Friday, 28 December 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name

Welcome back, my friends. I trust that you all had a brilliant Christmas.

Here’s a little oddity for you: a 45 released on Film City around 1964 which, unusually, is actually performed (and I use that word loosely) by the composer.

Owned by musician Sandy Stanton, Film City was one of the most important of all the song poem companies, responsible not only for discovering Rod Rogers (aka Rodd Keith) but also for teaming the multi-instrumentalist, writer and producer up with the Chamberlin, a keyboard instrument similar to the Mellotron which used short tape loops to recreate the sound of other instruments.

Film City, like a number of other song-poem outfits, would occasionally provide budding singer-songwriters the opportunity to come in to the studio and perform vocals over an instrumental backing they had already created and, no doubt, charge them extra for the privilege. The vocalist would not get to meet the ‘orchestra and chorus’ listed on the label and therefor would never know that said orchestra was, in reality, just one man and a souped-up electric piano.

Although the vocals on the song-poem/vanity hybrid Portland Rose Song – and its B-side Voice of the Rose – are executed in flamboyant fashion by Bert Lowry, the Chamberlin work is clearly that of Rodd Keith. If Rodd had performed the vocals on these cuts chances are they would have ended up rather pedestrian (judging by the music he’s created in any case). Luckily Bert decided to do it himself – and his off-key caterwauling lifts this release from the mundane to the miraculous.  

According to the now-hibernating American Song Poem Music Archive two versions of this disc were issued, once as Film City 1096 (the version you find here) and again, later, as Film City 2085 with slightly different credits (this time Mr Keith was billed as the Film City Orchestra and Chorus) on clear blue vinyl. AS/PMA state that the sides were flipped and that the B-side was credited on this reissue as Pasadena Rose Song: my assumption here is that this is either a mistake or that the labels on the 45 were misprinted; it’s highly unlikely that Bert Lowry, a resident of Portland (the City of Roses) and a member of the city’s historical society, would suddenly be composing songs about Pasadena – almost a thousand miles away. As Bert’s home town was also home to the Portland Rose Society (established in 1889) I reckon I’m on pretty safe ground. Unless you know otherwise, of course!

Mike Donahue’s book Portland Rose Festival states that Bert (possibly credited as Burt Lowry) recorded the song For You a Rose in Portland Grows, written by local teacher Bertha Slater Smith, in 1960. However this seems to be exactly the same song as he performs here, albeit miscredited: the phrase is repeated several times during the song.

Still, whatever the truth of the matter have a listen to Bert’s histrionic performances of Portland Rose Song and Voice of the Rose. And enjoy!

Special thanks to Bob Purse, who first introduced me to this disc at WFMU

Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas 2012 (Part Three)

Welcome, everyone, to the last instalment of this year’s Christmas cavalcade. Each of today’s songs comes to you courtesy of our old friend Ross Hamilton, who I can’t thank enough for sending me a copy of his home-compiled collection of Christmas-themed novelties and oddities.

First up is the truly horrible Christmas on the Moon, by Troy Hess. Probably better known by bad music aficionados for his classic Please Don’t Go Topless Mother, Troy was just four years old when he recorded this virtually unintelligible piece of nonsense, written for him by his father Bennie. Fellow music blogger Steve Carey once described his performance as ‘Huckleberry Hound talking to you on a broken telephone, with a bad connection, in a big echo-y bathroom, standing ten feet away from the phone. Also he's wearing a mask and eating a banana.’ I couldn’t have put it better. So I didn’t.

Next up, a pair of kitsch crackers from Mae West and Kay Martin. Ms West’s contribution to bad music is well documented, with a clutch of awful albums, featuring dreadful cover versions of rock and roll standards such as Twist and Shout and her own feeble attempts at composition, never better exemplified than in the horror that is Mr Criswell Predicts, her ‘tribute’ to TV psychic, Ed Wood alumnus and all round crackpot Jeron Criswell King. Here Mae performs Santa Come Up And See Me, from her 1967 album Wild Christmas, recorded when the old gal was nearing 75. Kay Martin was a model, nightclub entertainer and party album singer, who later in life became a hotelier, running the Kay Martin Lodge in Reno, Nevada. Born in Bakersfield, California she released several albums, the most popular being her 1962 release I Know What He Wants For Christmas... But I Don't Know How To Wrap It! From which this cut, Come On Santa, Let’s Have a Ball, comes from.

