Friday, 30 August 2013

Six of the Best from Ellen

A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to the wonderful Ellen Marty, composer and chanteuse who released a series of what can only be described as eccentric 45s in the 1960s. Since I first became aware of her work I've been doing my level best to find out as such as I can about her career. To be honest, it's not much.

Of Swedish descent, Ellen Marty's real name was Mary Ellen Mart. She appears to have started writing songs at an early age, copyrighting her first compositions in the late 1950s. Living and working in Hollywood - she kept an office for her publishing company, Lycklig, at 1216 Cole Ave, Los Angeles - she also appeared in at least two films, Spring Affair in 1960 and House of Women in 1962. Mary Ellen chose the name Lycklig for her publishing company as it's the Swedish word for 'happy': the company was still operational in 1980.

Ellen seems to have made most of her recordings pre-1966, releasing 45s under her own name and as Buttons. Although she recorded several sides as Buttons there's no connection between her and the female vocal act The Buttons who recorded for Dot and Columbia around the same time, nor with the act of the same name who recorded for RCA later in the 1960s. There are at least three Buttons 45s on the Rain Coat label and several others under Ellen’s own name on Raincoat; Rain Coat/Raincoat was owned by Joe Leahy, a bandleader, arranger, writer and producer who set up the Unique Records label (which would soon become RKO/Unique and issue Leona Anderson’s collection Music to Suffer By). At Unique he had discovered the 14 year-old Canadian singer Priscilla Wright and had a sizeable hit with her debut waxing The Man in the Raincoat: both Ellen Marty and Joe Leahy would later cover this song, and its title would inspire the name of his own label. He left Unique a year or so after the RKO buyout to go to Dot (home, of course, of WWR favourite Pat Boone). An odd coincidence – and a major point of confusion for Ellen Marty collectors - is that Joe was one of Dot's lead A&R men during The Buttons time at the label: I wonder why he never told Ellen Marty that? Perhaps he did. There’s a distinct possibility (in my mind at least) that Ellen may have recorded as Buttons in an effort to emulate some of the success of The Buttons.

There’s something delightfully appealing about Ellen Marty’s recordings: her voice is unconventional (to say the least), veering from a kittenish whisper (as on Lovetime) to that of a truculent teenager (vis Bobby Died Today) and – as I originally noted in my first post about her work – she occasionally sounds as if she’s about to slit her wrists. Her lyrics are distinctly odd (On a day that was warm I decided to be born), and her sense of scansion and timing is often at odds with what pop record buyers are used to (as in the odd, hiccoughing rhythm of Give Me a Raincheck, Baby for example), but the more of her work I discover the more in love with her I am becoming.

Listed below are all of the Ellen Marty/Buttons waxings I have been able to track down so far. If you know of any others please do get in touch.

Marty EM 101: Mixing and Making - Man In a Raincoat/You're Such a Comfort to Me/Johnny Had/I Wanna/This Time of Year//Our First Date/Don't Ask Me, Don't Bug Me/Your Words Were Sweeter/I Wish I Knew/Mixing & Making (May 1965)

Number unknown: All of These Things You Are to Me/Worth a Wait (1959)
raincoat 700: Cats Have Whiskers/It All Depends on You (as Buttons)
Rain Coat 702: A Petal a Day/Baby Blue Eyes (as Buttons)
Rain Coat 703: The Barn is So Far From the Steeple/Lovetime (as Buttons)
Rain Coat 704: Little Mouse in the House/Such a Sad Face (as Buttons)
Marty 102: Xmas Gift/I Wanna (1964)
Raincoat 601: Man in the Raincoat/You're Such a Comfort to Me (1965)
Raincoat 602: This Time of Year/Billy Back (1965)
Marty 601/602: Man in the Raincoat/This Time of Year (1965)
Marty 603: Don't Ask Me, Don't Bug Me/This Time of Year (1965)
Rain Coat 109: Bobby Died Today/Give Me a Raincheck, Baby (1966)
number unknown: Super-Dooper-Ooper-Pooper (1966)
Rain Coat 100: Do You Ever Think of Me?/Paper Planes (as Elie Marty) (1971)

I have also seen Mixing and Making listed as a 45, but this may be a mistake

Finally, and as there will not be a WWR post next Friday, here are three of Ellen’s 45s for you to enjoy and to keep you going until we meet again: The Barn is So Far From the Steeple and its B-side Lovetime; Little Mouse in the House and Such a Sad Face, and the brilliantly mad Bobby Died Today (Hey Hey! Hey hey! Hey hey!) coupled with Give Me a Raincheck, Baby.

