Sunday, 31 August 2014

Extra Ellen

An extra post for you all this lovely, late summer Sunday.

It's not a 'bad' record at all, but if you've enjoyed the previous WWR posts about the fabulous Ellen Marty, I'd suggest you get yourselves over to our Facebook page, where you can download both sides of her 1965 45 This Time of Year/Billy Back.

Do it! It's ace!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Poor Old Red

Another horror from Red Sovine – one of the first artists I featured on this blog all those years ago and one whose name keeps cropping up. This came from a pile of discs I purchased recently from fellow blogger and song-poem collector Bob Purse.

The Father of Judy Ann was issued as the flip of Ol’ Red’s 1968 single Between Closing Time and Dawn (both titles also feature on the 1969 album Closing Time ‘Til Dawn). It’s easily one of the most miserable recordings it has ever been my misfortune to own.

The Father of Judy Ann is the tale of a teenage girl who takes her life by drowning herself (shades of Dickey Lee’s Patches there), after falling in love with a married man and becoming pregnant by him.

I'm the father of Judy Ann, the girl you led astray
You're the reason my Judy Ann took her life today
I didn't come here just to scare you; I came here to use this gun
And you're gonna pay with your life for what you've done

It is, of course, utter rubbish; another ridiculous outing from a totally ridiculous artist. I know that I’ll get letters about this: every time I take a pot-shot at Country Western someone crawls out of the woodwork to call me out. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the Red Sovine canon is the best possible argument for banning Country Western music forever. At least Red sings this time, rather than employing his patented narrator voice – the style he used to such great effect on previous WWR posts Teddy Bear and Billy’s Christmas Wish.

The flipside is nowhere near as awful, although it still plumbs the usual Country music depths of booze, loneliness and despair.  Thankfully it’s rather short.

Born in 1918, Woodrow Wilson “Red” Sovine was a minor star with a solid fan base both in the UK and the US. He’s known for perfecting the truck-and-trailer tragedy ballad, but he started out as a syrupy ballad singer who got his biggest break when Hank Williams, who managed to secure some regular radio work for the aspiring singer, championed him. Scoring 31 Country Chart hits during his long career, Red died from a heart attack at the wheel of his van in April 1980.

Anyway, enough misery: here’s both sides of Red’s 45 The Father of Judy Ann and Between Closing Time and Dawn.


Friday, 22 August 2014

My Aunt's Pen

Here’s a little horror I picked up in a charity shop recently; a ‘hit’ on both sides of the Atlantic from way back in 1959.

Hugo & Luigi was the professional name of American songwriters and producers Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti. As well as sharing an office in New York's Brill Building, the pair were also cousins. They enjoyed a three-decade career as hit producers, they co-owned Roulette Records with Morris Levy and later took over the Avco/Embassy label (I remember seeing the Hugo and Luigi logo on Stylistics records back in the 70s: yes, I am that old!)

Peretti began his professional career as a teenage trumpet player before moving on to playing in the pits in many a Broadway orchestra; Creatore’s father had been the leader of a small orchestra in Italy and his siblings were also musicians. Although he came from a musical family, Luigi himself was a writer rather than a performer.

Hugo's wife was a children's book author. Peretti asked his cousin to help his wife develop some stories. The collaboration was not purely based on their familial relationship: after the war Luigi had written short stories and a novel and had been a speechwriter at the United Nations. They began working together for the children’s record company Peter Pan Records, before moving to Mercury and producing their first pop hit, The Little Shoemaker by the Italian-American vocal trio The Gaylords, which made Number 2 in 1954. Soon the cousins were securing hits for Sarah Vaughan, Georgia Gibbs, Jimmie Rodgers and others. The pair would often write together under the pseudonym Mark Markwell. When not composing together the boys would often produce anemic white versions of some of the great black R&B artists of the day including Etta James and LaVern Baker – which is exactly what was happening with Pat Boone over at Dot.

The duo were not averse to working with black artists – far from it: they were behind the Isley Brothers' raw, uproarious, Beatles and Lulu-covered Shout, which went on to sell over 1 million copies. They took on Sam Cooke and together produced hits including Chain Gang and Twistin' the Night Away. For the more mainstream white audience of the day they produced The Tokens, Perry Como and co-wrote Can't Help Falling In Love for Elvis Presley. They also recorded, under their own names, a series of saccharine albums as The Cascading Voices of the Hugo and Luigi Chorus. Under their own names they recorded the hit Rockabilly Party (the intro of which was ‘borrowed’ by Ian Hunter for the Mott the Hoople hit Roll Away the Stone). And then, in 1959, they made this.

