Friday, 26 January 2018

Zorba the Creep

Three years after his huge success in the international hit movie Zorba the Greek, Hollywood’s go-to swarthy he man (in the days before Telly Savalas became a megastar) Anthony Quinn recorded a talk-sing single… and it’s everything you would hope it would be.

I Love You and You Love Me is horrible. The flip side, Sometimes (I Just Can’t Stand You) is slightly redeemed by its’ intended levity.

Released in 1967, both sides of this horror were written by Harold Spina, although I’m not sure how he dared cop a credit for I Love You… as the music is a complete rip off of Spanish Eyes. Spina (1906-1997), was an American composer of popular songs, best known for his work with lyricists Johnny Burke and Joe Young on songs such as Annie Doesn't Live Here Anymore, My Very Good Friend the Milkman (recorded by Fats Waller), The Beat of My Heart, and I've Got a Warm Spot in My Heart for You. He also collaborated with lyricist John Elliot for several songs, including It's So Nice To Have A Man Around The House, a hit for Dinah Shore.

A further 45, Fall In Love in Rome and Carissima, was issued in some European countries. During the 70s Quinn would make a number of other recordings, many in Italian. he even took a pop at Eurodisco on the terrible French 45 Nous Deux... C'est Fini.

Quinn was born Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca on April 21, 1915, in Chihuahua, Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution… the same conflict that had brought Cosme McMoon, Florence Foster Jenkins’ accompanist, and his family to the States. The star to-be grew up in El Paso, Texas before the family moved to Los Angeles. As a young man he took up boxing to earn money, then studied art and architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright. When Quinn mentioned that he was drawn to acting, Wright encouraged him. Quinn said he had been offered $800 per week by a film studio and didn't know what to do. Wright replied, ‘Take it, you'll never make that much with me.’ Quinn later revealed that the contract was for less than half of that. He began his film career in 1936.

A fecund old devil with at least 12 children to his credit, during a long and (mostly) distinguished career, Quinn won two Oscars and was nominated for several more. He appeared or starred in such classics as Viva Zapata!, La Strada, Lust for Life and in the controversial religious epic  Mohammad, Messenger of God; the title was later changed to The Message after a spate of terrorist attacks and death threats. He also flirted with the mafia… but then, who didn’t?

The a-side (and both sides of the European 45) resurfaced two years later on the album In My Own Way… I Love You, but by that time Quinn’s style of sing-speak had been usurped (and would be taken to the Number One spot in the UK) by Lee Marvin and Wand’rin’ Star. According to Spina, the idea for the album came about after the pair got drunk together at a California beach house. They ended up with a whole LP’s worth of mostly unlistenable and barely-concealed chauvinism. Dig out a copy at your peril!  

Quinn died in Boston in 2001, aged 86.

Apologies for the quality of the B-side, I had to crib it off YouTube. I’ll replace the link once I find a better copy, but until then…


Download Love HERE

Download Sometimes HERE

Friday, 19 January 2018

Pounds, shillings and nonsense

“Hey! Who’s that little old man?”

Wilfred Brambell is an actor who will forvever be identified with two roles, that of the aged rag ‘n bone man Albert Steptoe and of Jimmy McCartney, Paul’s ‘very clean’ Irish grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night. Brambell committed the cardinal sin (and it would not be his only one) of being coaxed in to the recording studio one day in 1970 to record The Decimal Song, a single bemoaning Britain’s abandonment of our dear old pounds, shillings and pence (ha’pennys, thruppennys, farthings, ten bob notes and all) in readiness for our entrance in to the European Economic Union, or the Common Market as it was more popularly known.

Side two, Time Marches On, a poem about the break up of The Beatles set to music, was written by Malcolm Taylor. In 1966 Liverpudlian Taylor had released an album of poetry, Auparishtaka, based on the Kama Sutra and the Perfumed Garden. That same year he had released the 45 I Got You under the name Sheil and Mal: Sheil was noted actress Sheila Hancock, then starring in the hit TV comedy The Rag Trade.

The A-side was written by Taylor with the songwriting team of Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, a duo who got their first break with Joe Meek – they penned the British number one single Have I The Right for the Honeycombs – and who would later write for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch, Peter Straker, gay glam act Starbuck (Do You Like Boys), and had songs recorded by Petula Clark and Elvis.

