Friday, 29 April 2016

I'll Hoff and I'll Puff

 Released in the US in January 1985, Night Rocker was the debut studio album by American actor and infamous burger muncher David Hasselhoff. Produced by the Grammy-nominated Joel Diamond (Gloria Gaynor, Engelbert Humperdinck and dozens of others), the album bombed in his home country, but went to Number One in the Austrian charts and was a number 30 hit in Germany. Suddenly David had a new career: he would continue to trouble the Euro charts for many years to come. Lucky for him, as the year after Night Rocker was released his hit TV show Knight Rider was canned.

Three songs from the album were featured in the Knight Rider episode Let It Be Me; a fourth was featured in the third season episode The Rotten Apples”. To drive home the message, the front cover shows the Hoff standing on the bonnet of a Kitt-alike Pontiac. The vomit-inducing homily on the back cover - ‘believe in yourself. Keep a positive attitude and never, never give up. Dreams do come true’ - tells you everything you need to know.

A thick, thick slice of synth-driven cheese, Night Rocker is an appalling album: it’s everything you hate about mid-80s music rolled up in one awful, ego-fuelled audio abortion. As one reviewer put it: ‘think of the absolute worst 80s pop song you ever heard, cross it with enough adult pop contemporary clichés to make Barry Manilow throw back his head in unadulterated, mocking laughter, sprinkle in vocals that sound something like Neil Diamond after having his throat ripped out, throw in lyrics that make Chad Kroeger resemble a young Bob Dylan, and you might have a small inkling of the rotting, pungent stench this album leaves in its wake’. There’s not much I can add to that.

Have a listen to a brace of tracks and decide for yourself: here's the opener Night Rocker and the thoroughly nasty Our First Night Together, delivered by a voice that Time magazine once described as 'as smooth as silk but twice as thin'.


Friday, 22 April 2016

Thisters, O Thisters

Born in December 1936, Isadore Fertel (pronounced Fur-Tell) was rapidly approaching his forties when he struck up his on-off friendship with the man who would become his mentor, champion and producer - Herbert Khaury, aka Tiny Tim.

After Tim’s career hit the skids – and after he was dropped by Reprise for failing to promote his own records and constantly criticising the company in interviews - he tried to start his own company, issuing several singles on Vic-Tim (acidly named after Tiny and his then-wife, Miss Vicki and distributed by song-poem shysters Brite Star) before setting up a second imprint which he named Toilet Records ‘because that’s where my career was going’. Toilet Records had a slogan – ‘sit and listen’. For his new label he set out to find new talent, although Tiny ended up signing just one other artist, the equally eccentric Mister Fertel.

Izzy Fertel was a short (and short sighted) Jewish man who claimed to be the only male member of a local Women’s Lib organisation (the Radical Feminists) and who performed a Yiddish version of Rock around the Clock as part of his repertoire. Fertel, whose greatest wish was to have a sex-change operation, had been married although that was only consummated once, and even then under the supervision of his sister-in-law. His wife’s family clearly indulged him: ‘On Father’s Day,’ he once revealed, ‘As a treat her Mother would get me a dress, do my nails and make me up.’

Known within his family as Izzy, according to his cousin Randy (in his book The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: A New Orleans Family Memoir) he ‘swore to his dying day’ that he went to a women’s college. That wasn’t true: he went to Loyola University, a mixed sex establishment in Chicago (he served on the university’s Social Service committee for the year 1959-60), but who cares?

Izzy recorded two tracks for Tiny’s Toilet Records – A cover of Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman and his own composition Susan B, a tribute to the social reformer and feminist Susan B. Anthony, who played a pivotal role in the women's suffrage movement. ‘The most important thing I did as head of Toilet Records was discover a new talent – Isadore Fertel,” Tiny once admitted. ‘I paid him $100 to cut two songs for me.’

It’s long been believed that the 45 (which was given the catalogue number RB-102, and was produced by Tiny under the lurid nom de plume Ophelia Pratt) was never actually pressed, but it was certainly offered up for sale: it was advertised as available via mail order in five consecutive issues of Billboard magazine over May/June 1973. The Joe Cappy mentioned in the ad (above) was Tiny’s erstwhile mobster manager Joseph Cappelluzzo: Joe had been Tiny's best man when he married Miss Vicki on Johnny Carson's Tonight show. Quite what anyone who actually received a copy of the record would have made of it is anyone’s guess: Izzy’s lispy, nasal and atonal voice is accompanied by solo piano, and both tracks sound like they were nailed in one solitary take.

According to Tiny’s biographer Justin Martell, Fertel ‘hoped to make enough money in show business to get a sex change. Tiny Tim met Isadore Fertel in the early 1970's and was “impressed with his songwriting.” Tiny featured Fertel as his opening act at many shows and promoted Fertel with what resources he was able to muster during that period’.

