Saturday, May 11, 2019

Wishful Thinking on Vietnam

I've commented on the Brosh label before. I've never seen a Brosh release which features material that wasn't either a vanity pressing, or clearly from another song-poem factory - it's quite possible that they didn't do anything "in-house" at all. Similar to Air Records (whose label Brosh sort of resembles), most Brosh releases, including today's EP features singers who are well known to have worked for other production houses, specifically, Bob Storm at Halmark, Sammy Marshall (credited here as Sonny Marcell) at Globe and Cara Stewart with Lee Hudson's operation.

In some cases, records of the same some have been found on the Brosh label and on whatever label the song was originally produced by, sometimes with the latter having noticeably better sound quality. Even when a non-song-poem song shows up on Brosh, there is typically some record of the same material showing up on a different label, as well, and as I mentioned, most of these look like vanity pressings. (I will mention that AS/PMA documents that Brosh released the same songs, with two different label numbers, featuring backing by Floyd Cramer and Chet Atkins, but even those songs are known to have been released by another label, as well.)

What a weird label. I sometimes wonder what the average record collector thinks of a Brosh or Air release, upon listening to the haphazard, clearly unrelated material on one of their EPs or singles.




Today's first offering is definitely one of those with abysmal enough sound that it seems to be mastered directly from another 45. Even the surface noise is noticeably different than that of the song which follows it moments later on the same side of the EP. That's too bad, because "How Many Have Kissed You" is a fairly peppy, countrified Sammy Marshall performance, with some effective guitar picking and a lilting melody. I'd like to hear this from a clean copy.

Download: Sammy Marshall - How Many Have Kissed You
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The title of this post, though, is in reference to song two, "A Cold and Stormy Night", which is by far the most interesting lyric and arrangement here. The song-poets wrote what could have been a fairly harrowing story of a soldier's experience in Vietnam. I say "could have been" because it doesn't really work. First, the lyrics are hackneyed and obvious - exactly what you'd expect the average person on the street to think a soldier's experiences and thoughts would be. Second, the big lyrical build-up ends with a piece of fiction that can best be labeled "wishful thinking", and ruins whatever emotional resonance the earlier lyrics had delivered.

But the biggest mistake here was when the lyricists sent their poetry to Lee Hudson, who set those words to one of his sultry, romantic, Les Paul-esque backings for the equally sultry, echoey and dreamy vocals of Cara Stewart. I can hardly think of a song-poem where the lyrics and the arrangement/singer/performance were more of a mis-match. See what you think:

Download: Cara Stewart: A Cold and Stormy Night
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~~

I don't have nearly as much to say about the tracks on the flip side of the EP. The oddly titled "Drop Me Love" is yet another unctuous performance by Bob Storm, over vapid music, as is so often found on Halmark releases. Come to think of it, Bob Storm and Halmark probably could have given a much more appropriate and performance to "A Cold and Stormy Night" than Lee Hudson and Cara Stewart. Not that I believe it would have been good, you understand, just better matched to the subject and material.

Download: Bob Storm - Drop Me Love
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We end up where we began, with Sammy "Sonny Marcell" Marshall, with another track with terrible sound quality, this time without much, musically speaking, to distinguish it. It's Sammy in sad-sack mode, which he inhabited far too often, as he warbles about being "On Your List of Broken Hearts".

Download: Sammy Marshall - On Your List of Broken Hearts
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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Leader Wanted!

Before I get to today's song-poem, I want to acknowledge this Friday which is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pete Seeger. I consider Pete to have possessed the greatest voice ever recorded, and I also consider him to be the most important American musician of the 20th Century, when one takes into account his musical, political and social endeavors as a whole. Yes, I can argue this point thoroughly, no, I'm not interested in doing so here. 

But I did want to acknowledge the date, and also add that, on my other blog, "inches-per-second", I have featured an impossibly rare live recording of Pete Seeger with the Weavers, from January of 1958


In these dark days for America, it's somewhat comforting to know that, just over 50 years ago, people felt that things were just about to come apart, just as much as many of us do today. I suspect that these days are even darker, but I was only eight in 1968, so perhaps I can't speak with authority.

