Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One Year In!

Today, to celebrate the completion of one year of song-poem of the week posts (52 of 'em!), I'm going to do something a little different, and hope both that I will be forgiven a bit of self indulgence and also that readers of this blog will find today's extra tracks enjoyable.

On several occasions, I've been part of performances of song-poems. Mostly, these have taken part at music-and-comedy parties that my friends and I have been holding for 25 years now, but I've also done recordings of a couple of song poems in my "home studio". Today, the original versions of four of my favorite song poems, each followed by a performance of the same song that I've taken part in.

First up, the record that is quite possibly my very favorite from the extended song-poem world. I say "extended", because this is a Norridge Mayhams record in which he himself takes the lead. For that reason, this is probably more of a vanity record than a song-poem, although Mayhams was, of course, actively involved in the latter, as well. With my love of Calypso, Rhumba and other Latin rhythms from the middle of the 20th century, the lilt of this one was a natural for me to love. And Mayhams Vaudeville-type delivery gets to me, too.

This song was part of the AS/PMA download page, so I'm sure it circulates among collectors, but may be unheard by some readers. The sound quality is horrendous (the 45 copy I own appears to be a copy mastered directly from a 78), but it's one of the strangest, most amazing records I've ever been lucky enough to hear, and it's called "Mary Ann McCarthy (She Went Out to Dig Some Clams) (Yes She Went to All the Parties)".

Five years ago, at one our periodic parties, I recorded a backing track for a live performance of this song, played the lead part on the same keyboard, and two friends played guitar and uke in the live rendition that I sang. My flubbed lead keyboard playing, and the fact that we repeatedly played too loud to hear the backing track (getting woefully off beat with it at least three times), would both normally be considered significant flaws, but somehow, they seem just perfect for a performance of a song poem. I hope you find this as enjoyable as it was to take part in:

From the other side of the musical and song-poem world comes David Fox, and his arrangement and performance of the Caglar Juan Singletary's fascinating and indescribable "Non-Violent Taekwondo Troopers". Here's the original, another of my all time favorites:

And here, from the same party as that performance of "Mary Ann McCarthy", comes a rendition of "Non-Violent Taekwondo Troopers". A friend of mine and I worked out a backing track for the song, including a "cold" ending for the song (which faded on the original record). During the performance heard here, I played the lead keyboard parts over the backing track, and my friend - dressed as "Captain Bicycle" - sang the song with great verve and panache. Again, I hope this recording, with the audience comments and reactions, captures the energy of the moment:

If there is a competition for my favorite song-poem (with "Mary Ann McCarthy"), one of the few other records in the race is Norm Burns' exquisite early '60's-sounding gem "Darling, Don't Put Your Hands On Me". Everything about this record is perfect, from the overall sheen of the thing to Norm's expert reading of the lyrics to... well, I'll just say that on some days I think of this as being as good as any record ever made. This one also was on the AS/PMA website, so I'm certain it's well known in some circles, but perhaps others have not heard it. Here it is:

Now, from another one of our parties, here's my friend Stu and I, with Stu singing, on an almost impromptu version of the song. I say "almost", because we had discussed possibly performing the song, prior to the party, and I had worked out what keyboard settings to use in case we did it, but there was no rehearsal and no other preparation, which explains the many moments of poor keyboarding (a couple of flubbed moments have been edited out) and some of the alternate lyrics employed. The sparse applause indicates that this was at the tail end of the party, with most of the attendees and participants long gone.

Finally, the first Halmark record I ever heard, sent to me in trade from song-poem hero Phil Milstein way back in the late '90's, long before this song appeared on an online offering of one of the final "MSR Madness" compilations. I was immediately taken by this song, "My Hamburger Baby", and wrote, requesting an entire cassette of Halmark records, the next time we traded from our collections. It remains an all time favorite of mine, a completely ridiculous lyric married to an out of date backing track, sung with complete sincerity:

A few years ago, I set out to make a note-for-note remake of this record (or as close as possible - there are no backing vocals, for one thing). Obviously, this has all of the authenticity of a McDonald's Hamburger, due to the midi instrumental track, but I still think it was worth the effort. This will part of my self-produced CD "A Few More Plans", whenever I finish the final tracks for this ten-years-in-the-making epic.

