Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ballad of Justice Blind

Here's a rather amazingly bad late period Tin Pan Alley 45. It's labeled on both sides as being by Mike Thomas, and I guess it could be him, although it sounds somewhat different than the other Mike Thomas records. In fact, only when he speaks on the first side shared here does it sound like it's even a male singer. Otherwise, I'd have thought this was a woman singing. On the other hand, the spoken section makes up THE LAST TWO MINUTES of the three minute song!
It's called "Ballad of Justice Blind", although having listened to it several times now, I cannot find anything in the lyric which indicates if the man in jail was guilty or not. That's on top of the barely competent musical backing. A true train wreck of a record, which I'm sure you'll enjoy mightily:

The B-Side, while not nearly as memorable, is interesting for the fact that the song-poet appears to have only written one short verse, a problem which the folks at Tin Pan Alley solved by having the verse sung twice, between which they had the band simply play the chord changes (with NO soloing), managing to pad a 45 second song into a two minute performance. That instrumental section is fairly amazing for its banal nature. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

He Walks a Lonely Street

Lotsa stuff going on this week, so I only have a moment to post two sides of a vintage "Rod Rogers and the Singing Strings" 45 from the Film City label, without my typically wordy further comments, aside from the fact that I sure do like that Chamberlain sound.

First up, "I Walk a Lonely Street" (thankfully, no relation to a song with similar lyrics by Green Day):

And the flip side, "Shadows in My Heart":

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Choo'n Gum with Toby

Continuing in my quest to publicize the works of the late Toby Deane, here is a recording of a song called "Choo'n Gum". I know almost nothing of this recording: it was included - very out of place, actually - on a budget (bootleg, most likely) CD of sports related songs that I purchased online. Why this song was on a CD of sports songs, I have no idea.

A search through the internet shows that the song was a minor hit for Teresa Brewer in 1950, and that Dean Martin also recorded it. But regarding this version... well, a search of this vast internet of ours results in only one hit for any reference to Toby Deane's rendition, which appears to have been a budget label knockoff (on the Caravan label), almost undoubtedly around the time of Teresa Brewer's hit.

I really love her voice, and this song is just ridiculous enough to hit me as "just right", too.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Coffee Break

First, a moment to acknowledge that today would have been my mother's 86th birthday. Happy Birthday to all who share it.

And now, on with the countdown.

It's back to Tin Pan Alley today. While other Song-Poem lovers concentrate on Preview, MSR and maybe Columbine, I find myself drawn to the likes of Tin Pan Alley, Film City, Halmark and Fable.

One of the early stars of the Tin Pan Alley label was Teacho Wiltshire. Unlike most of his peers in the song-poem world, Wiltshire not only had a really, really cool name, but he also went on to mainstream success, arranging, conducting, producing and/or performing on dozens if not hundreds of hit records in the '60's and perhaps beyond.

But here we have him on one of the early Tin Pan Alley records, from when they were still largely a doo-wop concern. As you can read about here, the label's 1950's output tends to sound a bit more legit than other song-poem factories, but even with that, there's still something a bit "off" about them. I think that's more true regarding the a-side of today's choice more than the b-side, and I also prefer that a-side.

It would appear, based on the sticker from "Danny Engel", of the publishing company Chappell & Co., Inc., that this record was sent to a radio station in the hopes of a few spins (or, more likely, to fulfill a contractual obligation with the song-poet).

There's a lot going on, musically, on this a-side. I love the backing vocal and that guitar noodling, in particular. Please enjoy Teacho Wiltshire and the Tin Pan Alley Trio with "Coffee Break":

And here's the same combo on the flip side with "Shut-Eye":

Friday, April 10, 2009

My First Song-Poem

At first, today, my plan was to share this record because it seemed like the natural choice for Holy Week. And that thought still applies, but while I was making the files, I realized that if I share this EP, then I'll also want to share the story behind it. Because, you see, this was the first song-poem I ever owned, even if I didn't know that's what it was for around 20 years. The story goes back to 1976.

It was early June, and I was almost 16. With my oldest and closest friend, John, I went to the local school fair. This was an end-of-the-year event at the grade school we had both attended, with small carnival rides, midway games, raffles and the like. It was a neighborhood tradition that we'd been going to since we were toddlers.

That year, they had a record booth: put a ticket on a number, and when the spinner stops, the person who had their ticket on that number won a few 45's. Every few turns, the prize was an album. They had boxes and boxes of singles and albums, all of them no doubt cut-outs or radio rejects. John and I spent most of our money at this booth, then returned home to listen to some new records.

I remember very little about this listening session, except that we thought most of our "winnings" were crappy. In particular, I remember not liking an album I had won, "Another Green World" by Brian Eno.

(In fact, we later took at least half of these records, including "Another Green World" and conducted experiments outside, flinging them as high as we could into the air, over various substances (pavement, grass, decking) and seeing what would happen when they landed. It was a very hot day - probably around 100 degrees, and I remember that we got one record to embed itself about an inch into a tennis court.)

But this record, on the Halmark label, got my attention quickly, and held it. John was mesmerized, as well. It was so very.... weird. It wasn't very good, but it was bad in its own special way. Songs began with obvious tape slippage, or ended suddenly before fading out. There were names and addresses on the label, for each song. There were two deeply religious tracks, which was not unusual, except that there were two non-religious tracks on the flip side. The tracks sounded as if they belonged in the 78 era, and even with that thought, they were pretty damn poor in sound quality and vocal performance. This one I kept.