My poet Mae Burdette had thoughts about just these issues in 1968, and sent them to Sterling records (the date can be fairly well nailed down by the label number, along with the known dates of other Sterling releases (although it's possible this comes from 1969 - the issues, of course, had not changed in the six month swing around which this record may have been made).

You'll notice that I didn't describe the writer of "Leader Wanted" as a "song-poet", but rather just as a "poet". As you'll soon here, for whatever reason, Lew Tobin (of Sterling Records) made no attempt to have Ms. Burdette's lyrics set to a tune, but rather, had Norm Burns recite them over a music bed. I guess it's possible the author asked for this - if not, I suspect Sterling would have had a complaint on their hands. But it's hard to say why - the lines rhyme and certainly would not have been beyond (or close to it) setting to music.

I guess we'll never know. And I'm not suggesting that the majority of this is anything more than boilerplate speechifying. And Norm's stilted reading doesn't help, either. But it is worth listening to, and reflecting on how much of this could be said (or sung) by someone today with barely a changed syllable.

Download: Norm Burns - Leader Wanted
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On the flip side, we're in supper-club territory, with Norm Burns (again) warbling "Moonlight On the Water" over a modified cha-cha beat. Like the flip side, this is almost three and a half minutes long, an eternity for a song-poem, extended here by a lengthy solo section.

Download: Norm Burns - Moonlight On the Water
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Finally, I wanted to share a link to Sammy Reed's page. He recently posted a couple of Halmark songs which use the same backing track as "Life is a Flame", which I (long ago) provided to the ASPMA's MP3 page, and which is a track on the first song poem record I ever owned, long before I knew what it was (like, 1975). In the previous post, Sammy posted an entire Hollywood Artists LP. You can find his site here.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Easter On Tin Pan Alley


Here, just in time for Easter, is a little proselytizing from our friends at Tin Pan Alley, headed up by the always casual sounding Mike Thomas, with a little number that functions as "The Gospel Stories Greatest Hits" in just 140 seconds. Presenting, "Jesus Christ, the Greatest Man".

Download: Mike Thomas - Jesus Christ, the Greatest Man
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For the flip side, here's a song-poem performance which has something interesting - there may be other song-poems which change musical styles mid-song, but I can't think of any right now. As you'll hear, this arrangement of "Gypsy Melody" makes a radical turn (well, as radical as one can make it, with a three piece combo of limited talent) about 40 seconds in.

Download: Mike Thomas - Gypsy Melody
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Friday, April 12, 2019

Hey! What's on the Flip Side?

Well, the final steps of replacing my car, an audit at work, followed by four days of off-site training have put me behind yet again. Hopefully, I can now post more regularly for a while....

I also wanted to chime in on a discussion which took place in the comments of a fairly recent post, asking about the number of records pressed up by any one of the various labels. I believe the number varied quite a bit between labels, and also within any one label. Somewhere, I have a copy of the sales pitch for one of the labels, and it made it fairly clear that you could pay for a variety of levels of product (demo, small band, full orchestra), for increasing amounts of money, and that you could also pay for a few records, a few dozen records, or several dozen records.

