Friday, 22 February 2013

They do Though, Don't They?

If there's one lesson that history has taught us, then surely it is that sports men and women should never, ever be allowed to set foot in a recording studio. This applies exponentially to groups of sports personalities: a solo single by a snooker player is always going to be dreadful, but a single by four of them (as in the snooker supergroup Four Away, featuring Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, Jimmy 'Whirlwind' White, 'Captain' Kirk Stevens and Tony 'I don't have a nickname' Knowles) is a guaranteed car crash.

Submitted for your approval this week are both sides of the horrific 1988 release from Liverpool Football Club,

Anfield Rap, and its B-side Anfield Rap (Red Machine Dub) was issued ahead of the 1988 FA Cup Final against Wimbledon FC. Written by Liverpool's midfielder Craig Johnston (and, apparently, an uncredited Derek B), the song reached number 3 in the UK Singles Chart. Supposedly the record was meant as a ‘parody’ of Hip Hop, British rap and a send up of the fact that there were so few local players in the current Liverpool team. According to Johnston: “They were all Scots, Irish, Welsh, a Dane, a Zimbabwean, an Australian.

“The whole thing was about the dressing room craic. It was about McMahon and Aldridge and accents and how the other lads didn't talk like them.” John Aldridge and Steve McMahon were the only two native Liverpudlians in the regular line up: the other players featured included John Barnes (predating his appearance on the equally terrible football-related record, the England New Order 45 World In Motion by two years), Bruce Grobbelaar, Alan Hansen, and Jan Molby. The record also featured manager Kenny Dalglish, ITV football commentator Brian Moore plus archived voice clips from former manager Bill Shankly and a badly sampled section of The Beatles’ version of Twist and Shout.

In his 2012 article Why are Sports Songs so Hard to get Right, the BBC’s Mark Savage credited the song as "the worst offender... an inexplicably awful track, which sees grown men struggle with the cadence of spoken English.” It also, as Savage points out “rhymes ‘hard as hell’ with ‘Ars-e-nell’.”

Sadly Derek B passed away at the ridiculously young age of 44 in 2009. I believe most of the other aural offenders are still extant.


Friday, 15 February 2013

80 in the 80s

A couple of early 80s oddities for you today, both from female singers in their 80s (well, almost) and both all but forgotten today.

First up is an odd little slice of whimsy and nostalgia which came via two gentleman who themselves have a combined career in showbusiness of more than a century - Chas and Dave. Chas Hodges (piano, vocals, banjo, guitars) and Dave Peacock have been around since the 60s: Hodges was a member of Joe Meek's house band (and is portrayed in Telstar, the rather wonderful film about Meek's life) and he and Dave have worked together since the dawn on the 70s on tons of studio sessions (the even appear on Eminem's My Name Is: the hook was taken from a Labi Siffre song, I Got Theon which Chas and Dave performed) .

Throughout their career as a duo they've scored a number of chart hits in their 'rockney' - pop/rock/cockney singalong - style, most notably Rabbit and Ain't No Pleasing You. They've also been responsible for some of the UK's most derided chart entries, like the terrible Snooker Loopy and Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur. They even opened for Led Zepplin at Knebworth! Sadly, after Dave's wife passed away in 2009 he decided to retire, although there were 'final' tours from the pair in both 2011 and 2012. We've not heard the last of them yet.

But at the height of their fame, whilst mining a thick seam of nostalgia, they teamed up with the unknown octogenarian Rosie Murphy to record and release a one-off single Cup of Tea/Alice Blue Gown.

Issued by Sniff records (an imprint of Towerbell, the company that issued C&D's records) it's horrible: poor old Rosie might have been ripe for appearing as the befuddled but cuddly granny on TV shows like That's Life, but she can't carry a tune in a proverbial bucket. She sounds like Mrs Miller, but Mrs Miller as a frail old lady about to expire, not as a strong, vibrant performer enjoying her moment in the spotlight.

Next we turn to another old lady for a completely different take on how the aged should act. Gerty Molzen was a German cabaret star of the 30s and 40s who, bizarrely, suddenly gained fame in the 80s for performing her off-kilter versions of current and recent pop hits.

Her career started pre-war, in opera, but it was during the war that her path diverged: she began to perform comic songs to entertain the troops. She toured the country in cabaret for years, began performing in movies in 1962, wrote a published a book about her life and then was 'discovered' by producer Gerd Plez at the grand old age of 79. Gerd persuaded her to join him in the studio to record a version of Lou Reed's classic Walk on the Wild Side.

A modicum of international fame followed: she appeared on the David Letterman show, released further singles - including her versions of Do You Really Want to Hurt Me and Wild Thing - and appeared in several more movies and on TV. Unfortunately this new-found fame would not last long: Gerty passed away in August 1990 and her ashes were scattered at sea.

So here are two old ladies doing what they do (or rather did) best: Rosie with Alice Blue Gown and Gerty with Walk on the Wild Side. Enjoy!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Umbrellas at the Ready

In a career which spanned seven decades, Burgess Meredith played many iconic roles: he appeared in a number of seminal Twilight Zone roles, including the bookish bank teller in the brilliant first season episode Time Enough At Last (he ties with another World’s Worst records alumnus – Jack Klugman – for having appeared in more episodes of the original series than any other actor); he was Rocky’s trainer, Mickey Goldmill, in the first three Rocky films (he died in the third but turned up again in the fifth) and, as anyone of my age will attest, he portrayed the screen’s only credible Penguin in the 1960s TV and movie adaptations of Batman.

