Sunday, October 12, 2014
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.
Saturday, October 04, 2014
The good news is that I've figured out the sound problem with my turntable, and have uploaded improved sound files to last week's post (the Bob Storm record). That post, with improved sound, can be found here. I'll continue to fix the previous three or four posts as soon as I have time.
The same family issue mentioned above has left me with little time to offer comments on today's record, "Love Me, Love Me, Love", by Norm Burns and the Satellites. I will say that I rather enjoy the sound of this record, due to the efforts of the spare backing band (dig one of the simplest guitar solos in history) and Norm's unique stylings, but the lyrics are about as basic, repetitive and uninspired as they come.
I can say nothing good about the flip side, "Oh! The Precious Blood". I'm not automatically opposed to religious records, but the words here are stultifying and the music is awful. I hope the sound file here worked correctly - I couldn't bring myself to listen to all four and a half minutes of this tedium a second time.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
On those rare occasions when a new Bob Storm record makes itself available to me, I make every effort to be first in line to buy it. My hope against hope is that the resulting record will not only actually feature Bob Storm (and Halmark - or in this case "Hallmark" - records bearing that name aren't always actually Bob Storm records - some are even women!), but that it will also feature Mr. Storm in his ultra-unctuous singing mode.
After listening to tons of Bob Storm records, and debating those that seem questionable with other collectors, it seems likely to me that ol' BS had at least two or three styles he could switch on and off, ranging from Standard Big Band Belter to that otherworldly, Robert Goulet on steroids voice I love so much.
So, even though I might not have said so in the past, I do think that the Big Band style vocalist on "My Teen Age Queen" is Bob Storm. That leads to a bit of disappointment, but this is more than made up for by the fact that here we have a vocalist who sounds at least 40 years old paying tribute to his teen sweetheart. That, to me, would have benefited from the more over-the-top Storm vocal style, but this one will do.
It's also worth mentioning that although this backing track is right in Halmark's wheelhouse, I don't remember hearing it on any of their records.
On the flip side, "Only Because I Love You", we have a more intermediate step in the Bob Storm stairway to Unctuosity. He never quite steps into the abyss of that wonderful ridiculousness, but it's still fun to hear him emote over the canned music behind him.
On a side note, it's interesting to me that these two songs barely reach 4 1/2 minutes together, a real rarity for Hallmark/Halmark records, which tend to reach or pass the 3 minute mark on most sides.
Friday, September 19, 2014
First, I want to address a question I got from an anonymous poster last week, who asked where I get my replacement phonograph needles. I get mine from http://www.lptunes.com/. I had to enter the brand name and item number of my turntable, I think - it's been awhile since I used them for the first time.
And now, on with the countdown:
Much more often than not, when I've shared a mid-period Tin Pan Alley record - whoever the singer, but often Mike Thomas - my comments have been dismissive or satiric. And I think in having a listen to the attached songs, many would find those comments well deserved.
But here we have one with many of the drawbacks of other TPA records of the era - limited lyrics, limited instrumentation, somewhat limited musicianship, perhaps not the best choice of musical setting for the lyrics - and yet, I kind of dig it. The DIY sound here works a bit better than usual, Mike Thomas stays on pitch and seems more suited for this particular material than I can remember on any of his other discs.
I do think a more dramatic setting might have worked better about a song which pays tribute to those who died at sea, and also serves as a warning to those who feel "The Call of the Sea", and yet.... this is sort of enjoyable...
The flip side, "High on the Mountain" strikes me as pretty much a throwaway - it's 87 seconds long! It has some of the same qualities of "Sea", but nothing to distinguish it, or to make me want to hear it again.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Well, so much for the plan to fill up the site with posts every five days until I was caught up. Days after making the sound files for the last two posts, my needle gave up the ghost, and as I order new ones online these days, I had to wait a week for a new one.
But I think I've got something to make up for that delay, in one of the weirdest song-poem pairings you're likely to come across.
I first saw these titles several years ago on the AS/PMA Preview page, but never thought I'd actually get a chance to hear them. Glory be, though, a copy came up for sale in a Buy It Now on eBay, and I snapped it up! Here we have someone named Alain Peron, offering up some thoroughly misguided (and limited) lyrics supporting the GOP ticket of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.
