Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Gall of a Song-Poem Label

If you're at all familiar with the world of song-poems and the people who made (and make) them, you know that it, and they, exist for little more than one reason - that being: to separate people from their money, often through barely legal methods, which often cross a line into a rather elaborate scam.

That's not to say that there weren't people in the business who chose to try and do something original, or which reflected the actual talent of the musicians involved (and, when it occured, the actual talent of the lyric writers). Certainly, men like Rodd Keith, Norm Burns and Lee Hudson, among many others, made it clear by many of their arrangements and performances that they were, at least at times, trying to do something decent, even good.

However, the underlying money-making remained the reason for the business, and a few labels, notably Preview, MSR and Halmark, were not opposed to using the same backing tracks, slightly altered (or not altered at all), for multiple releases. But today's example may be unique - I'm certainly unaware of any other song-poem 45 or EP which makes the scam quite as clear as this one does.

Imagine if you will, that you are the writer of the lyrics of Rodd Keith's release, "Playboy's Paradise", an indictment of a certain type of lifestyle. You receive the 100 or 200 copies of the record, as paid for and promised, and listen to the music that Preview records has built around your record, featuring the country stylings of Mr. Keith. It sounds like this:

You, the writer, are very happy with the product, play it for your family and everyone you know, and give out the copies you've received to your friends. The folks at Preview recorded a track, based on your lyrics and your request for a country setting, and made a unique record from your poem.

One day, you think, "Hey, I wonder what the song on the other side of the label sounds like". Flipping the 45 over, you see that it's called "Take Two Lips", and you plop it on the turntable. Being, by this point, quite familiar with "Playboy's Paradise", from the A side, you immediately notice that the "Take Two Lips" is set to THE EXACT SAME BACKING TRACK as your song.

I wonder how that would feel.....

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Today's song-poem offerings come from two labels which are not featured as often as others, when song-poems are a compiled, shared or discussed. In the case of both these labels, it appears they released song-poems, legit singles and vanity recordings. I am sure today's first offering is a song poem, and am not quite as sure to which world the second one begins.

First is a record on the Tin Pan Alley label. Tin Pan Alley dated back earlier than most of the song-poem labels which get more attention, and released enough legit or borderline legit records to have been the subject of an anthology of their "best doo-wop records", although whether that CD is, itself, legit, is anyone's guess. They soon moved into the song-poem game full time, and produced some of the weirdest records I've heard from the genre, including "It's Spring", which I recently featured here. Today's featured record comes from the earlier years of the label, however.

And this one seems made just for me, as it combines the song-poem concept with perhaps my favorite genre of music, Calypso. Phil Celia, previously heard on this site performing the classic "Atom Dynomic Dance", here tries his hand at "If Mama's and Papa's Would Stay At Home". Views reflected in this song-poem do not necessarily reflect those of the management:

Next up is a favorite from the Fable label. This label seems to have been all over the map. I have vanity pressings, novelty records, and song-poems on Fable, and I've seen early rock and roll and doo-wop from the label go for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Whether today's feature was an attempt at an actual country hit or a song-poem is a mystery to me. It does feature label head Sandy Stanton doing the music, but so do some of the label's legit releases. Whatever it is, you're not likely to hear anything else quite like it today. Enjoy Little Donnie Lane with "Go Away":

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Pause That Refreshes

Please excuse the interruption to this music blog.

It has become necessary to reboot the system titled "United States of America".

The problem has been present at length and has become chronic. It appears to date back to the instillation of defective software eight years ago. That this software was likely invalid was known at the time, but it was installed anyway, and the result has been a system rendered almost unusable, due to erratic behavior, unpredictable actions, and on several occasions, illegal operations.

An uninstall, attempted four years ago, failed, but it is hoped that today's reboot will be successful, and that the system has not already been permanently corrupted.

Here's hoping.

And now, back to our program.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Toby Deane

As promised in a previous post, today I'm writing a tribute to a woman whose name I'd never heard six months ago, but whose records I've been collecting ever since finding out who she was, back around August.