Izzy Fertel has been described by others as ‘Tiny Tim’s Tiny Tim’. So in awe of Tiny was he that Izzy attempted to follow in Tiny’s footsteps, getting a job as a messenger boy (Tiny had worked as a messenger boy for Loews/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 50s) and taking the occasional gig on the amateur circuit. As eccentric as his mentor, Izzy is reported to have been obsessed with winter weather, and would move around from state to state in search of snow. He also is said to have occasionally performed dressed as a woman, calling himself Isadora. As he once said: ‘If I were a woman – and how I wish I were – I’d probably be a lesbian’.

Tiny can be seen on YouTube, accompanying Izzy on the New York cable TV chat show Coca Crystal on Susan B and on his later composition, The Reagan-Begin Song. Although the two were clearly close, as an avowed feminist Izzy found it hard to accept Tiny’s 19th century views on women, and after he encouraged Miss Vicky (along with their daughter, Tulip) to leave Tiny the two men did not speak for a year.

The colourful Isadore Fertel died on September 9, 2008 at a retirement home in the Bronx, New York.


Thursday, 21 April 2016

Like a Bird

Just in case you didn't know (or you've been living under a rock for the past few months), I've written a book, and it is officially out (in the UK, at least) from today.

Available from all good booksellers (it says here) Florence Foster Jenkins, the Life of the World's Worst Opera Singer is the first ever full-length biography of the infamous Diva of Din.

Here's some blurb from the press release: 'Madame Jenkins couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket: despite that, in 1944 at the age of 76, she played Carnegie Hall to a capacity audience and had celebrity fans by the score. Her infamous 1940s recordings are still highly-prized today. 

In his well-researched and thoroughly entertaining biography, Darryl W. Bullock tells of Florence Foster Jenkins’s meteoric rise to success, and the man who stood beside her through every sharp note.

Florence was ridiculed for her poor control of timing, pitch, and tone, and terrible pronunciation of foreign lyrics, but the sheer entertainment value of her caterwauling packed out theatres around the United States, with the ‘singer’ firmly convinced of her own talent, partly thanks to the devoted attention from her husband and manager St Clair Bayfield. Her story is one of triumph in the face of adversity, of courage, conviction and of the belief that with dedication and commitment a true artist can achieve anything. 

With a major Hollywood movie about her life currently due for release in May 2016 starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg, the genius of Florence Foster Jenkins is about to be discovered by a whole new audience."

Should you feel like investing in such a thing, links to your favourite online booksellers van be found here

Thanks for your time: I'll be back tomorrow with a proper blog post!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Is it My Body?

Pretty much unknown in the UK, Webster was an American situation comedy that aired on ABC from September 1983, until May 1987. Drawing heavily on the earlier show Diff'rent Strokes, Webster starred Emmanuel Lewis as a young boy who, after losing his parents, is adopted by his godfather (played by Alex Karras), and his socialite wife (Karras’s real life wife Susan Clark). Originally titled Another Ballgame and to be based around Karras’s character (a former NFL player), the show was quickly remodelled after an NBC studio executive saw Lewis in a Burger King advert and drafted him in to the show.

Webster was a huge hit, especially with kids, and Lewis immediately became a star. The shows popularity led to several spin offs, an hour long special starring Emmanuel Lewis in which he appeared with Sammy Davis, Jr. and Bob Hope, a Star Trek TNG crossover episode and – obviously – a number of records. Lewis released two singles in Japan (City Connection – which was actually released before he became a star on Webster - and Love is Dandan, both ‘sung’ in a mix of English and pigeon Japanese) and the ‘Must Have Recording for Every Parent and Child’ Good Secrets! Bad Secrets!, ‘the Important New Recording that teaches children how to AVOID molestation!’

Dear Lord! Why is it that American TV shows feel the need to ram a moral code down their viewers’ throats? Released in 1986 by Kid Stuff Records, the producers of the schlock may have had good intentions, but this whole album is just creepy, featuring a 20 minute story about Webster’s friend Todd who gets ‘tickled in places I don’t want to be tickled’ bookended by a brace of songs, Good Touch and It’s Your Body, both of which I’ve included for you below. You can find the whole thing on YouTube if you want. Don’t say I haven’t warned you.

Lewis – who was once close to Michael Jackson, the two having met on the set of the Thriller video - has continued to act sporadically, occasionally appearing on TV in reality shows and and in low budget movies.

I’ve also included the A-side of Emmanuel Lewis’s first 45, City Connection.


Friday, 8 April 2016

Thick, Thick Thick up to Here

Credited as Freddy Davis on the disc’s label (the spelling of his Christian name appears to have been interchangeable for a number of years), Freddie ‘Parrotface’ Davies was born into a showbiz family – he’s the grandson of music hall comedian Jack Herbert – in Brixton in 1937 (not his son, as Wikipedia would have you believe).