Many years ago, an eBay seller bought the contents of a warehouse of records, and for a while, he was listing, every single week, dozens of Rodd Keith Preview 45's. When a copy of one of them sold, he listed another and another. I believe he must have had 25-50 copies of some of these records, just from what he described in the eBay ads and what he told me when we corresponded, AND these were presumably copies which never went to the song-poet. Plus, there are certain records - mostly on Preview, in my experience - which show up again and again in auctions. Then again, I've rarely seen a copy of ANY Halmark release more than twice, and barely ever more than once.

~~~

Here's a keen thought I had: I've been fortunate enough to find copies of several of the records that those in the larger song-poem world released on compilations, during those days when compilations were released. Hell, I even supplied about a half-dozen of those which were released in one form or another, either on disc or on the two online comps that came out (not to mention having provided dozens of tracks for the old MP3 section of the ASP/MA, all of which were later posted to the WFMU blog.

So, I thought to myself, why not share some of the better numbers which appeared on the flip side of well-known (or semi-well know, as this is the song-poem world) song-poem records. So that's what I'm doing today.


I'll start with the flip side of one of my friend Stu's half-dozen favorite song-poems, Norm Burns' "Baby, Set Your Date on Time, which was on the third compilation and is available on Youtube. So here, in all its splendor, is the flip side, "Got No Tears to Spare". This, to my ears, is a nice, bouncy number, featuring the ubiquitous Sterling trebly guitar and a wonderful vocal from Norm, although they extended it a bit unconvincingly with a dull instrumental section. This side is also marred somewhat by a fairly severe scratch, which can be heard from time to time, and which really becomes prominent in the solo, and again in the final seconds.

Download: Norm Burns - Got No Tears to Spare
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An all time favorite of many song-poem aficionados is "I Can't Decide (If It's the Beatles, Elvis or Rick)". This Rod (Keith) Rogers masterwork is also readily available on Youtube and has been on multiple compilations, including one of the early song-poem collections and multiple unofficial Elvis-related compilations. 

While I love "I Can't Decide", I also believe that the flip side, "Unload the Shotgun", is equally ridiculous and nearly as fun. Here's Rod(d) in Western mode, complete with shotgun sound effects, and completely ineffective attempts to provide a country backing with the mechanized sounds of the Chamberlin. And it's always fun to hear Rodd trying to go for a Country vocal style - I usually read into it a level of contempt, or at least satire. 

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Finally, there is the absolutely lovely and quirkily off-kilter Preview 45 by Judy Layne, titled "Just Runnin' Wild", which can't be found online, but is featured on the wonderful Rodd Keith compilation "I Died Today", which I heartily suggest everyone find and purchase. As was sometimes the case with Preview releases, when a singer who only made a handful of tracks for the label was on one side, Rodd Keith ended up on the other, and such is the case here. He is heard with "The Raindrops", as he often was on peppy, sunny tracks. 

This flip side, "You Can't Fight It", is a bit off-kilter itself, with an awkward 6/8 beat and more country-tinged vocals (a previous owner even wrote "country" on the label, although he or she did not attempt to quantify the sound of "Just Runnin' Wild"). Those country vocals don't mesh well, to my ears, to the setting, particularly the sax fills, or the more pop-oriented lyrics. None of that makes it bad at all - the lyrics, by the fabulously named Rose Ann Gong, are quite nice - but it's a fairly weird record, one which sounds somewhat like aspects of the era's music and yet simultaneously not sounding like anything that would have been on the radio. 

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Yours Cruelly, Mrs. Suds

Well, I haven't been posting much, what with a quadrennial visit from the accreditors, and the unexpected need to replace my car as quickly as possible. Hasn't left much time to do a lot of other things. And there still isn't a lot of time now, so although I'd hoped to respond to a couple of questions today, that will have to wait until next time.

As a reward for your patience, I'm going to offer up a full song-poem album, one that is so new-to-me that I haven't actually had a chance to listen to it yet - in fact, if there are glitches here, please let me know, because I literally didn't have the time to listen to this while the file was being created, or to the file, once it was done.

With one exception.

I bought this album despite the facts that I 1.) have almost no patience for the output of the Columbine label, and 2.) very rarely find anything to enjoy in the work of Kay Weaver, who dominates this album. And the reason I did, as soon as I saw it on eBay, was the presence of the song title you see up there at the top of this post, "Yours Cruelly, Mrs. Suds". I HAD to hear what that was.

