Friday, 27 July 2012

Ugly Dicking


Now here’s something to ruin your weekend.

Everyone in Britain has a different opinion, and different memories, of Mike Reid. You’ll either remember him as a slightly blue working men’s club comedian, as the avuncular host of the 70s kids quiz Runaround, as the dodgy but put-upon Frank Butcher in EastEnders or for his nasty rendition of The Ugly Duckling, the Danny Kaye standard which the late Mr Reid took into the top 10 in 1975.

But I guarantee you won’t remember him for this.

Recorded in 1976, Reid’s cover of Italian singer-songwriter Adriano Celentano's nonsense song Prisencolinensinainciusol is beyond bizarre. Who on earth tried to convince this beloved British entertainer that he would strike gold a second time round by attempting an Italian discotheque hit? The lyrics are, frankly (no pun intended) baffling – I can’t make out half of what he’s saying - and why do his backing vocalists insist on pronouncing the title as Freezing Cold In 89 Twoso? That makes even less sense. Apparently Celentano’s original version, although total gibberish, was supposed to sound to the Italian ear as if it was sung in English….which make the whole thing even more confusing.

Mike Reid died in 2007, but three years later the song enjoyed a bit of a renaissance with a campaign on Facebook to make it a hit. Reid’s granddaughter, Claire Louise Reid, told WebUser magazine at the time “Most people knew my Granddad as a stand-up comic or as Frank Butcher, clearly his singing talents need to be remembered too! Although, I must warn you - don't try and understand it - just enjoy it for what it is.” I couldn’t put it any better.

Oh Pat, Pat...what have the done to me Pat?

Thanks to the Downstairs Lounge for the photo!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Missing Links

Morning everyone. Just a brief note to let you know that I've repaired a couple of iffy downloads.

The link to Mother by Barbra Streisand in this week's post wasn't working for some people but should be now. Also, thanks to Robin at the wonderful Lord of the Boot Sale blog Auschwitz by Equipe 84 is now the full-length version, not the oddly truncated one I had previously posted.


Friday, 20 July 2012

The Way We Weren't

A couple of months ago I was having dinner with friends when one of them (Gerard Langley of the Blue Aeroplanes) mentioned a record he’d recently picked up which he, knowing I am a huge John Lennon fan, was convinced would intrigue me. That record was the 1971 album Barbra Joan Streisand which contains cover versions of two Lennon compositions: Love and Mother, both of which originally appeared on his startling, brilliant debut solo album John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band.

Yes, you read that right: Barbra Streisand singing songs written by John Lennon.

I don’t get Barbra Streisand. I know she’s won a brace of Oscars; I know she’s sold countless albums and that she holds the record for the most top-ten albums of any female recording artist, but all I hear when she opens her mouth is that nasal, Brooklyn whine. I know that she has raised more than $25 million for charity; I know she’s as gay-friendly as they come. I should like her...but I don’t. Maybe it’s because of Meet the Fockers, or because she uses a teleprompter during her live shows (that’s just lazy). I know that a great many people love her fractured, bruised style; that the tragic longing in her voice has a diva-like quality which has endeared her to gay men of a certain age but – like that other icon Bette Midler (if I hear that bum note at the end of the Wind Beneath my Wings once more I think I’ll strangle someone) – I can’t stand her.

And I especially can’t stand this.

In the hands of John Lennon Mother is a heart-wrenching, guttural, angst-ridden plea to his parents not to leave. Influenced by his experience with Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream therapy, it tells how John was abandoned by both his parents: his father Fred, who walked out of his life when he was little more than a toddler (and who resurfaced once his son had become a global superstar) and his mother Julia who had begrudgingly handed her son over to his aunt Mimi and who was run over and killed by a drunk, off-duty policeman shortly after she and John had been reconciled. It’s a pained, painful and brilliant performance from John, accompanied by Ringo Starr on drums and long-time friend Klaus Voormann on bass. It’s one of the best things ever released by a solo Beatle; if it doesn’t move you then you don’t have a soul.

However when Babs takes on the song it becomes anodyne and boring. She doesn’t understand the pain of the composer: although her own father died when she was 15 months old her mother remarried when she was seven and she enjoyed a poor but settled family life. She turns Lennon’s anguish and anger into something insipid and radio-friendly: it starts off as a hymn, complete with church organ, but by the third verse she’s really into her stride, bleating, shrieking and honking her way through the song. It jars when, on several occasions, she misses her marks. Producer Richard Perry would later do great work for Ringo and Harry Nilsson but here he’s so far off the mark it’s ridiculous.

It’s a rock song sung by someone who has no idea how to rock. Opera singers should not attempt to interpret pop songs. Streisand, perfectly at home with power ballads and show-stopping stage standards should never, never, never try to cover material written by one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. Some genius at Columbia even thought it wise to release this as a single in several countries. What were they thinking?


Friday, 13 July 2012

The World of Las Vegas

A few weeks ago whilst writing about Elmer Plinger, the song-poem stylist better known to his fans as Dick Kent and Buddy Raye I mentioned another project that he had been involved in, namely an obscure album by Ken “Nevada” Maines titled The World of Las Vegas: Night Club Music Las Vegas & Country Western. This album, which I discovered via  was causing me some concern, chiefly because although Elmer was credited as vocalist on Shooting of Governor Wallace (Jack – Bobby – Martin Luther Too), the only track I had heard, it clearly was not him singing.

So, in search of an answer to this conundrum a copy of the album was located, purchased and its delivery was feverishly anticipated.