On both sides of the record, the limited lyrics are padded out to nearly four minutes by lengthy instrumental sections. Note that the singing on side one ("We Want Dick, We Want Dick, We Want Dick") doesn't start until 70 seconds into the record, and ends (aside from some chanting) more than two minutes before the record ends. And doesn't the crowd at 2:20 sound enthused? That's all I'll say, I think - I'll let you discover the wonders of this record on your own.
The Preview page has some contradictory information regarding when various records appear to have been released, but based on this label number, it appears much more likely that this record was put together for the 1972 campaign, rather than the 1968 campaign.
The flip side of this masterpiece - "We Want Dick and Spiro, We Want Dick and Spiro, We Want Dick and Spiro" - opens with music unlike anything ever heard on another Preview disc. It starts with a moment of polka-esque music, before moving into some Austrian-styled oompah music. The vocals here wait until the 75 second mark, and clearly are from a different recording - you can hear the source tape ramping up to speed on the first word. At least on this one, the vocals carry on for the remainder of the song.
Again, the lyrics here are the main show, and I encourage you to discover them on your own, with one exception that I will share, because it just makes me laugh out loud - has anyone actually ever referred to politicians in this way: "a Repub instead of a Demo?"
Monday, September 01, 2014
Today's feature is shared more for an interesting side note about it than for any particularly high quality in terms of song, arrangement or performance. I actually find the song dull, the pressing of the vinyl abysmal, and the arrangement and performance absolutely pedestrian.
But that's sort of the point. Those reading this site are probably at least vaguely aware of Rodd Keith's decline during 1973-74, as detailed in booklets to various CD releases, ending in his death shortly before the end of 1974. It looks very much to me as if this record was one of the final releases that came out under any of Rodd's myriad names during his lifetime.
Admittedly, some of this is conjecture. But while the song-poem website is woefully incomplete, it does appear that there were VERY few records by Rodd Rogers (the name he used at the label at that time) after release number 784, heard below, "Leaving Chicago Today". And aside from one or two later releases, the others seem to be "vault" releases, if MSR did such a thing, one being a song pulled from the "Variety Songs for 1969" album, apparently well after that album's release, and one being released at least two years after Rodd's death.
I'm guessing I'm right, but whatever the cause, "Leaving Chicago Today" is just about the most lackluster performance I've ever heard from Rod/Rodd Keith/Rogers, and a cookie cutter arrangement which is just about the antithesis of what he had typically offered up, with none of the hallmarks of his style or abilities. my thought is that if you played some of Rodd's mid-'60's highlights from Film City and Preview for a neophyte, then played this one, the listener would likely say "what the hell happened to the guy?".
About the flip side, "I'm Talking to Myself", I could easily say most of the same things. This record sounds to me like someone's truly bad attempt to tap into a sound and style which was popular on the charts around the early '70's - attempts which fail miserably, in part at least because of what sounds like the disinterest of everyone involved.
If anyone out there has more insight into Rodd's life and times, and the likely release date of this record, by all means, let me know, and if I'm offbase, I'll update accordingly.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
I was effectively out of town the weekend before last, and knew I'd be a bit late updating the site as a result. What I didn't know was that, within about 24 hours of returning home, I'd lose my internet connection for the better part of a week. I was (and am) online at work, but that wasn't going to help, if you know what I mean.
So I've had one of those rare periods where I've been unable to post for two weeks. And I don't like it. I'm going to try and post every four or five days until I'm back on schedule in a few weeks. For this week, I don't have much time to blather on about it. Suffice it to say that it's a very late period Film City masterwork (okay, that's a bit of an overstatement - it's a work), featuring Jim Wheeler. Note that Wheeler gets co-writing credit on both sides.
The better of the songs, by a wide margin, is on the b-side. "Old Grey Mule" is no great shakes, and the sound quality is awful, but there is a home-spun charm about the lyrics, at least if you don't mind hearing about the singer getting beaten up by.... well, I'll let you hear it... and as always, the otherworldly sound of the Chamberlin.
The flip side of this record, "The Lawman's Creed" is a genuinely tedious (four and a half minutes!!!) telling of an Old West tale, with an ironic ending straight out of six dozen other songs and stories of this type. I swear this song seems ready to stop entirely at a few points along the way, and the story could be summarized in a half-minute at most.
More this weekend!