It was some time last year, I think, that I posted a recording of an obscure 78 that I've loved since childhood, a version of The Three Little Pigs, which I only had on a reel to reel tape. I have long been head over heels in love with the singer on that 78. When I asked the readers of this blog who the singer might be, I got no answers, so I turned to the readers of the WFMU blog.

I was quickly informed to seek out an online children's record expert, who just as quickly told me that the woman's name was Toby Deane. After further contact with Irwan Chusid of WFMU, I learned that she had died earlier this decade, and that she had made at least one other amazing record, "Alice in Christmas Wonderland", which I shared a few weeks ago.

This set me off searching for more Toby Deane records. I immediately found out that another of my childhood 78's, one greatly loved by my mother and sister, of the story of Peter Pan, also featured Toby Deane, and then I started buying records.

Just recently, after I wrote about her, a fellow named Thomas contacted me, and has sent me a photo of Toby Deane, with Benny Goodman, which appears above. Many thanks to him.

The following is the story in sound. While I think most of these are great, I will also admit that not all of these are good - in fact, I'd say a couple of them are downright bland, and one really grates on me. But I'll get to that, later. First, the record I grew up with, which I've always adored. Even if you've heard this before, when I've posted it, have a listen - I've found a 10" 78 of the record, which not only doesn't stop in the middle, but also is in MUCH better shape. Toby Deane, with Bob Mallit, sing about The Three Little Pigs:

Next, although I just posted it a few weeks ago, for the sake of completeness, here is Toby Deane and the Hummingbirds, with "Alice in Christmas Wonderland":

Here's a remarkable record, which I mentioned above. Victor Jory narrates the story of Peter Pan, while Toby Deane performs as both Peter and Wendy, using completely different voices for each. This is a fairly scratchy, much loved record:

For a change of pace, here she is, singing a major hit from the early 1950's, on one of those budget label EP 78's which contained the hits of the day, sung by people no one had heard of, in this case, a fairly complete reworking of Rosemary Clooney's Come On-a My House. I would assume that this was her "normal" singing voice:

Moving into a somewhat less-than-great category, here's a Toby Deane record from a little 7" picture disc from the Voco label (the same label which supplied the first three tracks posted above). "'Round and Round the Village" is no great shakes, but there remains something quite magical about her voice, which gives this record a sweetness and pull on me that most other vocalists would have been unable to provide with such material:

Another record which might be consider more than a little cloying is "Jingle Dingle", another 7" 78, in this case on both sides of the record. There are moments here, again, where Toby Deane's vocal magic lifts this above the mundane material. She's actually credited as "Toby Dean" on this record:

Moving another step down, the following track, "Songs of the Farm", is the B-Side of "The Three Little Pigs". It's really nothing special, except again, the voice draws me in here and there:

Next up is a track from an apparently much beloved 1950's children's Christmas album, "Christmas is For Children". Toby Deane is credited on the cover, and this is the only track where it sounds remotely like she might be involved. Curiously, this is a much sought-out track among those of a certain age - repeatedly asked for and posted on blogs, and the album sells for many dollars on eBay.

I say "curiously" because, to be honest, I found the album wholly wretched, and the best things I can say about this track is that it isn't as bad as most of the others, and more than that, that it plays up her strengths as a voice actress - in this case, portraying a boy of about eight, yet another characterization! It's called "I've Got 18 Cents":

Finally, a change of pace. A decade or more after all of these records were made, Toby Deane took part in a sort of "answer record" to the massive hit album "The First Family". This was called "The Other Family", and she appeared on about half the tracks, playing Mrs. Kruschev to Larry Foster's Nikita. While I didn't find this album funny, perhaps you hadda be there, and it's worth hearing her do a version of the original "First Family" album's Jackie, reimagined as a Russian Woman. This is called "Another Saturday Night":

And here is a picture and some text about Toby Deane, from the back of that album:

I sure wish I'd known of Toby Deane and her work earlier. I'd have loved to be able to contact her, as I have with some of the other wonderful singers I've been able to reach via my posts - I'd like nothing more than to tell her home amazing and wonderful I think her work is. Anyone having more knowledge of and/or recordings by Toby Deane is welcome to contact me either by posting to this blog or by writing me at or

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gene Marshall Meets the Big Beatle

Hot off the Preview Label presses came this song-poem tribute to... well, one of the Beatles. Which that might have been is anyone's guess, since the lyrics are so generic as to not give the slightest clue. The title, "Big Beatle" doesn't give much away, either.

Also worth noting is that this record, with its references to hairdos and "yeah yeah yeah's", was recorded and released around the time of "Magical Mystery Tour" and the "Hello Goodbye" single, in the winter of 1967-68.

As a bonus, here's a unique track by Rodd Keith, unique in that it's the only time I know of (or that I can find referred to) that he recorded as "Rodney Rivers". This is clearly a Film City Label production, but instead of coming out on that label, this one is the only one thus far found on the Starlet label. Please enjoy "This Old World":

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Three Song-Poems For the Price of One

I've received a few requests to make this a more frequent feature. While I don't think I can post often enough to make that happen, I can try to share more than one at a time, on some occasions. Today, for the second installment of "Song Poem of the Week", I have three prize items from my collection. As with all tracks on this blog, songs can be played by clicking the play button, or saved as an MP3 by clicking on the far right of the playback bar.

First up is a treat from "The Real Pros", the only artists that I know of to ever appear on the Cinema label. "The Real Pros" were whoever happened to be present, from the Hollywood talentpool (and hack-pool) at a given session. I'm partial to two low-number (ie) early Pros 45's that I own, one an EP, one a single. The single contains one of my top five song-poems, "I'm Having My First Heartbreak", which was at the MP3 page of AS/PMA. The EP features "Teenage Queen", which was on one of the compilations released online some time ago. Here's another track from that EP, featuring the same insane early '70's keyboard, and the same overly "hot" recording of the lead vocal. It's called "Deep Freeze Mama", and yes, it really does end like that, on the EP:

Next up, a Film City special, by Rod Rogers and the Swinging Strings, the one man band playing and singing about that Ol' Time Religion on "You Better Believe":

Finally, a suggestion from a friend, a Tin Pan Alley number, by Mike Thomas, "It's Spring". There are a lot of things I love about this one, from the constant rhyming of the word "Spring", to the use of the word "Croon", to the way that the solo momentarily morphs into a late '60's rock solo with some out-of-place upbeat drumming providing a kick to the organist, to the way a rockin' bit of solo guitar sneaks in, seemingly from another (better) song, about 80 seconds in. Enjoy:

Comments, suggestions and other great thoughts welcome!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Announcing! Song Poem of the Week Project

Happy New Year! In the spirit of starting new things, I'm going to do something here, and I'm hoping I can hold myself to this....

Someone commenting on my recent post to the WFMU blog asked if there were any song-poem sites which are currently active, since the AS/PMA site has been present, but without updates, for several years now.

In answer to this, and hopefully for the interest of many others, I'm going to try and post at least one song-poem, from my rather large stash of same, per week.

To start, a record from one of the most obscure of labels, Iris. This label, from the Lee Hudson production machine, was named after songwriter Iris Tipton, who wrote the words for all of the records released on the label, including the extremely memorable "I Spent My Last Three Dollars On an Irish Sweepstakes Ticket", sung by Cara Stewart.

Cara's unique vocals will be the first thing you hear here, as well, but the lead singer for this tune is Jeff Reynolds, who I'm sure you'll agree does a stellar job on this patriotic number, "In God We Trust".

I love everything about this one - the snare drums, the back and forth between the Cara backing vocals and the manly men on loan from "The Ballad of the Green Berets", and the rather simplified, glossed over view of both the American War of Independence and the religious views of its leaders, all in 90 seconds.