Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Top Notch Sound of Top Rock


There's not much more I can say about Cara Stewart records. I love them. She has only a few templates, but as with Fats Domino, who also worked with a fairly specific and small palette, they're pretty much all wonderful templates, capable of resulting in some really nice records. Such is the case with "Signal Lights", a nice, mid-tempo shuffle, with male back-up singers, a bouncy band and a unimpeachable vocal.

The Top Rock label may have been the vanity project, via Lee Hudson's song-poem factory, of someone named Les Hilton. It's hard to say, because this is the only record on the label where the AS/PMA website lists the songwriter (interestingly, that page shows a co-writer for the flip side, a name which does not appear on my copy).But my guess is, Les Hilton was the song-writer, or co-writer, on all "Top Rock" releases.

Also, if you do a search for either of today's records and for Cara Stewart's name, you'll find google books results for both an ad in Billboard for this record, and a listing in a different issue of Billboard where they indicate it has "limited potential".


Download: Cara Stewart, Lee Hudson Orch. - Signal Lights
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The flip side, "Don't Break My Dream of Love", has Lee and Cara in dreamy, romantic mode. This side of my copy of the record is beat to hell, so please forgive the sound quality. Back when the AS/PMA website was still an active entity, someone submitted a great, ridiculous line from this song to the "Song-Poem Non Sequitur" page, specifically:

"Please take my lips, abuse them, to your desire." 

I wonder if he took her up on that offer....

Download: Cara Stewart, Lee Hudson Orch. - Don't Break My Dream of Love
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Monday, April 11, 2016

Cleverer Than the Av-Er-Age Song Poet!


When listening to a stack of song-poems, the majority of which, I assure you, are wholly uninspired both lyrically and musically, it's nice to come across something unexpected. One of the nicer things to stumble upon is a song for which the song-poet tried to write something creative and a little bit clever.

Such is the case with today's Gene Marshall feature, "Love's End". Plenty of song-poets went for "clever", few that I've heard succeeded as well as does Elsworth J. Leach, here. This is not award winning stuff, but it did bring a smile to my face. I'll not say any more...

Download: Gene Marshall - Love's End
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The flip side, "What Good Are the Laws?" is, as the title suggests, a complaint against some of the many things that are wrong in the world, and just as enjoyable as that description suggests, despite another warm, winning vocal from Gene Marshall.

Download: Gene Marshall - What Good Are the Laws?
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Monday, April 04, 2016

Astonishing!


Last week, I wrote, regarding an particularly odd record called "Lonesome Sad and Blue", that one of the reasons the record resonated with me is because a good part of the melody strongly resembled that of the lovely song "Spanish is the Loving Tongue". Frequent commenter Timmy went even further, suggesting that litigation would not have been out of the question.

But that thievery pales in comparison to today's masterwork, a record I find nothing short of astonishing. Someone named Elbert Ward decided to take it upon himself to write out the words to Mel Tillis' "Ruby (Don't Take Your Love to Town)", and send them, almost verbatim, to the good folks at Tin Pan Alley records. Mr. Ward changed a few words here and there - my guess is that this was done to somehow make him think that he "wrote" these words, but it's also possible that he was simply hearing the original words incorrectly. Regardless of the reason, the changes make virtually no difference in the overall direction, meaning and story of the song.

This is the third time I've come across this phenomenon. First, it was a "lyricist" who simply submitted the words to the chestnut "Nobody's Child", and then it was the genius who took the lyrics to the classic (sic) "Watching Bobby Grow" and changed the name of the child to that of the "lyricist's" own child.

This one seems more egregious to me, because the original of this one is a more familiar song and also a better song, certainly better than "Watching Scotty Grow". I have to wonder what Mr. Ward thought he was accomplishing. Did he think getting his name on the label meant he actually wrote Mel Tillis' song? The only thing original that was going to come out of this transaction - which he would have paid handsomely for - is the music, a portion of the collaboration he had no part in. And my guess is that anyone who heard the record of "his" song, would say, "hey, YOU DIDN'T WRITE THOSE WORDS".

Speaking of the music, though - the folks at Tin Pan Alley seem to have had a ball with this one, perhaps (speculation, of course) because they likely knew it was a rip-off, within the rip-off that it already was. There is a bluesy, garage band feel to this one, and nothing is left on the table. The solo, while not technically very good, is energetic, and, to my ears, exciting. Mike Thomas is fairly "eh", but that's to be expected.

