Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pardo Me...I feel the LOSS of Jeopardy & Saturday Night Live voice DON PARDO

Don Pardo...he was probably THE greatest announcer in TV history.

He made it look easy, but like being a good quiz show host, being a good announcer is not easy. You can't just be a handsome guy to host a show well, or have a nice voice to be an announcer. Personality is needed.

Don Pardo had it. He pioneered it. Just as quiz show hosts gradually evolved to include wiseguys (Groucho Marx on "You Bet Your Life") and impish troublemakers (Bob Eubanks on "Newleywed Game") Don Pardo used his voice to color the bland world of products and names.

As the announcer on the original "Jeopardy," he gave an almost sardonic edge to the proceedings. His all-knowing, sly and mock-stern vocalizing let you know that Michael C. Fina silverware was crap, that Rice-a-Roni was crap, and that winning a bunch of useless junk was a fool's paradise. And wait, dear contestant, till you get that notice from the I.R.S. about taxes!

Pardo's style and importance led host Art Fleming to specifically mention Don's name. "Thank you, Don Pardo..." became part of the proceedings. How many other announcers were worth that? On "The Tonight Show," you eventually heard a modest, "And me? I'm Ed McMahon." And lately, Letterman's red-headed stooge makes sure to list the guests and then toss in, "I'm Alan Kalter." And why did he get the job? Because his leering style isn't too far from what Don Pardo created on "Jeopardy," which was adopted by earthy smartass Bill Wendell (another NBC staffer...who was Dave's original announcer for 15 years...even when Dave moved to CBS.)

Below...a sample of Don. Listen to the way he tears into a dimwit loser on "Jeopardy," courtesy of Weird Al Yankovic's parody of Greg Kihn's "Our Love's in Jeopardy." It's not far, at all, from how he announced cheesy prizes on that show in those pre-Trebek days.

A venerable staffer at NBC, after Art Fleming's "Jeopardy" left the air, Pardo was handed the assignment of announcing "Saturday Night Live." Naturally, writers were quick to use his almost-mocking vocals on the show, and even toss him some on-camera gags, too. You can find a multi-part interview with Don on YouTube, courtesy of the Archive of American Television, and if you're into voicework, it'll be a lot of fun for you to watch. There are also plenty of obits today where you can learn more about Don and his career.

I'll just add that today's news about his passing, even at the ripe old age of 96, saddens me greatly. At times, the most entertaining part of "Saturday Night Live" was Don's all-knowing, all-mocking reading of some names that were more interesting than the actors or actresses owning them. I ain't namin' names. Except that I think, in the most recent roster...he probably got a big kick out of "BROOKS WHELAN!" HOW many years did Don announce SNL? What now...Darrell Hammond taking over the job...or do they get some preposterous, tin-voiced ninny to do it? Maybe the guy who does Fallon's "Tonight Show" and who is really just imitating Andy Richter?

There was nobody who did it like DON PARDO. I know it may seem like a big fuss to make...but I admired the guy, and got such a kick out of him. Look, I even enjoy listening to Michael Buffer (not his bawling, warthog brother) and I even listen for when he's pitchy or when he eases the microphone away on the last syllable of "RUMBLE." So I beg your Pardo...but when SNL begins next month...he WILL be missed. So long, Pardner.

Here's Thomas Hurley III, Alex Trebek, Don Pardo, and WEIRD AL…all combining for….

I LOST ON JEOPARDY Thomas Hurley III is a LOSER

Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait time or "tip jar" for Paypal donations.

105 In the Shade: LICIA ALBANESE is at rest

In a close contest, it was Licia Albanese over Rise Stevens 105-99.

Basketball? Well, no, opera divas. The incredible Licia Albanese died a few days ago at the age of 105. Amazing.

Also amazing, is that she resisted playing the lead in Lucia De Lammermoor. You could imagine, ala "Oprah, Uma" David Letterman inanely standing on stage and shouting, "Licia! Lucia!" Or not.

Frankly, as regulars to the blog know, opera is not often covered here. It's not often covered anywhere, come to think of it, because what was once the peoples' art form…soon changed to operetta and finally Broadway musicals. Some might say that's a sign of the degeneration of culture in the past 100 years, but look, they won't say it for long. In another 100 years there won't be a planet. If it still exists, it'll be a planet of the apes, and musical history, as taught in "skooz," would begin with M.C. Hammer.

In other words, my autographed Licia Albanese record album, if I was alive, wouldn't fetch a buck on eBay, and my autographed photo of Rise Stevens even less.

Victoria de Los Angeles was probably my favorite, but Rise Stevens was up there, and because nobody cared about her, Jean Madeira, and because she went topless, Carol Neblett. Of the vintage performers, there was Licia, whose best work was done way before I was even born. Licia (short form of Felicia, July 22, 1909-August 15, 2014) came to prominence the year the Marx Brothers were "At the Opera," 1935.

She was known for "Madame Butterfly" first and foremost, and specialized, as one might expect, in Italian operas by Verdi and Puccini. Her love of Puccini led to her enduring "Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation," which gives scholarships and encouragement to young, struggling singers who have an unfortunate love for an archaic music form in an era of Viley Virus and Justa Beaver.

After touring her version of Madame Butterfly all over the world, Licia made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1940. She also performed at the San Francisco Opera, and on radio with Toscanini. Ageism being an old and familiar nemesis, Licia had a 26 year run at the famous Met…until the venue's ruler, Sir Rudolf Bing, decided to cut her down to only one role for the entire season. Licia's response to Der Bingle's decision was to gracefully walk away. She continued to play at other opera houses, and when her voice was no longer strong enough for opera, she switched to Broadway show tunes…appearing in various productions of Sondheim's "Follies" in the mid-1980's.

