Friday, 30 October 2015

The Music of L Ron Hubbard

You’ll have all heard about L Ron Hubbard, the mediocre pulp sci-fi writer, bigamist, inveterate liar, convicted felon and racist who founded the cult of scientology… a ‘church’ populated by crazies who believe that anyone can attain immortality so long as they have the money.

I don’t need to go in to details here, but unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll be more than aware of the controversies that surround this so-called religion; the numerous court cases, the allegations of human trafficking, of holding people against their will and the exploitation and blackmail of stupid rich people. As Hubbard once noted: “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion."

I’m not here to poo-poo their bizarre beliefs, to argue about people being dropped down volcanoes millions of years ago, to talk of Xenu or Thetans, to discuss Hubbard’s battle with mental illness (he was diagnosed with schizophrenia: a recent documentary, Going Clear, produced letters Hubbard wrote begging for help with his illness) or even about why Shelly Miscavige, the wife of cult leader David Miscavige, has not been seen in public for eight years – for all we’re interested in today is the godawful ‘music’ made over the years by L Ron Hubbard (usually referred to as LRH).

For Hubbard was not only a writer of fiction, he also fancied himself a musician, writing, producing and helming several ridiculous musical projects in an effort elicit funds from his faithful followers.

Alongside endless albums of lectures, readings and interpretations of Hubbard’s personal philosophy, there are at least four records that fans of bad music need to be aware of: Space Jazz, Mission Earth, the Road to Freedom and the Joy Of Creating.

Space Jazz, conceived as the soundtrack to the book Battlefield Earth, was released in 1982. There were plans too to turn the book into a movie, with Scientology poster boy John Travolta in the lead as hero Jonnie Goodboy Tyler. However the movie did not appear until 2000, at which point Hubbard was long dead (well, his physical body was, anyway) and Travolta – now far too old to play the hero - was cast as the villain Terl instead. The film was a huge flop. However Space Jazz remains an essential listen.

Overseen by Jazz great Chick Corea, the album features dull piano pieces, snippets of comic-book dialogue and childish sound effects. It uses the then-new digital sampling synthesizer the Fairlight CMI throughout – most notably in the utterly ridiculous Windsplitter – an instrumental track that sounds like it was recorded for a ZX Spectrum game and is peppered throughout with neighing horses.

Mission Earth is an altogether different animal, issued as a solo album by guitar great Edgar Winter in 1986. The words and music were written by Hubbard, with the album produced and arranged by Winter. Sessions began in 1985, but were not completed until after Hubbard’s death in January 1986. Apparently Hubbard left detailed instructions and audio tapes for the musicians and producers to follow when making this album, which Winter has described as "both a return to rock’s primal roots and yet highly experimental". It isn’t: it’s perfectly dreadful. Mission Earth was published by Revenimus Music Publishing, the music publishing division of the Church of Scientology, which also published The Road to Freedom the same year.

Credited to L. Ron Hubbard & Friends, The Road to Freedom features John Travolta, Chick Corea, Leif Garrett, Frank Stallone, and Karen Black amongst others. According to the Church of Scientology, the album achieved gold record status within four months of release, although to the best of y knowledge it has jet to be awarded anything like a framed disc from the RIAA.

A March 20, 1986 press release put out by the Church of Scientology announced a series of tribute events in honour of LRH’s birthday, and stated, "Crowds applauded the surprise release of an album of popular music composed by Hubbard entitled The Road to Freedom, featuring leading artists John Travolta, Chick Corea, Karen Black, opera star Julia Migenes-Johnson, Leif Garrett, Frank Stallone, and more than two dozen other recording artists and entertainers." According to Wikipedia, The Church of Scientology directed its’ members to order multiple copies of the album to give to associates as a means to introduce people to the concepts of Scientology. The advertising calls this album "the perfect dissemination tool". Jonathan Leggett of The Guardian wrote that "the lyrics are rotten. At one stage Travolta croons: "Reality is me, reality is you. Yeah, yeah, yeah..." Although praised on websites as 'a musical masterpiece' it actually sounds like the kind of jazz noodle that they used to demonstrate CD players in Dixons in the 1980s." Luckily for us, The Road to Freedom features a performance from LRH himself – the preposterous L’envoi, Thank You for Listening.

And so to The Joy of Creating. Subtitled The Golden Era Musicians And Friends Play L Ron Hubbard, this pile of dross features Isaac Hayes, famously ousted from his role as Chef on South Park after refusing to poke fun at Scientology on the programme – although he was happy to take their dollar when producers Matt Stone and Trey Parker extracted the Michael from other belief systems. Other artists include Doug E. Fresh and our old friends Chick Corea and Edgar Winter.

