Sunday, October 12, 2014
Music of Crusty America
Although I've never featured it on this site before, the Star-Crest song-poem label holds a special fascination for me. Their albums (and it's almost always an album - I've only ever heard of four 45's on the label, and have only ever seen one of those) are unlike the products of any other label, except for perhaps Film-Tone, a label which they are reported to have had some sort of connection to.
Star- Crest releases are extra chintzy, often described on the label as featuring an orchestra, although rarely actually featuring more than four instruments, and often fewer than that. Their singers are either hopelessly incompetent, or at best are not very good at sight-reading - it certainly sounds to me like these singers have never seen the material before. That was rarely a problem for the likes of Gene Marshall, but the Star-Crest vocalists seem to trip over the melodies quite a bit more than was the average for song-poem vocalists.
The songs are also over in a flash. This album contains 22 songs in barely 40 minutes, many of them under 100 seconds long. Like many Star-Crest albums, it also contains a genuine hit song from the past, in this case WAY past (hello, public domain), "Columbia, Gem of the Ocean".
Then there is the material that Star-Crest received, or at least those lyrics they accepted. Much of their clientele seems to have been stuck in that period of the '30's where exceptionally corny novelties and sickly sweet sentimental clap-trap ruled the day. Those writers whose lyrics were in some way more contemporary (again, see the second track, below) were simply out of luck. Because to nearly all of these lyrics were paired arrangements that simply exist out of time entirely. There is no period in American music that I'm aware of when hit music (or potential hit music) was released which featured vocalists paired with piano, guitar and clarinet (or sax). True demo records are not typically this elaborate - and actual releases on real record labels not anywhere near this sparse.
The first example today is the song "The Little Grey Rabbit", as sung by Mary Martell. Here's a lyric which is clearly leading up to a moral, and when it arrives, it's more sudden and perhaps a bit harsher than one might have expected.
From the other end of the spectrum comes a hapless attempt at Rock and Roll, sung by label stalwart Tony Rogers, titled "Rock N' Roll Rocker". This contains one of the weirdest couplets I have heard in a song-poem (or any song) in quite some time:
"Grandma may be dead and weak,
but her get her in her rocker and she's a freak."
Dead and weak?
That's the "best" line, but the whole thing is amazing, in a car-crash sort of way.
Finally, as an example of what some of the other material on the album sounds like - the stuff that isn't hit-over-the-head moralistic or hopelessly misguided, here's an attempt at whimsy, titled "Just a Little Tugboat", sung again by Mary Martell.
A full Star-Crest album which I posted several years ago to WFMU can be found here.