Though she wasn't as well known as the more flamboyant Maria Callas, or the amusingly-named Lily Pons, Licia Albanese was a favorite with the critics, especially in her most familiar roles, in Puccini's "La Boheme," "Madame Butterfly" and "Manon Lescaut." She also joined Rise Stevens for a recording of "Carmen" in 1951. Among the more recent artists who have acknowledged her as an inspiration…Teresa Stratas, who saw the great Albanese in a production of "La Traviata," a role that Stratas would play so well in the 1982 movie version opposite Placido Domingo.

Never forgotten, the legendary Licia received honors for her life's work, including the "National Medal of Honor for the Arts," becoming the first woman that Bill Clinton met and didn't hit on.

In keeping with blog policy on being obscure and contrary, your download isn't an aria by Puccini or Verdi. From the Parnassus vinyl, Licia sings an aria by Francesco Cilea...who is not a household name as a composer but still is beloved by Celiacs everywhere, and no diet of classical should exclude him.

From "ADRIANA LECOUVREUR" "Lo Son L'Umile Ancella"

ARLENE MARTEL - "Theme from Star Trek" T'Pring (& More)

"T'pring…T'pring…"

Sounds like a bad phone app? "T'Pring" was the name of a "Star Trek" alien played by the bizarrely beautiful Arlene Martel. For better or worse, and she would've probably said for better…this was her main claim to fame. Betrothed to Mr. Spock (in one episode), T'Pring instantly became legend…and Martel was certainly one of the best remembered of the female guest stars on the show.

How well? On Farcebook…uh, Facebook…various fanboys rushed to post their pix. "Here's me and Arlene Martel! Classy lady to pose with me! RIP!" Well, yes, and at $20 a pop, or whatever she was charging, she had no reason not to be classy or at least tolerant. But in the world of memorabilia, it isn't that uncommon for some bitter beauties to feel a great deal of contempt for the overweight and/or geeky assholes who hand over a sweaty twenty while stuttering inane and predictable drivel. Having their smelly bodies come close to yours, as their brush with fame...could make you a little less pleased with the fame that brought you to the "collectors show." But Arlene Martel kept showing up, and always had a warm smile for the Trekkies were still boldly going...in search of some kind of a life for themselves.

The bottom line with most performers running a table at a memorabilia show, is "thanks for the extra money, thanks for remembering." There are a lot of 60's era actresses who aren't invited to the events and aren't identified with any show or any character at all. In that respect, the former "Arline Sax" was lucky.

A Jewish girl from the humble Bronx, the re-christened Arlene Martel had an air of confidence and dignity...which she needed to escape the "ghetto" (as she called it). She could play intimidating parts (including a lion-tamer on "Wild Wild West" and a super-sexy and scary "Room for One More, Honey" nurse on "Twilight Zone"). She could also play comedy, earthy women, peasants, just about anything.

Her list of credits…well, let's just say that the Trekkies probably were surprised to look down along her table and see, aside from the T'Pring portraits, pix of her from "Outer Limits," "Wild Wild West," "The Monkees," "Hogan's Heroes," and even a cult biker film she made long ago.

While I didn't know Ms. Martel, I've known several in her position...the kind who were, or are, grateful that they can always walk down the street and be called by name...or the name of their famous character. They get used to it. Most come to appreciate that it's better than nothing. Only a few find the double-edged Sword of Damocles hanging over their head and all the "if only I wasn't typecast" frustration that goes with it. What I'm saying is that as nice as it is for obese and clueless people to say "T'PRING" the past few days, it pisses me off that most of them never cared about anything else Arlene did.

I get it. You want the autographed photo of her as T'Pring, not an autographed photo of how she looks today. Not how she looked in some other TV show that didn't involve THAT uniform or THAT make-up. It's just sad that most of the tributes have been about THAT one show and character she was in...as if nothing else mattered. There was an actual person inside that costume. Nostalgia shouldn't have such blinders on, but it usually does.

Her death a few days ago, at the age of 78, was a tragic loss. She could still have made memorable TV appearances if any casting director had the sense to make a call. She was "giving back" to fans by advising them on healthy foods to eat and reminding them of ecology and the debt owed to THIS planet, not to T'Pring's. She was apparently working on an autobiography that would've answered a lot of questions about her fascinating life (she was quick to mention her first love was the ever-fascinating to some people James Dean) as well as her marriages, healthy lifestyle and interesting views on the inner self. It would've probably also covered the requisite fanboy topics (what was it like to work with Leonard Nimoy, Bob Crane, Rod Serling…)

As to the item below…one has to go with a "Star Trek" theme (over "Twilight Zone," "The Monkees" or "Hogan's Heroes) but which one? Here at the blog of less renown, it would have to be a peculiar version…and Ferrante and Teicher, with their cascading manipulation of elephant tusks, mated to a thumpy disco beat…is insidiously down to Earth.

Ferrante and Teicher STAR TREK THEME

ED NELSON - The THEME from PEYTON PLACE

He was one of those busy actors in the 60's and 70's…who was more a face than a name. Handsome in a flawed way, often playing jealous husbands, arrogant businessmen and corrupt politicians, Ed Nelson (December 21, 1928-August 9, 2014) had come to television by way of cheap horror movies. He was in "Teenage Cave Man" (with Robert Vaughn), "Attack of the Crab Monsters," "Bucket of Blood" and "The Brain Eaters."

The man from Louisiana was an authentic presence in virtually every TV western of the late 50's and early 60's (The Rebel, Paladin, Black Saddle, The Tall Man, Maverick, Wagon Train, Laramie, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman). He also turned up in The Twilight Zone,Outer Limits, Thriller, The Eleventh Hour and Perry Mason. His only major starring role was as Dr. Rossi in the night time soap opera "Peyton Place," which is now mostly known either for its theme song, or its reference in the country hit "Harper Valley P.T.A." At the time, it was a big deal for a "woman's" show about dreary romances and scandals to have such a high profile.

