Monday, July 28, 2014

Rodd Rivers and the "Big Action Sound"!

I've always been fairly fascinated with the twists and turns of Rodd Keith's song-poem career, from Film City and its off-shoots to Preview and then MSR. What I'm going to offer up here is pure speculation, as I have absolutely no idea the truth of the matter, but I've noticed that with each change, Rodd changed his billing, from Rod Rogers at Film City to Rodd Keith at Preview and then, after a flurry of releases as Rodd Keith at MSR, back to the slightly different Rodd Rogers for his final releases at that label.

 What I wonder is: was this a contractual thing? Was he under contract to Film City, so to get around that, he had to go under a different name at Preview? And did Preview decide it owned the name "Rodd Keith", leading to the slightly changed earlier moniker? And if so, does that explain the further alteration seen on today's feature?

For this record clearly comes from Film City's production studio, based on the Chamberlin and the production sound, and if the stamp on the A-side is to be believed, is from a point in 1971 when Rodd had not been at Film City in quite some time, and was being billed as "Rodd Rogers" over at MSR.  Was he moonlighting at his old stomping grounds, unable to be billed under any of his preferred monikers?

Again, all speculation. If I'm totally off base, I'm sure someone is out there who knows better than I do. Whether you know or not, I'd be interested in other thoughts.

All that said, first up is a superb example of Rodd's abilities as a one man band, on the song "Any Way You Want It (clearly superior to the Journey song of the same title... although.... what isn't...). It comes complete with interactive vocals, Rodd answering Rodd and occasionally harmonizing with himself. All of this is heard over a nifty Chamberlin performance, featuring those soaring faux-choral oohs, an otherworldly sound that I just love. The song itself is no slouch, either - Rodd created a really nice, memorable melody.

On the flip side is the deceptively titled "Sing a Happy Song". A lesser song-poem composer might have ignored the lyric and attached a bouncy, peppy backing track. Rodd's song, on the other hand, is a more contemplative mid-tempo shuffle, appropriate to the lyric, which is about a man trying to overcome his heartbreak, after a romance has ended. Again, we have some nice harmony singing, too!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Baby, You Sure Can Palpitate!

How can one not get at least a little stirred up at the thought of hearing a song-poem titled "Palpitatin' Syncopatin' Baby, sung by Gene Marshall, no less?

The lyrics are suitibly weird ("When I get the beat, I'm always indiscreet; when sex appeals, I kick my heels"), and Gene is certainly up to the task of filling these words with a good measure of feeling, as is the wah-wah guitarist.

On the other hand, the rest of the band seems to be sleepwalking. And whoever decided to pad this record out past three minutes, by adding a 40 second bland solo section, in which the lifeless female backups repeat the title over and over... well, that person was in the wrong job.

Still, the end result is weird enough to make it worth a few spins. I hope you agree:

The flip side is "Love For This Day". With its bland peace and love lyrics, MOR setting and remarkably poor Gene Marshall vocal (missed notes, wavering around the pitch), this one does not strike me as worth a few spins. I do wonder, however, what the writer of this pablum thought when he heard the lyrics that were on the flip side of his creation.

And happy 21st birthday yesterday to my younger daughter, Molly!!! The years have flown by....

Monday, July 14, 2014

Baby, You're So Fine

Here's a record label that tells a tale. At the Sterling page at the AS/PMA website, there is only a single Norm Burns record listed later than this one. And that one record comes quite a few discs later, with the billing to Norman Burns, a billing ("Norman") that hadn't been used about seven years, as of 1974. It seems at least possible that that latter listing was actually an earlier recording, held back for some reason.

Either way, this record is likely among the last, and perhaps the very last, that Norm Burns recorded. As I recall the story (and it's been about 15 years, so maybe I'm not recalling it correctly), Norm was diagnosed with a terminal illness in 1974, very late in its progression, and died mere weeks later. This is consistent with the story told by record numbers on the website, where Norm was on virtually every release until, suddenly, he wasn't on any releases.

And he's only on the one side of this record, paired up with a singer (sic) who is otherwise undocumented among the Sterling discography.

The song itself, "Baby, You're So Fine" features a typically strong Norm Burns, with a haunted sounding backing track, featuring some nice bass playing and drums, soulful organ and '60's-ish backing vocalists.

