Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Not So Lucky

As the year comes to an end - the fifth year of this project - I wanted to squeeze one more posting in. No time for typing, got a party to host, just wanted to offer up a decent Rodd Keith offering, with the ironic title of "Lucky Guy" - based on the lyric, the protagonist thinks that's far from an accurate description for his life situation. Have a listen.

Download: Rodd Keith - Lucky Guy

A far more pedestrian entry is found on the flip side, in the song "My Sweet Michelle". Sorry about the increasingly cruddy sound quality as this one goes on...

Download: Rodd Keith - My Sweet Michelle


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Halmark: The Christmas People

What U.S. company's name is more synonymous with Christmas than Hallmark? With their ornaments, commercials, decorations, TV specials, etc. etc., they could be called The Christmas People. I'll leave it to each of you to decide how good or bad a thing that is.

In honor of the Hallmark people, for Christmas Eve, here is their near-namesake company, The Halmark Records label, and two Christ-tastic offerings. On one side, heard below, you can hear about "The Christmas Message", in a typically stultifying arrangement and performance. Interestingly, just this month I received an MP3 in e-mail, of another Halmark number, titled "A Christmas Dream", set to the same backing track, and featuring what sounds like the same singer. This one, if anything, is even worse than "Christmas Dream", although it's a close race.

Download: Halmark Productions - The Christmas Message

If you're still awake, you can reward yourself with the wonders of "The Bible Message". Not content to stop the proceedings, with a spoken word passage (as they so often did), this vocal performance contained on this "song" features nothing but narration, a sort of "God's Greatest Hits", tripping lightly through a series of generic summing ups bible stories, focusing primarily on the story of Jesus.

All in all, the ideal music for the opening of presents, whether your tradition starts as the sun goes down tonight, or as the sun comes up tomorrow.

Download: Halmark Productions - The Bible Message

A Very Happy Christmas to One and All!!!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas With Lew and Norm

 As we ramp up to Christmas, here's another song for the season. This is an early Sterling Records release, early enough that Lew Tobin was still taking primary credit for the performance, above the singer (this is record #318 - by the mid 300's, he had discontinued this practice). But the focus really should be on my main man, Norm Burns (or, as credited here, Norman Burns). 

I wish I could report that this record, "The Toy Shop Mouse", was the sort that could have found its way into the hearts of millions, if only given the chance, and competed for time on Christmas radio stations, mall programming, and perhaps even TV viewers to its animated special. But it's not that sort. It's fairly tedious. The story is told in minute detail, over nearly five minutes, building up to a punchline that was no doubt supposed to be heartwarming, but actually just captures a mice-related annoyance. 

Still, it is Christmassy, takes place in Santa's workshop, and concludes with Santa's ride on Christmas Eve, AND Norm sings it, so it can't be all bad!

Download: Lew Tobin's Orchestra, Vocal by Norm Burns - The Toy Shop Mouse

This record came to me in a sleeve with an inscription from the song-poet, one which curiously is mostly about how to make sure the record plays without skipping (a problem I didn't actually find I had to deal with, with this record:

The flip side of the record also features Lew and Norman, in a story of prospecting "Way Out in Arizona". The melody hews dangerously close to "This Land is Your Land" at times, which I guess is not wholly inappropriate, given the focus on one part of that Land. I generally love the reverb on these Sterling records anyway, and I really like the way that the reverb here makes the drumbeat echo so much as to sound like a chugging train.

On the other hand, a close listen to the lyrics will demonstrate that there is no story here - the writer introduces us to a prospector, then, for the rest of the lyric, tells us how great Arizona is, and how much he'd like to be there.

Download: Lew Tobin's Orchestra, Vocal by Norm Burns - Way Out in Arizona

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I Liked the Old Year

Just when time pressures looked to keep me from having the time to record, improve the sound as necessary and scan, from out of the ether of the internet (or perhaps it's a series of tubes - I've heard that's what it is), came an wonderful two sided hit produced by our friends at Film City. Since this was offered up by a correspondent, and is not from my collection, I don't have label scans, but I think the material itself will prove its worth.

And I'll leave it to each of you to determine if you deem this a song-poem. As it is sung by a child, and written by another person with the same last name, it seems likely that this was written by the singer's parent, or at least a family member, and then produced by the fine folks at Film City, in what seems to have been one of their last releases (#4091, in a series that is not known to have run beyond #4200, to my knowledge).

So was it a song-poem in the sense that someone at Film City wrote the music, or is it not so much, in that perhaps they only arranged the backing for a song which was already fully written? There's really no way to tell, I suppose.

Both sides are quite well done, but while one song is better suited for today (being a Christmas song), I'm going to lead to the one I much prefer, which would be a better fit in two weeks, given that it's a look back at a year which is about to end.

The singer is Beth-Anne Haves, accompanied, of course, by the Film City Orchestra (aka The Chamberlin, very likely operated by Rodd Keith). I really enjoy "I Liked the Old Year", both because I enjoy hearing untrained, naturally on-key kids singing as much as just about anything in the world, and also because the lyric is inspired. While a few of the lines sound nothing like anything a kid would say ("it gave me time to grow"), far more of them sound to me not only like a kid's thoughts, but exactly how a kid might phrase them. And on top of all that is the wonderful Chamberlin arrangement, featuring a variety of voicings, all of which fit the song perfectly:

Download: Beth-Anne Hayes - I Liked the Old Year

The flip side, "Oh Dear Santa Claus", is bittersweet, and more than a bit maudlin, but still most excellent in arrangement and performance. Last Christmas was great, but daddy's has left the family in the time since, and all she wants is for him to return. Again, the wizardry on the Chamberlin stands out here.

