Wednesday, March 22, 2023
It's So Easy To Be Breezy!
Saturday, March 11, 2023
Dora Foley Has Something to Say
Today, I have one of Rodd Keith's earliest song-poem releases, just the 41st (or so) entry on his first label, Film City (and, of course, not all of those 41 (or so) were even Rodd Keith records. That was what I initial found to be most interesting about this record. But once I listened closer to it, I found something else of even more interest.
For this record's lyricist, Dora Foley, clearly knew hew way around writing. The lyrics to "Don't Cry Too Loud" are an extremely effective character study AND a put down of a former lover. Now, I will add that I don't necessarily think that the words to "Don't Cry Too Loud" were all that great of a match for a musical backing. Consider this couplet, probably the one really ill conceived line in the piece:
You're so blasé now
with all your drinking
There's only so much that even Rodd Keith could do with that. And he did attach it to a pretty durn turgid setting (one thing the "strings" on this track are not doing is "swinging"). But as a piece of poetry and a put down, I quite enjoyed Ms. Foley's composition.
Download: Rod Rogers with the Swinging Strings - Don't Cry Too Loud
The flip side, also written by Ms. Foley, contains a lyric which is much more suited to a musical backing, at lteast to these ears. And again, I think this is a fairly good little set of lyrics. Fleshed out with a few more verses, I think one would be hard pressed to discern these words as being those of a song-poem submission, as opposed to those from a record meant to be plugged as a potential hit. Note that I'm speaking of the lyrics here, and not the fairly cookie-cutter (and mechanized) supper club backing that Rodd provided for it.
And hey, here's another one of those records which fades out, but then ends before the fade out is complete!
Download: Rod Rogers with the Swinging Strings - Mine to Forget
Sunday, February 26, 2023
More Old Time Religion
And this also gives me a chance to revisit, once again, song-poet extraordinaire Edith Hopkins. As I've written before, Edith Hopkins wrote several songs which appeared on the "Carellen" label, an outfit that appears to have provided vanity pressings and semi-legit releases for a number of songwriters and performers. But she then created her own label, "Inner-Glo", and utilized the folks at Globe and at Film City, as well as other performers, to perform her songs on that label.
I have heard from members of her family over the years, and they have confirmed my suspicion she was the composer of her songs; that is, that she wrote the words AND the music for the songs which carried her name, unlike a 100% song-poem where someone at the song-poem factory wrote the music. So her releases sort of cross the song-poem/vanity line, at least on those records where someone like Sammy Marshall (or, as he's identified here, Sonny Marcell) is performing her work. Other releases were likely attempts to market actual potential hit records.
For my money, Edith Hopkins was one of the best writers working within the environs of song-poems. Examples abound, but here are two: one from my site, and one which is available on YouTube. Oh, and there is the little matter about how she wrote my favorite record - by a country mile - that ever came out of anything even adjacent to the song-poem/vanity world. The first bridge of that record is quite likely my favorite 15 seconds ever record. Ever.
Today it's another religious song from the pen of Ms. Hopkins, appropriate, as it turns out, for the first week of Lent, I suppose, but that's a coincidence - the appeal to me here is the bouncy track and the engaging and warm vocals, not the lyrics (although they're quite effective, too). It's got the clunky title "Hurry Lord God, Reach Down For Me", and I'm guessing that no song-poem ever had more commas in a title. Something dreary could easily have been made out of this, and if so, I wouldn't be featuring it. But happily, it's a country pop groove, which becomes more and more gospelly as it goes along, what with the handclaps and the wailing soprano in the final minute. And, like so many of her songs, it's a capably written song, with effect lyrics and a really good melody (although I must admit that the words of the last verse, which touch on the crucifixion, sound more than a bit weird when combined with this peppy, upbeat music.
Download: Sonny Marcell - Hurry Lord God, Reach Down For Me
Well, they can't all be winners. On the flip side we find "Just a Whisper". Musically, this is professionally done, and Sammy Marshall rather gave anything less than his all. But aside from a few minor pleasures (I like the harmonies), it's a pretty dang dull effort.