I hope you found these cover versions (and, of course) the originals, and would welcome any feedback or other comments regarding what you thought of them. And I'm always open to any requests for more of a particular style or label. I tend to feature tracks that appeal to me, of course, but am quite willing to expand that to include requests.

A Happy New Year to all who have stopped by to read and enjoy! Much more to come!


Monday, December 21, 2009

A Few Christmas Favorites

Today, a couple of Santa songs. First up, here's one of the first song-poem 45's I ever found, probably around 1998 or so. It's Sammy Marshall, performing here as "Bob Rule" with the group The Rays. I do love the ridiculous lyrics to this one, particularly the inspired verse line: "Dancing, dancing, dancing, dancing". To be fair, there are other lines here which work really nicely, including "they condition for their mission, and especially "feel that rhythm and you're in there with 'em".

This is the only record in my collection on the Dial label, the same outfit which brought us the fascinatingly off kilter "Our Hearts Were Meant to Beat as One". In this case, much as I enjoy "The Santa Claus Polka", I do wonder if the songwriter was the least bit upset that it wasn't set to music which at least resembled a polka.

On the other hand, this is more enjoyable record, in my opinion, than anything on the Song-Poem Christmas CD that came out several years ago.

For completeness sake, here's the flip side of the record, "That's My Desire, Dear".

Along with one of my first acquisitions, here is the most recent addition to the collection, a nice Frank Perry vocal on "Santa's Making History" from the Film City label. I sure do love that Chamberlain sound. Or should I call it "New Sounds from Hollywood"?

And again, for those who like to have the complete set, here's the flip side, "His Love". This song threw me off the first time I heard it, with its lines about outer space mixing with religious thoughts throughout. The instrumental hook from the Chamberlain is especially nice here. Both of these songs come from the pen of song-poet Sandee Shoare. Come to think of it, I think I vacationed at Sandee Shoare once. Nice.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I don't know that I'll ever post entire albums here, but I have been working on a post to WFMU of a very nice Gene Marshall album. Time remains very tight at our home this week, and as a result, what I'm offering today is a teaser for a much bigger post which will show up around 11 CST tomorrow, 12/13/09 at , the "Here's Gene Marshall" album, on Preview.

*Update: The album is now posted, HERE

Here is my favorite track from the album, a quick little number which manages to recall (for me, anyway) both the patriotic tune "Over There" and Edith Piaf's "Milord". It's called "I'm On My Way to Success".

Monday, December 07, 2009

It's Norm Time!

Time is very short today, so I'm going to dispense with my usual wordiness and just introduce one of my favorite song-poem singers, Norm Burns, sounding even more than usual like an early '60's teen crooner, on "Baby, Give Me Some Lovin'":

And here he is, in supper club mode, with "Golden Moments":

Finally, I'd like to say Happy Birthday, Dad, wherever you are. We miss you. 12/7/21-5/3/96

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Norris Mayhams: The Early Years

Although I just featured a Norridge Mayhams single a few weeks ago, I'm returning to that well again today, because I've just obtained one of the earliest known Mayhams Co-Ed label singles. The AS/PMA site puts the date on this one at "1945?", and given the lyrics, it certainly seems to date from some time during WWII. It's also the second lowest number of the listed Co-Ed singles (most of which pre-date his Mayhams label records), meaning it is likely among his earliest self-released records. He made earlier records with the Blue Chips (and wondrous many of those are), but they were released on established labels.

I find the Mayhams story (what little I know of it) and his records endlessly fascinating. Today's feature carries the amazing name "The Hopewell Junction (To Wartime Function)" Those of you who have heard Mayhams later 78 - one with an far more amazing name - "Yamtang Yamtang Rankytang (No Meat Sweet Potato Swing", might notice a subtle similarity between the melody to the chorus and bridge of that record with the same sections of this record. For those of you not lucky enough to have heard "Yamtang...", here's a hint - the tunes to those sections of both songs are virtually identical. Please excuse the surface noise as you enjoy Carl Bostic and his Orchestra:

On the flip side is a real rarity on Mayhams' records - a song not written by the maestro himself. This song, "Married Man Blues", performed by "The Ministers of Melody", carries a writers credit to someone named "Lowe":

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Late One From Rodd

Today's offering appears to be among the final records made by Rodd Keith for Preview, at least based on the available evidence. As my friend Stu points out, the label number for this one is within 100 numbers of the highest one found in the song poem database.