And so, here is it. It does not disappoint.The lyrics do not contain the title phrase, and are instead concerned with the narrator of the lyrics seeking a "1-1-8". My friend Stu found a reference to this phrase meaning "drunk", and that could certainly be the meaning here, judging from the remainder of the lyrics. Lee Scott, in her only vocal on the album, gives a full bodied reading of those lyrics. And oh, those lyrics. Someone is having an issue with alcohol, and it doesn't sound like the rest of his life (the lyricist is male) is going that well either. I'll let you experience the joys of this song for yourself - it's certainly one of the more esoteric song-poems I've heard in recent months. Or years. And that may well be my favorite song-poem title phrase ever.

Download: Lee Scott - Yours Cruelly, Mrs. Suds
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And now, for your edification and enjoyment, the entire album. "The Now Sounds of Today" (which is the name of virtually every Columbine album), edition CRH - 81:


Again, I have not listened to these, so you all are actually going to get the chance to enjoy this collection before I do. As was often the case, the good (?) folks at Columbine included two public domain songs that nearly everyone would know, in order to make this look like a legitimate release. Kay Weaver handles 16 of the 18 tracks, with Ralph Lowe and the aforementioned Lee Scott each handling one. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hero Worship


Hot off the mailman's truck, and to your ears this week, is a record I was lucky enough to obtain just this week, and for a bargain of a price, given its contents.

What we have here is a tribute worthy of a hero, to that then-hero of the gridiron, O. J. Simpson. And who gets to do the honor but the voice of the label, circa 1973-74 (when this record dates from), Gene Marshall. Writer Thomas Hunter doesn't actually have a lot to say about O.J. - if someone didn't know who the man was, or what he did for a living, nothing in this lyric would give even so much as a clue. The backing track is suitably funky, and the Preview arrangers do a good job of extending a fairly short lyric into a standard 2 1/2 minute pop song.

And of course, the lyricist was 100% correct that (in a very musical phrase indeed) "his popularity is never going down". Of course that's the case - have you seen him on those Naked Gun movies? The guy is a stitch.

Download: Gene Marshall: O. J. Simpson
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The flip side presents a few fascinating areas of inquiry. It's a peppy record, with a sinewy melody and understated backing.

Here's what fascinates me: It features a vocal performance credited to "Dean Curtis", who's shows up on well under a dozen known Preview 45's. Maybe I'm projecting more onto this than is there, but the lyrics, in which the writer "thought was Superfly", seem to come from a writer with an African-American viewpoint. Did Preview have a male Black singer? Dean Curtis's name might certainly have been interpreted as being from such a singer, whether they actually had one or not.

But I have a suspicion that this might actually be Rodd Keith. It's not clear to me if Keith was even at Preview by this point (the records with his name on them cease about 200 label numbers earlier. But boy, that vocal is full of things that sound like his inflections, and has the understated sound of some of the records he made for MSR near the end of his life. And the Dean Curtis records dry up by the time that Rodd died.

Or maybe it's more simple - maybe Rodd, having moved on to MSR, had to appear under a different pseudonym - I have no idea how any of that works.

Or maybe it's not Rodd, but just a guy named Dean Curtis, I'm wrong about the Black angle, and there was no effort to deceive anyone, for any reason. What the hell do I know?

Download: Dean Curtis - I Can't Get No Sweet Lovin'
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Monday, March 04, 2019

An Anti-Vietnam Song-Poem - On Halmark, of All Places

I tend to avoid featuring Halmark too often, usually only going to that well when I find something truly interesting in one way or another. There material is just too dreary and samey to feature more than a few times a year. 

This is one of those times. I've certainly found, over the years, that when song-poets delved into political or social issues, the vast majority of them landed on the conservative side of things - conservative religious themes, anti-drug, pro-flag, gung ho for the military and, when it was a going concern, the war in Vietnam, to name a few examples. There are certainly exceptions, as the entire albums of material praising Jimmy Carter demonstrate, but those are in the minority by a wide percentage. And if anything, those who sent their lyrics to Halmark were on the far end of the spectrum, particularly when it came to religion.

So it was a bit of a stunner to come across a song-poem taking the first person point of view against the war in Vietnam at all, let alone on Halmark. It's the last song on the EP, so let's struggle through the other three first, shall we?


At not coincidentally, we're religion heavy on much of the remainder of the disc. Starting off with a charming, not at all stultifying ditty all about "God's Mercy":

Download: Halmark Production: God's Mercy
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The singer there is most certainly label stalwart Jack Kim, and on the next record, which, if it can believed, is even more boring, Jack is joined by his wife Mary, as he so often was. The way Halmark had them each echo what the other had just sung drives me right up the wall. Please enjoy "Weak and Wise". I insist:

Download: Halmark Production: Weak and Wise