By the way, for those who might be interested, this record is from 1962.
Download: Sonny Marcell - Just a Whisper
Monday, February 20, 2023
Norris Minus Norris
I am taking a bit of a road trip down what might be an off-ramp from the song-poem world today (or might not be). Because I can't confirm that today's offering is a song-poem. It probably isn't. But it's connected to that world.
And what's more important to me, in this case, is to further the sharing of the wild, wonderful, odd world of Norridge Mayhams (aka "Norris the Troubadour). I assure you, every time I get a chance to share something previously unknown that Norridge touched, I'm going to share it.
And the Co-Ed label of the 1940's was Norridge Mayhams' label. So, stepping away, possibly, from the song-poem realm into the vanity realm, here's today's offering, which I just took ownership of this week:
"Light Up" is the feature here, and it's a jazzy, big band thing with a instrumental dance run-through leading to a vocal refrain, then back to another instrumental passage, just like a good percentage of the records from this era (ads for this song - albeit with a different flip side - appeared in multiple issues of Billboard in 1944).
The vocal chorus is very likely the band members themselves, and they sing it in unison. It is, as you might imagine, a paean to the joys of smoking. The nature of the benefits of smoking listed here indicate to this listener that the songwriter did not have tobacco in mind.
The performers are The Ministers of Melody, who appeared on at least a few other Co-Ed releases, including one I featured before.
Download: The Ministers of Melody - Light Up
In fact, that aforementioned previous Co-Ed release I just mentioned, the one which also carried the name of The Ministers of Melody, contained the exact same song and performance (same label number, too) and that which appears on the flip side of this 78. This also happened with "Light Up", which showed up on the flip side of something called "Induction Blues" in a different release, and on the flip side of a version of "From Hopewell Junction", which is the song I shared in that other long ago post I just referred to.
Anyway, although I shared this once before, 14 years ago, here's "Married Man Blues". I think this record of it is actually in slightly better quality than the one I shared in 2009.
Trying to figure out the where's, what's and why's of Norris the Troubadours career and making sense of his label releases is quite a challenge. So what's the Norris connection here? Damned if I know - could be that he just knew whoever was behind this band, and it could be that he knew the composer (Lowe) of both songs, making it, as I posited, a vanity record. Could be none of the above. Just one more piece of the puzzle, which I'm happy to provide today.
Download: The Ministers of Melody - Married Man Blues
Sunday, February 12, 2023
Bobbin', Rockin' and Beboppin'
Before we get to today's feature, a bit of housekeeping. Regarding my last post, about Lt. Calley, I received a nice note back from Jason Brummer, of The Vietnam War Song Project, who offered up a correction. I had directed folks to see # 36 on that list, for a posting about the Gene Marshall record I was featuring. However, it turns out that the song-poet submitted both songs on that record twice, with the Calley song actually having different lyrics each time. The song I posted is on Jason's list, but it is at # 77.
Also, I encourage you to visit that same post, and read the comments from "Doctor Future", who linked to yet another Calley record (as well as to a song about sewers exploding).
Finally, Sammy Reed dropped by to explain that he has closed down his blogspot site, which I have linked to many times, and which is in my feebly small links box. He has opened a new site, and has promised to re-populate it with many of the records from the old site, but, sadly, none of the links in my previous posts will now work. I have changed the link in the links box to his current site, and encourage everyone to check it out!
And now, on with the countdown:
I think today's first tune is a lot of fun, and hope you do, too.
But first, to understand today's record, you must first be familiar with a 1920's hit song called "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along". It was a hit in 1926, and again in 1953. A knock of of the 1953 hit was produced for Little Golden Records, and that's the version I grew up being familiar with.