Born in 1912, Henry Wilfred Brambell is a divisive figure these days, a closeted gay man and alcoholic noted for his outrageous behaviour – according to a piece in the Guardian ‘on one infamous occasion he exposed himself to a woman at a party’ and ‘he routinely told adoring fans who met him in the street to “fuck off”.’ He began his acting career after the Second World War, debuting in British-made films in 1947, but became a household name after Steptoe and Son debuted in 1962. Brambell was homosexual at a time when it was unheard of for public figures to be openly gay, not least because male homosexual acts were illegal in the UK until 1967.

Brambell died in 1985. In 2012 two men accused him of having abused them when they were teenagers: the charges came 27 years after his death, and at the height of the independent inquiry into sex abuse by Jimmy Savile. He was never arrested or questioned over sex acts with minors during his lifetime, although he had been arrested in a toilet in Shepherd’s Bush for cottaging (importuning) in 1962 and given a conditional discharge.

The Decimal Song was issued just three days before Decimal Day, 15 February 1971. Can’t say I’ve heard anything as remotely beguiling to celebrate our abandonment of our European partners as we tumble headlong in to the mess that is Brexit.


Download Decimal HERE

Download Time HERE

Friday, 12 January 2018

The (Almost) Complete Ellen Marty

Updated and, dare I say, authoritative: the Ellen Marty Story! Some of you will already know the bare bones of this (especially if you've read my first book), but read on anyway... it's worth it!

 One of the most wonderful things about immersing oneself in obscure and odd recordings is that occasionally you’ll rediscover an artist who has been criminally ignored - one whose genius seriously deserves reappraisal. That’s certainly true of the wonderful Ellen Marty, composer and chanteuse who released a series of what can only be described as eccentric 45s in the 1960s and 70s. There’s something wonderfully engaging about Ellen Marty, from her charming, almost naïve voice through to her unusual material and occasional odd choice of rhyming couplet.

Of Scandinavian descent, Ellen Marty's given name was Mary Ellen Mart. She was born in Centerville, South Dakota in 1935, the daughter of local electrical store owners Fred and Lenora Mart (nee Amundson). Fred had established his store, Mart’s Radio and Electrical, in 1928 and the couple married three years later. They named their firstborn after Fred’s sister, a nun: yes, Fred’s sister was Sister Mary Ellen Mart.

Educated at Centerville High School and the University of South Dakota, by 1960 Mary Ellen was in New York studying drama. After winning several acting awards while still in High School, the young Mary Ellen had grand plans to become an actress, and after moving to New York she appeared in at least two movies, Spring Affair in 1960 and House of Women in 1962. Her sojourn in New York didn’t last long, and by 1962 she was living in Hollywood.

Mary Ellen started writing songs at an early age, copyrighting her first five compositions in 1957. Upon moving to Hollywood and discovering how hard it was going to be to make it as an actress she started hawking her songs around various record companies, eventually coming to the attention of Joe Leahy. ‘I was pedalling my music around Hollywood and ran in to Joe’s office,’ she explains. ‘He was kind enough to listen to my tapes.’ A bandleader who was also a talented arranger, writer and producer, Leahy began his recording career in the late 40s and, in set up the Unique Records label in 1955 where he discovered the 14 year-old Canadian singer Priscilla Wright and had a sizeable hit with her debut waxing The Man in the Raincoat. Within a year TV, film and radio company RKO had purchased a 25 percent stake in the company, changing the name of the company to RKO/Unique; under that name the company that would issue Leona Anderson’s collection Music to Suffer By

Leahy left Unique in April 1957 after selling the rest of his shares to RKO and, taking over the old Unique studio on New York’s Broadway, he established a new company, National, with several ex-Unique staffers. Before long he had moved to Felstead and then, in September 1959, to Dot - home, of course, of the doyenne of bad records Pat Boone, although as collector Bengt Wahlstrom says 'I have never actually seen any proof of his connection to Dot other than a rumour in Billboard when he
broke up from Felsted. Instead of Dot he got work, thanks to his friend Le Roy Holmes, at Everest and produced at least four albums: two with Walter Brennan, one with actress Ann Blyth and a fourth
with a faked girl group the Bel-Aire Girls, all in 1960.' Bengt is right; even if Joe did sign to Dot he does not appear to have ended up working on any of their releases. Still, what is known is that he moved to Hollywood where he also set up his own independent company RPC (Record Producers Corporation), with the intention of issuing nostalgia albums by ‘established movie and TV names’.