The flip side of Norm's number, titled "Did I Tell You?" features Rick Wilson with the Five Stars. This is complete speculation, but given that there don't appear to be other Rick Wilson records out there on Sterling, is it possible that they just grabbed whoever was available for the other side of this record? I ask, because I can't imagine anyone thought this guy was a worthy singer - his wispy style and difficulty staying on pitch do not make me wish for a second listen. Then again, one could presume that they chose Norm's eventual replacement, the utterly unworthy Gary Roberts, over this guy, and that wouldn't have been a "sterling" choice, either.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Song-Poem Patriotism

Well, I'm a bit late for Independence Day, but better late than never. Not so much for the fourth of July, which is pretty much tied down by its own name to a particular date. But "better late than never" could have been the slogan for Halmark Records, whose material often sounded about 20-25 years out of date.

And today's feature does concern America, specifically, one song-poet's fears that the shrinking numbers of Eagles might portend the same dire fate for America and Americans. The song is simply titled "The Eagle", and before those eagle-eyed readers - those who salivate at the thought of new Bob Storm ridiculousness to enjoy - notice the billing of Bob Storm on both sides of this record label, be assured that the singer on the a-side sounds (at least to me) very little like ol' Bob, although there are a few moments where I think it's possible - perhaps he had an on-off on that over-the-top unctuousness that is absent here. (The b-side singer is quite clearly not Bob Storm.)

This side has the benefit, rare among Halmark sides, of being barely two minutes long.

Brevity is not among the charms of the nearly four minute long flip side, "The Man from Glory". I doubt that the singer here was known as "Bob" to anyone, as you'll hear. Here we have another person summarizing the New Testament Gospels for us, perhaps in case we were unfamiliar with the story. The turgid backing track and annoying histrionics of the singer make this one nearly unlistenable for me.

Monday, June 30, 2014

She Really Likes Those Green Mountains!

Here's an example of a song-poem, the specific likes of which I can't remember seeing before. Both sides are both sides written by the same lyricist - which is admittedly hardly a rarity - but both sides also have nearly identical song titles, but for one changed word. And of the two, the song that lyricist Dorothy Deane would presumably have preferred to have sung by a woman is the one sung by a man. I don't think these songs are particularly good - the second one I actually find extremely dreary - but I thought that the pairing of the songs themselves was interesting.

Bobbi Blake takes the lead first with "My Dear Green Mountain Home". The backing is pretty bland, as I find the majority of late '70's MSR records to be, but the lyrics are at least sweet, and Bobbi Blake provides a warm vocal.

Dick Kent takes over with "My Dear Green Mountain Sweetheart", which is just enough slwer than the flip side to become more and more tedious as it goes on - this is not helped out by the way that whoever wrote the music drags out the words of the chorus. And then there's "Oh, My, She's Just Swell".

By the way, the hum you may detect on both of these sides is right on the record. It starts off after the lead-in groove, and ends before the trail-off groove on each side. You can even here someone speak softly for a split second at the start of Dick Kent's side.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Real Pros Bonanza

Before offering up today's super-deluxe posting, I need to offer a giant thank you and an acknowledgement.

First off, thanks go to a man named George Galvas, who wrote me out of the blue last year to offer me this record essentially free, only suggesting that I post it if I felt it lived up to his billing, which it most certainly does. Thanks, George - I can only apologize for the more than half-a-year it took for me to post the record, which has nothing to do with the quality of the material, which is, in a couple of cases, just amazing.

Then, in the meantime, between getting the offer from George and actually receiving the record, something else happened, which is that the fine folks at Roaratorio Records released their newest Rodd Keith collection, which not only includes the song that George thought made this record so special (I would argue that there are actually two special cuts here), but actually made that track - Black Phoenix Blues - the title track of that compilation, which can be found here and elsewhere. Quite a weird coincidence! Take a trip over to Roaratoria and look around - they have some interesting things to offer.

So I called this a bonanza, and it certainly is - SIX song poems on one 45. You probably know that, after a brief period releasing records by a one-man-band, Cinema turned the "Real Pros" name over to the same group of freelance musicians that were appearing on all the larger name song-poem outfits in the Los Angeles of the day.

And so we find the first two songs, both rather pedestrian to my ears, sung by a vocalist I'm pretty sure is Bobbi Blake. First up is "The Dancer". While the line "fall in love and your heart gets bent" shows some promise, much of the lyric is just not that musical: you know that the singer and the producers have thrown in the towel when they have the singer start talking the lyrics half-way through, as happens here:

The same singer returns for track two, a number called "Liberated Woman", an uninspired lyrical put down of one of the many women who would have fit that description in 1973 (and since):

The real (pro) fun, for me, begins with track three, "Lady Lady", with its repeated references to the title lady being "dressed in plastic" and how she has a "plastic mind", all set to an oh-so-sensitive backing and with vocal stylings to match. This one really grabs me - it's pleasingly ridiculous. But speaking of the vocals, this singer is on three of the four remaining tracks. I'm assuming that the folks at Roaratoria believe this to be Rodd Keith.