Well, in 1961, a song-poet decided to update the story, spelling the word "Robin" wrong in the process (unless that was the fault of the person who put the label together), and giving us "The Red Robbin Ain't Bobbin' No Mo'" And lucky us, it was assigned to Tin Pan Alley's Phil Celia, who made far more than his share of oddities during his time with the label.
For exactly 90 seconds, our song-poet friend lets us know that the robin (sorry, the robbin) has moved on from his "Bobbin'" style and has embraced both Rock and Roll and Bebop - a dual move into two styles which had absolutely nothing in common, and which seems highly unlikely. But maybe birds (sorry, birrds) are more flexible in their musical genres than humans.
Helpfully, the folks in the Tin Pan Alley band put together a backing track which contains no elements of Rock and Roll or Bebop. Or Bebbop
Download: Phil Celia: The Red Robbin Ain't Bobbin' No Mo'
Saturday, January 28, 2023
Oh, Good, ANOTHER Song Supporting Lt. William Calley
First up, I have a few links to share, courtesy of two frequent correspondents.
First, some of you may remember this posting of an ultra weird song called "My Doll Jane" from 2015. Well, ace collector and blogger Sammy Reed has discovered a remake of the song on the flipside in that posting. When I posted "Helen Goodnight", I commented that Gene Marshall makes a major melodic flub right at the point of the key change.
Well, whether due to that flub, or some other reason, song-poet Helen Clak (too bad it wasn't "Helen Back") commissioned a remake of her song several years later, near the end of Preview's existence. Whether this was because of Gene's flub or some other reason, I certainly don't know - it's the same song, though, same melody and everything. Sammy's posting can be found here.
And then, from the "I absolutely did not see that coming" file, I have an e-mail by ace song-poem detective Bruce Baryla. You might remember that he came up with the definitive answer to all those questions about Bob Storm some time ago. In this case, Bruce has discovered information about Rosalee Baker, who turned up on a single known Tin Pan Alley release, which I featured here. Well, Bruce has deduced, from a series of online sources, that Rosalee Baker was the first wife of the great guitarist (and early Tin Pan Alley sideman) Mickey Baker, and would have been his ex-wife by the time of her Tin Pan Alley. Among other sources, he has found her obituary here, and also sent me a quote from a 1957 edition of Jet Magazine:
Fascinating stuff, both of you. The song-poem world is a deeply mysterious and many layered thing, and I love finding out more information from its nooks and crannies.
And now, let's get back to the countdown:
As I may have written about. here or elsewhere, I spent a huge amount of my free time, in my early 20's, at the Northwestern University Music Library, painstakingly copying down the top 40 charts (and those which came before them, back to 1940), by hand, and at times, studying the rest of individual magazines as I paged through them. My friend Stu began accompanying me for a time, and I believe he was with me, when I saw a high entry on a 1971 chart called "The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley" by C Company featuring Terry Nelson. The song marched into the top 40 at # 37 in its second week, as I recall, stayed there, and then quickly fell off the chart, appearing for a total of four weeks..
I'd never heard of Calley, but Stu filled me in on Calley's atrocious, appalling and downright horrific acts in Vietnam and his wholly appropriate conviction. In an issue of Billboard from the month that the song hit, I found a front page article about the controversy surrounding the record. We wondered about the song itself, but being that it was 1982 or so, had no real way to access it without a LOT of searching.
Some years later, my friend Tom and I actually found a copy of the record amongst literally hundreds of records we'd bought, when we purchased a "dime bin" full of 45's from a local used record store for about $50 (we did that about five times - those were the days). Upon hearing the opening narration about how Calley pretended to be a soldier from early childhood, Tom was absolutely certain that it was either satire or that it was going to be an aggressive putdown of the man in question. Having already read about the song, I assured him that, as ham-fisted and misguided as it was, the tribute and support on the record were meant to be sincere.
You can read more about that record on this page of the Vietnam War Song Project, where there are 115 songs about My Lai and Lt. Calley listed, including today's feature. The hit song I've just mentioned is number 16 on that page's list, and it includes some of the comments from Billboard. My feature today can be found there, at number 36.
Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean.... Gene Marshall was drafted into service to provide today's offering, "The Ballad of Lt. William Calley", a record which seems to exist mostly to get people to listen to the record that they're presumably already listening to. Gene narrates about 90% of the record, rather than singing, and the song-poet expresses the interesting viewpoint that only God can judge people - no doubt he felt the same way about those protesters in Chicago in 1968 and others whose behavior he disagreed with. No doubt.
I really wish I could be in Gene Marshall's brain before, during and after the recording of this record. For a man who, by his own admission, let fly a string of obscenities after having to record a pro-Nixon record for Preview, I feel certain that he disagreed with every word he was singing... er, speaking, here.
Download: Gene Marshall - The Ballad of Lt. William Calley
For what it's worth, and I'm sure to the horror of those misguided enough to consider him a hero, Calley did eventually publicly apologize for his actions.
If anything, the flip side, by the same song-poet, is the more entertaining of the two songs, if only because it contains about as many poorly written and difficult to sing couplets as any song I've ever heard. It's called "America is My Country". I'd call it half-assed, but that would be an insult to asses. And what's more, it throws in yet another reference, almost at random, to Lt. Calley.
I'm particularly fond of this set of lines, which occur back to back:
"We've got a Lieutenant / he's a man who treats us fair /
Yes, Sir, I'm from Oklahoma / And America's My Country /
Oh, kind folks and teenagers....."
(note, the accent is on the second syllable of Country)
There's also this:
"I've joined the army now, boys, and I'm working for THE government."
Download: Gene Marshall - America is My Country
Thursday, January 19, 2023
A Major Find - Cara At 78!
I have a real find for everyone today!
But before I get to that, a frequent correspondent, who I've mentioned before, Tyler, has made a real find of his own. Everyone first click on this link and read about an odd record on Halmark, which I shared nearly a decade ago. It features a song written by Halmark head dude Ted Rosen on one side, and a rendition of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", listed under the wrong title and no writer credit on the flip side.
The songs were performed by Barry Craig, and I presented it as a real outlier, without any clear understanding of what its backstory might be - although it certainly isn't a song poem record by any definition.
Well, Tyler has found this article. It is a profile of Barry Craig from MUCH later in his career, and runs down the high points of that career, including the fact that he recorded his first release for Halmark back in 1968 - the very record I posted. My guess is that makes Craig's rendition of Ted Rosen's composition either an attempt by Halmark at an honest-to-goodness hit song (unlikely), or a vanity release for Mr. Craig, who was given the song by its author (more likely). The presence of a hit song on the flip side indicates to me that perhaps there was only one original composition available at that moment.
There could of course be another explanation, and I'd love to hear what people thing. Thank you SO much, Tyler.
As readers of my other blog may have read, I have been divesting myself of the vast majority of the 100-150 acetates that I've collected over the years, only keeping those that I really treasure, including my relatively few song-poem acetates. Some sell, some don't.
I thought I'd listened to, and listed, just about all of them, but over the weekend, I found a small stack of acetates stored quite a ways separate from where all the others had been. And that stack was full of several that I bought ages and ages ago, in a few different purchases, with considerable excitement, due to their apparent content. Somehow, upon receiving them, I put them away and forgot about them, which is really not like me. There must have been something else going on in my life at that moment. This literally may have been ten years ago!
Anyway, the most exciting of them, to me, upon finding them again a few days ago, were two 78 RPM acetates sung by Cara Stewart, on a previously unseen label - "A Lee Hudson Recording". Lee Hudson obviously produced hundreds of song-poems, and often his name is prominent on those records. But these are the first I've seen where the label name contains his name. Even his AS/PMA page doesn't have any indication of records released on an eponymous label.
What's more, one of the two songs is as winning a performance from Cara Stewart as you're likely to hear. The record looks like this.