Download: Mike Thomas - Ruby
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On the other side is more fun from Elbert Ward. Perhaps (speculation, of course) learning that there was a song called "Stairway to Heaven" (maybe you've heard of it), and perhaps listening to it and finding out, to his eternal disappointment, that it was not a religious number per se, perhaps he decided that the title concept was an excellent idea, but that the trip needed to be a somewhat faster one. Voila! A "RAILWAY TO HEAVEN"!

And then, as you'll hear, he threw in a bunch of New Testament references, not really tied together all that well. Or at all. But you know how it is.

Download: Mike Thomas - Railway to Heaven
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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Otherworldly Sounds



Okay, this one is weird on several levels. As I've documented here (in posts which are, unfortunately, not currently able to play sound), the Cinema label and it's generic band "The Real Pros", started off as what appears to have been a one man band with one of those early '70's living room organs which would play the rhythm and chords for you, while you soloed (whoever this person was, he made some of my all time favorite song-poems - thanks, dude!).

Then, early in the label's existence, they transitioned over to the crew that were also making records for MSR - Rodd Keith, Dick Kent, Bobbi Blake, etc. The first of these records appear perhaps halfway through the 1972 run of records (Cinema's record numbers indicate the year they were made). Some feature the one man band on one side and the MSR crew on the other.

This one falls within that time period, but I have no idea who is singing - perhaps someone out there does. That's one element of the weirdness. The much bigger element is the sound of the thing.

The first song, "The Daydream of a Girl", is fairly straightforward, with lyrics full of pain, not unlike a hundred others, although they are, to my ears, a bit more effective than a lot of "you hurt me" song-poems. But what's with this arrangement? The guitar starts us off, but the track is dominated by a wah-wah'd organ - probably the same one the one man band used, based on the other settings used for coloring of the piece. But I find the whole thing has just a strange feel.

Download: The Real Pros: The Daydream of a Girl
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But "Daydream" is downright mainstream compared to its flip side. "Lonesome Sad and Blue", features more of that wah-wah organ, a badly strummed guitar and otherworldly production. I picture this being recorded in a cave, a mile from anyone other living souls. It has an acutely lonely sound, and this is one of those sessions I would LOVE to have been at. It's creepy and amazing at the same time.

That said, the performance is half-assed on virtually everyone's part (sort of like if those on "The Basement Tapes" were just learning to play their instruments and to sing), and the lyrics are painfully direct and tell a sad story with little style. With all of that said, the melody and chord changes resonate with me. And I think that's because a significant parts of the melody are lifted almost directly from "Spanish is the Loving Tongue", at least in the tune sung in my favorite version, by Ronnie Gilbert, which you can hear here.

Download: The Real Pros: Lonesome Sad and Blue
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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Storming the Chapel

To start, a few responses to comments....

First, thanks to everyone who has been reading and listening - I appreciate your eyes and ears on what I'm sharing here more than I can say. And second, thanks to those who have offered up comments, whether occasionally (or once) or many times.

Thanks for the notification of downloads and play-files which have been corrupted somehow. I have fixed the track about One of Satan's Angels, which you can hear here, and one of the fantastic tracks from the Film-Tone label, "Have Faith in Love", which you can hear here

I've had a few people ask about the years in which one or more of the records I've shared may have been made. Aside from a few facts gleaned from The American Song-Poem Music Archives' labels page, in most cases, I just don't know. The same goes for those who ask about details on particular records they've found - those inquiries have mostly been about Rodd Keith records. If I have an answer, I'll post it - and if you link your comment to an e-mail address, I'll answer you by e-mail - but in most cases, again, i just don't know. 

And I really enjoy and appreciate the posted comments which go into some detail regarding the songs posted, similar songs, etc. I don't always have much to add, so I don't always respond, but that doesn't mean they aren't appreciated. And I do know I keep promising to repair the old pages. I really do hope to get to that some time in the next few months. It just seems so daunting...

On to this week's post!

~~



The Chapel Recording Company was part of the same team that brought us the tremendous products of Halmark (aka Hallmark) records. I have no idea if Chapel existed before Halmark or at the same time, but at least some of the time, they used the same decrepit backing tracks that were the hallmark of Halmark. The only other Chapel records I own are acetates, but today, here's an honest to goodness 45, although my preferred side (of the two) sounds worse than many acetates I've heard.