And this is a pretty interesting one, at that, capturing in ballad style, the true story of a mining disaster. The details of this event can be found on this website, which (aside from being fairly difficult to read - at least on my browser) is quite fascinating.

Here's "The Explosion of Holden 22 Mine":

The B-Side, "Blue Baby" is more of a standard issue Rodd Keith record, although it's still fairly catchy, and features a soulful vocal, and a particularly great vocal finale.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What the Hell???

It's Tin Pan Alley Blowout Day here at the home of Song Poem of the Week, with six for the price of two. And the usual two are free!

Was there any other song-poem label which displayed more variety during its years of operation than Tin Pan Alley? From 1950's efforts in doo-wop, they moved into the sounds of the day, taking stabs at calypso, topical song, novelty pop, and 1960's pop, among many other genre's, and plenty of hard to define releases.

Beyond that, Tin Pan Alley records' lyrics can be among the weirdest I've found on song-poem records. Here, in chronological order, are three supremely odd releases. First up, an almost comical pairing of marital complaints, both from the pen of the perfectly named Larry Loco. First up, Billy Grey offers up Mr. Loco's views of Marriage, from the male perspective.

Then, on the flip side, Eleanor Shaw presents Larry's conception of the complaints of a woman, not only about her marraige, but about all men. The sound quality here is terrible, by the way, but the words more than make up for it.

Moving up several years now: Near the end of their days as a label, Tin Pan Alley stopped identifying the performers by name, and started slapping a couple of group names on their labels. The last four songs are by "New Image".

First up is "Pride", with the lyrics shoehorned - no, pistol-whipped - into a rockin' backing track. I've listened to this nearly a half-dozen times, and have no idea what the hell she's singing about.

No such problems with the flip side, "A Girl and a Guy in Love", the problems here, instead, being the sheer banality of the lyrics (have there ever been worse or more obvious rhymes than those featured in this record?), and the barely in tune vocal.

Leaving the best for last, here's one of the highest numbers I've ever seen on a TPA record - meaning it is among their last releases. Beyond that, it's easily one of the most unhinged things I've heard on a TPA record (on both sides) - in both cases, my first thought, again, was "what the hell???". But I think I'll let both sides speak for themselves. Here's "Fortune Teller":

And perhaps my favorite of the six, this little slice of Steppenwolf wannabe rock, "Lady Wildcat".

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Song For Jackie

It's EP day here! And what better kind of EP to share than a Halmark EP, or, in this case, a "Hallmark" EP. For their "Hallmark" releases, the label actually went so far as to bother to name the singers on the tracks, something they rarely did on the more common "Halmark" series. This EP is by Bob Storm.

As a special request to a blog correspondent, and in honor of the upcoming 46th anniversary of the death of JFK, here's a very vaguely written tribute to Jackie Kennedy, one which has always been a favorite of mine, "My Fair Lady".

It's worth noting that, like most of the Halmark records in circulation, this record came out some time in the 1970's, meaning that not only is it completely out of time with the pop music of the day, but that the song-poet waited about a decade to submit his Kennedy tribute to the song-poem mill, which would have meant that any audience the song might have had, had no doubt lost interest at least a half-dozen years earlier.

However, this is one Halmark (or Hallmark) record in which the song, as written, actually seems to go very well with the backing selected, rather than having been shoehorned in.

The second song on the EP was part of the AS/PMA download page for years, and no doubt circulates among collectors. However, it is one of the most amazing lyrics to be heard among song-poems, and an equally amazing match of lyric and singers (although it was written by a male, which surprises me), and perhaps there are those out there who have never heard it. Also, this version of the MP3 should be in significantly higher quality than the one which circulates. Perhaps one of you can make sense to the lyrics of "Let's Lay it On the Line".

Incidentally, if there's something any reader out there is looking for, or a genre, subject matter or label you'd like to see represented here, please don't hesitate to let me know, via a comment on this or any other posting.

Anyway, the songs on the flip side, "Michigan Baby" and "Ageless Love", don't hold the same fascination for me, but perhaps they will connect with you a bit more.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Songs They Play Are On Vellez!