Download: Cara Stewart - I Just Dropped In to Say "Hello"
These are obviously demos, what with just the piano and vocal, and also obviously acetates, as the auditory damage apparent on the flip side, "The Biggest Fool in Town" will make clear.
But this is the far less interesting of the two, to me, so at least the damaged side is the right one.
Oh, and this record came to me with a lead sheet for "The Biggest Fool in Town" which is reproduced below, as well.
Download: Cara Stewart - The Biggest Fool in Town
Tuesday, January 10, 2023
THE M.S.R. SWINGERS!!!
Friday, December 30, 2022
Frank Manell's Greatest Hit
When I first played this record, I knew I wanted to feature it very soon in a post, but I also thought it was one of the many cases where a song-poem company mislabeled the artist on a 45. Because the record shows the performer to be Frank Manell, and I was sure the singer of this song was a woman.
It wasn't until I listened to the flip side that I realized that Frank Manell was a male singer who possessed a very high tenor, sort of a song-poem Clyde McPhatter.
Not only that, but the song ("Diamonds and Rubies") is bouncy, energetic and winning all the way around, as is Mr. Manell's vocal. I find this record pretty irresistible. The TPA folks again demonstrate that, unlike many of the other companies, they were well aware of the styles and trends in music, and made their records sound like the hits of the day, the day in this case being 1957. The guitar during the bridge, in particular, sounds like it was lifted from any number of early Elvis records. The weird drop out just before the sax solo (which is part of the record, and not a error made in digitizing) is the only flaw here.
So who was Frank Manell? Danged if I know. He is only listed on the AS/PMA website on one record - this one - and Discogs has one more listing, for the release immediately before this one ("Having a Gay Time"). Then he disappears into whatever ether he arrived from. But he surely left us better than we were before he arrived, because this is a wonderful record.
Download: Frank Manell - Diamonds and Rubies
Sadly, I cannot work up any enthusiasm whatsoever for the flip side, "My Treasures", a dirge of an arrangement which buries any charms that might have been from the words or the vocal. The song is 30 seconds longer than "Diamonds and Rubies", and seems five times as long.
But I will say that Mr. Manell continues to impress with his vocal prowess, with the exception of a tendency to over-enunciate some words to the point of mispronunciation, much in the way Nat (King) Cole tended to do.
Download: Frank Manell - My Treasures
Saturday, December 24, 2022
Christmas Eve Dream
Merry Christmas, Everyone!
We're going to have a Bob Storm Christmas this year. And what's more, we have DUELING BOB STORMS.
As discussed in this post from about 16 months ago, intrepid Song-Poem detective Bruce Baryla got to the bottom of the two different sounding voices all attributed to one Bob Storm, on a number of Halmark (and related label) releases. There was a man with a typical baritone voice, perhaps truly named Bob Storm, and there was another man, who tended to go comically over-the-top in his delivery, named Marshall Young, who was also billed as Bob Storm, for unknown reasons. Read the post linked above if you'd like more information.
Anyway, BOTH of them show up on this record, which came out not on the Halmark label, but on the related Grand Recording Co. label, which tended to use the same singers and use and reuse the same backing tracks that Halmark employed.
That said, the first track, and the feature track for this post, actually seems to have a music bed specifically created for its lyric. Either that, or the folks at Grand chose, from their library, an unusually appropriate backing track. I've don't think I've heard this track before, although I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong. Given that it's a Christmas lyric, the opening musical quote from Silent Night fits it nicely (although I suppose that could have been spliced onto an existing track). I also think the words are sort of sweet, about children dreaming of Christmas morning and presents, and quite without some of the pretentiousness and over-seriousness that tend to weigh down so many Halmark compositions (ahem, the other three songs on the EP...).
The real Bob Storm sings here, and another sign that the backing track for "Christmas Eve Dream" might have been unfamiliar to him is that it sounds to me like Ol' Bob trips over the rhythm and melody a few times. That wouldn't have been the case with the dozen or more backing tracks he knew inside out, but maybe it would have happened in a one-and-done take over an unfamiliar track. Just speculatin'.