And it's my preferred side because it features everyone's favorite Halmark dude, BOB STORM!!! He's not named on the label, as usual, but it's clearly him. And not only that, it has one of my two favorite Halmark backing tracks - the one most famously used on on "My Hamburger Baby". If you listen closely, I think you can hear some differences between the track, as used here, and as used on "Hamburger", which, if true, would confirm that Halmark owned the multi-track reels for these tracks. To my ears, the final instrumental coda is missing some of the instruments heard on the version used on "Hamburger".

The other remarkable thing about this record, titled "What is Life Without You", is that it is one of the poorest pressings I've ever heard. The surface noise in the opening sections is a mystery - the record is as clean as they come. And the track audibly wobbles. This is not my turntable OR an offcenter pressing - it seems to have come off of the original reel sounding like this. It's truly horrible.

But Bob Storm comes through like a pro, his over-the-top unctuousness never even missing a beat. Enjoy!

Download: No Artist Named: What is Life Without You?
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The flip side features that other label stalwart, Jack Kim (also uncredited), on a tedious (3 1/2 minute long) piece of religious tribute, perfect for those who want to do penitence in Lent, "With Him in Glory"

Download: No Artist Named: With Him in Glory
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Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Moaning and Groaning!


Who among us would find out that there was a song-poem record containing songs titled "Moaning and Groaning Twist" and "Wanted for Murder!" and not fervently hope that at least one of them lived up to the promise of its title? I certainly did, and was happy to obtain a copy to hold in my own little hands.

And both of them turn out to be worth the price of admission, with "Moaning and Groaning Twist" taking the top prize, for my money.

Let's start with the fact that, in barely two minutes, the song features not one, but TWO bass solos! Then, after the first of these solos, singers Phil Celia and Ellen Wayne come in, singing in lovely harmony over a heavily rhythmic track, with some great drumming and a nice (and lengthy) piano break. The lyrics are concerned with some intense twisting which was taking place in New Orleans - Ellen in particular seems to be really feelin' it - and the whole package is just first rate from start to finish.

Download: Phil Celia and Ellen Wayne - Moaning and Groaning Twist
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Phil's got a solo number on the flip side, in "Wanted for Murder!". The lazy beat, and laid back vocal may throw the listener off at first, until you get to the point of the lyric - what it is that the singer is said to have killed, and why. It's not as clever, in my opinion, as I'm guessing that the lyricist thought it was, but it's still good for a smile.

Download: Phil Celia - Wanted for Murder!
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And just as an aside, this record further confirms to me that, if I had been a song-poet in the late '50's or early '60's, Tin Pan Alley would have been the place to submit my lyrics. They received the most interesting lyrics during that period, and did the most interesting things with them.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Back to the 1930's with Film-Tone!


From the sublime of last week's Rodd Keith two-fer, to the ridiculous of this week's Film-Tone mania. I've written before about Film-Tone, in posts which are sadly, now without their downloadable tracks, due to last year's Divshare meltdown. You can read what I've written about the company (without the files) here (that link will include this post, and three others under it). It's also worth noting that Film-Tone apparently had some sort of link with the larger Star-Crest song poem company, whose album products I've posted  multiple times, including here and here

Basically, these companies seem to have existed in the '50's and '60's, producing music which sounded like it was from 30 years earlier. The only Film-Tone releases I'm aware are all EP 45's, featuring a "Vocal Trio" of two men and a woman, backed by a small combo. 

First up is a stereotypical song-poem of longing, perhaps unrequited love, I had a dream. If you close your eyes, you can imagine yourself at a ballroom in 1935, listening and perhaps dancing to the cut-rate group that was all the ownership could afford.

Download: Film Tone Productions: I Had a Dream
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Next up is "Have Faith in Love", a religiously inspired lyric from a wife to her husband. Unlike the previous track, I can't even imagine a scenario in which I'd be listening to this material, performed live.

Download: Film Tone Productions: Have Faith in Love
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Flipping the record over, we hear "My Every Dream Came True". Here, the band has adopted a light Latin beat which one might have heard, again, in the 1930's, and I find myself back in the ballroom from the first track. I remain confounded, as I always do with this label's material being sung by a mixed group, as the lyrics - many of which tend to be written with one gender in mind, singing to the other - are indiscriminately given to a male singer to sing solo, followed immediately by the group, led by the female singer.