Nelson's profile sank after the show left the air in 1969, and only his more ardent fans recall that he appeared in daytime soap operas, had a local talk show, and toured as President Truman in a one-man show originated by James Whitmore. A bright guy, he didn't have to suffer the indignity of waiting and waiting for a guest spot on a TV show…he became the mayor of San Dimas, California, and at 71 graduated from Tulane University. He spent his retirement years at home in Greensboro, North Carolina.

"Peyton Place," which launched the careers of Mia Farrow and Ryan O'Neal, is now pretty much forgotten. In its day, not only was it a hot show that would spawn a variety of "chick lit" romance series, even the sweetly sappy theme song was popular, with or without the lyrics. You get either or both…the reliable Frank Chacksfield of Project 4 fame or the ubiquitous Vikki Carr.

PEYTON PLACE INSTRUMENTAL BY FRANK CHACKSFIELD

FOR THOSE WHO ARE YOUNG Vikki Car

BOB CRANE swings "F-Troop"

These days, Bob Crane is best remembered for "Hogans Heroes" and for his infamous death, which most agree had something to do with somebody jealous or angry over his conquests as a ladies man. At 49, he was still gettin' it on, even if his sitcom fame was far behind him and his round, still attractive face was seen only rarely in a guest spot on a "Quincy" or "Love Boat." Crane was still a STAR when he turned up in small towns during the summer months. He was on the "straw hat" trail, playing lead in some familiar Broadway comedy people might want to see. He brought along his video equipment to record his romps with starstruck fans…single or married.

Before "Hogan's Heroes," Crane was a hot prospect and something of a hipster. He was a radio personality with a cool sense of humor. In fact one of his very first TV appearances (uncredited) was as a disc jockey on a "Twilight Zone" episode in 1961. He was also a good drummer, and once "Hogan's Heroes" was a hit, he was able to indulge himself with a record deal and a band…and material that referenced both his show and many other hit TV series of the day. He covered "Get Smart" (even piping up with a "Sorry About That…" at the end), and a jazzy take on the western comedy "F-Troop." Yes, Bob was way too cool to just record TV themes and not make 'em swing. Well, he was always a bit too hip for his own good…

BOB CRANE F-TROOP THEME

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

THE MAN WITH THE CHILD IN HIS EYES - Kate Bushed by YALE A CAPELLA

Yes, the blog once again morbidly plumbs the depths of all-girl a capella. For some peculiar reason, this irritating music form is popular at colleges. I guess there are plenty of students who want to sing, and not many that can play a variety of musical instruments. Not enough for a small orchestra or even a marching band.

"The New Blue" of Yale University released a "30th Anniversary Album" around 1999, and collected nearly two dozen tries at pop hits of the day…almost all of them very trying. Most were recorded with the latest group of co-eds, although some tracks go back to the 80's.

It would be cruel to pull a "so bad it's good" here…because while they're certainly bad…they just aren't entertaining about it. Hearing their unnatural "Natural Woman" or how they kill "Killing Me Softly," will only enrage you. They even managed to botch "Scarborough Fair" via insipid harmonies. (But since you don't believe me, go ahead, listen to their take on the obscure Paul Simon tale of a mean individual who seemingly is going to be the victim of vigilante justice). I had hopes the girls would somehow doo-wop this thing with some menace or soul, but…no. They handle it like the King's Singers, that famous group of odd girly-men.

Somehow, their take on Kate Bush's "The Man With the Child In His Eyes" (not written about Rolf Harris or even Gary Glitter) is well worth a listen. Perhaps the main reason is that Kate's voice on that song was so high-pitched that it was almost painful for some. Even some dogs. The girls here keep it at a human level, and with so many voices wrapping around each line, they make it the warm, fuzzy, almost dreamy romantic tune that Bush intended it to be. Maybe not.

Man with the Child in his Eyes THE NEW BLUE

(Mean Individual) Stranded in a Limousine THE NEW BLUE

JAMES GARNER DIES - MAVERICK & ROCKFORD FILES theme songs

What can you say about James Garner? He learned from Henry Fonda how to be natural as an actor. He played who he was. Garner bummed around at many odd jobs (well, his real last name was Bumgarner) before an agent pal hired him as an extra for a Broadway show starring Fonda. Soon enough, the good looking young performer left the stage (and its frights) for the comforts of Hollywood, working his way up to important roles and…"Maverick."

It was "Maverick" that made Garner a star, and once he was, he got out of his contract so he could try other kinds of roles. Despite moving on to a variety of roles in romantic comedies and action films, he ended up typecast as…James Garner. When he returned to television, he basically played the same glib, pacifist as he did on "Maverick," a guy who didn't like to fight…but was good at it. He also didn't like to hire lawyers, but was good at it. He sued to get 14 million bucks in back royalties on "Rockford Files."

Although he played good ol' boys and Western heroes, Garner was a lifelong Democrat and a big fan of weed…once claiming that he toked up most every day. Yes, there was a lot to like about James Garner…one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. And he even autographed a photo for me years ago.

His two most popular TV shows had very famous theme songs. "Maverick" was a typically catchy Warner Bros. hack job with fairly awful lyrics…though not any worse than the embarrassing ones for other WB shows such as "Sugarfoot" ("once you get his dander up…") or "Lawman," which proclaimed, "The lawman came with the sun. There was a job to be done." The dopey "Maverick" lyrics included the badly rhymed "Riverboat ring your bell, Fare thee well Annabelle." Only New Yorkers could get something out of the line "Living on Jacks and Queens," if they mis-heard it as "Living in Jackson (Heights), Queens."