Also speculatin' that perhaps the lyricists name was Dick Tracy.
Download: No Artist Named - Christmas Eve Dream
That first song was Christian related only in that it mentions Christmas, although it does so without touching on any of the religious aspects thereof. The remaining songs are unabashedly Christian in nature, although none are Christmas-related. The real Bob Storm returns for "The Power of Prayer".
Download: No Artist Named - The Power of Prayer
The same singer - and an EXTREMELY familiar backing track, return for a song about "A Dream" about visiting heaven.
Download: No Artist Named - A Dream
And now, the moment that you fans of the Ridiculous Bob Storm have been waiting for. Your man shows up to sing the all-too-brief, uncatchily titled "Evening Visit to the Sacred Shrine", complete with everyone's favorite feature, the short spoken word portion. And like the previous song, it's paired with one of those moldy, deeply familiar Halmark backing tracks.
Download: No Artist Named - Evening Visit to the Sacred Shrine
Saturday, December 17, 2022
Re-Writing a Christmas Hit Song
I haven't posted in almost two weeks, and there's a reason for that. In fact, for those of you who don't read my other blog, I will explain here that I need to acknowledge my most important news of the year. This past Saturday, my wonderful daughter Molly got married to the equally wonderful Sean. Here they are, stepping out into a swarm of bubbles, just after the ceremony:
Sunday, December 04, 2022
HE'S GOING TO BUILD A MAN!!!
Before I get to today's seasonally appropriate offering, I wanted to offer a bit of housekeeping. First, I got a couple of responses to my "possibly missing link" post from last time around. Sammy Reed has identified that the pressing is from 1961, and Snoopy offered up a legitimate release from, perhaps, the same singer (see the comments of that post). I'm not sure that calls into question the provenance of the 45 as a song-poem or song-poem adjacent record or not, but I remain interested in what people think about my conjecture, and I welcome those two pieces of information.
I also want to thank both Timmy and Stu for their frequent, and typically very entertaining comments. Please know that I read and appreciate every single comment I receive, and please keep them coming. Apologies to anyone who commented recently who I may have missed, in offering these thanks.
Okay, so today, I thought I'd kick off the winter/Christmas festivities with a song about winter and a song about Christmas, the latter featuring an artist billing found nowhere else in song poem land (although I'm guessing I'll hear from someone - maybe several someones - that she is clearly <this or that> west coast song-poem stalwart).
We'll start with the better of the two, a little Gene Marshall special called "Mister Snowman". This one appears to date from 1967, based on the known dates related to similarly numbered Preview releases, but the production, instrumentation and poor production certainly sounds to me like the product that Preview put out in the early '70's. Just one of those song-poem mysteries.
The words are cutesy, but surprisingly effective, at least to me. And I genuinely find some of the melodic turns here to be extremely appealing, particularly what I would call the chorus - the section about him being "a temporary pal". That ran through my head for a few hours after I listened to this song for the first time. A silly little record, but enjoyable. I hope you agree.
Download: Gene Marshall - Mister Snowman
I cannot summon up any enthusiasm for the flip side, a bit of treacle called "Santa's Visit", except for the billing. The song is credited to a female singer billed as Terry Stilwell, who shows up nowhere else in the Preview (or in the AS/PMA) discography. I will (as I have before) readily admit that I am not a connoisseur of the women of either Preview or MSR, so maybe this is a commonly recognizable member of that cohort - Bobbi Blake, maybe? (I'm not aware of her working on Preview, or as early as 1967) - anyway, if so, I'm sure there will be several chime-ins. But even so, why the one-time moniker?
Download: Terry Stilwell - Santa's Visit
Finally, and most importantly, Cheers, Best Wishes and All My Love to my daughter Molly and her fiancé Sean, who will be getting married on December 10th.