Download: Beth-Anne Hayes - Oh Dear Santa Claus

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Sammy - Unplugged!

This is another one of those weeks when time is exceptionally short around our place, so I'm not going to go into any great detail about today's offering. Suffice it to say that it is not a song-poem release, but a demo on the Globe label, sent to the customer, most likely to encourage her to pay for the full band treatment.

Here we have Sammy Marshall unplugged, with just a piano and a tasty little 90 second song-poem-ette nugget, titled "Lost My Independence":

Download: Sammy Marshall - Lost My Independence

Here is the flip side, by one of the co-writers of the a-side, but with none of the clever lyrics or jaunty sound of "Independence". This rather morose number is titled "Sometimes I Wonder":

Download: Sammy Marshall - Sometimes I Wonder

Friday, November 29, 2013

Make Those Dishes Dance!

A Belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who celebrated it yesterday, and a more belated wish of the same to those who celebrated it in October.

My guess is that more dishes are washed across the United States on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year. And in honor of that supposition, here is an absolutely marvelous song-poem titled "Dance of the Dishes", from our friends at Tin Pan Alley, and led by the enthusiastic Lillian Mars, a record which is compilation worthy as far as I'm concerned.

I don't know what it was about Tin Pan Alley - maybe the places that they chose to advertise? - but they certainly seem to have had more than their share of genuinely witty or at least humor-enhanced writers who took part in their little scam. This is a prime example - with everything from the fork complaining of not being able to dance, due to his "four feet" to the bewitching soup bowls - and the tiny three piece combo is lead by a pianist who is clearly having just as much fun as the vocalist is, with this material. A first-rate winner.

Download: Lilian Mars - Dance of the Dishes

I do not, unfortunately, have anything so complimentary to say about the flip side of this disc, a turgid, badly sung number called "Paradise Valley", in which Lillian Mars is joined by label favorite Phil Celia.

Download: Lillian Mars and Phil Celia - Paradise Valley

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Neither Fish Nor Fowl?

Today's post is for that subset of readers who are, like me, fascinated by the Halmark label. Because this is a Halmark record unlike any other I've seen. I suppose technically it's not even a song-poem record, but that's kind of the point. As indicated by the title of this post, I'm not sure how to categorize this record.

What we have hear is a Halmark release, featuring a singer I've never seen credited on any song-poem record, Halmark or otherwise, first singing a song written by the owner of Halmark Records, Ted Rosen, and then on the flip side, covering a big hit single from a few years earlier.

Ted Rosen often claimed co-composer credits with his song-poet customers, but AS/PMA shows only one other record (an acetate) with a song credited solely to Rosen as composer, and no references to Barry Craig. Were it not for the information on the label, though, I'd have thought this was just another Halmark release, as it would appear that Rosen was prone to the same sort of overblown language as his customers, and (presumably) that he was a fan of the flowery, out of date and sappy music that graced his other releases.

Download: Barry Craig - I Climbed to the Top of a Mountain

The flip side is an equally big headscratcher. Identified only as "Phoenix" with absolutely NO author credited, this is actually a version of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" by Jimmy Webb (not that you asked, but both the song and the songwriter are about as far away from my tastes as one can get).

Curiously, as long time reader, correspondent and commenter Sammy Reed has pointed out, one of the backing tracks Halmark used from time to time was, in fact, a backing which perfectly fits "By the Time I Get to Phoenix". You can hear it used under the song "It's Not the World, It's What's In the World", which is item number five on this post. And well, whattaya know, here's that same backing track, employed in the recording of the song for which it was recorded!

An oddball release from one of the oddest of labels imaginable!

Download: Barry Craig - Phoenix

Thursday, November 14, 2013

God is His

Almost invariably, when I hear a Noval 45 for the first time, two thoughts come to mind:

1.) What on earth would the average record collector - one with no knowledge of song-poems - think upon happening upon this record, and listening to it for the first time? (Especially, but not limited to, situations where what they probably assume is the artist billing - in this case, Ada Billy - doesn't match the masculine singing on the record.)

2.) Was any customer EVER satisfied with the product the received from Noval? Given, that is, that virtually every record I've heard on the label features a singer who seems incapable of either staying on pitch or reading the melody on the page in front of him accurately.

Today's feature, "God is Mine" is a perfect example of the latter question. This is the same guy, I think, who is on most of the Noval records I've heard, and he is thoroughly incompetent. Listen how he hesitantly pauses over the word "step" at the 32 second point, and then wavers on the long note just after that. And there's more than a little wavering on the last note. He also lands poorly almost every time there is a jump of more than a few notes up or down the scale, and generally seems to be unsure of where about half of the notes are supposed to be - the whole thing is just sung tentatively, as if he's afraid of stepping on a land mine.

And it's not like this would be a difficult song to sing - it moves at a snail's pace, has simple words and stays within a rather small range. Add that all of that is on top of a dreary, deadly backing arrangement, and you have quite the song-poem pastry.