UPDATE, NOVEMBER 2015: Because of the continuing problems with DivShare I have replaced all of the original links. I've also added in A Petal A Day, as requested by Billy, and its' brilliant B-side Baby Blue Eyes, and the wonderful Billy Back.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Purple Mess

Easily one of the oddest things I've ever brought you, today's track is Dion DiMucci's peculiar folkie version of the Jimi Hendrix classic Purple Haze.

You'll all remember Dion. You may well have cut a rug to his big hits: Runaround Sue, Teenager in Love and The Wanderer. It's even possible that you know that he recorded the original version of the Marvin Gaye classic Abraham, Martin and John. However its less likely that you'll know the follow up...the unmitigated flop (it barely scratched the charts, reaching a miserable Number 63 in the States) that you can hear here.

Issued in January 1969, it really is a mess. I don't buy in to the idea that this unusual interpretation was a brave move: it's a disaster. It's trying to be clever but it fails miserably. To me it sounds like a bored club singer riffing along to the tune of Puff, the Magic Dragon. From a man who cheated death several times - he was due to be on the plane with Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens and for many years battled a king-sized heroin addiction - you'd expect his performance to be a bit more life affirming. I didn't bother to upload the B-side, The Dolphins, as it's just plain boring.

A born-again Christian who these days - at the age of 74 - practices ministry in prisons and uses his own dark experiences to inform his work with addicts, he's still recording: he's been nominated for a Grammy twice in recent years. Rightfully revered as one of the elder statesmen of Rock 'n Roll, let's just hope he never does anything this horrid again.


Friday, 16 August 2013

The Ellen Show

Here’s a wonderful little oddity I found on eBay recently and felt compelled to share with you.

There’s something wonderfully engaging about Ellen Marty’s recordings: she doesn’t have a great voice (well, not by classical standards), and often sounds as if she’s about to slit her wrists. Her lyrics are, at times, distinctly peculiar, but I actually find her rather charming. I’m almost loath to include her here at the World’s Worst Records, but if I didn’t how would you get to discover her charms for yourselves?

Ellen recorded intermittently, both under her own name and as Buttons, the nom de plume she affects here. There are at least three Buttons 45s on the Rain Coat label and several others under Ellen’s own name on Raincoat; Rain Coat and Raincoat are the same company, owned by Joe Leahy. Leahy, a bandleader, arranger, writer and producer, had previously headed Unique Records (later known as RKO/Unique, the same outfit that put out Leona Anderson’s mighty Music to Suffer By) where he had produced 14 year-old Priscilla Wright’s first hit The Man in the Raincoat…hence the name he chose for his company. Ellen also recorded an album, Mixing and Making, for her own Marty Records. That album included a cover of the Man in the Raincoat (retitled Man in a Raincoat), which was later issued as a 45 (catalogue 601) on both Raincoat and Marty records under its correct title. Confused? Ellen issued the 45 Bobby Died Today which, unsurprisingly, has nothing to do with the death of Bobby Kennedy. There are no dates on any of these releases, but most appear to have been issued in the early 60s.

The 45 I’ve chosen here – A Petal a Day/Baby Blue Eyes – is a fine example of her slightly off-kilter world. I love the B-side, with its wailing police sirens and jaunty tack piano accompaniment, and the little giggle in Ellen’s voice towards the end is a real winner. The more subdued plug side, A Petal a Day, is a miserable little ditty about unrequited love whose lyrics clash ridiculously with the jolly backing track. It’s downright odd, and much more worthy of inclusion here: it’s just not as much fun as side two.


Friday, 9 August 2013

Bristol's Christian Rock Gods

I’m particularly pleased with today’s find: not just because it’s dreadful, not simply because it comes from my home town, but also because, rather pleasingly, it has an association with Pat Boone.