Finally today we have Christmas is For the Family by the Happy Crickets from their album Christmas With the Happy Crickets. Undated, but probably originally released around 1960 – ‘they’ released a 45 (a cover of the Chipmunks’ hit the Christmas Song in 1958) - Ross describes this as ‘probably the worst attempt at cashing in on the singing animal phenomenon. The singing is horrible, even when sped up, and the arrangements sound like they were slapped together by a committee of drunks’.  

Thanks again Ross for all of your contributions over the years, and especially for ruining everyone’s Christmas with these horrors. I’ll be back next week with something a little less Christmassy.


Friday, 14 December 2012

Christmas 2012 (Part Two)

Happy almost Christmas everybody! Three slices of seasonal song-poems for you today.

First up today is a re-post from 2009, as the original link is now dead and I want so much for you all to hear this - Merry Christmas Elvis, by Michelle Cody. Originally issued in 1978 on the Safari label, which was owned by song-poem hustler Ramsey Kearney (aka Will Gentry, co-writer of Blind Man’s Penis), I implore you not to not to choke on your mince pies at the song's saccharine denouement. Backed by All I Want For Christmas is My Daddy, little Michelle had made an earlier stab at recording Jack Toombs’ song, probably in 1977 the year of Elvis’s passing, on the obscure Jimbo label.

Next is a cousin, of sorts, to last week’s post – Billy’s Christmas Wish – and one of my favourite bad Christmas records of all time, NewSong’s The Christmas Shoes. It’s the wonderful Dick Kent (Elmer Plinger/Dick Castle/Richard House) with the MSR song-poem A Christmas Rose, written by the mother and daughter (I assume) team of Dollie A. Walta and Judy J. Walta and released in the same year as Merry Christmas Elvis. It’s a sin that neither of these great bad records troubled the charts.

Robert Ravis’s performance of Let’s Go, Santa is Here, comes from the album New Favorites of Robert Ravis, issued by one of the cheapest of all the song-poem outfits Star-Crest Recordings of Hollywood. Written by a Mr (or Mrs) Troxell, Star-Crest’s conceit was to present albums jam-packed (this particular one features a staggering 27 tracks split over two sides of vinyl) with one-take recordings of ‘demos’ from amateur songwriters and issue them as though they would be serious contenders for being re-recorded (or perhaps simply published) commercially. It was a con, of course, but this little-known company issued dozens of albums like this in the late 1950s-early 1960s.

For further Christmas awfulness can I direct you to my friend Bob Purse, author of the essential blog The Wonderful and the Obscure? He has recently posted a collection of Christmas-themed song-poems at WFMU – some old favourites, some completely new to me but all well worth a listen.

See you next week with more awfulness. Enjoy!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Christmas 2012 (Part One)

Yo ho ho! It’s Christmas (well, almost), which means it’s time for this year’s Christmas cavalcade.

Today we’re paying tribute to our old friend Red Sovine, an artist who has featured on these pages several times in the past. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a little Red Sovine, would it?

Woodrow Wilson 'Red' Sovine, who scored his first chart hit in 1955, was responsible for a barrel load of Christmas-themed monstrosities; Is There Really A Santa Clause and Santa Is A Texas Cowboy (a surprisingly upbeat tune from this master of the morose) were compiled on his must-have 1978 collection Christmas With Red Sovine, which has to be the most miserable set of celebratory songs ever.

One song on the album, Billy’s Christmas Wish, tells a tale so desperately lurid that I can’t believe his record company had the temerity to release it. I also can't believe that I have not shared it with you before. Billy’s Christmas Wish is the tale of a homeless, father-less child who prays to Santa every year but whose sack is perpetually empty.

Have you ever been to Heaven Santa?
Why I bet you know God as good as you are
Could I just ride up to Jesus' house sir?
If it's not too awful far

He might just let me live there a while
Daddy says he likes little boys
And I wouldn't take too much room sir
I'd just sit in the back with the toys

Well, when you live in a car and your father is in jail it’s no wonder Santa has a hard time finding you. “I’m Santa! Come sit on my knee, he’d say…” Ick. Shades of Jimmy Savile. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the little swine dies. Ungrateful brat.

The Red Sovine canon is the best argument I could ever present against country and western music. In a superb twist of fate Red Sovine, known for his truck driving tributes, died of a heart attack at the wheel of his van in April 1980.


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