Download: Noval Productions - God is Mine

The flip side, "Little Band of Gold" is, at least, peppy, but the same problems continue. Right from the start, in the first two lines, the vocalist comes within striking distance of the melody at several points without quite getting there (I particularly like the notes on the word "message", and the complete breakdown of his reading of the tune on the title line) - despite the fact that the pianist is playing the notes of the melody behind him.

I sure love that Noval label.

Download: Noval Productions - Little Band of Gold

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

He's Fixin'

Here's a really nice Film City offering from Rodd Keith, under his Rod Rogers persona. The better of the two songs and performances, to my ears, is "I'm Fixin'", a sweet lyric about getting ready to propose. In addition to the lyrics, Rodd's vocal is sublime, as well. But my favorite aspects of this record are the various voicings Rodd chose for the backing, particularly the expertly designed and played mock guitar solo right in the middle of the track, and the mock trombone that comes in at the end. I sure do love the Chamberlin - wish I had the money for one. But then, if I did, I'd probably never stop recording.

Interestingly, this is the only single documented on the AS/PMA website where he combines his two most common names, with "Rodd" spelled with two d's, but "Rogers" as the last name. There may be others (there is at least one that I know of on a vanity label spun off from Film City.


The flip side of this record "Tick Tock" is no slouch either, and again, Rodd used the Chamberlin to perfect effect for the lyric, what with the knocking sound effect tying into the title. Rodd's vocal here shines - there is something about his performances on Film City records that draws me in, in a way that the majority of his Preview releases don't - I suspect I'm in the minority there. Enjoy!

Download: Rodd Rogers and the Swinging Strings - Tick Tock

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Not Quite Norah Jones

Upon picking up today's record, titled "Come Away with Me", I was immediately put in the mind of Norah Jones' gorgeous, sultry and immaculately performed hit record of the same name. Upon putting the needle to the record, I was immediately pulled away from that mindset, and sent instead to my imagined site of this recording session.

By this point in the Tin Pan Alley story, they had moved about as far as possible from their origins, wherein established performers and backing musicians performed often first-rate renditions of song-poem lyrics. That had been in the mid-'50's. This record appears to date from about 1969, when the near talentless likes of Bob Gerard fronted an equally inept backing band on material such as today's record and the immortal "Snow Man".

It certainly sounds like ol' Bob is reading this tune for the first time, as he goes along, and he sounds hesitant at several points, failing to follow the melody at all at a few others. The bass player sounds like he's a bit more on board here than on "Snow Man", but he's still clearly not up to the task, flubbing more than a few notes of his own.

Then there are the words, in which "baby" is enticed to come to a land where there are flowers everywhere, rainbows and strawberry clouds in the crimson sky, lollipop trees, floating birds, fairies, and rabbits which chase eagles. Naturally, you'd come to the same conclusion I did, and which is confirmed by the lyrics - this is the place "where boys turn into men". Yeah.

Download: Bob Gerard - Come Away With Me

In comparison, "Stepping Out", heard on the flip side, is downright competent. In comparison. Only in comparison. At least the guitarist, whose chording is prominent on the track, seems largely to know what he was doing. Bob Gerard still doesn't seem to always know where the tune is going until he gets to it. The track itself is distracting enough that you might miss this deeply thought out lyric:

You see folks around the town
Standing, walking sitting down

Download: Bob Gerard - Stepping Out

By the way, this weekend, I posted a rare vanity release from Tin Pan Alley, over at WFMU's Beware of the Blog. It's fairly hideous, and for some (me included), that makes it worth a listen or two. You can find that post here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Apron, The Pastries and Other Things

As I've probably mentioned too many times, MSR is not my favorite label. And so it was some surprise that I came to rediscover this weird little gem, from another category I don't much like, 1980's song-poems.

Over the past few weeks, I've been reviewing some comments and other notes I made about song-poems, when I was first getting in to them, nearly two decades ago. One song, with no reference to the singer, was referred to as "With You". Now that's a fairly generic title, and in fact, when I searched the AS/PMA for the phrase, I got hits on more than 40 of its pages. Narrowing it down to only the song-poem labels on which I would have owned records in those early days, and to songs which had "With You", as the entire title, and that narrowed it down to one label and one song, MSR and Gina Genova's rendition of "With You".

I dug into the box containing my "song-poems I never need to listen to again", and dug it out, and sure enough, it's weird in unpredictable ways and rises above what I would have expected from that label in that era. The appeal to me here is the rather unexpected lyrics, and the attempt to shoehorn them into a tender ballad, which, for me, just plays up how badly that attempt works. The opening lyrics appear to be: 

You always felt eager (?) for the pastries I baked you
You sewed me an apron, ???? blue
You spent hours repairing bikes,
made a case to put behind their well-worn seats 

Actually, that's all sort of sweet - what I can make out of it, anyway, but at the same time, those lines don't scan very well as lyrics to a melody.

I'll also mention that the recording quality on this record is horrendous, the singer's words are very difficult to make out at times (witness my attempt, above), due to overly bass-ie sound, and I've tried to clean it up a bit, so I'm posting it twice, once with its original sound, and then again in a version attempting to improve that sound. Admittedly, the effort was less than successful.