Maybe my ol' song-poem ears are playing tricks on me, but I can't tell WHO this is - some of the inflections sound like a thicker-throated Dick Kent, other lines have the timbre and phrasing of Gene Marshall, and at moments, I could believe this is Rodd Keith. But in general, the singer doesn't sound like ANY of them to me - Gene Marshall is the closest, to my ears. What say y'all?

Moving on to side two, we're back to Bobbi Blake, with another song which is no match for her abilities, the stilted, obvious lyrics of "Come Back". The only thing that catches my ear here is the poorly chosen line "we built our love on concrete blocks...". I'm sorry, but when I think of concrete blocks, I think of a broken down car outside of someone's garage propped up by blocks (I probably got this from Archie comics) - this is certainly not the image the writer was going for.

For the fifth track, we're back to the Gene Marshall-esque singer from track three, heard here singing the requisite "you done me wrong" songs which certainly seem to crop up at least once among any random sampling of six song-poems. In this case, it has the prosaic title "Girl, You Hurt Me So". This is about as stereotypical in lyric and sound as a song-poem can get.

None of the above will have effectively prepared you for the final track, "Black Phoenix Blues". Here we have the same singer as the previous track - and please, feel free to tell me who you think this is - in a nightclubby blues sort of setting, singing words that I'll not quote - you should be allowed to experience them for yourself. I would love to know what this lyricist was rambling about. Here it goes!:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Intoxicating Sound of Incompetence!

The story behind this record - well, my story of this record begins not long after I started collecting song-poems. This was well before I'd ever looked at eBay, and what little online record buying I did was through independent websites and GEMM. And it was in looking at the latter one day, probably in 1999, that I saw a Tin Pan Alley release called "The Proon Doon Walk" for sale. Being short on funds at that moment, I saved my finding for later, but when I went back to buy it, it was gone. The title stayed with me, and I always wondered about fabulous, bizarre title that got away.

Flash forward more than a dozen years, to a point at which I received one of the occasional e-mail unsolicited offers to be sold some song-poems (this has happened a few times since I started posting song-poems). Among those offered - all of them listed by record number, for easier comparison with my previous collection - was TPA 402. When I got my purchases, I was overjoyed to see that this one was the very same "Proon Doon Walk".

And while great or weird song-poem titles often turn out, once heard, to be among the duller records in the genre, I'm glad to say this is the exception. It helps that this record was clearly recorded around the same time - and I surmise, listening to it, by the same people - as TPA 390, just 12 records earlier, which contains the wonderfully awful "Snow Man", also sung, as are today's songs, by Bob Gerard.

I simply can't get enough of this deeply, deeply weird record, and would love to have been at the recording session to see if everyone was trying not to crack up the whole time. It's an intoxicating listen.

Like "Snow Man", "The Proon Doon Walk" contains some of the most incompetent bass playing ever heard outside of a first timers music lesson. The bass player literally doesn't seem to be playing the same song as the rest of the band. That's okay, though, because even the guitarist seems to be in his own world at times. At the start of this record, it sounds to me as if at least two different songs are beginning.

And all of is just the underbelly to a ridiculous lyric - listen carefully to the directions, and try to do this dance (perhaps you can contemplate what "Proon Doon" means, too). And those words are set to a repetitive, virtually tuneless melody, featuring Bob Gerard's vocal, in which he demonstrates absolutely no recognizable singing techniques, save for the occasional excited interjection ("YEAH!"). Then there's the momentary addition of reverb at the 1:14 point, which then disappears just as quickly (it has to, the whole song is only 95 seconds long!).

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this song is that writer Nathaniel Eing submitted it not only to Tin Pan Alley, but also to the notably un-rock-and-roll oriented Noval records, where it was released as Noval 138, as "arranged by Jay". I would LOVE to hear what this lyric sounds like paired with the slow, lugubrious arrangements favored by the folks at Noval. I don't know which one came first, but Noval seems like the older label to me (I could be totally wrong). In imagining the Noval version, I'm also picturing Mr. Eing's reaction to it, his decision to try again with Tin Pan Alley, and then his reaction to this mess.

But that will have to wait until another day, if at all. And really, isn't it enough to hear the Tin Pan Alley version? For my money, it's one of the more off-kilter things I've ever heard on a 45.

The flip side, "Wandering Eyes", features some of the same half-assed bass playing - seriously, is that a gut-bucket and string? - but the rest of the band manages to hold it together in workmanlike style for a marathon 107 seconds this time, and Bob Gerard just sounds like a guy singing Karaoke, rather than the completely over-his-head singer heard on the A-side.