As for Johnny Gregory (born Gregori, and still with us at 89), he was a versatile orchestra leader who imitated the 101 Strings (for his "Cascading Strings" albums), and sometimes called himself Chaquito (for Latin-tinged lounge music, but also for sassy TV theme cover albums). His version of "Maverick" was on an early (late 50's, obviously) album of Western TV themes.

It's memorable for being fairly idiotic. For some reason, his choir of dopes don't actually sing all the lyrics…but two guys who don't remotely sound like James Garner or Jack Kelly, turn up to intrude with such pearls as "Hello Bart." "Hello Bret."

Later as John Gregory, he was still specializing in TV theme albums when "Rockford Files" came along, and again, he contributes an interestingly mediocre cover of it. What made "Rockford Files" such a memorable theme song? The weird combination of a synthesizer and a harmonica. Apparently with access to neither, Gregory tries to substitute, without success. But that's the fun of "cover versions." Maybe.

Fare thee well, James Garner.

Maverick Johnny Gregory

Rockford Files John Gregory

Saturday, July 19, 2014

MAAZEL? TOUGH...MAESTRO LORIN MAAZEL, DEAD AT 84

OK, who recorded over 300 albums?

Not so fast, Elvis the King. Or Michael King of Pop. Joining them in musical heaven, is one of the Kings of the Classics...Lorin Maazel. As Maestro for many symphony orchestras over his long career, he recorded a truly amazing amount of music.

Below is just a fraction...the very accessible SLAVONIC DANCE #8 which is "Presto" (meaning fast...or good music for a magic trick).

The two-album "Slavonic Dances" set was one of the first classical records I bought. I mention this not out of nostalgia, but to suggest that if a 12 year-old could enjoy it...you might, too. Arista say they love it but the kids can't twerk to it. Back then, I bought a cheap version in mono on Urania, but when I could afford to upgrade, I chose Lorin Maazel's Emi Digital, even if it was with the less than Slavic Berlin Philharmonic. They say, Emma, that for one reason or another, Berlin has become the most dangerous city in Europe. But I digress. As usual.

Maazel was having some health problems in 2013 but figured he might get better. On his website, he mentioned that he was turning down the kind offers from symphonies around the world, and would make his comeback in the summer of 2014 via his own annual Castleton summer festival held near his home in Virginia. Yes, of all the places this man performed in around the world...he chose to call Virginny his home. Unfortunately he died there of pneumonia, his website calendar still showing his return schedule. He died the day he was supposed to make his return:

The details of Maazel's life and times (Mar 06, 1930-Jul 13, 2014) can be easily found elsewhere, so I'll nutshell it by stating his last name is pronounced Mah-Zell (accent on the Zell), that he was Jewish, born in France but raised in America. He helmed the New York Philharmonic (taking over for Kurt Mazur), and was also at various stages of his career, on the podium for the Cleveland Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera among others...and actually wrote an opera, "1984," based on the Orwell nightmare of a life ruled by a Big Brother called Google.

A pretty incredible man, Maazel could speak the languages of most of the great classical masters...Italian, German and French...and had a photographic memory. He could conduct an orchestra without having the score in front of him. This guy knew the score. The New York Times once wrote: "Maazel, when he’s ‘on,’ has led some of the finest, most impassioned, most insightful performances in memory. When he’s good, he’s so good that he simply has to be counted among the great conductors of the day..." The unfortunate thing is that he was a great conductor at a time when it increasingly didn't matter.

Through the 80's and 90's, there was a downturn in sales of classical music, and less support for live concerts. At the turn of the 21st Century, we've seen many symphony orchestras struggle (as well as opera houses and ballet groups) because this type of entertainment is just not popular anymore.

At one time, most any reasonably sophisticated fan of good music (including me) could easily name the great conductors and their orchestras. Even the not-so-great conductors. Name the city and I could tell you who conducted the orchestra. And every city seemed to have a great orchestra. Bernstein, Ormandy, Szell, Steinberg, Leinsdorf, Bohm, Reiner...during the golden era of classical recordings (when RCA had "Living Stereo") all the greats were working and competing with each other. They created definitive recordings that could rarely be matched by the mono work of a Furtwangler or even Toscanini. It's truly astonishing that by the time Maazel was recording, there was any market at all for him and his contemporaries, but people who did come to the concert hall wanted a souvenir of the man they saw on the podium, and perhaps also had the fetish for seeing DDD on a CD and knowing it was a completely digital recording.

I don't pretend that a vast proportion of my music-listening time is devoted to classical over rock, but even people who aren't students of "good music" can find a lot of "easy listening" in that noble genre. After all, there's not that much difference between classical and some of the beloved music heard on film soundtracks. Certainly everyone from Alfred Newman to John Williams was influenced by, and had a solid knowledge of the classics. So from time to time, some real classical music does the soul some good. Maazel's catalogue has a lot of greatness waiting for you. Here's a taste of it, with his version of Dvorak...

Maazel Slavonic Dance #8 PRESTO!

Consolation Prizes: Gruesome and Sad Jesus Songs by Jimmie Davis

The great Jimmie Davis has already been profiled on the blog. Twice. So third time's a charming finale, adding a few more numbers from his album "Songs of Consolation."

Back in 2008, I posted "The Three Nails," a pathetique about the shopkeeper who accidentally sold three rusty nails to a big mean Roman soldier (who wasn't Jewish in the least). With that entry, I mentioned that Davis grew up poor ("The first Christmas present I ever got was a dried hog's bladder…"). He got signed to Victor Records in 1928 (for such peculiar items as "Tom Cat and Pussy Blues"). By 1934, and on Decca, he became known for country tunes. In 1940 he had his biggest hit with "You are My Sunshine." He was eventually elected governor of Louisiana, and uniquely managed to serve his constituents while amusing the entire country with more country-charting songs!