Here is the original record:

Download: Gina Genova - With You

And here's an attempt to clean it up a bit:

Download: Gina Genova - With You (with Equalization)

On the flip side, we have the consistently, resolutely awful Bill Joy (who sang the first song-poem I ever heard which was identified as a song-poem, "How Long Are You Staying", with some singularly banal lyrics, arrangement and melody, on the song "Be a Friend":

Download: Bill Joy - Be a Friend

Monday, October 14, 2013

He's Sorry He Answered the Phone

Today's record does not broadcast itself as a song-poem the way that a record on Preview, Halmark or many other labels would. In fact, it's an acetate, with not even the songwriter's names listed on either side. But there are some key factors here which I think demonstrate that a song-poem is exactly what we have here.

First, there is the artist. In the late 1940's, someone named Jack Allyn made a handful of records for the Novart record label, a song-poem outfit helmed by song-poet George F. Franciosa, Sr. Jack Allyn is an unusual enough name that it made this acetate, credited to the same singer, worth a listen. And if you compare this vocalist to the one singing on Novart's greatest hit, "Goodness Gracious, It's Contagious", you will probably come to the same conclusion that I did - this is the same singer. The same singer, I grant you, sounding much older, but this record is dated 1972, nearly 25 years after "Goodness Gracious".

And that's another thing that points this to being a song-poem: the setting of this record seems to have been a perfect arrangement for 1951, a typical flaw of the song-poem world. Within its own genre, hopelessly out of date even 41 years ago, the song is not a bad one, although the lyrics are far from original. Still, it's a nice listen, if you're up for this sort of thing.

Download: Jack Allyn - I'm Sorry I Answered the Phone

On the flip side, we have the even more outdated "Every Day of My Life", with a lyric that sounds straight out of the 1930's to me. I do get a kick of out the completely out of place glissando that the pianist decided to include just before the 90 second mark, but otherwise, this one has very little to offer.

Download: Jack Allyn - Every Day of My Life

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Gene Does Vietnam

As I've mentioned a few times, most recently five weeks ago, I've heard over the years from a few people who collect and document records about Vietnam. One result of this is that I've decided to share records about Vietnam when I come across them - at least if they are not as aggressively dull as the typical song-poem is (and if you are only hearing them via my posts and those of others, you have no idea of the percentage of song-poems that are just mind-numbingly boring).

August's Tin Pan Alley posting was actually supplied to me by one of these readers, and today, we have Gene Marshall, on Preview, offering up "Say a Prayer for Vietnam". This is a fairly pedestrian effort from Preview, saved, for me, by a nice vocal from Gene, and heartfelt, if simple lyrics.

Download: Gene Marshall - Say a Prayer for Vietnam

The flip side, "My Love is Yours", is an example of those deathly dull records that would never make my site on their own strength. From the bee-buzzing styled opening synth notes to the bland arrangement, there's not much here to draw interest. At first, I thought that there was a line about the writer's "immature fears" - not, I'm guessing, the best way to win someone's love or trust - but another listen proves the line to be "and your image appears...". Even another sensitive, excellent vocal from Gene Marshall can't redeem this one.

Download: Gene Marshall - My Love is Yours

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Strangest Dream

With weapons of mass destruction back in the news, along with the United Nations and, in this case, Syria all involved, I thought it was a good time to offer up this dream of a world without weapons, a dream of peace. I have a hard time thinking that the authors of this song weren't inspired (if that's the right word) by the song "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream".

Perhaps they thought they could improve on it, or come at the idea from a slightly different angle. If that was the case, my impression would be that they failed - this comes off as a weak echo at best, an anemic copy at worst. The always game Sammy Marshall gives it his best, but when a song requires you to talk over the music for nearly the first third of the entire record, you're facing a challenge.

Download: Sammy Marshall - My Dream of Peace

By the way, this record is on the Jersey label, which I've not seen before or since, and which is not listed on the AS/PMA website.

The flip side is a tribute to God's work throughout nature, with something of a John Denver feel (that's not meant as a compliment, by the way), sung by someone named Don McHan. Interestingly, the same name pops up as a songwriter on two other labels on the AS/PMA website, one of them, like this one, related to the Globe song-poem factory, although he is not listed as the songwriter here. The most interesting thing about this record may be the additional publishing information that someone wrote on the label of the record.

Download: Don McHan - You Are Seeing God

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Practice Your Rhythm

Regular readers will already know that I'm not much of a fan of certain song-poem labels - MSR and Columbine being the biggest names from the business that I can largely do without. But... I never intended this site to be just about my taste, and I should try more to reflect the whole world of the song-poem. I don't own much Columbine, so it rarely, if ever, shows up here, but I have MSR records coming out of my ears, and I might need to put them into rotation a bit more often.

Here's a start: A decent release from 1980, titled "Practice Your Rhythm". This is a nice enough shuffle of a track, with a bright, peppy and happy vocal from Bobbi Blake. The primitive synths (one of the things I could do without) are largely relegated to background flavoring, and the track is dominated by a real rhythm section, including a bouncy bass and some solid piano.

Download: Bobbi Blake - Practice Your Rhythm

On the flip side, we have Dick Kent, telling us how "One Woman's Sufficient for Me". The lyrics to this one are quite odd at times - at one point he mentions that it's one "body" that is sufficient for him, and what's the reference to a voucher about? There's very little about this track that I like, but I will mention that it features some excellent and interesting bass playing.

