First up, I have a few links to share, courtesy of two frequent correspondents.
First, some of you may remember this posting of an ultra weird song called "My Doll Jane" from 2015. Well, ace collector and blogger Sammy Reed has discovered a remake of the song on the flipside in that posting. When I posted "Helen Goodnight", I commented that Gene Marshall makes a major melodic flub right at the point of the key change.
Well, whether due to that flub, or some other reason, song-poet Helen Clak (too bad it wasn't "Helen Back") commissioned a remake of her song several years later, near the end of Preview's existence. Whether this was because of Gene's flub or some other reason, I certainly don't know - it's the same song, though, same melody and everything. Sammy's posting can be found here.
And then, from the "I absolutely did not see that coming" file, I have an e-mail by ace song-poem detective Bruce Baryla. You might remember that he came up with the definitive answer to all those questions about Bob Storm some time ago. In this case, Bruce has discovered information about Rosalee Baker, who turned up on a single known Tin Pan Alley release, which I featured here. Well, Bruce has deduced, from a series of online sources, that Rosalee Baker was the first wife of the great guitarist (and early Tin Pan Alley sideman) Mickey Baker, and would have been his ex-wife by the time of her Tin Pan Alley. Among other sources, he has found her obituary here, and also sent me a quote from a 1957 edition of Jet Magazine:
Fascinating stuff, both of you. The song-poem world is a deeply mysterious and many layered thing, and I love finding out more information from its nooks and crannies.
And now, let's get back to the countdown:
As I may have written about. here or elsewhere, I spent a huge amount of my free time, in my early 20's, at the Northwestern University Music Library, painstakingly copying down the top 40 charts (and those which came before them, back to 1940), by hand, and at times, studying the rest of individual magazines as I paged through them. My friend Stu began accompanying me for a time, and I believe he was with me, when I saw a high entry on a 1971 chart called "The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley" by C Company featuring Terry Nelson. The song marched into the top 40 at # 37 in its second week, as I recall, stayed there, and then quickly fell off the chart, appearing for a total of four weeks..
I'd never heard of Calley, but Stu filled me in on Calley's atrocious, appalling and downright horrific acts in Vietnam and his wholly appropriate conviction. In an issue of Billboard from the month that the song hit, I found a front page article about the controversy surrounding the record. We wondered about the song itself, but being that it was 1982 or so, had no real way to access it without a LOT of searching.
Some years later, my friend Tom and I actually found a copy of the record amongst literally hundreds of records we'd bought, when we purchased a "dime bin" full of 45's from a local used record store for about $50 (we did that about five times - those were the days). Upon hearing the opening narration about how Calley pretended to be a soldier from early childhood, Tom was absolutely certain that it was either satire or that it was going to be an aggressive putdown of the man in question. Having already read about the song, I assured him that, as ham-fisted and misguided as it was, the tribute and support on the record were meant to be sincere.
You can read more about that record on this page of the Vietnam War Song Project, where there are 115 songs about My Lai and Lt. Calley listed, including today's feature. The hit song I've just mentioned is number 16 on that page's list, and it includes some of the comments from Billboard. My feature today can be found there, at number 36.
Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean.... Gene Marshall was drafted into service to provide today's offering, "The Ballad of Lt. William Calley", a record which seems to exist mostly to get people to listen to the record that they're presumably already listening to. Gene narrates about 90% of the record, rather than singing, and the song-poet expresses the interesting viewpoint that only God can judge people - no doubt he felt the same way about those protesters in Chicago in 1968 and others whose behavior he disagreed with. No doubt.
I really wish I could be in Gene Marshall's brain before, during and after the recording of this record. For a man who, by his own admission, let fly a string of obscenities after having to record a pro-Nixon record for Preview, I feel certain that he disagreed with every word he was singing... er, speaking, here.
For what it's worth, and I'm sure to the horror of those misguided enough to consider him a hero, Calley did eventually publicly apologize for his actions.
If anything, the flip side, by the same song-poet, is the more entertaining of the two songs, if only because it contains about as many poorly written and difficult to sing couplets as any song I've ever heard. It's called "America is My Country". I'd call it half-assed, but that would be an insult to asses. And what's more, it throws in yet another reference, almost at random, to Lt. Calley.
I'm particularly fond of this set of lines, which occur back to back:
"We've got a Lieutenant / he's a man who treats us fair /
Yes, Sir, I'm from Oklahoma / And America's My Country /
Oh, kind folks and teenagers....."
(note, the accent is on the second syllable of Country)
There's also this:
"I've joined the army now, boys, and I'm working for THE government."
Download: Gene Marshall - America is My Country