Monday, July 16, 2018
A Jaw-Dropping Rodd Keith Record
Relatively early in my days of song-poem collecting, I asked song-poem maven Phil Milstein for his insight into what was the most popular song-poem, among those he'd heard from and interacted with. His answer was that it was Gary Robert's magnificently weird and half-assed "Do You Know the Difference Between Big Wood and Brush". This made sense to me, because not only was it likely the first song-poem most fans heard (at that point, at least, as it was the lead track on both the first vinyl and the first CD song-poem compilations), but it has a lot of the hallmarks (sic) of the best/worst of song-poems - utterly personal lyrics, no sense (by the lyricist) of what will and won't work when set to music - in this case, spectacularly so - minimal effort by the backing band, and a singer who is no great shakes.
Today, I have an example of what happens when a musical genius, his better days behind him, is offered a chance to work with a similarly convoluted, personal set of lyrics, words which have no business being made into a song. And I find the results stunning, sad, astonishing at times. I would not rank the weirdness on a level with "Big Wood and Brush", but this record is deeply odd in its own ways, while sharing that glorious factor of incompetent storytelling in the lyrics.
The genius in question is Rodd Keith, performing on one of the first records released on Sandy Stanton's "Action Records" label, along with the "Big Action Sound", which is simply the Chamberlin. My guess - and it's just that - is that at this point (1972), Rodd was under contract with MSR, and could not appear as either Rod Rogers or Rodd Keith, so he shows up here as "Terry Thomas", perhaps in honor of the great British comic actor.
Anyway, this record is a mess. Rodd's Chamberlin choices, while they do contain some interesting parts, are often shrill and ugly. Vocally I hear a shell of the man who'd offered so many great performances in the 1960's. And the material he was given to work with is... something else - I'll let you discover its charms.
See what you think!
Download: Terry Thomas and the "Big Action Sound" - I'm a Lonely Man
On the flip side is a song for which Rodd - as Terry Thomas - actually took co-writer credit. It's a better song (lyrics by the same person as on "Lonely Man"). Rodd sounds a bit more engaged, and the track is more cohesive, too, but there's nothing there that holds my attention. Your mileage may vary.
Download: Terry Thomas and the "Big Action Sound" - Make Up Your Mind