In 1960, he pledged to continue his policies on segregation, much to the delight of his gubernatorial colleague, George Wallace. But by the time he recorded "Songs of Consolation" in 1970, Jimmie was born again on the subject of the Negro (who had now been upscaled to "black"). Jimmie lived to be 101…and some of his songs remain timeless. Meaning, few have the time to listen.

But on this blog, there's always time for a pungent Jesus song. In 2009 I posted "I'd Hate to be the Man Who Put the Nails in Jesus' Hands."

And now, a trinity. Some wags might call it an unholy three, but believing in Jesus ain't no sin, and loving country music and Jimmie Davis tain't neither. Bandwidth prohibits indulging in any further tribute, but do enjoy, in a seamless download, three songs produced by the legendary Owen Bradley and sung by the former Governor of the Great State of Louisiana:

"Shake the Nail-Scarred Hands of Jesus," "I've Been Born Again" and "Going Home."

JIMMIE DAVIS THREE SONGS

Groucho Marx's Daughter and John Lennon's Father

In the spirit of the old Firesign Theatre cover...

Let's take a look at Marx and Lennon...Melinda Marx and Fred Lennon.

Groucho Marx had three children, and only the youngest daughter, Melinda, is still around. She's been reclusive ever since her acting career evaporated in 1972 with the obscure film "No Deposit No Return." Born August 14, 1946, she's known to Marx fans for a few appearances on "You Bet Your Life," including a pretty complicated Gilbert & Sullivan duet with Dad. Sweet Melinda was a little goddess of gloom in real life, not exactly thrilled with being thrust on stage to sing perfectionist patter songs. She wasn't all that thrilled about Life with Groucho in general, and her mother was not faring well either. This photo shows the kind of dysfunctional family they became...



...a chagrined kid, an alky wife (stepmom Eden) and a grouchy old hubby.

The perk of being Groucho's daughter did seem to perk up Melinda when she was in her teens, and able to score a record deal. She probably had visions of being the next Petula Clark, as her single "East Side of Town" draws an obvious comparison to "Downtown."

The East Side...and Down Side of Being a Celebrity Daughter

Meanwhile, across the pond...

Alfred "Freddie" Lennon was a disappointment to John. As in, "Daddy come home." The seaman who was mostly floating outside of John's orbit suddenly re-emerged when his boy was a huge success. John didn't want much to do with him...especially after Fred got himself a record deal.

John inherited some of his famous nasal voice from "Freddie," that's for sure. On the A-side, co-written by Freddie, he offers an autobiographical apology for his love of sailing (which made him an absentee father and husband).

His label had reason to be optimistic. Back then, The Beatles shared the charts with many middle-of-the-road performers. There was Louis Armstrong doing "Hello Dolly" and Andy Williams with "Moon River," and only a few years earlier Walter Brennan was offering talk-novelties with middle-aged background singers. Here's Fred Lennon and his 3 minutes of fame; the sailor come home from the sea. To cash in on his son.


That's My Life... FREDDIE LENNON
b-side, The Next Time You Feel Important

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

MR. DOUBLE ENTENDRE HIMSELF: DICK JURGENS

Groucho Marx was greatly amused by "Peter O'Toole," a name he thought of as the perfect dick joke. First and last name: both lewd.

My favorite? Dick Jurgens. Sorry that a few British or European readers might not be doubled over with laughter, but there wasn't a musician named Dick Wanking.

Does a name that signals masturbation beat (off) a guy with two dick names? I think so.

But I didn't think about this when I first encountered the big band leader via a family heirloom 78rpm of "Sweethearts or Strangers." This was well before I was old enough to think dirty thoughts. I also had no idea that the song was actually a C&W hit, and composed by our old pal and Jesus freak, Jimmie Davis, whose songs about putting nails in Jesus' hands can be found here on the blog.

This is more than an OK big band version of a C&W hit…it's Okeh. It swings along genially and nicely. Yes, Virginia, there were "crossover" songs well before you were born, and it wasn't uncommon for popular big bands to borrow classical melodies or boogie a bit of shitkickin' hillbilly music. I prefer the way the swing musicians are Jurgen around with the melody here...although that shouldn't imply that I spend a lot of my time listening to either C&W shitkickers or big band shit. Both categories have an awful lot of...awful stuff. This is, come to think of it, the only cut I have from DJ's big band. I don't even have the flip side.

So who was Dick Jurgens? He was a Californian (lived and died in Sacramento: January 9, 1910 – October 5, 1995). He put together his own swing orchestra, played at the St. Francis Hotel, and got himself a Decca deal that lasted from 1934 to 1940 with Eddy Howard his lead vocalist. He then switched to Okeh (with the wonderfully named Harry Cool on vocals…later replaced by Buddy Moreno).

Jurgens had a lot of obviously forgettable or forgotten hits before going into the Marines in World War II. After the war, he continued with his big band, but by the mid-50's, rock and pop had taken over, and rather than jerk around with that stuff, Jurgens took day jobs…from selling electronics to dabbling in real estate. He was called on to revive the band from time to time, but finally retired in his 70's. Ironically the Dick Jurgens band continued…he sold the rights to somebody who vowed to keep up his style of music and keep that name alive.

These days, if anyone knows the name "Jurgens," it's because of the hand lotion…which comes in handy if…you find yourself involved in Dick Jurgens. OK, that's not too respectful, but it's amphisbaenic.

DICK JURGENS

Sammy Walker at 62 - Waitin' for Jesus to Show?

Happy Birthday to Sammy Walker...a few days ago.


I remember Dick Van Dyke smiling wryly, at age 86, and saying, "I'm circling the drain." But a birthday can bring up the subject of mortality to most anyone...especially as 20's turn to 30's turn to...