La Plume de ma Tante, based on a phrase recognisable to anyone whose school was too cheap to shell out for new French text books, is a horrible slice of sub-Disney whimsy, and it cannot be a coincidence that Frank Sinatra scored a hit with another kid-led piece of kitsch, High Hopes, the very same year. According to Billboard magazine La Plume de ma Tante is ‘an attractive novelty sung in bright fashion by a children’s chorus. It’s cute and has possibilities’. No it isn’t: it’s vile. It’s beyond me how this travesty made the UK Top 30! It spent 10 weeks on the Cashbox charts, reaching Number 33, but barely registered at Billboard where, in a five-week run, it rose no higher than Number 86 before disappearing altogether. The B-side, Honolulu Lu, recorded a couple of years before H&L would re-visit Hawaii with Elvis, is dull and depressing: it sounds like the soundtrack to a particularly miserable travelogue - and therefore would have fitted quite nicely into an Elvis movie project. Neither side does justice to the careers of these two immensely talented men.

In the '70s, the duo bought Avco/Embassy Records, scoring international hits with the Stylistics and produced what is widely accepted as the first Number 1 of the disco era, Van McCoy's The Hustle. The cousins retired from the record business at the end of the 70s. Hugo Peretti died in 1986; Creatore’s play An Error of the Moon, which explores the relationship between actor Edwin Booth and his brother John Wilkes Booth, was stages in New York in 2010. He’s still alive today, aged 92. 


Friday, 15 August 2014

This Bites

Today’s disc is a fine example of that age-old mantra ‘sports stars cannot (and should not) sing’. It’s also a sobering ‘there but for the grace of God’ tale…and it highlights my dislike of Queen (but that’s another story). A triple whammy.

Former Detroit Lions player Jimmy ‘Spiderman’ Allen was born in Florida in 1952 but was brought up an aunt and uncle in Los Angeles. An exceptional athlete, while studying at Los Angeles City High School Allen shattered all city records in several swimming events and, in 1972, he even tried out for the Olympic team.

As well as swimming, he played for his high school football team, earning the nickname “Spiderman” due in part to his coverage abilities. He went on to play for the UCLA Bruins alongside quarterback Mark Harmon, whose would find greater fame on TV in shows such as St Elsewhere and NCIS.

After playing for UCLA he went on to join the Pittsburgh Steelers and, finally, the Detroit Lions, And it was while he was with the Lions that he recorded this little nugget, an early ‘rap’ version of the Queen hit Another One Bites the Dust with team-mates Dave Hill and Jimmy Hunter backing him up. The story has it that Jimmy heard the original song whilst driving out to the airport and thought it would be worth adopting as the Lions’ theme song. Unfortunately for the team they took ownership of the song at exactly the wrong time: the Lions lost match after match, and Another One Bites the Dust instead of being a celebratory ‘come and have a go at us’ anthem became a major embarrassment. The video – which features Allen flicking a feather duster around in an all-too literal reading of the lyrics – seems to have vanished form the face of the earth. Well, it ain’t on Youtube!

Backed with the short Spider’s Delight, a brief bit of freestyle with more than a nod to the Shugarhill Gang, the single was a local hit in Detroit and – apparently, although I’ve been unable to find any evidence - Allen’s son Jimmy Jr. followed his dad’s lead into the rap and hip-hop scene.

It’s horrible. Sure, other sportsmen (and women) have done worse, but it’s a prime example of what not to do when let loose in the recording studio. It’s a reasonably passable cover of the song (the cheap click track backing aside) and not to embarrassing a performance – that is until Jimmy starts to rap: clearly the man was the inspiration for our own John Barnes and his ridiculous performances on World in Motion and The Anfield Rap. And what’s with the weird animal noises? I assume they’re supposed to be (Detroit) Lions’ roars – I certainly can’t imagine a spider making that kind of noise. Unless it’s a giant spider from a 50s B-movie of course.

Jimmy’s professional career ended with the 1981/2 season. In 1982 the Lions traded Allen to the Kansas City Chiefs, but he was revealed to have an irregular heartbeat and never played for the team.

It’s here that Spiderman’s story plumbs darker depths.

This abrupt end left Allen unprepared to meet the challenges of life after a successful sports career. Returning to Los Angeles he invested his savings in a laundromat, but the business went under after a few years forcing him to sell the family home and move his wife and children into a small apartment. As the years passed he began to struggle with his health and spiralled downwards into substance abuse; he separated from his wife Cora in 1992.

Jimmy found some temporary work working for the city of Los Angeles as a lifeguard but by 2000 he had become homeless, living on the streets of Los Angeles and occasionally turning up at the home of a friend or a relative. Now 62, photographer Kevin McCollister took a portrait of him on the streets of LA last year, still very obviously down on his luck.

I wish him well, and hope he gets his life back on track. I just hope he doesn’t decide to record again.

Friday, 8 August 2014

It's Not Easy Being Green

Now, as you all well know, I try and steer clear from novelty records wherever and whenever possible, but this is a little bit different. I discovered this shockingly awful piece of garbage in a charity shop yesterday and felt compelled to share it with you immediately.