Download: Dick Kent - One Woman's Sufficient for Me

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Norm Sings in the Sunshine

I don't actually own a copy of today's record. It was recently auctioned at eBay, and while I failed to take ownership of the physical product, I loved it enough that I pursued another opportunity to own it digitally, at least. This just occurred this week, and I could hardly wait to share it with the world, or at least this small corner of it.

It not only features perhaps my favorite song-poem singer, Norm Burns, it also clearly dates from around the same time, and quite possibly the same recording date, as my favorite Norm record (and one of my three favorite song poems), "Darling, Don't Put Your Hands on Me" (which can be heard here, among other places). The label numbers are only four digits apart, and as you'll hear, there are other similarities, as well.

This song and performance are certainly not in the same league with "Darling, Don't Put Your Hands on Me" (and really, few records are), but it's got the same feel, instrumentation and energy - the same driving piano, tenor sax (which even plays some of the same fills as on the previous record) and unique Norm Burns style. And then, during the solo break, there's a lovely vocal surprise from Norm!

Download: Norman Burns, Lew Tobin's Orchestra - Sunshine Twist

The flip side, "The Wind and the Rose", is in poor condition, with a lot of surface noise at the start. This one is not up to the standard of the A-side, or even to Norm's average. It does, however, contain a rather interesting conversation - a bragging contest, of all things, between the title characters.

Download: Norman Burns, Lew Tobin's Orchestra -  The Wind and the Rose

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Two Views of Life

Before getting to today's offering, I have an out-of-left-field request: Does anyone reading this blog either understand Dutch, or know someone who does? I have a song that I downloaded from a now long-defunct website about a decade ago, which I just love. But I have no idea what the singer is singing about, and I'd like to. I'm pretty sure it's in Dutch. Please let me know, either via the comments (with an e-mail address) or via my e-mail, which is buried on this site somewhere.... And now....

Two observations about life from Rodd Keith today, one spot-on, one cynical and off-base. At least, that's how I see 'em - your mileage may vary.

On the A-side, with a tasty supper-club style band behind him, Rodd offers up a first rate, silky smooth vocal on "Nobody Knows What Love Will Do". The words are pretty good, and the whole performance sounds like something that wouldn't have been out of place in a show at a club or a restaurant, way back when.

Download: Rodd Keith - Nobody Knows What Love Will Do

On the other hand, the basic idea behind the lyrics to "Friends are Few", seems to be that you'll only have companionship if you have money, AND if you freely spent that money with and on your friends. That hasn't been my experience, and I can't say that I've ever heard it expressed by anyone I know. The songwriter keeps telling us that this an "intelligent song". I beg to differ.

In contrast with the a-side, the backing arrangement and Rodd's vocal here show no sign of significant work or craftsmanship - the whole thing sounds rather cookie cutter and quickly thrown together. I have no knowledge of this, but I really wouldn't be surprised if Rodd gave his all only when the lyrics at least sort of deserved it.

Download: Rodd Keith - Friends are Few

Friday, August 30, 2013

Tin Pan Alley Does Vietnam

Today, I have a record provided to me (and all of you) by a correspondent named Justin. He initially wrote me about Mike Thomas' performance of "Prisoner's of War", but also mentioned that he had a couple of Vietnam related Tin Pan Alley releases, which he then shared with me. Justin has a Vietnam War Song Project, which can be found here: http://rateyourmusic.com/list/Gershwin/vietnam_war_song_project/

I initially thought these were two sides of the same single, but Justin has corrected me. The two records have label numbers over a hundred apart, which probably means they were recorded well over a year apart, if not more.

The first song is "A Fearless Soldier", a mother's tribute to his fallen son. For this record, Mike Thomas seems to have dispensed with his typical loose, throwaway style of performance and to my ears sounds like he was trying to capture more of the spirit of the lyric. I don't know find his attempt all that successful, as his vocal abilities were - based on available evidence - fairly limited, but its nice to hear him trying to take seriously words that were meant to be taken seriously, and there are moments where he rises to the occasion.

And I have little doubt given the heartfelt nature of these lyrics, that this author was describing a real person, and someone who she lost to the conflict in Vietnam. Certainly this has the same minimalist sound from that era at Tin Pan Alley, and yet a change of pace for them, as well - my guess is that no one wanted this to sound tossed off.

Download: Mike Thomas - A Fearless Soldier

The second record is "The Last Ballad of Vietnam". I've listened this three times, and find the lyrics very confusing, but I think the song-poet is offering up the idea that the Vietnam war was a right and necessary thing to do - feel free to correct me if you think I'm wrong.

To be honest, when I listen to this record, my ears are drawn to the lengthy guitar solo, which takes up about a third of the record. The performer sounds clearly influences by some of the Eastern-leaning solos which had been cropping up on rock and roll records around this time, but approximating those solos is also clearly beyond his talents. It's sort of a car crash, but a mesmerizing one.

Download: Mike Thomas - The Last Ballad For Vietnam

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Longest Song-Poem Ever???

In one sense, when you pick up a Halmark record, you can be pretty sure what you're going to get. In another way though, there's no way of knowing what wonders of bad lyric writing, over the top singing or other weirdness you're going to experience. In the case of today's record, that surprise was finding the longest song-poem I've ever heard. A second surprise comes at the end of side two.