Flash forward two decades, to my discovery (via Dr. Demento) of song-poems, my visits to the song-poem website, and my subsequent exchanges of e-mails and cassette tapes with Phil Milstein. Once I learned the names of the major song-poem labels, I made a beeline to the thousands of 45's in my basement, and started looking for those unique label names. My recollection is that I found I owned two: an EP on Columbine and this EP on Halmark.

Suddenly, the record made perfect sense. Halmark, the label which took old, existing multitrack backing tracks and shoehorned their customers lyrics on top of them. Halmark, the label which, more often than not, didn't credit they're singers, but instead, listed the customers names and addresses. Halmark, the label which was notable, even among song-poem labels, for cheapness and hackwork.

Here, in all its glory, is the first song poem I ever owned. The first track is fairly nondescript, and is titled, "Be God's Child":

The second track is "The Man Called Jesus". This was the track I had the initial impulse to share today. What I like about this one, aside from the general over-the-top nature of it, and the fact that I find it to have a particularly sad and dreary sound - not what you'd want for a song celebrating Jesus' role in your life - is that it appears that the backing track chosen for this song was quite a bit longer than the lyric, so at the end, they had the singer repeat the line "he brings me joy, joy, joy" over and over again. Have a taste:

Side two of the EP leads off with another track which doesn't really do that much for me, "I See Stardust In Your Eyes":

Finally, the killer tune from the EP, "Life is a Flame". This was part of the ASPMA website's MP3 downloads, so I'm sure it circulates between collectors, but I'm including it here, both for completeness, and because it is a singularly weird record. The backing track is SO thick with emotion, the words fit so poorly in places, the vocal performance is stellar, in that Halmark way, and the lyrics are flowery to the point of ridiculous. I'm fond of the following, fairly non-musical line:

"Once again, I sit in wonderment, tormenting the ashes of what was once a glowing ember..."

And my favorite of all:

"Quenched.... not by brisk breezes - Quenched by gushing waters, not by stamping feet"

Now I guess technically, "quenching a fire" doesn't have to mean water, but isn't that the way everyone uses it? Has anyone ever spoken of quenching a fire by stamping on it, or having a the breeze quench a fire?

Anyway, here's the track, and I'll dedicate this posting to my old friend John. That early summer was the last time we were close friends, and I've probably seen him less then five or six times since the fall of 1976.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Ol' Man Mose

Like many people my age, my first exposure to the wonders of Louis Prima was hearing his performance as King Louie in Disney's "The Jungle Book". I was seven years old, and smitten with the whole film (it remains my favorite Disney film), but no part more than the King Louie scene. The soundtrack to the film was undoubtably the first album I ever owned.

Later trips through my parents records introduced me to his amazing rendition of "That Old Black Magic", with then-wife Keely Smith (she recently took part in a truly abysmal performance of the same song with Kid Rock, a man who clearly has not found something - anything - that he's good at, yet) (well, apart from proving true, yet again, an old saying often attributed to P.T. Barnum...).

That led to his "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" medley, which is so great that not even David Lee Roth could screw up.

Anyway, a series of recent events has had the side effect of giving me a reason to go through a bunch of my 45's, and one of the first I came across was a favorite Louis Prima performance. While I'm sure it's far from unknown, it's also not exactly well known. But it has a sound and an energy that I just love.

It's a version of a Louis Armstrong tune, "Ol' Man Mose". I really enjoy the interplay with the backing group (Sam Butera and the Witnesses, as always). The typical Prima record had a lot more combo jazz on it - it's almost completely absent here, with the instrumentation being limited to bass and drums for almost the entire song, but it really works, and focuses the song on some fairly amazing lyrics. As I said, the song is attributed to Louis Armstrong, but the version I found from Armstrong doesn't even have half of these lyrics, so someone added quite a few new twists and turns to the story. Have a listen:

By the way, the other side of the record was a fairly lifeless reading of the number one hit, "Wonderland By Night", putting this record's release around 1961 or so.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Randy Rudolph

Here's a real doozy of a record, all the way around. It's a mid-period Preview release, performed by someone named Randy Rudolph. This name turns up from time to time in the Preview discography (and nowhere else in song-poem-land), and based on this record (as well as on the one Rudolph track released on song-poem compilations) it would seem that it was an assumed name, used for at least two different singers.

The first side heard here, "We Are the Guys Who Win Wars", is quite the car crash. The opening few seconds, in particular, sound like an outtake. I would fully expect there to be an immediate breakdown, followed by a directive to everyone involved to "tune up". I'll let the lyrics themselves speak for themselves.

It strikes me that this could be Dick Kent singing, but I'm just not sure - I'm not even sure I've heard this singer before.

This record is also interesting for the presence of the name Lew Tobin among the credits on the flip side. Lew was the head honcho at one of my favorite song-poem labels, Sterling, A quick look at the Preview discography shows that Lew's name pops up repeatedly, which I'd never noticed before, and which confuses the hell out of me, since Preview was one of the mainstays of the LA song-poem world, and Sterling was based in Boston.

Ah, the mysteries of the song-poem world. However, those who are familiar with Lew Tobin's Sterling productions will likely find some similarities to that label's sound in this track, "Stop Your Wishing", by the fascinatingly named Doll H. Dorsey.

This song is credited to Randy Rudolph. In this case, the singer sounds (to me, anyway) nothing like the performer on the A-side. In fact, this singer sounds very much like Rodd Keith. The "hello" in the lyric at about the 1:20 point cracks me up. On the whole, this side of the record sounds, to me, more than a bit like Rodd Keith replacing Norm Burns on a Lew Tobin arrangement.