Straight Talker was Amaziah’s one (and, thankfully, only) release. Issued on the self-financed Sonrise label in 1979, and today apparently fetching anything up to £1000 in collector’s circles (according to Mark Allan Powell's book the Encyclopaedia Of Contemporary Christian Music), its genesis was almost as tortured as the vocals. The name Amaziah comes from an ancient king of Judah: apparently it literally translates as 'strengthened by the lord'.

Amaziah began as a 20-member outfit, a choir with its own seven-piece backing band, formed as Bristol Youth for Christ initially to perform at a Christian show, Come Together, which featured Pat Boone as its narrator and was being staged at Bristol's famous Colston Hall. The musicians involved decided to carry on when the original production of Come Together left town and soon became well known on the West Country Christian music circuit. However by 1978 the choir had gone and Amaziah had become a six-piece Christian rock band with only two of the original members - Derek Elliot (lead vocals) and Richard Grinter (rhythm guitar) - left. Elliot and Grinter, along with manager Christine Kerslake and preacher (and, according to Loader, de facto leader) Eric Cribb decided to advertise for new, younger members and brought in teenagers Jeremy Coad (guitar and vocals), Paul Loader (bass), Dave Steel (keyboards) and Phil Williams (drums).

Recorded at Bristol’s Sound Conception studio, the release of Straight Talker encouraged Cribb and the younger members of Amaziah to dump the remaining two original members and take the band professional. At the same time Coad, who had taken time out of his studies to work with the band, decided to accept a place at medical school. Picking up a replacement guitarist the band went on a European tour but by the end of 1980 it was all over. According to Paul Loader, writing for music blog, the band weren’t even invited to their own party, held in celebration after their final homecoming gig.

But back to the album. It’s not completely horrible, for the most part it sounds like exactly what it is, a bunch of youngsters playing prog rock, influenced heavily by outfits such as Christian rockers After the Fire. What really lets Straight Talker down are the ugly vocals. Derek Elliot’s limited range is completely unsuited to the ambitions of his young, raw recruits. The production doesn’t help either: the lead guitar and keyboards sound like they were bought that morning at Woolworths. When the album was reissued in Canada they put a photo of the wrong line up on the front of the sleeve.
Why then the demand for this record from American collectors? It’s a complete mystery. Anyway, here are a brace of tracks from Straight Talker, Way, Truth, Life and Night Walker, the opening cuts on side one and side two respectively.


Friday, 2 August 2013

A Bit More Pat

A few weeks ago, at the behest of regular contributor Ross Hamilton, we had a look at the career of Pat Boone. Little did I know how large a can of worms I was opening.

Mr Boone's career is littered with atrocities: take the two nasty pieces of work presented here today.

First up is The Wang-Dang Taffy Apple Tango, easily one of the most stupid recordings it's ever been my misfortune to own. Released in 1959, when Pat was the second-biggest pop star in the world, this piece of nonsense was co-written by Aaron Schroeder, founder of Musicor Records, manager of Gene Pitney and writer of 17 songs for the biggest pop star in the world - Elvis Presley - including Stuck on You and It's Now or Never. This garbage, originally released in the US as the B-side to For A Penny, actually made it to number 63 on the Billboard chart. Some people will buy anything.

A few years later, long after his pop career has dissipated and before he became a born-again rock 'n' roll bad boy, Pat launched his own record label - Lamb and Lion - and released a slew of Christian-themed waxings...the most horrid of which has to be The Hostage Prayer. Issued in early 1980, in response to the Iran hostage crisis, when 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days after a group of Islamist students and militants supporting the Iranian Revolution took over the American Embassy in Tehran, at the time Pat claimed that he "decided radio stations needed some type of song asking God to provide for the hostage's release". Clearly God doesn't get country radio in heaven: it took another year for the hostages to achieve freedom.

Based (uncredited) on the tune to Abide With Me, this sucks. Pat performed the song in front of an audience of thousands at a rally in Washington in April 1980 but it did little to help this mess rise up the charts. Makes Cliff Richard look positively threatening.


WWR Most Popular Posts