Cobbled together from Hubbard’s writings and released 15 years after his death, The Joy of Creating (according to the CD booklet) “reminds us that a being causes his own feelings, and this truth alone has revitalized many artists and professionals the world over.” What it actually does is reinterpret the same piece of shabby writing six times, slathering LRH’s words with fake smiles and forced bonhomie. It’s nasty, dated, unnecessary nonsense and sounds like a Cosby Show soundtrack. Just awful.

Anyway, here we have a track from each of these four albums: Windsplitter from Space Jazz, Joy City from Mission Earth, L’envoi, Thank You for Listening, from The Road to Freedom and Doug E Fresh’s The Joy of Creating from the album of the same name.


Thanks to The Squire for inspiring this week's blog post!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Moon the Buffoon

Two Sides of the Moon, Keith Moon's 1975 solo album, has been described as "the most expensive karaoke album in history". It’s a horrible album made by an inspired drummer who – bizarrely – decided not to play drums (he jumps behind the kit on just three tracks) but to sing instead, even though Keith was not known for his vocal prowess. He had recorded a few lead vocals for The Who, most notably Bucket T (from the Ready Steady Who EP) and Bellboy from Quadrophenia (he would go on to sing Fiddle About on 1975’s Tommy soundtrack; the original 1969 version was sung by the song’s author, John Entwistle), and had recently appeared on the misfiring Beatles tribute All This And World War II singing When I’m 64, but the man known as Moon The Loon would cheerfully - and honestly - admit that he was completely tone deaf.

Inspired by the fact that all of the other members of the Who had been indulging in solo projects (with distinctly different levels of success), Two Sides of the Moon should have been Keith’s moment to shine. However even bringing in a bunch of his superstar friends - including Spencer Davis, Bobby Keys, Rick Nelson, Harry Nilsson, John Sebastian, Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh and Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan from the Turtles/the Mothers of Invention) failed to raise the LA recording sessions above carnage, and the resulting album is a travesty. The bastard cousin of other mid-70’s studio excesses – Nilsson’s Pussycats, the Lennon/Spector sessions that resulted in Roots/Rock ‘n’ Roll and the bloated, brandy and cocaine-fuelled Goodnight Vienna sessions - Two Sides of the Moon shines as a beacon of the unrestrained generosity of the music industry. Who today would fork out $200,000 (well over $1million today) for such an exercise in vanity?

Preceded by a single, a cover of the Beach Boys’ Don't Worry Baby (re-recorded for the album with Keith singing in a lower register: both versions are horrible), the album consists of cover versions – he revisits the Who's The Kids Are Alright, massacres the Beatles' In My Life " beyond all recognition – and new material provided by his pals, including Ringo (who ‘duets’ with Keith on Together), Harry Nilsson and John Lennon, who provided Move Over Ms L. Lennon would later re-record the track as the B-side to his hit cover of Stand By Me.

One school of though has it that Two Sides of the Moon was supposed to be messy: how can anyone take this seriously? The reversible inner cover for the LP, which shows Keith’s naked bottom doing a ‘moonie’ out of his car window, should have been sign enough that this project was meant to be a joke. Why then did he begin sessions for a follow up, shelved after the appalling sales of Two Sides of the Moon?

Recent reissues have added a slew of bonus cuts, including tracks recorded for the aborted second solo album. Would it have been any better? We’ll never know. Moon died three years after this sole solo project came out.

So, to save you the pain of having to listen to the entire album, here are three wholly representative cuts from Two Sides of the Moon, the aforementioned Don't Worry Baby, In My Life and Together.


Friday, 16 October 2015

Corny Cornes

Big thanks to WWR reader Graham Clayton for suggesting today’s horror.

Born March 31, 1948 in Melbourne, Vietnam veteran (he served with the 7th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment) Graham Studley Cornes is a former Australian rules footballer, coach, and sports presenter.

Luckily for us, he also fancies himself as a bit of a musician, fronting Cornesy's Allstars, playing guitar and taking on some of the vocal duties. A surprise really, as his vocal prowess – or distinct lack thereof – had already been showcased on his appalling 1977 45 I Gotta Girl, with its glam rock (some might say Status Quo rip-off) pomp, and the equally atrocious B-side Untying the Laces – which drops every football-related metaphor and simile in to the lyrics you can imagine in under three minutes.

Cornes played for Glenelg Football Club in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) between 1967 and 1982. In 317 games for Glenelg he kicked 339 goals. Graham represented South Australia 21 times, including as captain in 1978. He was selected in the All-Australian team in 1979 and 1980, winning the Tassie Medal in 1980 and the Simpson Medal in 1979.

He went on to become coach of the Adelaide Football Club, and played 47 games with them in 1983-1984. After leaving South Adelaide he returned to Glenelg in 1985 as coach, winning premierships in 1985 and 1986 and also taking them to three Grand Finals in 1987, 1988 and 1990. He was the All-Australian coach in 1987 and 1988, and in 1991 was appointed the inaugural coach of the Adelaide Football Club in their first year in the AFL. Cornes is now a football media personality, hosting televised football matches since the 1990s and writing regular sports commentaries News Limited.