From what was undoubtably a tiny label, Vellez, comes an irresistable bit of hillybilly rock song-poemetry. The label slogan - "The Songs They Play Are on Vellez" - seems exceptionally unlikely, as much as I wish it had been the case.

There's a lot to love in "I'd Be a Fool to Keep On Loving You", from the start stop arrangement, to Ray Phillips' vocal, to the sound of the band, to the name of the author, the fantastically named Jimmy Manship. This sounds a bit like something Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers might have done, if he'd been around in the '50's. I am particularly fond of the no-doubt unintended noise captured right at the end of the song, after the last drum beat.

The flip side, "Our Tomorrow Ended Today", has charms of its own. I noticed in passing that the sound of the band, particularly the pianist, reminded me of the record I recently posted by The Allison Sisters (on the Blue Hen Label). I was amazed, then, when I went to see if this record was listed at the American Song-Poem Archives, and found that the very next record released by Vellez, in sequence after this one, was by the Allison sisters! While that Blue Hen Allison record contained originals, the Vellez record by the Allisons contained what are likely song-poems, as one of them was written by - you guessed it - Jimmy Manship. I wonder if "Strong Chords of Love", on Blue Hen, was recorded at the same sessions as this record and the Allisons' Vellez single.

As a bonus, here's a link to my post today at WFMU's blog, which is of another, far more ridiculous song-poem.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Phil and Don Meet Jimmy and the Boys

Here's something a little different than what I usually post. I put this little mixture of sounds together late last month. It combines one of the best sounds of the '50's with one of the best sounds of the '70's. I called it "Wake Up Zeppo".

Lemme know what you think!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mayhams Mayhem

I first heard of song-poems (and heard my first one, "How Long Are You Staying"), when Dr. Demento mentioned the genre in 1993. By the time I got around to trying to order that first compilation album, it was out of print, but instead, I got the second volume (and first CD), "The Makers of Smooth Music". And my first favorite song-poem, by a wide margin, was "The Watusi Whing-Ding Girl".

The insane sound of the track - I had no idea it was a one-man band at the time - had me wondering "what the hell is going on here?" I loved the sound of the Chamberlain, the fact that the drumming was rarely in the same song as the rest of the performance, the melody of the thing, the soulful vocal (with its cracking on one note) and the insane solo section.

While I've never been lucky enough to find a copy of that 45, I have recently been lucky enough to find and purchase a close relative of the performance, and not only that, it overlaps with one of my favorite song-poem stories, that of Norridge Mayhams. For this is a Mayhams Collegiate record, credited to "Variety Joe", but clearly (on the A side anyway), Rodd Keith, in his Film City guise of one man band Rod Rogers.

And while this performance is not as off-the-deep-end winningly bizarre as "Watusi...", it's in the same ballpark. Rod has used some of the same backing settings, including that drumbeat, which for some odd reason, plays the fill every FIVE bars, and in the middle of a measure, at that. Not only that, the drums again get completely off the beat with the rest of the track, and the solo section is again messed up - I think there's an edit in there. And of course, there is the fact that we're being encouraged to do a dance step named "The Rattlesnakin' Mama". Everyone groove!

The other side seems to feature a different vocalist, one I'm not familiar with, although the backing track seems very likely to be another Rod Rogers' special. I love the deep vibrato on that one setting that recurs throughout.

While you're enjoying "You Left Me Honey Honey", particularly the distinctive yelp near the end, please also notice that the songwriter credits on the two sides are different, and yet each is a name used regularly by Norridge Mayhams. Also enjoy Mr. Mayhams' record label design, which is one of my favorites, one which is far better than most of the designs used by major labels over the years.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I sure love these 1950's Tin Pan Alley singles. There's apparently some overlap on the early TPA singles between legit releases, vanity pressings and song-poems, and to be honest, today's sample (at least the A-side) seems, to me, too professional and too conventionally "good" to be a song-poem. On the other hand, the '50's TPA records have a fairly high level of performance and production quality, even those which are likely or clearly song poems. And the flip side of this one certainly sounds like a song-poem to me.

So who knows? Regardless, I did want to share this one, "Daddy", by Alberta Jordan, because it's a really fun record, one which should be recalled fondly by people of a certain age, as a favorite big late '50's hit, but of course, that's not the case. I don't know why - who could resist that opening section. You know you're in for something fun. And I find the lead vocal irresistible - dig the sharp intake of breath at the one minute mark! The echo on the final verse is the only clue (to me) that something outside of the norm is going on here.