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At least those two songs were relatively brief - the A side times out at barely five minutes. The b-side's two song time out at well over seven minutes total. If learning about "God's Mercy" wasn't enough, now Jack and Mary will tell you all about "The Word of God", over one of Halmark's most particularly ponderous backing tracks.

Download: Halmark Production: The Word of God
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And finally, the track which makes the sharing of this record worthwhile. It's a story called "A Criminal in My Country", the saga of a young man who planned to be a teacher, but absconded to Canada to avoid serving in an unjust, immoral war, and now finds himself trapped there, despite the war having ended (although before too much longer, thanks to the aforementioned Jimmy Carter, he would have been able to return home).

At first, I just noticed the address listing for the song-poet, which as you can, is indeed from someone living in Canada at the time this lyric was submitted to Halmark, and I momentarily thought it was a first-person story. But no, the writer's name is that of a woman, and a quick web search finds there is still such a person living in Alberta to this day. Perhaps this is fiction, or perhaps she was telling the story of a loved one.

Anyway, this is no better, musically, than the other three numbers here, and a talking section in the middle, as heard here, is almost always a drag, to say nothing of the nearly four minute length. But the very existence of this record fascinates me.

Download: Halmark Production: A Criminal in My Country
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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Whiffing and Kissing

Okay, so here's a post I wrote and thought I'd posted, back on Tuesday. But I went to start the new post today, and found this one still sitting in draft. So here's last week's post, and a new one will come through early next week. 


Today's offering is "My Kiss is a Gift" by Gene Marshall. I find this record - or, more specifically, this lyric - downright peculiar. There isn't much to it, as you'll find after a quick listen. The track is fleshed out by repeating the two line chorus over and over again, and the verse lyrics are variations of the same ten words or so, rearranged a bit, each time. This alone is not all that unusual among song-poems, although it's interesting that Gene never actually sings the title of the song - the word "gift" isn't even in the lyric.

But it's that chorus that befuddles me: "To send you just a whiff, a kiss; to send you just a dearly kiss". What the HELL does that mean. Is there anyone out there that has, in describing a kiss, used the word "whiff". I actually find that distinctly unpleasant. And what is a "dearly kiss". If you have any great thoughts therein, by all means let me know.

Download: Gene Marshall - My Kiss is a Gift
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Actually, I was intrigued by this record, before hearing it, by the title of the flip side, "Possessed". And it's not bad - there's some good lyrics here, and Gene endows it with some really good emotion. The band arrangement has, to my ears, a touch of the Rodd Keith sound. If I hadn't heard 50 other midtempo Gene Marshall Preview sides that sounded pretty much just like this, I might find this more compelling. As it is, it's certainly decent enough, but doesn't really stand out.

Download: Gene Marshall - Possessed
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Saturday, February 09, 2019

Sandy Stanton's Gold Record

Certainly one of the dreams of many, and probably most recording acts is to be awarded a gold record, for sales of.... whatever a gold record symbolizes or symbolized at the time of its awarding (the standard is different for singles and albums, and has changed for each multiple times). 

As the owner of a song-poem label (well, a series of them), Sandy Stanton had no hope of achieving this accolade, and probably no interest in it, either. But still, he did occasionally press his records in a few different shades of the rainbow, and for one of his very few vocal performances on his own Film City label) (only two are documented at the song-poem database), he gave himself a gold-colored 45: 


This record is not documented at ASPMA. It comes from very late in the label's existence (the documented label numbers only reach about one hundred digits higher), and it is numbered after the last known Rod Rogers record for the label. That said, it clearly sounds to me like Rodd Keith on the Chamberlin, doing some wonderful work.

And the two songs, both written by the same song-poet, sound extremely similar - they are clearly based on the same Chamberlin settings, playing at the same tempo and nearly the same key. The main difference is that one song bops along breezily in under two minutes, and is bouncily enjoyable throughout, while the other seems cobbled together in places, and goes on for far too long.

The former - my preference of the two, is "What Is the Name of the Game?", and here it is!:

Download: Sandy Stanton with the "Swinging Strings" - What Is the Name of the Game?
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As mentioned, the flip side, "You're Haunting My Dreams" could be mistaken for the same track on its flip side, at first. But this track keeps going and going, far after its worn out its welcome. The words aren't as effective as the flip, either ("I stay here and you stay there - stay there"). Plus, am I the only one who hears a number of fairly poor edits in the Chamberlin track and maybe in the lead vocal track?