By now using the stage name Ellen Marty, her meeting with Joe Leahy was fortuitous; by 1963 (according to a report in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader which appeared on August 25, 1963) she had ‘contacted 15 recording companies and made at least eight different recordings’. That figure is easy to believe, as between 1957 and 1963 Ellen copyrighted 25 of her own compositions. ‘He heard a sound in my voice that he liked, and just like a flash we went in to a studio and recorded Man In a Raincoat’. Ellen nailed her vocal on the first take. She established her own publishing company, Lycklig, which had an office at 1216 Cole Ave, Los Angeles. Ellen chose the name Lycklig for her publishing company as it is the Swedish word for 'happy'. 

Joe was looking for his own studio, and he and Ellen recorded in several different places around Hollywood before he finally settled on the right space for him to work. Sadly, although the pair made some fantastic records together, the breakthrough hit eluded them. They established two different record labels, Marty and Rain Coat, but although Joe had an enviable track record and they employed Hollywood’s best pluggers they could not get the radio play that they so desperately needed. In 1965 she released her sole full-length album, Mixing and Making with Marty. Given three stars by Billboard magazine that LP - on which Ellen was backed by a stellar line up of musicians including drummer Hal Blaine and guitarist Bud Coleman - included her cover of The Man in the Raincoat (retitled Man In A Raincoat) which had first appeared as a 45 in 1963 on the Rain Coat label and was later reissued on the Marty imprint (Rain Coat’s offices were originally on Vine Street before moving to Lillian Way – immediately behind the Lycklig office). Ellen recorded two further albums, neither of which were issued: the first included Haciendo and Mesciando, a Spanish-language version of her song Mixing and Making. The unreleased (and untitled) collection was later reworked into a children’s album which including the 1966 recording A Sunbeam and a Dewdrop, and her single Baby Blue Eyes. Sadly this album also remains unreleased.

After and a handful of great but criminally-ignored singles in 1966/67, including the brilliant Bobby Died Today (which, despite rumours to the contrary, has nothing whatsoever to do with the death of Bobby Kennedy) Ellen changed her stage name yet again, releasing her next five 45s under the name Buttons. Although she recorded several sides as Buttons there appears to be 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. It is odd though that Joe was one of Dot's lead A&R men during The Buttons’ time at the label, and there is a distinct possibility that Ellen may have recorded as Buttons in an effort to emulate some of the success of The Buttons. 

Two of the tracks Ellen recorded (as Buttons) use the same backing tracks that Joe had previously used on a release by the actress Cynthia Pepper at Felstead: First Time Love and Baby Blues. Cynthia starred in the TV sitcom Margie, broadcast on ABC from September 1961 to April 1962, and the two songs, written by Joe, appeared on both sides of a 7” issued in August 1962. Cathy, who had previously appeared in the hit sitcom My Three Sons, would go on to star as Midge Riley in the Elvis Presley film Kissin’ Cousins. Six years later, with new lyrics written by Ellen, Baby Blues became Baby Blue Eyes and First Time Love became Lovetime. Joe also worked with 50s hitmaker Kathy Linden at Felstead and she also recorded for him at RPC, appearing on the Dick Powell album The Wonderful Teens (under the pseudonym Linda Wells) and releasing a one-off solo single in 1961. All three women had similar voices, and with singers using pseudonyms and Joe reusing music beds it’s more than possible that Ellen may have appeared on other releases during her years working with Joe. 

Ellen Marty’s recordings are a delight: 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 she occasionally sounds as if she’s about to slit her wrists. Her lyrics are distinctly odd (The Barn is so Far From the Steeple starts off with the line 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 which, when I first heard it, had me rushing to check that the needle of my tone arm was not skipping across the precious vinyl), but the more of her work I discover the more in love with her I am becoming. 

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: it’s a far better record than the Cynthia Pepper original. 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 a suicide note sung to a fast food jingle. Locked Up And Bolted (which originally appeared as Locked Up and Bolded, resulting in some poor soul having to correct the labels on each disc by hand), the flip of the circa 1966 single Raindrops, is one of the most fun recordings you’ll ever hear, reminiscent of the Patrick Macnee/Honor Blackman song Let’s Keep It Friendly. The one thing you can say about Ellen’s material is that it genuinely deserves the epithet extraordinary. The one thing you can say about Ellen’s material is that it genuinely is out of the ordinary. 