But first, we get the classic backing track to "My Daddy He Died in 1969", in this case featuring the song "O Lord Stand By Me" sung by the Kimmels, Jack and Mary, in typical style.  

Download: Halmark Productions - O Lord Stand By Me

Next up is the star of our show, a song with the vague title of "This is Worth". Rather amazingly, Halmark did not put this song, which is SIX MINUTES AND 19 SECONDS long, by itself on one side of a record, but rather, made it part of a nine minute side, when paired with the previous song. 

And what was the subject matter that required 379 seconds of Halmark majesty?  Nothing less than the authors story of having read the entire bible, and her emotional and visceral reactions and responses to some of the high points of both the old and new testaments. She focuses on a half-dozen or so of the most familiar stories 

I assume that the backing track used here - one of the most overwrought in the Halmark catalog - has been extended via editing, but I don't have it in me to go back to other songs using this track to find out exactly where and for how long. Whatever they did, it again resulted in the need for the singer to stretch out the last few lines, repeating words here and there in order to get the last lines to occur in the right place, over the closing bars of the track. Amazing. Mind-numbing, too, but still, amazing. 

Download: Halmark Productions - This is Worth

Side two opens with "Want to Rest a Little While", which is about as standard issue Halmark as their records can get, with a get-it-off-my-chest lyric which also features a religious aspect, sung over another of the more overwrought backing track. In this case, it's a backing track I've always loved, for its use in tandem with with the lyric of "Life is a Flame", on the first song poem I ever owned. Oddly, that record runs 4:30, which this one is well under three minutes, so "Flame" must also have utilized some looping of backing track segments.  

Download: Halmark Productions - Want to Rest a Little While

And finally, another real surprise, in the song "Gypsy Tell My Fortune". I don't recall ever having heard this backing track before (although I may have forgotten it). Instead of the typical turgid '40's style backing track, this song features what sounds to me like 1960's supper club soul and jazz. As with most other records they made, the backing still sounds like it's been recorded from the doorway of the studio. But aside from the recording quality, the track, the lead vocal, even the lyric, sound like something I'd have expected to hear on Preview, rather than Halmark. Any other thoughts on this one? 

Download: Halmark Productions - Gypsy Tell My Fortune

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Great Joe Noto/Phyllis Ruby Team

It's vacation week here, and although we're still at home (we're the ones being visited by relatives), I'm still spending next to no time online, hence this posting will be short and sweet.

I've only heard a handful of records on Arco, but I have really liked, or even loved, at least one side from each of those 45's. I previously featured my favorite Arco record (so far) about three years ago, here, and today's release has some similarities to that one.

Again, the prime billing goes to the backing band, Joe Noto and his Diplomats, with the actual star of the show, singer Phyllis Ruby, getting second billing. Honorable mention simple must go to the writer of "Hey There Baby", just on the strength of his rockin' name, Roston Ranson, Jr.

"Hey There Baby" is a wonderfully raucous approximation of Rock and Roll, although performed by a conglomeration which was clearly more at home with swing music. The instrumental bridge is very reminiscent of my aforementioned favorite Arco record, "My Lover".

Download: Joe Noto and His Diplomats, With Phyllis Ruby - Hey There Baby

For "Do You Suppose", the Diplomats provide a nice, if sparse, Rhumba beat, while Phyllis Ruby unfortunately shows some of the limits of her abilities - I think she sounds a bit over her head, although that doesn't spoil the song for me. As they do on several of their Arco tracks, the band segues into another style of music for the instrumental section (in this case, a sort of loose Swing feel), then slip right back into the Rhumba sound for the return of the vocal. A very enjoyable disc on both sides!

Download: Joe Noto and His Diplomats, With Phyllis Ruby - Do You Suppose

Friday, August 09, 2013

Sammy and John at the Hot Springs Spa!

This week, we have Sammy Marshall, appearing on only one side of the disk, which comes to us on a label not recorded at the AS/PMA website, "Spa Records" out of Hot Springs, Arkansas. And look, one of the co-writers even signed the label - bet that's worth a fortune! Sammy's song is "Kiss Me Good-Bye Tomorrow". 

I'm partial to this record, first, because the opening instrumental section is almost a carbon copy of the start of a track from a privately recorded session that I have, which I just adore (maybe I'll share that tape somewhere, someday), and second, because - within the rather hokey parameters of the day - the lyrics here are fairly well written in places, and rise above much of what came out on song-poem records, and even, in some cases, on the era's big hits. I particularly like "pretend you pretended when you said you'd leave me", and just in general, I can actually believe someone lived these words, which is a relative rarity among song-poems.


The flip side features the otherwise undocumented (in terms of song poems) John Greer, who -is backed up by the extremely clunkily named Puckett-Cravens-Hollihan Trio. The song's title is fairly ridiculous, too: "(Oh, Ho, Ho, Ho) Heartaches". To my ears, this record and song fairly well define the term "forgettable", as there's really nothing here, not even a single aspect of this brief rendition, that catches my ear or stays with me. 