Download: Sandy Stanton with the "Swinging Strings" - You're Haunting My Dreams?
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Incidentally, an anonymous poster has recently offered up a few personal memories of Sandy Stanton, with more promised. This post was, in part, inspired by that person, and I thank him or her for the comments. You can find those on this post (which unfortunately, has broken sound file links).

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Two Very Different Sides of Phil Celia


Phil Celia was one of the good ones. Playing back the songs of his which I've posted here (and to WFMU) is one way of compiling a song-poem greatest hits collection. Just a review of those song titles brings a smile to my face: "Moaning and Groaning Twist", "A Fat Man in a Compact Car", "If Butch the Rough Barber Man Shaves Castro", "I'm Sorry I Put On Charlie's Shoes" (admittedly, most of these are in the dead zone of my site, where I still need to go back in and replace the files).

"Couldn't Be True is not, perhaps, at that level, but it's still a fun, night-clubby style record with a lounge-lizard lead vocal, and a fine addition to the Phil Celia collection.

Download: Phil Celia - Couldn't Be True
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Then, on the other hand, there is "She Kissed Me in a Dream", which is certainly the most ponderous, deadly track I remember hearing from dear ol' Phil. Rarely, apart from Halmark and Noval releases, has three minutes seemed to stretch out so long. (In fact, this sort of sounds like a Noval track to me.) And I'm a big fan of over-the-top echo when it's in the service of something raucous or ridiculous, but in this setting, he just sounds like he's singing in a sewer pipe, and the slow setting plays up some of his vocal limitations.

Download: Phil Celia - She Kissed Me in a Dream
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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Song Poems For the Cotillion



Today we have a single on the Preview label by Suzie Smith, who was also heard a few times in the duo "Suzie and Rodd", and all in all, on a dozen or so Preview releases from the mid 1960's. And Rodd Keith sounds like he's all over this one, too - both tracks, particularly the first one I'm sharing, have the unmistakable sound of Rodd. And what's more, they both sound - to my ears, at least - like something I'd expect to hear from a cool, laid back, but oh so chic combo at a fancy affair/coming out party/ cotillion, etc., particularly the second song I'll be sharing.

"Why Did We Meet Too Late?", I think, is the stronger of the two. I would bet a few nickels that the very direct and heartfelt (if also amateurish) lyrics came from the song-poet's own life. The smooth, soft pop backing has quite a few little things to recommend it, particularly the tasty little piano fills, and Suzie Smith's singing is engaging enough to make this listener (given that I am one who is not particularly drawn to most of the female song-poem singers - Cara Stewart being the exception) wish she was on a lot more Preview releases.

Download: Suzie Smith - Why Did We Meet Too Late?
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On the flip side, we have the extremely Country-Club-sounding "My Dreams". This one starts out strongly, an appealing waltz with a lilting melody introducing the verse, somewhat-more-than-usually effective lyrics, and another really nice vocal. But then it goes on. And on. And on. More of that lilting melody gives way to a lengthy (and boring) piano solo on the baritone keys, and by the time it's done, the solos have stretched for over a minute, and the record drags on for nearly four minutes total. A good edit would have helped this one a lot.

Download: Suzie Smith - My Dreams
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Friday, January 18, 2019

"I'll Be Her Man-Daddy"


For today's post, let's stumble our way back to circa 1962, and the early days in the career of the man known most often as Sammy Marshall, but here identified as his second most often used aka, Sonny Marcell, heard here with the most excellent backing of the crack back up band, The Teenettes.

This record is on the tiny "Dub Records" label of Nashville, and dates to a point before the Globe song-poem factory developed the bland sheen that infects most of their product from at least the late '60's on, making a good percentage of those records indistinguishable from each other.

In this case, the song "Next Thing to a Living Doll", despite it's incredibly clunky song title, bops right along, and is the sort of record that serves Sammy's talents well. I must admit, though, that I'm taken right out of the mood the song has set so nicely when the lyrics quoted above come out of his mouth: "I'll Be Her Man-Daddy". Oh, will you now!?

Download: Sonny Marcell and the Teenettes: Next Thing to a Living Doll
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The flip side of the single, "Idol of My Dreams" is such a smarmy teener that it fairly drips with Clearasil. A few of the lyrics are as weird, in their own way, as the one I quoted from "Living Doll". "Don't be like a graven image"??? Sheesh. I'll stick with Gene Pitney's absolutely wonderful record of "Mecca" if I want to go down the road of this particular metaphor.

Download: Sonny Marcell and the Teenettes: Idol of My Dreams
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Incidentally, for anyone who might be interested, there is a copy of this record that has been put up for auction, repeatedly, on eBay, and it is available right now.