Both sides of this turkey were written by Evan Jones, another Vietnam veteran, who was co-author of The Pushbike Song, an international hit for The Mixtures in 1970. He really should have known better.


Friday, 9 October 2015

Garbage, Lady.

The GTOs (not to be confused with the male group who recorded for Parkway and scored a hit with a cover of the Beach Boys’ Girl From New York City) were a six or seven-piece girl ‘group’ consisting of Miss Pamela (Pamela Ann Miller, later to become better known as supergroupie Pamela Des Barres and author of the memoir I'm with the Band), Miss Sparky (Linda Sue Parker who, in 1976, would sing on Zappa’s Zoot Allures album), Miss Christine (Christine Frka, who would appear on the cover of Zappa’s Hot Rats album, was Moon Unit Zappa’s babysitter, helped boyfriend Vince Furnier become Alice Cooper  and who died tragically young after overdosing on prescription painkillers), Miss Sandra (Sandra Lynn Rowe, later Sandra Leano, who died of cancer in 1991), Miss Mercy (Judy Peters), Miss Lucy (Lucy Offerall, later Lucy McLaren), and Miss Cynderella (Cynthia Wells, later Cynthia Cale-Binion, at one point married to the Velvet Undrground’s John Cale and who died in 1997). Legend has it that the ladies were given their nicknames by Tiny Tim, who had a penchant for addressing all of the women he met (and the three he wed) as Miss something-or-other.

Although it is usually claimed that their acronym stands for Girls Together Outrageously (and indeed, that’s how it appears on the cover of their one and only album), according to Sid Hochman’s 1972 book Readings in Psychology, (which discusses the girls’ bisexual community and quotes several members of the commune), the GTOs began as ‘a community of seven girls between 18 and 21’ called Girls Together Only, living together in Frank Zappa’s Laurel Canyon log cabin. Miss Lucy (who does not perform on the album but who appeared in Zappa’s movie 200 Motels and sadly died in 1991 of an AIDS-related illness) stated in a filmed interview that Girls Together Only was their correct name.

Originally calling themselves the Laurel Canyon Ballet Company (and, for a short time, adopting the name of the legendarily awful, turn of the century vaudeville act The Cherry Sisters) the girls signed a contract with Zappa, who kept them on a retainer of $35 a week each. The GTOs toured with Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, appearing on stage as dancers and performing covers of songs as perverse as Getting to Know You from The King and I. According to Des Barres they ‘only played a few gigs, maybe four or five’, however, as well as appearing with Zappa and the Mothers they also performed with other Zappa-related acts including Alice Cooper and Wild Man Fisher.

Their only album, the Zappa-produced Permanent Damage, was released in 1969. And what a record it is.

Featuring contributions from Frank Zappa, Nicky Hopkins, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Lowell George, Russ Titleman, Ry Cooder and Monkee Davy Jones (who co-wrote the album’s closing track I'm In Love With The Ooo-Ooo Man and the Beefheart–inspired The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes), Permanent Damage is in parts naïve, charming and thoroughly horrible. Songs are mixed in with conversations between the members of the group, their friends, and other ‘stars’ including the infamous Cynthia Plaster Caster and Rodney Bingenheimer, known as the Mayor of the Sunset Strip and one of Davy Jones’ stand-ins on The Monkees.

Some of you will love this, some will hate it. Personally although I can see the charm, I find the voices grating and the humour stilted. I’m not a Zappa fan, although I have a lot of time for many of the projects and acts he was involved with. I appreciate him for his boundary pushing and for challenging censorship, but I’ve always found him a bit too clever for his own good. Does humour belong in music? You be the judge.

It’s telling that Frank famously eschewed drugs (apart from caffeine, nicotine and a moderate amount of alcohol), yet members of the GTO’s – and other musicians involved in Permanent Damage - have freely admitted that they were often out of their heads, and this album screams acid trip. “We only lasted a short time because of the drug use,” Miss Mercy told interviewer Steve Olsen of Juice magazine in 2008. “Frank was very anti-drugs, and because of our drug use, he had to get rid of the GTOs.”

Miss Pamela has claimed that Lowell George was fired by Zappa for smoking marijuana (on leaving the Mothers of Invention George formed Little Feat: he died of a heroin overdose in 1979). Zappa himself died of prostate cancer in 1993; he dismissed the idea that it was in any way linked to his smoking. “To me, a cigarette is food,” He observed. “Tobacco is my favourite vegetable.” Frank’s wife, Gail, died earlier this week after a long battle with lung cancer.

Here are three of the songs from Permanent Damage: the album's opener The Eureka Springs Garbage Lady, its closing track I'm In Love With The Ooo-Ooo Man and the ode to Captain Beefheart, The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes. 


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