Married at one stage to Charlie Chaplin’s ex Paulette Goddard, he was also blacklisted by Hollywood during the McCarthy witch hunt. Oh, and he got his kit off in Otto Preminger’s ridiculous Such Good Friends.

Happily for us, he would also drop in to a recording studio at the drop of a purple top hat.

On Meredith’s first release, in 1962, he narrates two stories Ray Bradbury (who also had strong Twilight Zone connections), and throughout his career he would narrate albums of everything from Aesop’s Fables to the downright peculiar Let Freedom Ring: a collection of performances of hand-bell music which Meredith reads The Bill Of Rights over the top of. But at the height of his career he issued another brace of horrors, and it’s these I present for you today.

Released in the UK in 1963, as Colpix PX 690 (through Pye, although Colpix was part of Columbia Pictures in the US and home to future Monkee David Jones), Home in the Meadow and No Goodbye – according to the label of the official release (the copy I have is a demo) – are taken ‘from the film How The West Was Won’. This is not strictly true. Although they are versions of tunes from the soundtrack to the classic movie, these in fact come from Meredith’s own album Burgess Meredith Sings the Songs from How the West was Won – even though there’s little in the way of singing going on here. A Home in the Meadow was originally performed in the movie by Debbie Reynolds. The authorship of the A-side is credited to Kahn and Dolan – a bit of a cheek as the tune is stolen wholesale from the traditional English tune Greensleeves (which was not, no matter what you have hear, written by Henry VIII). And anyway, the lyricist was Sammy Cahn, not Kahn.

Far more fun – and indeed more awful – is his 1966 single The Capture backed with The Escape, just one of the many spin-offs from the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman series (Frank Gorshin, for example, also released a 45 as The Riddler). Pleasingly both songs are almost exactly the same, with Burgess reciting a story about the Penguin’s run in with Batman over a backing which consists of portentous horns and a gaggle of silly girls chirruping ‘he’s the Penguin’ every few seconds.  

It’s campy, nuts and thoroughly wonderful. A bit like Burgess Meredith himself. Enjoy!

Friday, 1 February 2013

You Went Too Far

We all know about the masses of bad Beatles’ cover versions; heck, I’ve featured a load here myself. Within moments of the Beatles exploding onto the scene other artists were queuing up to cover the latest Lennon and McCartney composition; earliest examples include acts from the boys’ own management stables such as Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, established stars like Del Shannon and even the Rolling Stones who all had hits in 1963 with Beatles material.

It was also around this time that the first Beatles-inspired novelty records started to appear. Even though the boys had yet to have a major hit in the USA, one of the first off the block – The Boy with the Beatle Hair by The Swans - was released by US label Cameo Parkway in 1963. That yuletide British actress Dora Bryan made one of the most popular of all Beatle-related novelties All I Want for Christmas is a Beatle, and plenty more followed. In fact more than 200 Beatles-inspired novelties were produced in 1964 alone and it’s continued ever since: German girl group Die Sweetles had a hit at home with Ich Wunsch Mir Zum Geburtstag Einen Beatle (roughly translated as I Want a Beatle for my Birthday); we’ve had dogs sampled on a keyboard and then made to ‘sing’ Beatles hits, beloved comedians (Milton Berle’s hideous version of Yellow Submarine), people with connections to the group (John’s dad Freddie Lennon released That’s My Life); even songs released by major rock and pop acts that have used the Beatles (or a Beatle) as their inspiration (Elton John, Queen, Cher and many more)…the list goes on.

Today I present you two of the most hideous of all Beatles tributes, along with one of the absolute worst Beatles covers.

First up is Rainbo, who released John You Went Too Far This Time on Roulette in the US in 1968. Rainbo had been playing guitar in Greenwich Village coffee houses for some time, and became attached to Andy Warhol’s factory mob. John You Went Too Far This Time tells of the singer’s disillusionment and shock over the sight of John and Yoko naked on the front cover of their Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins album. She’s put up with him dissing God and having long hair…but nudity? Now that just won’t do. Despite it's Beatlesque baroque instrumentation, or perhaps becase her singing is so flat in places that comparing her to a pancake would be unfair on that particular delicacy, Rainbo’s single failed to chart and she was quickly dropped by Roulette.
Never mind: Rainbo gave up the coffee houses, reverted to her real name and within a couple of years landed a spot in a brace of episodes of the WaltonsMary Elizabeth ‘Sissy’ Spacek (although interestingly the B-side to her one single, C’Mon Teach Me To Live, is co-credited to C Spacek) would, of course, find fame in Hollywood in roles in Badlands, Carrie, Coal Miner’s Daughter and The Help.

Next is Forbes, a Swedish band who represented their country in the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest with the dire Beatles – an awful piece of drab euro-disco. Forbes ended in 18th and last place in the competition, gaining only two points and giving Sweden one of their worst placements ever. I recall seeing their dismal performance live on the night, sung in Swedish rather than English, with the only recognisable words to any non-Swedish ears being 'Beatles', 'Ringo Starr', 'John', 'Paul', 'George' and 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah'. It’s out there on YouTube if you really want to see it. Horrifyingly the band is still together today.

Finally, from the album Beatle Barkers by the Woofers and Tweeters Ensemble, comes a hideous cover of one of the band’s most heinous releases – Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Originally released in Australia in 1983, the project came about when Gene Pierson, whose day job was compiling albums for companies like K-Tel, met Roy Nicolson a British born but Australia-based musician who invited him to his Sydney studio where he showed him a computer program that could emulate a wide range of different sounds…including animals. Nicholson agreed to put an album’s worth of material together on the strict understanding that his name would stay off the sleeve. The album went on to sell over 850,000 copies in Australasia alone.

There’s on accounting for taste.


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