Side two, as mentioned above, sounds much more song-poemy to me, although I suppose one could also say it sounds like any number of pop hit b-sides from the same era. Here's Alberta Jordan, again, with "Should I Trust You With My Heart":

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Stranger

Here's a nice Rodd Keith number, set to a backing track I've heard on at least two of Rodd's other Preview singles. There's a lot to love here, from the opening moment, where you can here the intake of breath (I always like that on a record) to the way the writer shoehorns in a rhyme by mentioning the name of deputy, to the overall (fairly comical) concept of the citizens of a "town" the size of the one mentioned here, making the decision they make at the end of the song. I also tend to really enjoy the Rodd Keith records where he tries to sound like he's a country and western singer. Enjoy "The Stranger":

The flip-side, "Lonely Nights", is a pretty typical early period Preview record - actually, this one doesn't sound too much different from what I'd expect to hear on a failed (or minor hit) MOR record of the period, although there's something about Rodd's vocal (and those chirpy back-ups) which sets it apart just a bit from those major label releases:

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Never Like This!!!!

Frequent readers will know that I usually go on, often at length, about the songs I'm posting. Today, I think I'll skip most of that, and let you discover the wonders of this two sided smash for yourself. I will say that I suspect that, were there still song-poem compilations being made, the song "Never Like This" would be a shoo-in for inclusion.

Aside from that, it appears that Joseph Scott, Jr., the author of both these songs, had some major personal stories, if not out and out issues, that he wanted to express through song. Mike Thomas sings both songs for us, starting with "Never Like This":

And now, here's the almost equally fascinating flip side, "My Wife":

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Canary Record

I thought I might touch from time to time on the smaller labels that are represented in my collection. The Canary label is listed in the ASPMA website, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was more of a vanity project than a true song-poem outfit. It seems to have been largely set up to produce records of the compositions of Earl Miles, as well as a few other writers. In fact, at the time that ASPMA stopped being updated, the company remained in the hands of someone from the Miles family. Many of the records on Canary were performed by Durward Erwin, who has one of the more interesting names found on song-poem or vanity labels.

The production values are higher here, as I've found them to be on several smaller labels (as well as the labels that were subsidiaries of places such as the Globe family of labels), and as a result, the songs tend to sound more professional than much of what I've shared here. On the other hand, today's offerings fit well into that brand of early '60's pop music which was all over the MOR stations of the day, and your tolerance for that style will probably dictate your enjoyment of this record. Here's a song by another Canary author, Grace Tindell, "Capture It":

And here's a tune by the aforementioned Earl Miles, "A Girl Named Sorrow", sung again by the dulcet pipes of Durward Erwin:

Friday, September 25, 2009

MSR Song Poem Album Available Online

I wanted to alert anyone reading this blog to the fact that a previously largely unheard MSR album, from circa 1969, has been posted at the Houseplant Pictures Studio site. All the tracks - I think there are 18 of them, all of which feature either Dick Kent or Bobbi Blake - are available for download.

The home page for the site is at:

Click on the front page and you'll be taken to the song-poem album!

My Song-Poem of the week for this week will be posted tomorrow. It will be on a label and from a singer which have never been offered on this site before.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sammy At the World's Fair

Well, with the world about to find out if my (nearly) home town of Chicago is going to host an Olympics, I thought I'd offer a record which had its inspiration in the World's Fair, an event Chicago hosted twice in the last 120 years. I know that's a slim connection, but what the heck...

Judging from other records released on this vanity label (part of the Globe family of labels), this was probably inspired by the 1964 New York World's Fair.

It's standard issue Sammy Marshall, which can be enjoyable in small to moderate doses. Here's one side, "World Fair Sue":

This is also one of the few song-poem records to be issued with a picture sleeve, which I unfortunately do not own, but there's a copy of it here.

The other side has considerably more energy, and I'm guessing will be the more popular of the two. Here's "World's Fair Wiggle Walk":

Saturday, September 12, 2009

He's Got a Reputation!

Here's one I've loved from the first listen, at least a decade ago, and the only reason I hadn't shared it here is that I thought it had been part of the ASPMA downloads that used to be available. I now see that this wasn't the case.