Evacuated during the war, he ended up in Salford (now part of Greater Manchester), where his passion for comedy and theatre began. From the age of four he was taken to watch his grandfather and other acts from the wings of the Salford Hippodrome, and after he was demobbed from National Service in 1958 he became a Butlins Redcoat, working alongside fellow comedians Dave Allen and Jimmy Tarbuck. By the time Freddie left Butlins to be a full time comic – at one point becoming a member of a sub-Beyond the Fringe quartet that also featured TV legend Johnny Ball – he had already started to fashion his stage alter ego Samuel Tweet, or Parrotface, and an appearance on TV talent show Opportunity Knocks shot Freddie/Freddy to fame.

‘That Opportunity Knocks appearance in 1964, which happened entirely by chance, started everything for me,’ Freddie told The Independent’s Martin Kelner in 1995. ‘I was dying on my arse in Dunoon, where I was supposed to spend the summer, so I escaped from that to the Candlelight Club, Oldham. As it happens, that was dead handy for Opportunity Knocks, which I stepped into when someone dropped out.

‘I remember I turned up there at the last minute with my own music and they said, “These are tatty music-hall arrangements.” I said, “What do you want? I'm a tatty music-hall comic!”’

Over the years he has appeared in over 500 TV and radio productions shows, more recently as a ‘straight’ actor in drama series including Casualty, Heartbeat, Band of Gold, Harbour Lights, and in the films Funny Bones and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. His autobiography Funny Bones: My life in Comedy was published in 2014, coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of his debut appearance on Opportunity Knocks.

Unsurprisingly, on several occasions Freddie was offered the chance to make a record. He made albums of children’s stories, and in the 1970s had a major hit in Brazil with a dreadful slice of cheese written by Last of the Summer Wine’s Bill Owen, but it all began in 1966 with the novelty 45 Santa Face is Bringing me a Budgie, for HMV. He followed this with a brace of singles for the Major Minor label, Semolina/I Want me Seed and the two cuts you find here today – Cynthia Crisp and its flip (the A side, bizarrely) Sentimental Songs. As you can no doubt ascertain from these titles, the discs he cut made good use of the staples from his stage act, his long-running budgie joke and his heavy lisp (produced for comic effect only: I cannot imagine the PC brigade would put up with someone taking the rise out of a speech impediment these days). I Want me Seed and Sentimental Songs were both written by Tommy Scott, previously featured on this blog for contributing the English lyrics to the infamous Equipe 84 single Auschwitz.    

It’s a shame that Cynthia Crisp is played for laughs, as it has a nice, chuggy baroque pop beat: I’d love to hear an instrumental version of this, or perhaps a Eurovision take on it with new lyrics (or even just without the stupid raspberry blowing). It could have been something quite special. Unfortunately it’s not: we end up with this ridiculous and annoying novelty instead. Unsurprisingly, Cynthia Crisp/Sentimental Songs did not trouble the charts. Major Minor later released an EP coupling both 45s together. That too sank without a trace.


Friday, 1 April 2016

Why Do You Bother?

Best known these days for her long running role as Audrey Roberts in the even longer-running TV soap Coronation Street, Susan Frances Nicholls (born 23 November 1943) got her first big break in the infamous soap opera Crossroads.

Sue Nicholls played Marilyn Gates on Crossroads from 1964-68. A storyline saw waitress, occasional receptionist (and, later, Vicar's wife) Marilyn become a nightclub singer, performing the song Where Will You Be?, co-written by husband a wife team Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent (Hatch also wrote the theme tune to Crossroads, later covered by Paul McCartney and Wings) on the show. Issued as a single by Pye Records, Where Will You Be? charted in July 1968, eventually reaching number 17 in the UK Singles Chart.

Although goodness knows why, because it’s awful.

Sue’s clipped RADA vocals betray her ‘posh bird’ roots, and she sounds, frankly, ludicrous. Not a surprise really: her father was Sir Harmar Nicholls, later Lord Harmar-Nicholls, Conservative MP for Peterborough (1950–1974) and MEP for Greater Manchester South (1979–1984); Sue should be correctly addressed as ‘The Honourable Susan Nicholls’.

Still, Sue clearly thought she had something, because she left Crossroads to pursue a career in music. Her character, however, stayed: actress Nadine Hanwell took over the role. It’s testament to the pulling power of TV that her first disc was ever a hit – the follow up All the Way to Heaven/I’ll be Waiting For You (both also written by Hatch and Trent) failed to chart. Undeterred, she enjoyed a short career in a cabaret – at one point singing between strip acts at a nightclub in Vienna – before returning to the stage and, eventually, to our TV screens.

She played the role of secretary Joan Greengross in the hit BBC sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976–79) and its seldom-seen sequel The Legacy of Reginald Perrin (1996), and will be remembered by people of a certain age as as Nadia Popov in the kids’ TV series Rentaghost. In the same year that The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin finished she joined the cast of Coronation Street, playing the part of Gail’s mother Audrey ever since.

Here are both sides of Sue’s first 45, Where Will You Be? and its flip Every Day.


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