having said that his one stab at pop immortality received another outing, and no doubt garnered a welcome royalty cheque or two, when it was covered by The Fall on their 1993 album The Infotainment Scan.

As Stephen Bent he has concentrated instead on his acting career. You might not recognise his name but you’ll instantly know his face; Stephen has appeared in innumerable TV and stage productions including episodes of Miss Marple, Lovejoy, Minder, ChuckleVision, The Professionals, My Family, Doctors, The Sweeney, Life on Mars and Coronation Street, appearing in three different roles: Nick Turner in 1971, Frank Barton in 1974 and Dave Turner in 2002. He’s also appeared in movies including Mean Machine and Ali G In Da House. Most recently Stephen had a recurring role on the long-running rural soap Emmerdale as Derek Penrose.


Friday, 15 June 2012

What Did You Do During the War, Daddy?

Today I present for your enjoyment one of the darnedest things I’ve ever heard, and one of the oddest couplings ever, Auschwitz backed with 29th September by the Italian beat combo Equipe 84.

You’d have thought just two short decades after the liberation of Auschwitz the world would have been ready for a pop song about the horrors encountered there, wouldn’t you? Apparently not. The mind fair boggles: who in God’s name ever thought that this was a good idea? The B-side (or the A-side if you possess the American pressing) is even better; histrionic caterwauling, dreadfully out of tune vocals and someone intoning the phrase 29th of September (and, later, 30th of September) over and over again. It makes a little more sense in its original language where the disembodied voice repeating the date endlessly is replaced by a radio announcer reading a news story; unfortunately you still get the same histrionic caterwauling, only this time in Italian.

Auschwitz was originally issued in Italy in 1966 as the B-side of their cover of the Cher hit Bang Bang, with 29th September (as 29 Settembre) released as the A-side to its follow up in early 1967. Both tracks were re-recorded specifically for the English-speaking market, with English lyrics written by Tommy Scott (a minor 60s recording artist who also penned English lyrics to the brilliant early Eurovision hit Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son), and released as a single in the UK on Major Minor and, with the sides flipped, in the USA by Imperial.

Surprisingly the disc flopped in both countries, making it relatively hard to find these days and rather expensive when copies do turn up: at the time of writing there’s a UK copy on eBay for £45. I can’t quite work out why it stiffed; surely a song about life (and, naturally, death) in a concentration camp should have been a hit? How could it fail to chart with lyrics like:

I died when I was a child
I died with hundreds of people
From a furnace through a chimney
And now I am cradled by the wind

At Auschwitz, snow on the ground
The smoke it drove so slowly
In the fields lay the ashes
Of the people which spread in the wind

….it beggars belief. 1967! Peace and love! Hippies and flowers! Hitler and gas chambers! It is thought that around 1,300,000 people were murdered at Auschwitz, and this is the best you can do?

Originally formed in Modena in 1963, Equipe 84 was one of Italy’s most successful beat/psych bands, their chart career filled with covers of British and American hits such as Blackberry Way (as Tutta Mia la Citta), Papa Oom Mow Mow (as Papa e Mamma), Go Now (Ora Puoi Tornare) and the aforementioned Bang Bang badly translated into Italian, plus their own highly derivative originals and some examples of leftfield madness like the tracks we feature today. The band released seven albums (and a whole bunch of live albums and compilations) and around 30 singles before splitting at the end of the 1970s, only to reform in 1984. That incarnation of the group continued for a further decade(relesaing a further album)  before once again imploding, although founding member Franco Ceccarelli, who originally left in 1970 but reenlisted in 1984, still steps out from time to time under the band’s moniker.

There has, thankfully, been no new material since 1989.

Friday, 8 June 2012

It's the Plinger, not the Song

For today’s post I’ve delved into my ever-expanding collection of song poems to bring you a brace of tracks from the album Sunset Swing with the MSR Singers (catalogue number LPM 215 for those that care about such things), just one of the hundreds of albums put out by MSR, one of the biggest and busiest of the song poem outfits. Over a relatively short period – the earliest recordings date from the late 60s and the company had wound up by the end of 1983 - MSR (the initials stand for founder Maury S Rosen) issued in excess of 3,000 45s and around 300 albums; that’s some going by anyone’s standards.

Unfortunately the majority of these albums fail to credit the ‘talent’ involved. Our first track, the ridiculously-titled The Not Impossible Waltz on the Moon, was written by one Sven Swanson – his lineage may account for his rather poor understanding of the English language – but nowhere on the disc or sleeve do we get any clues as to who the lead vocalist is. The same is true of today’s second helping, the John H Kelly Sr composition From Slavery to Freedom – just one of four tracks the prolific Mr Kelly has contributed to this rather mundane collection. We also are given no clues as to when the album was issued, although judging by the catalogue number it must have been around 1970.