Download: Film Tone Productions: My Every Dream Came True
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I'm definitely speaking in relative terms, but the best is saved for last. The one redeeming thing I've found on a few Film-Tone EP's is that there have been a few lyricists who submitted attempts at humorous, or at least clever, lyrics. "You're My Only Problem Now" fits that description, with its comparison of school work (many years ago) with today's relationship issues. And I do like "I ask absolution while I work some solution". It doesn't make up for the stodgy music, but it helps a little bit

Download: Film Tone Productions: You're My Only Problem Now
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Monday, February 15, 2016

A Four Pack of Rodd on Preview


I took a couple of weeks off, but since this project is called "Song Poem of the Week", I thought I'd make the effort this time to make up for lost time, and provide two very nice early-period Preview singles featuring Rodd Keith.

The better side of the first record, by far, is a song with the generic title "Forever". This proves to be one of those super-soulful Rodd sides, with some particularly outstanding drumming, sweet guitar, and a wonderfully warm vocal from Rodd.

In an oddity which turns up from time to time on Preview singles, the record actually runs more than 50 seconds shorter than the label reports it does.

Download: Rodd Keith: Forever
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The flip side, "One Love", is not, of course, the Bob Marley song (and wouldn't that be something to hear), but a rather innocuous pop ballad, with bland lyrics and accompaniment redeemed a bit by another nice lead vocal.

Download: Rodd Keith: One Love
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And now, for something completely different: 


For today's second featured single, because this is the first week of Lent, I thought I'd turn to that old time religion, and a reminder that Rodd had a history working in the Gospel field as a young man. While the music on "Let Jesus Lead (He Satisfies)" is again fairly generic, Rodd offers up some truly sweet three part harmonies - I'm a sucker for those - which are quite consistent with traditional Gospel music

Download: Rodd Keith: Let Jesus Lead (He Satisfies)
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I can't drum up any enthusiasm for this record's flip side, "Faith and Prayers", whatsoever. Again we have a misleading length on the label, although in this case, the record is an excruciating extra minute longer than reported.

The backing here is almost ridiculously minimalist, little more than just a guitar and a bass, neither one of which makes it through the track without making mistakes. The words are heartfelt, in honor of soldiers overseas, living and dead, but neither the arrangement or Rodd's vocal draws my attention to those words or their meaning.

Download: Rodd Keith: Faith and Prayers
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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

A Missile Heading Straight to the Top of the Charts!


Here's a previously unknown song-poem label, Missile Records, clearly a branch of Sandy Stanton's Film City family of labels, as evidenced by the presence of late-era Film City mainstay Jimmy James (best experienced on "Free Love for Sale" and "Mini Girl Song", both of which can be heard here), and the identification of the Chamberlin backing as "The Swinging Strings".

And it's that Chamberlin backing that drew me back into the A-side of this record, after the first listening. One of my all time top 25 song poems is a record called "My Point of View", but Gus Hewstan (see below), which I shared on this site ages ago, in a post which contains dead links, due to the divshare collapse.

One of the many things I LOVE about the Gus Hewstan record is the backing setting that whoever played the Chamberlin chose for the track. And I'd never heard that particular setting before or, until this record, since. And then, here it was, on Jimmy James' performance of "What a Fool I Am".

It's not used to as great effect, but it's still an interesting, busy and even convoluted beat, although slowed down here from the other record. Jimmy James offers up a soulful vocal, duetting with himself here and there, and there is the usual film city/Chamberlin weirdness of sound to draw me in.

Download: Jimmy James with the Swinging Strings - What a Fool I Am
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On the flip side, double-tracked (and sometimes harmonizing) Jimmy informs us of the song-poet's amazing insight, that "Today Was Tomorrow Yesterday". And I'm a sucker for these mechanical sounding Film City products, so this one appeals to me, as well.

Download: Jimmy James with the Swinging Strings - Today Was Tomorrow Yesterday
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Since the original posting no longer works, here is the Gus Hewstan record I referred to above, in all its glory.

Download: Gus Hewstan with the Film City Orchestra - My Point of View
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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sammy Country


Today, a record which would have fooled me. If I didn't know Sammy Marshall's voice (disguised here as Sonny Marcell), and didn't know about song-poems, the first side of this record is competent and professional enough, including the lyrics and melody, that it would have convinced me it was a legitimate release aimed at the country market of the early or mid 1960's.