It's called "I've Got a Reputation", by Jim Kent, on the Allstar label. I find this record both great as a slice of late 1950's rock and roll AND as a downright peculiar piece of vinyl. Really - what exactly is going on here? It sounds like it was recorded with microphones at the other end of the room, or perhaps, given the sonic quality, at the other end of a hallway.

I think maybe that's a very young Sammy Marshall singing (this record is from about 1958), under the name of Jim Kent, and photos of the two of them, from the ASPMA website, show some similarities, but I'm not sure.

The rockabilly tendencies of the guitarist don't exactly gel with the lead singer's smooth, crooning style, and the understated drumming, while fairly wonderful in its own way (I think there's a cymbal in there, but if there is, it's soft enough to get lost in the surface noise!), strikes me as sounding like its part of another record entirely. Then there's the female vocalist, who must have just stood around, after her opening comment, for the point at which the song was almost finished.

Be sure to listen for the last drum hit, after the rest of the song seems to have faded out.

The Allstar label appears to have been almost as fascinating as the Fable label. You can read much more about it, AND see a picture of both the performer and author of this song, here.

The flip side, "You Should Have Stayed With Me", sports the sort of title I'd expect from a Laura Branigan or a Celine Dion, but it turns out to be s fairly bland supper-club type performance. The entire band, except for the guitarist, seems a little too subdued, with the drummer's performance being almost non-existent!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Here's a Fun One!

Today we have Rodd Keith, showing off his ability to make a classic mid 1960's pop confection, with a song called "Reseda". At least, that's what I hear bubbling under this kitchen sink production. My perception is that Rodd was having more than a bit of fun with this one, overdoing just about every aspect of it.

The high pitched melody running in the background reminds me a bit of the whistling in "Winchester Cathedral", but tweaked just enough to be even sillier than that song. Then there's the percussion (there aren't really drums, but the beat is being made by something very clattery).

Top all that off with an over-the-top vocal, which I love, but which is completely ridiculous at the same time. I think this one is compilation worthy for sure!

On the flip is a sweet waltz, handled more or less straight, although Rodd's vocal stylings, again, set this apart from what was being released by the "real" labels at the time. There's a spark of something really good on both of these sides, and I think something legit could have been made out of either of these, with a lot of tweaking (for example, no pop song needs to have the phrase "in the interim" as part of its lyric.

Please enjoy "My Lovely Star":

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Reason I Search For Halmark Records

The "Car Crash" element to song-poems is one that is hit or miss for me. That very aspect which brings some people to the song-poem table doesn't interest me, at least as often as it does.

A big exception is Halmark records, which are so completely removed from anything remotely resembling what was actually going on in music at the time (the mid 1970's) as to be completely mind boggling. At yet still, most Halmark records are a slog, for much the same reason.

Then along comes a record like "Ten Miles From the Rockies", with its match of truly ridiculous lyrics, a setting of those lyrics which was never going to work (listen to the way the lyrics are shoe-horned in at times), and the downright bizarre choice to have the singer insert a "doo-doo-doo" verse in the middle of a lyric portraying a man who was clearly in no mood (or condition) to sing a "doo-doo-doo" verse.

With that said, I'll let you discover the specific peculiarities of this record for yourself. Enjoy!

For the completests out there, here is the flip side, "Looking Glass":

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Allison Sisters

For quite some time now, I've been wondering when it was going to be that I would hear the next record that made me stop and say "I need to hear that three more times right now". It's been an unusually long wait, probably since around May, when my friend Stu sent me a link to the incomprehensibly wonderful "I Like God's Style" by Isabel Baker (which everyone should seek out, by the way). But the joys of listening to that one had faded into the background some time ago.

As usual, this wait for the next big thing ended with no warning, in this case, late last week. That's when I went to play a stack of 45's I'd had sitting around for months, waiting for the chance to dig in to them. Right on top was a 45 on the Blue Hen label. I probably bought it based solely on the look of the label, which screamed out "this might not be good, but it's bound to be unique and probably interesting".

Well, it's better than I could have imagined. There is not a second of this record that I don't adore. In gorgeous, and appropriately ragged and imperfect three part harmonies, The Allison Sisters sing some of the best lyrics about new, overpowering love that I've ever heard.