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I Love Canada

Not only does the USA have its birthday in July, so do our neighbors to the north. And before the last seconds of this fine month tick away, and admittedly more than four weeks late, I thought I'd offer up Gene Marshall's touching rendition of Vincent Quaranta's thoughtful ode to his adopted country. It's clearly true that, as the words tell us, Vincent's "place" is actually in Italy (whatever that means), but he seems to consider Canada to be almost as peachy.

This song and performance don't exactly inspire me to visit either Canada or Italy - it seems sort of maudlin and dreary, to be honest - but the words seem heartfelt. I really have to wonder if Mr. Quaranta was happy with this rather morose setting of his lyrics.

Download: Gene Marshall - I Love Canada

The problem was probably really with the era at the Preview label. The records made there in the mid and late 1970's (this record dates to 1976) are generally uninspired and display shoddy workmanship, and an abundance of going-through-the-motions. Their generally not even pressed well. In comparison, the records made while Rodd Keith were there generally display a feel that it was a fun and interesting place to be. The records from later in the '70's, such as this one - both the side just shared and this one, "The Little Rocking Chair", make it sound like working at Preview was probably a chore by that point. At least, that's what most of that era's Preview records indicate to me.

Download: Gene Marshall - The Little Rocking Chair

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Moon Man

Last weekend, in addition to featuring the day I stopped being the parent of a teenager (as my younger daughter turned 20), also marked the 44th anniversary of the first moon landing. And in honor of that, today, we have Rod (Rodd Keith) Rogers, with his patented Swinging Strings, telling us all about the phenomenon of "Twisting on the Moon". This is a typically bouncy Rod Rogers Chamberlin production, with a nice solo, and an especially great little set of lyrics, filled with fun images, such as "see ya later, at the crater" and "we'll be cuttin' capers to a crazy 'bleep bleep' tune".

But the most interesting thing about this song may be that songwriter Eleanor Glass kept submitted the song to different song-poem companies. It would appear that perhaps Ms. Glass wrote the words and the music to this tune, as one of the other versions, which appeared on Cowtown, has essentially the same tune. For the time being, you can hear that one at this ebay auction (one that is, however, ended, so that link will not work at some point in the near future). And Sammy Marshall also recorded the song for Roxie!

I'm sure this is the most entertaining of the three, however, given that it's got Rodd Keith AND a Chamberlin. Here 'tis!:

Download: Rod Rogers and the Swinging Strings - Twisting On the Moon

The flip side is no slouch either: It's another Eleanor Glass entry, this time a tribute to "Derby Downs", the famed home of the Soap Box Derby. And again, there are some fun lyrics: "We'll drink some pop, while our brows we mop". If you ask me (and you didn't), this is a hell of a single!

Download: Rod Rogers and the Swinging Strings - Derby Downs

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Back in Business!

Hi, everyone!

Well, as you may have seen on other blogs, or learned for yourself, Divshare is back up and running. Thanks to everyone who chimed in, either with confirmations that it wasn't "just me" or ideas for other sites. By the time I had an opportunity to look more in depth at some of those other sites, the divshare folks (who were remarkably responsive, this time around) had let me know they were back in business.

I've also included a bonus at the bottom for those who love the late '50's and early '60's as much as I do, and I will post again a few times in the next week in order to get caught up.

And so....

Today's feature comes from a guy I've been happily corresponding with for over four months now. His name is Andy, and he first contacted me regarding my posts about Merigail Moreland. This led to a sharing of a lot of late '50's and early '60's singles through e-mail (mostly - and with great appreciation) from him to me, as we discovered where our tastes overlap, and what we have that might be of interest to each other.

His interest is not really in song-poems, but as he owns some, he was nice enough to send a few my way, and so far, this is my favorite among those he's sent. It's on Tin Pan Alley, and features Gus Colletti, whose stylings would seem to be spectacularly mismatched for a song titled "At the Rock and Roll Party". He has a choked, strained quality which seems more in tune with ballad singers, or at least dramatic readings of more serious material (not that I'd like him in that material, but at least it would seem a better match).

At the same time, though, this seems to show the influence of Paul Anka, one of my least favorite singers of the era. The band is giving it their best, but the whole enterprise seems doomed to failure, due to the choice of vocalists. Still, it's fun failure! 

Download: Gus Colletti - At the Rock and Roll Party

I cannot even pretend to drum up any enthusiasm for the flip side, the appropriately sad and dreary song "Life is Sad and Dreary". Tin Pan Alley at least tried to capture the sounds of the day, and this sounds like any number of hit songs of the era, without sounding like it would ever have been a hit, itself. And this does seem like a slightly better match for Gus Colletti's supposed skills than the rave up on the flip side.

Download: Gus Colletti - Life is Sad and Dreary

By the way, in sending me all of these treasures, along the way, Andy sent me a record that has become easily my favorite "new-to-me" record, one that I've heard for the first time and can't get enough of, in at least the last five or six years. It's called "Love in Return" by the Nightingales.

This is close to a perfect record. I love the wild drumming, the struggle the girls have to stay on pitch and in unison several times during the song, and the bridges are particularly magical to me. Only the presence of a dumb-guy vocal at the end of each of those bridges keeps me from thinking this to be among the best things ever released.

This was a cover of a release on a larger label. I've heard that one, too, and it has absolutely none of the charm and magic of this record. The really captured lightning in a bottle here.