So Sammy wrote the following, acknowledging birthday wishes from so many of us:

"Thank you all, dear friends and family from near and far for the Happy Birthday wishes and messages you posted today 7-7-14. At age 62, the finish line is beginning to come into view. This morning I was doing my little crossword puzzle in my little simple book that I have done most every morning for several years. The book is the July issue and I was working on puzzle # 7 and the clue for 7 down was "_____ birthday to you". The answer was of course, happy. I've never come across this clue in one of these books before. I have no doubt in my mind that this was a Happy Birthday wish from my mom and my dad and my sister, Janet.

Sometimes those who have passed on choose to contact us in strange and mysterious ways when we need it the most. I'm sure most everyone experiences this a time or two in their life if you are aware enough to recognize it when it happens. It also helps us to know that we need not fear the finish line and that there is life beyond it. There is a place reserved in Paradise for the homeless, the hungry, those suffering in pain and anguish and for all who choose to live a good and righteous life and who have faith in the Creator and Keeper of The Paradise."

62 ain't old, Sam. Bob Dylan is over 70 now, and still here with us. When he tours, he makes this Earth into some kind of paradise. People sure look like they're seeing Jesus, Moses or The Pope when he comes out. So as they say in the Dutch cheese shops, "Make good use of the time you have left." Aging can be a good thing...you can wine about it. But as we get older, and either have the material things we want or know we'll never get 'em, it's natural to ponder "the finish line," as Sammy notes.

Things get better? Well, Sammy's two Warners albums were re-issued this year. So you never know what's going to happen. How nice if there was a travelin' folkie show mounted...so people could get an entire evening of Sammy, Eric Andersen, Jim Glover, Billy Edd Wheeler, Barry McGuire...whatever combo you'd want from the great days.

It's been a double-edged sword for Sammy Walker; he was "discovered" by Phil Ochs, and billed almost instantly as a Dylan sound-alike. This has helped him get sampled by fans of Phil and Bob...but it's come at a price, with some people never getting those names (or Woody Guthrie's) out of their heads. The fact is, Sammy Walker is, most assuredly, his own man. His best songs don't make you think, "Oh, that could've been on an Ochs album," or "that's early Dylan." You think: "This Sammy walker is a damn good singer/songwriter." And once you get into his albums, the more you pick up on the unique themes, musically and lyrically, that make these Sammy Walker songs.

The brief notes for the re-issue CD booklet mention that Sammy's major label days ended with the two WB albums, and that he's only issued a few sporadic indie releases since. The later material is well worth getting. Some of it is pricey on CD, but a lot is easy to find via cheap download...the kind that delights fans while pauperizing the artist. Not to mention the secret forums and torrents that give the stuff away so the uploader can make some spare change or pretend to be in show biz.

Here at the blog of less renown, one sample song is sufficient to let educated (and this blog isn't aimed at dummies) music fans discover a new favorite. On your next birthday, you might ponder if you're one year closer to your own personal Jesus, or just to a wooden box or incineration.

You might also ponder the odds of heaven on Earth...and if Jesus (or Mohammed or Buddha or Moses or JFK or Lenny Bruce or Phil Ochs) might come down and make this place a little less miserable than it is now. Sammy's had such thoughts, as have we all. It's just the Sammy has done a good job of putting those thoughts to music. Some people ask "what if Phil was alive...what would he be writing about..." or "What if Bob cut it out with the Delta blues stuff..." I'm tempted to say that the answer is in the song below...which covers religious war, global warming, the fate of animals and humans, and those who simply leave it to a "savior" to come down and save us. But this song is not an Ochs and not a Dylan...it's a great Sammy Walker song.

SAMMY WALKER IF JESUS DON'T SHOW
Instant download or listen on line. No pop-ups, porn ads or wait-time.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

MELLOW YELLOW - Cronulla Sharks pissed at Todd Carney

Here's a live DONOVAN track.

Why?

In mock-tribute to the sports news today.

No, Cronulla Sharks did not play Sybil Fawlty. We're talking about an Australian Football team.

You remember Australia. That's where a baby can be eaten by a dingo, shrimp can be tossed on a "barbie," and piss is called "Faws-toz beee-ah."

Down in Kyle's Sandy Land, where Dannii Minogue is vogue, and koala bears are mostly infected with diseases...they have a problem with Todd Carney. Carney! He's one of the few normal-looking athletes in a land where most of 'em are neanderthal Samoans from New Zealand.

Oh, GROW UP, Australia. Get your priorities straight.

What did the guy do? He pissed in his own mouth. For a gag? For a dare? For the sake of not having to drink a Foster's? You know, don't you, that many health fanatics think urine-drinking is healthy, and it returns valuable nutrients for recycling? So they say.

Who is surprised that Todd Carney was involved? Apparently he's one of the nuttier Aussie athletes. He used a rental phone to take a nude selfie of himself...and stupidly forgot to remove it...shocking the woman who rented the phone after him. He was arrested for drunken driving, and once pissed on a guy (I assume while drunk) so the current photo is no surprise. Let's say he was drunk at the time. Thirsty. Going off his salt-free diet.

Andrew Johns (another star player among Footy fetishists) came to Todd's defense: "Surely they couldn't sack him for that. It's silly. It's stupid." But after all, "He's only doing it to himself."

Compare it to Justin Bieber pissing in a bucket and smirking about it. The Canadian hot wet mess topped off his act by cursing at a photo of ex-President Bill Clinton.

Compare it to Viley Virus and her nearly naked twerking. Compare it to R. Kelly and Chuck Berry, who have choice videos circulating in the underground that are real pissers...and in Kelly's case the girls might not even be over the age of cunt scent.

What happens? The photo turns up in the London Daily Fail among other websites and papers...and everybody can imagine what he's doing...and everyone's read a description that nobody could write tastefully. After all, "drinking his own urine" is still going to give you a queasy feeling when you see it in print. So all the Sharks have done is given more attention to it.

