Tuesday, July 05, 2005


For the first time in this forum, but certainly not the last: Today's item cannot be bought anywhere, and never could. In this case, it's even possible (though perhaps not all that likely) that I have the only original recordings of this song that exist.

I have bought hundreds of home recorded reel to reel tapes over the years, containing every manner of recorded material - albums of classical, pop, country, MOR, jazz, etc., radio and TV broadcasts, college lectures, commercial demos, even studio rehearsal tapes. Then there are a whole bunch of family and personal recordings, generally my favorite type of material to find on a reel of tape.

And a bunch of tapes I found just over a decade ago form, as a group, my favorite batch of home recorded reels in my collection. I guess I'd call them "The Moreland Tapes". There is one song from this batch of tapes already out there on the web, along with a more detailed description of these tapes, and that description, and the song "Reputation" (in two versions) can be found about 4/5ths of the way down the following page:


Today's song is also from this batch of tapes, and carries the unlikely title of "Head Cheese". It's available at the gmail site linked to the left and above. In fact, it was the words "Head Cheese", written on one of these boxes which caught my eye, during the sale at which I purchased these tapes. "What the Hell...." I think was a good approximation of my thoughts, at that moment.

The brief version of the story of these tapes is that there were apparently a group of friends, most of them not professional musicians, who gathered together (perhaps much like my musical friends and I gather together from time to time), to make music, write, perform and/or record songs, between the early '50's and the early '60's. Whether these were just for personal enjoyment, or designed as demos for some (probably) failed attempt at selling their efforts, I don't know, but at least a half dozen people sing lead on the songs heard on these tapes, with varying styles of musical backing.

The contents of the tapes (and there are about 6-8 of them) are, for the most part, very well documented on the tape boxes, and some songs are heard several times, while others are performed only once or twice.

My favorite songs in this set of recordings are those sung in whole or in part by a young woman who was apparently the daughter (or at least a relative) of the one man in the group who was clearly a professional musician (others may have been, but I only know for sure that this one - Don Moreland - was). Her name was Marigail Moreland, and she sings a couple of songs, including "Reputation" and "Head Cheese", along with the adult musicians.

While "Reputation" is simply a stellar song, fantastically arranged and unique in performance, "Head Cheese" is altogether goofy, maybe even stupid, a child's song in writing level and performance, rescued from the the doldrums of musical hell suggested by those terrifying words by the sheer exuberance of the lead singer, and the good fun that everyone involved seems to be having.

I'd never say this is a great recording (there are several better, I suppose, even amongst these "Moreland" tapes), but it's a damn good time, and as with everything from these relaxed, friendly sessions, the love and enjoyment between participants comes through. And I just adore the singing of this young woman, who I know nothing about, except her name, and that (per the web) someone with the exact same, rather odd name, once worked on a 1960's Z-Movie, one which went on to be featured on MST3K. I'd certainly love to know where life took her.

As I wrote in the title of this post, this is REALLY cheesy stuff, with lyrical phrases that were probably cliches by the time the song was recorded - February 6, 1954, according to the tape box - and a really corny conclusion to the song, and yet the song still runs around in my head from time to time, 10 years or more after I first heard it.


Michael said...

February 1954! The field was wide open for a new kind of music! And why not Head Cheese? How were they to know that on the horizon, in just a few months, young Elvis Aaron Presley would record "That's All Right Mama" and a year later Chuck Berry would record "Maybelline" and nothing would ever be the same again? "Head Cheese" could have fit right in with "Transfusion"! hahaha.

Thanks, Bob! These are all great!

Stuart Shea said...

I always have loved the Moreland family stuff you've played. "Headcheese" is great..."Reputation" is probably my favorite. Maybe you could put "Backfire" up there, too. A great one.

Mat Hoffman said...

Any idea where Merigail went to college? I know Wisconsin but since I am near the area I wondered if you knew the exact school?