This odd little disc features a brace of cover versions sung by a young woman by the name of Catherine Chaplin. The A-Side. If You Were a Tadpole. was written by veteran songwriter Hal Shaper and the internationally revered actress and singer Julie Andrews: Julie originally performed the song in her 1975 US TV special My Favourite Things.

Quite why Shaper would then decide to re-record this horror with this prepubescent simpleton is beyond me, unless that is he sniffed a potential hit and couldn’t get Julie to agree to issue her version. Ah, but it gets odder: this single was released in September 1977: in November Julie would once again perform the song, singing the tune to the green puppet that inspired it in the first place in an episode of The Muppet Show (the episode was broadcast in February 1978).

The B-side is no better: the young miss Chaplin attacks the classic You Made me Love You (originally published in 1913 and recorded in that year by Al Jolson) – bastardising Judy Garland’s cute, Clark Gable-dedicated intro. It’s vile. The Garland version, which this cut so evilly mocks, was originally adapted for Judy to sing to Gable at a birthday party thrown for him by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. MGM executives were so charmed by her rendition that she was added to the film Broadway Melody of 1938. Garland recorded her version on September 24, 1937. It’s a classic: Catherine Chaplin’s version is not.

But what do we know of young Catherine Chaplin? Bog all, if truth be known. This appears to be Catherine’s one and only release as a solo artist, although in the same year she also added her vocal skills to You Shan’t Come and Play in our Yard, a track from the John Inman album I’m Free (also issued as the B-side to the I’m Free 45). A Catherine Chaplin is also listed as a backing vocalist on French singer Jean Claude Petit’s 1980 album The Best Of All Possible Worlds and as one of the voices on the 2001 release A Classical Kids Christmas – although I doubt (in the latter case at least) that this is the same young lady.

And that’s all I’ve got. If anyone out there knows anything else about this peculiar little record – or its performer – please do get in touch.


Friday, 1 August 2014

Introducing Gary Bradford

It had to happen.

When I wrote about Christian ventriloquism in the World’s Worst Records Volume One I knew there had to be other wretched examples alongside the better-known Little Marcy, Geraldine and Ricky and so on. Today’s find represents, for me, the gold standard in bad Christian ventriloquism.

Gary Bradford is one of those names that turns up again and again in lists of the world’s worst record covers, however very few people have actually heard the content of those infamous sleeves – until now!

Gary Bradford issued at least five albums – Sings for You and You and You (1975, as Gary Dee Bradford), I’m Not Handicapped – Just Inconvenienced, I Am Loved (1979), Hymns for You (1980) and his most recent effort, 2002’s Safely Home. There have also been a couple of 45s. According to his official biography, Gary was ‘born without arms and having hands at his shoulders from birth’. This rare congenital disorder is known as phocomelia: Gary’s twin brother, similarly handicapped, died in infancy. He also suffers from rickets, the predominant cause of which is vitamin D deficiency. The majority of cases occur in children suffering from severe malnutrition in Third World countries, usually resulting from famine or starvation during the early stages of childhood.

Although many factors can cause phocomelia, tens of thousands of cases worldwide came from the use of the drug thalidomide in the 1960s. Phocomelia can result in abnormalities to the face, limbs, ears, nose, vessels and many other parts of the body. If he had been born a few decades earlier he could have followed the career trajectory of Stanislaus Berent (1901  – 1980), the American sideshow freak who performed under the stage name of Sealo the Seal Boy, but brave little Gary wasn’t going to let a massively debilitating handicap ruin his life. He went on to a career as a musical minister (and, clearly, occasional ventriloquist), touring the US and giving performances at churches and conventions. He has performed at the Southern Baptist Convention, with Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker's Heritage USA, and on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

In 2006 Gary was in the news for suing the University of Houston for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act over a professor's refusal to provide assistance taking notes. As a result, he was forced to drop out just hours shy of his music degree. The lawsuit was one of 16 filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project accusing the government and private companies of failing to comply with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Gary had enrolled at the university because he wanted to complete about 20 hours of course work needed for a bachelor's in music. You have got to admire his tenacity and stoicism.

As far as I am aware Gary only employs his dubious ventriloquism skills on I’m Not Handicapped – Just Inconvenienced. What I can’t understand is why bother in the first place? He’s just rotten: Danny’s ‘joke’ about a Deacon and a Pastor (at least I think that’s what it is about) is unintelligible. Clearly not having fully developed arms is a major inconvenience to a ventriloquist – but Gary is in a recording studio, not appearing live from the altar of a church. He could ‘pretend’ to be controlling little Danny the wooden wonder boy rather than struggling to talk through gritted teeth mispronouncing almost every word and sounding like Chuck and Bob from the classic 70s/80s comedy Soap. Mind, Gary’s own diction isn’t exactly spot on: I swear at around 1:38 he sings the line ‘’cause I can sure handle the cocksucker way’. Surely not?

Still, who am I to judge? Here’s the opening track from Gary’s 1979 classic I’m Not Handicapped – Just Inconvenienced. Thanks to for the cover art


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