Then comes the solo section, featuring a rollicking piano which ends it's featured turn with a neat little climbing riff, made all the more indelible in that it's not quite played right, followed by a neat little trebly country guitar thing.

The chorus, sung twice, is what really sealed the deal, with words that cut right through me:

"Icy cold water can't put out the fire
The rain and the storm only add to the flame"

Well that's nice, and a great way with lyrics, but then there's this:

"Being together the one desire
There's magic in speaking your name"

What a great chorus. The last line just did me in - "there's magic in speaking your name" - like most other people, I'm sure, I've felt just that way a few times in my life, in both shared and unrequited situations, and I was just stopped short by the words of those last two lines. Of course, they only worked because the tune, arrangement and vocals are just as magical as those lyrics.

I saw with amazement that this was intended as the B-Side. Not to take away from the A-side, which is quite good enough in it's own right, but the underside is clearly the better of the two.

Here's the A-side, with the Allison Sisters seemingly taking some of the same biblical lyrics that Pete Seeger would later mine (okay, probably not), and going into a different, more secular direction with the ensuing lyrics. Again, there are some great three part harmonies here, and a neat solo turn from that trebly guitar.

There is a lovely, unbeatable homemade feeling to this whole record. I can picture the sisters, who seem to be smiling broadly while singing, and I feel the affection between them, and likely between everyone who is heard on this record. This is music making at its most sublime.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

High Brow Baby

In order to get back on schedule, after not posting a song-poem of the week last week, I'm posting my second set of song-poems for this week!

Today, more from one of my favorite labels, Sterling. The first song is "High Brow Baby", and it features much of what I like about Sterling records - first and foremost, a vocal by Norm Burns, that crisp lead guitar, and a groovy beat.

Like most Sterling records of this vintage, label honcho Lew Tobin took a co-writing credit, which was fairly unusual in the song-poem world. Even though a label staff would, in most cases, write all the music for the poems, usually only the song-poet got the credit. Assuming it was Lew that wrote all of these tunes, I will admit to much admiration for him - songs such as "Darling Don't Put Your Hands On Me", "Whirl Whirl Whirl" and "Stay Where You Are", are great not only for their unique words, but also due to the first rate musical side of the song-writing.

I bring Lew Tobin up both because I think he deserves the recognition, and also because of a response I received to a recent post where I mentioned him in passing. A reader named David contacted me via this blog and told me that Lew Tobin was his grandfather, and went on to ask a question. Unfortunately, the link on his name did not go to an e-mail address, so in writing this post, I'm asking David to write me again, and provide an e-mail address. You can either comment here or write me at

In the meantime, here's Norm Burns with "High Brow Baby":

The flip side is a fairly sappy little thing entitled "Melancholy Me", and it's a bit beat up - I've done my best to minimize the surface noise, but can't do anything about the quality of the song or the performance, which has little of the verve of the flip side, although I do kind of like the ridiculous section where the backing singers sing the title section in harmony:

Monday, August 17, 2009

An Unusual One

When I started listening to today's featured track for the first time, a few weeks ago, I had to start it over again to make sure I'd actually heard the lyrics right.

Because this one goes into a new category, at least among song-poems that I've heard. There are a few cases I'm aware of in which a friend of mine - a song-poem collector of some reknown - has deliberately submitted lyrics of someone else's song, in some cases a famous song by a famous performer, to the current song-poem companies to see what they would do.

But this is different. What we have here is someone who took an existing song, used the key lyrics from the chorus and a few of the other lyrics, as well as a specific detail from the existing song, added new lyrics, and submitted the whole creation as her own.

"Nobody's Child" would not have been a terribly famous piece in the 70's (when this was likely released), but would have been known by country fans, due to a version by Hank Snow, or Beatles obsessives, due to a fairly different version done by the fabs in Hamburg, before their fame.

Olive M. Peterson took the haunting first two lines of the chorus:

"I'm nobody's child, I'm nobody's child
Just like a flower, I'm growing wild"

She adjusted those lines a bit, took a few other lines and rearranged them as well, and threw in a key aspect of the original song, that the orphan in question is blind, then built a lyric around it, which Gene Marshall sang for her and for posterity.

Again, I'm not sure I've seen this particular conceit among song-poem records, prior to this find. Please enjoy Gene's touching rendition.

Here's Gene singing the flip side, "Come Walk With Me":