Fact is, in this day and age where a mainstream movie ("Jackass") showed guys drinking horse semen...and Cameron Diaz became famous for using jizz for hair styling, what Todd Carney did is no big deal. I haven't read the fine print, but I don't think the jerk did it while on the field, posted it to YouTube, or suggested to his fans that he'd like to involve them in his antics. It was a leaked (ah, ha ha ha...) photo. Did he really post it to proudly declare he was with the Cronulla Sharkes or to imply that everyone on the team enjoys "the piss that refreshes?" Of course snot. Urine trouble, said the Cronulla bunch: "We are Sharked. Sharked!"

Anyone concerned about the Daniel Pearl beheading video being an easy download? That the family of R. Budd Dwyer must deal with every ghoul on the Net having a copy of his gory suicide? That any number of grotesque videos of murders, corpses and vile "faces of death" moments are on the torrents and swapped in forums, and that nobody's bothering to create laws so these items can be reported and banned?

Some chick playing with a bloody tampon, some couple puking on each other while naked and screwing...a 14 year-old using a school computer can get this stuff with ease...and this Todd Carney moron gets his walking papers for passing water.

Fuck you, Cronulla Sharks. PS, do you know how many people have died by letting go in the ocean, attracting a shark, and getting devoured whole? No, you don't. But you know how to get into a righteous rage for a piss poor reason, eh?

Lewdness, stupidity, crude acts and a total lack of self-control...will go on, no matter what you did to Todd Carney!

Hey Todd, you've got friends here...so you committed a loo'd act. So your career went down the drain. We don't blame you for feeling peevish.

You intolerant of the incontinent Cronulla cruds...you can see worse. Right in your eye. Go to any of the adult forums, click the "hey I'm over 18" button, and go get your German and Japanese scat!

In other words...

"Welcome to POOP POOP..."

Donovan LIVE TRACK! Mellow Yellow

JOHN WILLIAMS: Checkmate & Alcoa Theatre via VALJEAN

"John Williams" has a lot of fans for his motion picture scores…"Close Encounters," "Jaws," "Superman," various "Star Wars" films, "Empire of the Sun," "Indiana Jones,""Home Alone," "Poseidon Adventure," and "Schindler's List" among them.

In his early days writing TV themes, "Johnny Williams" composed the dynamic, staccato epics "Lost in Space," "Land of the Giants" and "The Time Tunnel." But…and here's how he ends up on the blog of less renown, he also composed the jagged theme for "Checkmate" and the classical introduction to "Alcoa Theatre" aka "Alcoa Premiere." Those are the two you get below.

As the photo above would indicate, "Alcoa Theatre" was an anthology series. Few episodes seem to have survived. "Checkmate" was a private eye hour that was anchored around the rather wooden Anthony George, but ended up with a wider fan base thanks to Doug McClure and Sebastian Cabot. That's the formidable, genial Mr. Cabot with guest-star Peter Lorre in a memorable episode.

The themes below were recorded by one-name one-hit-wonder Valjean, who seemed to be trying for a Liberace-type air of mystery. Sounds like he might be from France, and have a French accent, right? Actually, Valjean Johns was born in Shattuck, Oklahoma and attended the University of Oklahoma. He became well known in the Mid-West, and at the age of 28, got a contract with Carlton, a label that dabbled in everything from vibraphone jazz via an album by Gene Estes (which I once had) to "The Little Space Girl" novelty 45 (which I still have).

Valjean managed a Top 40 hit with "The Theme From Ben Casey" in 1962, cashing in on the hot doctor series starring the brooding Vince Edwards. Naturally the pianist quickly filled up an album with more TV themes, including the rival "Dr. Kildare" which starred the strawberry blond Richard Chamberlain. Tucked amid the usual tracks ("Peter Gunn," a piano natural and "Perry Mason") were the two John Williams items...formerly popular shows now quite obscure to most people...even if they, or at least the themes, deserve better.

Although the album didn't quite crack the Billboard Top 100, Valjean Johns didn't disappear from the music scene. He enjoyed a career playing with respectable if rural symphony orchestras (including his home state's Tulsa Philharmonic) over the next decades. Born November 19, 1934, Valjean passed on a decade ago: February 10th, 2003. Checkmate. But he wasn't wrapped and stored in Alcoa aluminum foil.

Valjean tinkles John Williams

The National Anthem of Luxembourg - 60 seconds of Tribute

For those of you asking, "When are you going to post another photo of some sexy bint..."

For now, make do with Natascha Bintz, a lovely beauty contest-winner from Letzebuerg. That's Luxembourg, to you.

She might not be the most famous person alive and well and living in Luxembourg...but who is?

When was the last time boxing's famous announcer Michael Buffer paused and said at a heavyweight championship fight…"And now…the National Anthem of Luxembourg…"

It's not a rhetorical question. Go ahead, leave a comment. All I know is that when that weasel David Haye and his warthog pal Dereck Chisora weren't sanctioned for a British championship fight (because of bad behavior…both being idiots), it was the little-known Luxembourg boxing federation that offered to "legitimize" the match. But I don't recall that the Luxembourg anthem was played.

I recall Jean-Pierre Coopman was "The Lion of Flanders," but…no, he was Belgian. And he lost rather badly to Muhammad Ali.

Many of you actually HAVE heard the National Anthem of Luxembourg, even though you never saw any sporting event. How? You saw the "Le Clerq" episode of M*A*S*H. In that one, a soldier from Luxembourg went missing, and when presumed dead, the national anthem was played in his honor. Colonel Blake was proud to honor "a Luxemburger."

Oh, the memories the National Anthem of Luxembourg has stirred!

What brought all this on? Well, back when record collecting was fun, I bought just about anything and everything. This included an import on the Collection Loisirs/Vogue label, of "Hymnes Nationau." Why not? How interesting to hear how 20 nations represented themselves via music. (America, we note, chose a British drinking song with fresh lyrics!)