Try as she did, the hits did not happen. Things went quiet for a four-year period between 1969 and 1973 before she rocked up again, this time as Elie Marty. She released a single, again on Rain Coat, however this time her mentor Joe Leahy was not available to help out: ‘Joe was having health problems so I went out on my own,’ she says. One 45, Leave Me Like You Found Me/Some Days are Good (Somes Bad) using old music beds recorded by Joe in the 60s, was issued before Leahy passed away in 1974; Leave Me Like You Found Me utilises the same backing track as Such a Sad Face, the flip side of her 1968 release Little Mouse in the House. While back in Centerville to nurse her ailing mother, Elie met her parents’ neighbour Ron Backer, a former film editor and NASA employee who was also a keen painter. ‘He was visiting his Mom after he had lost his wife in a car accident,’ Elie explains. ‘It wasn’t long until I left Hollywood to go South and marry the boy next door!’ 

The couple moved to Nashville so that Elie could continue recording, swapping her prestigious Hollywood address for a PO box in Music City. The unusual, beguiling voice is the same, but the quality of the songs – a cover of the 1920s standard Do You Ever Think of Me and Bob G Dean’s Paper Planes (later covered by Pat Alexis; Dean was the co-author of Stella Parton’s hit I Want To Hold You In My Dreams Tonight) among them – can’t hope to compare with the best of her 60s work. When that failed to provide her with a hit Ellen/Elie turned her back on her recording career. She did not give up music altogether, writing many news songs inspired by her husband’s depictions of historic events in US history. ‘Ron retired to become a full-time painter and we formed what we called “music around the paintings’. We came back to LA and did our little show to help Ron get more established with his art and it worked!’ 

Ron is an accomplished artist who has exhibited in many galleries across the States, and Elie often appeared at his exhibitions, singing the songs she wrote. Although the couple no longer do their shows they keep busy, and Elie continues to write and record to this day: ‘I still write country and western and the music I guess I’m known for. Part of my kitchen is like a recording studio’, she says. The former Lycklig offices – just a stone’s throw away from Hollywood Boulevard - are now part of an apartment complex.

The following is a list of all of the Ellen Marty/Buttons/Elie Marty releases and copyrighted songs I am currently aware of. Huge thanks to Elie herself for helping me complete this list:

Unrecorded: See Saw Love (© 1957)
Unrecorded: Doodle Lamb Daddy/Tired of Being What I’m Not/Yellow Trees (all © November 1957)
Unrecorded: I Shall Recall/If you Come Back to Me/I’ve Fallen in Love with You/Lonely/Lost Without You/Round the Bend/That Sammy Boy/Think a Little Thought (© Jan-June1958)
Unrecorded: I Still Cry/Sand Clock Love/Why Did you do It (© August 1958)
Unrecorded: Eddie, the Waiter/Worth a Wait (both © 1959)
Unrecorded: Democrats Now Are In Again/Lolita (both © 1960)
Unrecorded: Go Away Little Boy /Moment With the Lord/Moon Behind a Tree/Those Swayin’ Trees (all © 1961)
Unrecorded: One & A Two & A Three-a (© 1962)
Recorded, possibly unreleased: All of These Things You Are to Me (© 1959); Jungle Love (© 1961). Note: Jungle Love was recorded, according to Elie, by Carl Geren (possibly Carl Green?) for an album.
Raincoat 601: Man in the Raincoat/You're Such a Comfort to Me (1963) 
Marty 101: Our First Date/Your Words Were Sweeter (1964)
Marty 102: Xmas Gift/I Wanna (1964) Note: Xmas Gift was copyrighted in 1957 as My Christmas Gift
Marty 103: Mixing and Making/Haciendo and Mesciando (Mixing and Making in Spanish) (1965)
Marty 103: Mixing and Making/Johnny Had (1965)
Marty 601/602: Man in the Raincoat/This Time of Year (1964)
Raincoat 602: This Time of Year/Billy Back
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 (1965)
Marty 603: Don't Ask Me, Don't Bug Me/This Time of Year (1964)
Raincoat 104: Forgive Me, Johnny/Love Is Fairytales
Marty 105: I Think I’ll Cry (You Lied, Lied, Lied Again)/I Will Come to You Some Night (1965)
Unrecorded: Sittin’ in This Chair/Super-Dooper-Ooper-Pooper (both © 1966)
Recorded, unreleased: A Sunbeam, A Dewdrop (© 1966)
Rain Coat 105: Raindrops/Locked Up and Bolted (label originally read Locked Up and Bolded) (1966)
Rain Coat 109: Bobby Died Today/Give Me a Raincheck, Baby (1966)
Raincoat 700: Cats Have Whiskers/It All Depends on You (1967) (as Buttons)
Rain Coat 701: Big Ben/Rain, Don’t Rain (both © 1967)
Rain Coat 702: A Petal a Day/Baby Blue Eyes (as Buttons) (1968)
Rain Coat 703: The Barn is So Far From the Steeple/Lovetime (as Buttons) (1968)
Rain Coat 704: Little Mouse in the House/Such a Sad Face (as Buttons) (1968)
Unrecorded: Be Still/Carousel/Every Now and Then/’Neath a Tree, Near the Sea/One Teardrop a Day/Railroad Tracks/So Afraid of Me/To Ride (all songs © 1968)
Unrecorded: EFILFOREVOL (Lover of Life)/Posse from my Past (both w Jared Warner, m Elie Marty) (© June 1973)
Rain Coat 705: unreleased
Rain Coat 706: Leave Me Like You Found Me/Some Days are Good (Somes Bad) (as Elie Marty) (1974)
Rain Coat 100: Do You Ever Think of Me/Paper Planes (as Elie Marty) (1977) 
Unrecorded: Jesus Was a Baby Small (w Jared Warner, m Elie Marty) (© August 1977)
Recorded, not released: Motel Mornings (w Jared Warner, m Elie Marty) (© August 1977)
Unrecorded: Empty Saddle & A Stetson Hat (© 1982)