I’d take a pot at the vocalist on both of these tracks as being our old friend Dick Kent (aka Dick Castle, aka Buddy Raye, aka Sonny Cash, aka Richard House). Not only was he was the company’s most fertile male vocalist and certainly the most active during the period when this album was hastily put together but, when you add in the innumerable recordings he made for other companies – including Songuild, Kay-Em and the more than 1,000 cuts he made for Sunrise Records – he outstrips Rodd Keith (and his many nom de plumes) and Gene Marshall as the most prolific of all the song poem vocalists.

A man by the name of Elmer Plinger is the real person behind all of these song-poem singers, indeed in the documentary Off The Charts - the Song Poem Story Elmer himself admits as much. However I'm a little confused over his Buddy Raye persona. Was Elmer also a fiddle player and occasional vocalist from Texas who used the stage name Buddy Ray (note the missing ‘e’)?  Both men were producing music at the same time, and with so little information available about song-poem artists it’s easy to see how the mistake might be made, but Buddy Ray - to my ear at least - has a lighter, almost ethereal voice, quite unlike that of Buddy Raye; they sound like two completely different singers to me. If you fancy listening for yourself check out the wonderfully odd The Shooting of Governor Wallace – Jack, Bobby, Martin Luther Too at and see if you agree....or let me know if you don't!

If anyone has any further information I'd love to hear from them. A while back I was contacted by a relative of Dick Castle's but she did not reply to the email I sent her. Hopefully she'll read this post and try and contact me again. But for now enjoy The Not Impossible Waltz on the Moon and From Slavery to Freedom from the MSR Singers.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Jesus Hates Me

For today’s post I am indebted to Tyler Hewitt, who first brought this to the attention of WFMU back in December 2003. I do not currently posess a copy of this particular outrage, but if anyone has one for sale do get in touch!

Now, I know I'm going over old ground yet again, but it's alarming that in this day and age the world is still stuffed to the rafters with religious nutcases: still, if it were not for crazy-assed Christian zealots we would have been spared a wealth of terrible music – from tearful pastors and their overly made-up wives eliciting your hard earned savings from you through the power of song to the diabolical Kid’s PraiseLittle Marcy, Charlie the Hamster and Lil' Markieeach of whom have featured in these pages before.

All of these, however ridiculous or downright creepy, pale into insignificance when compared with Baby Lu-Lu, a deceased (one would have to assume) three and-a-half year-old who ‘performs’ via the mediumship of Betty Lou Turney  - a grown woman who talks and sings in a little girl voice and calls her husband Daddy (ick!)

On the sleeve notes to Baby Lu-Lu’s one and only album (at least I hope there’s only one) Betty Lou writes: ‘The Voice of Baby LuLu is a gift of God, given to me after JW and I had been in Evangelism about 6 months. I do not know how I do Baby LuLu, only God knows’. You got that right, Betty Lou. JW (Daddy), or Jay W Turney to give him his full name, previously sang with gospel group the Jubilee Quartet, and he and Betty Lou had released an album of their own, I Love Him So, back in 1965. 

But back to Baby Lu-Lu. There’s no explanation anywhere why the deceased is referred to as Lu-Lu on the front cover and LuLu on the reverse. Or, for that matter, why the album is credited to Lu-Lu (or LuLu) but features a full colour photo of Betty Lou on the front, crouching beneath a tree with a big red bow on top of her back-combed, bleach-blonde hairdo. The scary Betty Lu-Lu’s kabuki mask grin seems menacing at best, and the two costumed poodles clutched to her sides look distinctly uncomfortable. Maybe once the cover shoot was done Betty Lu-Lu was going to swallow them, a la the old woman who swallowed a fly, in the vain hope that they might be able to fetch Baby Lu-Lu out from the depths of her gullet. 

This preposterous album contains a few school assembly songs such as This Little Light of Mine and I’ve Got that Joy, Joy, Joy and today's selection, Jesus Loves Me (all pointedly sung off key), is fleshed out with Baby Lu-Lu’s attempts to read a couple of well-known bible stories. I hate to be crass, but it’s fecking horrible! I’m at a loss to work out who this rubbish could have been pitched at; the under-fives wouldn’t have the patience to sit through it, the pre-teens would be too sophisticated for it and post teens would just laugh at it. You’d have to assume that JW and Betty Lou put this together with the adult simpleton market in mind.

For those who care about these things, Betty Lou (or Bettilu, as she appears in the list of officers for Jay W Turney Ministries) is still extant, although she’s now seen off at least two spouses: JW (or 'Daddy') passed away in 2000 and her second husband, E Marlow, met his maker in March 2012.


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