And what a find! The World of Las Vegas is easily one of the oddest albums I have ever heard, on a par with the late, great Joe Meek’s oddball masterpiece I Hear a New World. It’s just about the most schizophrenic recording I own: 12 tracks which veer between elevator muzak, Shatner-esque madness and crazed, reverb-drenched space-age operettas. It’s genuinely nuts. And to prove this today I present for you three of the more insane tracks from the album, Shooting of Governor Wallace (Jack – Bobby – Martin Luther Too), Phase “1-2-3” (which seems to be some sort of comment on Richard Nixon and his policy on Viet Nam) and the brilliantly-titled “Oy-Vey” What a Dream. Incidentally, all three tracks come from the 'country side' of the album: goodness knows on what far-off planet any of these three songs would be considered country!

At least now I can explain how Elmer Plinger managed to become linked with the Governor Wallace track. The credits on the album are, to say the least, a bit hit and miss. The back cover has the following credit:

Vocalist “Aftra”
Elmer Plinger (Buddy Ray)

Which has, understandably, led pervious bloggers to assume that Buddy/Elmer was the vocalist on the whole album; however a quick squint at the labels of the disc reveal that Elmer (as Buddy Ray, rather than his more usual Buddy Raye) is only credited on two tracks: Hello to You on side one and You Made a Fool Out of Me on side two, both of which also appeared on a 45 (Smile 110; the version of You Made a Fool Out of Me on the 45 is slightly different with an extra, uncredited, female vocal intro). The back cover reveals some (but by no means all) of the ‘talent’ involved in this production, as well as Ken’s penchant for misusing speech marks. Aftra, incidentally, refers to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a union representing professional actors, dancers, singers, and broadcasters. I assume Ken included this credit as a way of showing that his performers were all being paid union rates for their work. But who knows? Unsurprisingly there is no date anywhere on the record, but the assasination attempt on Governor George Wallace took place in Maryland in May 1972, which means that this album (and the subsequent 45s) must have been recorded and released after then.

So who exactly was Ken “Nevada” Maines? Honestly, I don’t really know. I can tell you that he also self-published a 28-page booklet, Easy Money Racing Secrets, in 1972, and that two of his World of Las Vegas compositions were re-recorded with new lyrics for single release - That Fly Belongs to Me backed by Dollar Signs (which appears on the album as $$$ "Signs") was issued as a 45 by Smile Records (the same company that issued the album) as Smile 111, credited to Lanz Miles and Group – but that’s about it. There is a folder, held by the University of Nevada, which contains lyrics and song sheets to some of Ken’s work, including a couple of songs (My Name is Love and My Little Polish Rose) which do not appear on The World of Las Vegas. I know too that a man by the name of Kenneth B Maines, a professional gambler, died in Las Vegas aged 93 in 2005 but I’ve no idea if this is our Ken. If anyone knows anything else about the elusive Mr Maines please do get in touch.

So for now, enjoy a trio of the more crazed tracks from the Ken “Nevada” Maines album The World of Las Vegas.

Friday, 6 July 2012

What's It All About?

Mother, what’s this book about, with the dust upon the cover?
It says it’s called The Bible; it’s different from my other…

What a genius couplet to open a song with!

Yes, my friends today we drift back into song-poem country, specifically to that faraway land known as Ted Rosen's Halmark company and a recent acquisition for me, a four track EP stuffed with the usual Halmark trademarks: sloppy, nonsensical lyrics, overwrought performances, the complete lack of performer credits and those same old reused song beds. And today you get not one, not two but all four tracks! You can thank me later.

The first cut on the EP, What’s This Book About, Mother? From the wonderfully-monikered Norma L Champagne, is the pick of the bunch although, as is so often the case with Halmark releases, it’s all pretty damn good. That opening pair of lines aside I love Dodie Frost’s vocal performance on this – at least I assume its Dodie. As she was often inclined to do she cheats her way through the song by speaking rather than singing the majority of the lines, only breaking into song at the end. It’s an unusually long track too. No doubt if you listen carefully you’ll hear the point where the backing track had an extra minute spliced into it.

I can’t listen to the opening strains of the second track on this EP, God Let Us be Thankful by Bea Brooks, without hearing that old favourite My Daddy, He Died in 1969. Singers Jack and Mary Kimmell do their usual stalwart work on this dull slice of religious nonsense, and I particularly like the way Jack manages to shoehorn in that last phrase – ‘Let us get down on our knees and thank you for everything’ – after Mary had given up and moved on to (hopefully) better things.

A nice slice of bad song-poet country next. Teresa My Sweetheart of the Mountains, with words written by Frances Thayer writing about what sounds to me to have been an illicit lesbian affair. Assuming that this came out (if you’ll excuse the pun) in the late 60s or early 70s Frances was clearly a pioneer advocate for gay marriage. Either that or the sloppy staff at Halmark couldn’t spell Francis. I love the idiotic words which lead into the first bridge: ‘And I took her out to the movies, and the movies and the shows’. It must have been a busy (and expensive) courtship for the poor woman.

Last up is West Virginia Mines, by Iola Warth Conner. There’s not a lot to say about this one, although the organ and gospel choir add a nice touch and the lyrics are, as you’d expect, pretty third-rate. One thing worth noting is that these last two tracks are clearly by the same singer who performed I Lost My Girl to an Argentinian Cowboy (also on Halmark) which has long been credited to Bob Storm, Halmark’s most prolific male vocalist. However this is absolutely not Bob Storm: his voice is much richer, almost Sinatra-esque; listen to the song-poem demonstration disc I posted recently and compare for yourself. If it is indeed Bob Storm then something terrible must have happened to his voice. Personally I doubt it; Bob is the only member of the Halmark stable to have regularly received a performer credit on his releases and he’s not mentioned here. There was another male vocalist at Halmark, Georgie Starr, but as none of his recordings were ever credited we’ll probably never know if it is in fact him.


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