My thanks to Bengt Wahlstrom and to Elie Marty Backer for their help with this article.

Now, the good stuff. Not one, not two but 23 tracks by Ellen Marty, Elie Marty and Buttons. Everything I currently own copies of, in one handy zip file. It's all here, and you can download it from my Dropbox account so you should not have any issues with pop up ads or the like, and anyone should be able to download it without having to sign up for an account. If you're having issues just go to the page, click on the three dots in the top right hand corner and download.


Friday, 5 January 2018

Kinky Reggae Party


The multicultural poppets Kids International were, in fact, anything but international, having been put together by BBC TV producer Ernest Maxin for the 19882 series of the Les Dawson Show, as Louis Barfe reveals in his excellent biography The Trials and Triumphs of Les Dawson. The majority of them stepped straight out of a London stage school. Their only experience of culture outside of Britain would have been eating at a branch of KFC.

‘I decided to get a United Nations of children together, between the ages of six and eleven’, Maxin said. ‘I auditioned about a thousand kids of all different races within the Home Counties radius.’ Designed as comic foil for Dawson, as well as providing musical interludes, the act proved so successful that Maxin was ‘getting letters in to my office in dustbin liners. Thousands of them.’ It was at this point that Dawson’s agent decided to drop the little scene-stealers from the show.

Their success lead to the act being signed to Magnet records, and two 45s were issued: You Promised Me/Sing a Song of Love and Reggae Round the World/If I Had a Hammer/Danny Boy. No doubt hoping to cash in on the then-current craze for kiddie reggae (Musical Youth would soon hit Number One in the UK with Pass The Dutchie), the a-sides of both singles feature Kids International performing the kind of pop/reggae hybrid that could not possibly offend anyone but, actually, offends me to the very core.

Reggae Round the World was co-written by Maxin and Ivor Raymonde, who we’ve featured here before. Raymonde also produced both singles. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, Ivor was Whistling Jack Smith, as his son, former Cocteau twin Simon raymonde, revealed to me a few months back. In a long career Ivor arranged Laurie’s wonderful I Love Onions, worked with Joe Meek and Dusty Springfield, arranged and conducted the orchestra on Kinky Boots etc. etc. Simon tells me that he’s working on a 2-LP compilation of his later father’s work, for release via his Bella Union label this year. I’ve no idea what became of the youngsters involved… my guess is that many of them are now appearing in EastEnders or in local rep, desperate to live down their brief brush with pop fame.

Here’s both sides of that second 45: Reggae Round the World the poptastic If I Had a Hammer and a truly vomit-worthy rendition of the old Irish standard Londonderry Air, rendered here under it’s better-known alias Danny Boy.


Download Reggae HERE

Download Hammer HERE

Download Danny HERE

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