Download: The Nightingales - Love in Return

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

On Hold

As you may have seen on other blogs, Divshare has had a meltdown the past ten days or so. They keep giving updates, but key parts of their site do not work at all, and if they do work, it's not fully. Last week, I was able to provide links to downloads, this week, I can't even upload (and judging from comments on facebook and other blogs, neither can anyone else. I don't have a backup site, and do not want to start paying for another one unless I can unhooked from Divshare with money back. I'll reconsider looking elsewhere if this goes on much further, and I do have tracks ready for the next two posts, which will start going up the day this problem is fixed. Bob

Monday, July 01, 2013

The SOUND of Puget Sound!

Earlier this week, I spent a wonderful day with my best pal Stu, with whom I've also shared a love of, and a passion for collecting, song-poems. We dug through my unshared s-p records, as well as the pile of records I haven't even had a chance to listen to. From this latter pile came one of our choices for an upcoming offering, and I chose to make it today's record. It's from the Pacific Northwest.

Bremerton, Washington, is just a 55 minute ferry ride from Seattle across the Puget Sound, and is the home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. It seems at least likely that this town of 40,000 (today - it was closer to 30,000 in the '60's) was home to Henry Ward, who just as likely was the proprietor of Puget Sound Records. 

This is the only record I've ever seen on Puget Sound records, but the label number (503) leads me to believe that there were at least three others. For at least this record, Ward contracted to have Lee Hudson work  his magic with his lyrics, and this resulted in the lovely voice of Cara Stewart singing the plaintive song of frustration, "I Got Gypped In My Love". And as with most of Cara's records, it's a lovely thing to hear. 

I'd also like to point out the audible dips heard during part of the guitar solo, where it sounds like someone put a finger on the turntable, repeatedly. Those moments are part of the record - I played that section three times, on two turntables, and it played like that every time. 


The flip side (actually, this is the A-side, but I liked "Gypped" a bit better), also written by Henry Ward, is a nice one, too. This has the same groove, same sound and same style of vocal - Lee Hudson's styles were somewhat limited, although they are such winning sounds that I hardly mind hearing them over and over again. I hope it's the same for you. 

Download: Cara Stewart with the Gold Coast Boys - I'm Right Back Where I Started

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A One Sided Acetate... How Noval

I'm a little late this week, due to some connectivity problems, among other things - I hope to be back on an end-of-the-week/weekend schedule in another couple of days.

Meanwhile, here's the only item in my collection that fits this particular description: It's a one-sided acetate on the Noval Records label. There's no artist named, but that's not unusual, as Noval never named the artists on their records. They did bother to credit the arranger, and as always just put his first name, in this case "Jay".

As far as the material, well, this is not a demo version of a Noval record. It sounds like a demo, but so did all of their releases, and this one is no exception. To me, the structure of the song most closely resembles that of "The 23rd Channel", with a bridge section in particular sounding like a rewrite of the bridge of that record.

The stunning thing about this record is that the "sweetest dream" of the title is, if I'm understanding them correctly, that the singer has now learned that she is to die soon, and will be seeing God soon. If you think I have that wrong, please chime in.

Download: No Artist Named - The Sweetest Dream

Sunday, June 16, 2013

When is Bob Storm NOT Bob Storm?

Or maybe the better question is, who was/is Bob Storm?

One of the most confounding things - among many - about the Halmark label is its artist credits. Much of the time this was handled simply - the artist wasn't credited. But when they DID credit a singer, more often than not, the name given was Bob Storm. When I started collecting song-poem records, I thought I had a fairly good idea who Bob Storm was - the Halmark tracks featuring a pompous, overblown, unctuous baritone, usually singing with a remarkably ridiculous amount of vibrato. That was Bob Storm. Most of the songs, sung by a male singer, that weren't sung by the trebly, somewhat tinny-voiced singer on Halmark. That was Bob Storm. 

In fact, here's a perfect example of the Bob Storm I came to know and love, on a typically turgid piece called "Wonderful Heaven Waiting for You". This one has the astounding extra benefit of having Mr. Storm offer up a spoken word introduction, which makes it just that much more special!


The problem is that, while Bob Storm is the most frequently identified singer on Halmark 45's, the records bearing that name do not always actually feature the singer you just heard on one side of today's disk. I am aware of at least four singers, including one woman, who had releases on Halmark which came out credited to Bob Storm. Most frequently, this happened to the other singer I mentioned up there, Jack Kim. On the other hand, I have one record - my favorite Halmark record of all, "Lady Off Pedestal at Notre Dame", which is credited to Jack Kim, but the singer is clearly the man heard on the track I just shared, the one I always think of as Bob Storm.

The flip side of this record, a rather pedestrian tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, titled "Sleep On, Dr. King", is also credited to Bob Storm. And while this isn't Jack Kim (or the female singer I mentioned), I just don't think this is the usual Bob Storm, either (unless he was capable of MUCH more vocal manipulation than most singers. The range, the style and the overall performance quality are not really in the same ballpark. I'm not sure I even recognize this vocalist from other Halmark records!

Download: Labeled as 'Bob Storm" - Sleep On, Dr. King

So who is/was Bob Storm? Was there actually a singer by that name (as there was for Jack Kim - real name Jack Kimmel)? Or was that just a catchall artist credit that Halmark used on those releasees where they named a singer, with no actual person by that name or even assumed name. Will we ever know?