Friday, 3 April 2020

Boy Blunder

 This week I have a disc for you that, I’m sorry to say, I did not know existed until a few days ago. Not, in fact, until regular WWRRS listener Dennis Bookwalter brought it to my attention. And I will never forgive him!

Issued at the height of Batmania, Burt Ward’s 1966 45 Boy Wonder I Love You had somehow passed me by. Odd as I’ve ever-so-slightly obsessed with the recording carers of the actors and actresses who appeared in TV’s first (and, let’s be honest here, best) Batman. I’ve already featured Adam West, Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin on this blog and have for some time been planning a special Batman-themed episode of the WWRRS, which will also include some cuts from the ridiculous Jan and Dean Meet Batman.

What makes this insane spin-off even more delicious is that the A-side, based around Burt – as Robin – reading a parody of a fan letter – was written, arranged and conducted by Frank Zappa! The flip side, a godawful off-key rendition of the standard Orange Colored Sky (credited on promo copies as Oranged Colored Sky), was again arranged and conducted by Zappa, and features several members of the Mothers of Invention including Jimmy Carl Black and Elliot Ingber, who would later join Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band under the name Winged Eel Fingerling. Both sides were produced by Tom Wilson, who also produced the Mothers and the Velvet Underground. It’s just nuts. Batman himself, Adam West, performed Orange Colored Sky on TV show Hollywood Palace, in full Bat-drag, but does not appear on these recordings.

As Burt himself recalled in his autobiography, Boy Wonder, My Life In Tights: ‘I should have had the wisdom I now have when I signed a recording contract with MGM Records - I wouldn’t have signed it. MGM staffer Tom Scott [sic] was assigned as my producer. He brought in one of the visually wildest groups imaginable as my backup band, the Mothers of Invention. What a sight! Neanderthal. They had incredibly long, scraggly hair, and clothes that appeared not to have been washed in this century if ever. These were musicians who became famous for tearing up furniture, their speakers, their microphones and even their expensive guitars onstage. They were maniacs!

‘Of all the people in the world to team with this wild and crazy bunch, I can’t believe I was the one. The image of the Boy Wonder is all American and apple pie, while the image of the Mothers of Invention was so revolutionary that they made the Hell’s Angels look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Even I had to laugh seeing a photo of myself with those animals. Their fearless leader and king of grubbiness was the late Frank Zappa. After recording with me, Frank became an internationally recognized cult superstar, which was understandable; after working with me, the only place Frank could go was up.

‘Although he looked like the others, Frank had an intelligence and education that elevated him beyond brilliance to sheer genius. I spent a considerable amount of time talking with him, and his rough, abrupt exterior concealed an intellectual, creative and sensitive interior. For my records, the plan was to record four sides and then release two singles prior to producing an album. After listening to me sing, Frank got a wild idea to make use of my hideous voice to do a hilarious recording with a song that had some of the Batman feel to it. He picked “Orange Colored Sky.”

‘I can’t bear to think of this song. The memories are too embarrassing. Though the intent was to create comedy by putting my lousy singing to good use, the actual result was so disastrous that the studio thought the tape had been left out in the sun and warped. They insisted on re-recording. But first, MGM took a radical step as an insurance policy that my next session would sound better. They sent me to an expensive vocal coach—and no doubt hoped for divine intervention. Back in 1966 they were shelling out about $1,000 a week for those lessons. That was a lot of money, more than three times what I was bringing home after working twelve hours per day in my monkey suit for an entire week. With the coach raking in that much, even I am surprised that after two weeks of training, the lady politely asked me not to come back. I’m not sure if she felt that having me as a student was damaging to her career or if listening to me sing was destroying her eardrums, or both.

‘In an attempt at self-preservation, the record company had me just talk on the second two sides I recorded. That I could do very well! The material for the song was a group of fan letters that had been sent to me. Frank and I edited them together to make one letter, which became the lyrics for the recording. Frank wrote a melody and an arrangement, and we titled the song, “Boy Wonder, I Love You!” Among the lyrics was an invitation for me to come and visit an adoring pubescent fan and stay with her for the entire summer. She wrote, “I will even fix you breakfast in bed. I love you so much that I want you to stay the whole summer with me!” The lyrics ended with “I hope you know that this is a girl writing”.’ Just brilliant! 

Zappa himself expunged any mention of these sessions from his own story; thank goodness Ward had the good sense to record his memories for posterity. Although the disc was recorded and issued in 1966, Zappa did not register his copyright in the A-side until July 1968.

Ward, who also made a guest appearance on Adam West’s 45 Miranda, issued another 45, I’ve Got Love For My Baby, on Soultown records in 1970 (he did not feature on the instrumental flip, Robin’s Theme, credited to Burt Ward’s band) – a pretty awful record which is now something of a collectable in Northern Soul circles. A bonus for lovers of the bad: Orange Colored Sky was co-written, back in 1950, by Milton DeLugg. DeLugg also composed Hooray for Santy Claus, the theme song for the dreadful – but essential - low-budget 1964 motion picture Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and was a long-time collaborator of TV producer and host Chuck Barris, working on The Gong Show, The $1.98 Beauty Show and many other projects.


Download Wonder HERE

Download Orange HERE

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