It's not that it's necessarily all that great, and it certainly doesn't have that special something that either makes a song-poem wonderfully weird or that makes a legit record sound like a hit, but that's actually sort of why it stands out to me. The lyrics all work, at a level rarely heard on a Globe company song-poem, and the performances all fit well. This sounds like a genuine (but failed) real label release. Does anyone else hear that?

Download: Sonny Marcell - It's For You That I Yearn
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I'm not sure what the story is on Modern Records. I was inclined to think that the songwriter here, A. C. Olsen, set up the label with the help of the Globe song-poem factory, but the only other documented release on the label was written by someone else. Perhaps a few friends in the Nashville area set up the company.

Whatever the story, nothing I said about the A-side applies to the B-Side, "Your Empty Arms". The opening guitar is slightly out of tune, the arrangement is bland, the lyrics are both clunky and they have been given melodic choices which play up that clunkiness, before those involved gave up completely and have Sammy/Sonny start talking the words.

But more than anything, there is an edit at the 1:16 point which is probably the worst edit I've ever heard on a song-poem record. It results in a measure with seven beats, and which clearly cuts from one take to a different one, one with a different production sound and which is in just a tiny bit lower key (maybe an eighth of a tone).

Given what it is that appeals to those who collect song-poems, I wouldn't be surprised if this half-assed side is the more popular of the two, among those listening to today's post.

Download: Sonny Marcell - Your Empty Arms
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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

It's Leap Year - The REST of the Story




Last week, I shared the story (well, speculated is a better term) of Tom Clare and his eponymously named record label, and offered up what may very well have been the first record on that label, all of which you can find here.  At the time, I commented that Mr. Clare seemed to have the traditional purpose of Leap Year wrong, in that it was not prime time for men to seek a mate. But I also indicated that there were reasons to think he knew full well of the tradition of women pursuing men during Leap Year (and specifically, on Leap Year Day).

That proof is here, on what may have been the second release on the Clare label (and for all we know, there may only have been two releases. This time, it's my beloved Cara Stewart, again with the supremely tasteful and lovely backing of Lee Hudson, singing "It's Leap Year (I'm Gonna Get My Man)". This record is beat to hell, but still quite enjoyable.

Download: Cara Stewart, Lee Hudson Orchestra: It's Leap Year (I'm Gonna Get My Man)
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As is often the case when I use a specially themed song for a special date or time of year, I've ended up featuring the lesser of two songs: The flip side of this record is where the real action is. I've always really enjoyed "I've Got an Answering Echo", and would have to say it's the best of the four songs I've heard which resulted from the Clare. It's not unusual, in terms of the Cara Stewart/Lee Hudson team, but it does display their best qualities, being an uncommonly pretty record, with a sweet backing track and a winning vocal. And again, please forgive the dreadful surface noise on what is a very beat up record.

Download: Cara Stewart, Lee Hudson Orchestra: I've Got an Answering Echo
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Monday, January 04, 2016

IT'S LEAP YEAR, MAN!!!


Today we salute Kansan Tom Clare, who felt the drive to create lyrics for songs (and perhaps the music, too -  who knows?), and had the wherewithal to form his own label and contract with one of the best song-poem factories to produce his songs.

Yes, he chose the Lee Hudson company, who assigned his stable's dependable male performer, Jeff Reynolds, to record what was perhaps the Clare Records label's first release, one which is particularly appropriate in this first week of 2016 - "It's Leap Year Man".

I love the sound of this record. It features perhaps the most lush, thick harmonies behind the lead vocal on any Hudson recording - that's an area in which he usually excelled, but he outdid himself here. The whole track has a wonderful, dreamy feeling to it. The only place it falls a bit is in the lyrics: For reasons which will become clear in another post, Mr. Clare was clearly aware of the Leap Year tradition that it is on Leap Year Day when the women can and should pursue the men. Yet, these lyrics are all about the male protagonist portraying Leap Year as a special time which will help him get the right girl. Huh?

Well, don't let that distract you. Just luxuriate in the wonderful sounds created by Lee Hudson and Jeff Reynolds:

Download: Jeff Reynolds - It's Leap Year Man
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To my ears, lightning did not strike twice, in any way, on Mr. Clare's second offering, "I Will Forgive, But I Can't Forget You", which sums up the focus of the lyrics in one clunky title. This seems to go on way too long, even at a brisk 114 seconds.

Download: Jeff Reynolds - I Will Forgive, But I Can't Forget You
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