I came across the album the other day. Well, no, I can't say I was that excited. Actually I was just looking through one of my weirder shelves of instrumentals and was surprised I hadn't gotten rid of "Hymnes Nationau" by now. Especially since Ms. Bintz' image is not superimposed on it. I was glad I hadn't, as it was an amusing diversion for a while. Besides, you never know when you're going to need to find a way to make a foreigner momentarily stop and stand still.

The tune is titled "Ons Heemecht" ("Our Homeland") and premiered rather late for a national anthem: 1864. The music is by Jean Antoine Zinnen and matched to a slightly earlier Luxembourgish poem by Michel Lentz. There are official German, English and French translations. The English translation begins…

"Where the Alzette flows through the meadows

 The Sura bathes the rocks;

 Where the Moselle, smiling and beautiful

 We made a present of wine

 This is our country for which we risk everything on earth..."

Ok, so it doesn't rhyme...if you really are respectful, you sing it in Luxembourgish. Feel free to download the lyrics from some website or other, and sing along to this instrumental version. It's conducted by Désiré Louis Corneille Dondeyne, who will soon be celebrating a birthday: July 21, 1921.

Let's Salute... LUXEMBOURG

TELEMANN: Polonaise from "Suite in A Minor For Recorder" at the PROM

OK, students…for those of you who only know chamber music if it's "Bouree" on a flaming Jethro Tull record, listen up. Really. This is NOT going to hurt. Have a listen to what was the 3-minute hit single of a bygone era.

One of my favorite little baroque ditties is "Polonaise," the last movement in Telemannn's "Suite in A Minor for Recorder." It's a bit sad and minor key for flouncing around in lace at a party celebrating the decapitation of Marie Antoinette, but over the years, it was more a dance piece than something to just hear in concert. It was probably in the Top 10 back in 1763, or whenever it was that Casey Kasem first announced it.

"Polonaise," as you must've suspected, has something to do with Poland and mayonaisse. It originated as a dance popular at the annual studniówka (prom) where the idea was to clutch your partner just a little bit, but not dance too close or slow. I'm sure the hall contained tables of refreshments including Polish sausage and mayonaisse, and that with very little coaxing (shoving a sausage in some mayonaisse) a fellow was able to convince a girl on what to do after the dance. How a polonaise differs from a mazurka…I'm not sure, but I think the mazurka is something you do by yourself if you didn't find a girl for a polonaise.

You'll rarely find a delicate little jewel like this containing such dignity and emotion. Consider it part of the soundtrack to some errant episode of "Masterpiece Theater," or one of the less comic moments in Bob Hope's "Monsieur Beaucaire," of which there was about 80 minutes. But do consider it.

Yes, this is from a budget Victrola vinyl, but back in the day, Victrola, Nonesuch and other cheap labels offered excellent chamber music at a nice price. There were (and still are) a lot of brilliant quartets and quintets preserving this kind of thing out of passion over profit. So here's a jaunty little jaunt back to when people first discovered that an attention span for music was limited to three minutes. All they wanted was a catchy little melody the kids could dance to.

Let's Dance! POLONAISE at the PROM

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The late Gerry Goffin: "A WOMAN CAN BE A GANGSTER"

Above, Gerry Goffin with his second wife Michelle, and with his one time husband-wife songwriting competition, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

What did Gerry Goffin sound like as a singer?

OH, MAMA!

You'll be reading many obits about Gerry Goffin, all of them focusing on the classic songs he wrote with his then-wife Carole King. Broadway audiences are loving that stuff at this very moment, via "Beautiful," the juke-box musical and drama. What most will not be mentioning is what part he played in those songs: the LYRICS.

One of the very important things about Gerry Goffin, is that HE, a MALE, was behind the feminist anthem "Natural Woman," and the tender ballad about a girl giving herself up, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow."

So, guys, when some bitch claims that guys aren't sensitive, tell that cunt about Gerry fuckin' Goffin!

Carole issued a statement: "Gerry was a good man with a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come. His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn't know how to say."

The list of Goffin-King songs is huge, and includes "Take Good Care of My Baby," "Crying in the Rain," "On Broadway," "Pleasant Valley Sunday," "The Locomotion," "You've Got a Friend," and the risky "He Hit Me and It Felt like a Kiss." Goffin also co-wrote with others after the split from Carole, and had hits with "Savin' All MY Love For You" (Whitney Houston) as well as the theme from "Mahogany," the Diana Ross film.

BUT...over here in the Land of Ill, Gerry is known for his two very weird solo albums, "It Ain't Exactly Entertainment" and "Back Room Blood."

I knew about Barry Mann's solo work. Ellie Greenwich, too (who partnered with Jeff Barry). Both had issued albums in the late 60's or early 70's, but it took a while before Gerry stepped out as a vocalist. It was in 1996 that the rugged "Back Room Blood" appeared via an indie label in Maryland. Gerry Goffin had SOME kind of a voice!

Listen for yourself. WHAT in the world is going on? Is this Randy Newman trying his damndest to sound like Bob Dylan?

"A Woman Can Be a Gangster" is sort of the motorpsycho nightmare rock answer to "Just Like A Woman." Maybe. PS, one cut on the CD, "Masquerade," is a co-write...Gerry Goffin and Bob Dylan.

Gerry did not disappoint. I had enjoyed his daughter Louise Goffin's punky first album, which was nothing like Carole King's world, so to hear this guy roar through some pretty eccentric songs was not a surprise...it was a lotta fun.

"It Ain't Exactly Entertainment," by the way, is much more of a "Nashville Skyline" kind of folk-rock deal.

Goffin married King in 1959, and they divorced in 1968 (the blame seeming to be Gerry's philandering). But for nearly a decade, they wrote songs about romances and break-ups, and those songs continue to touch and influence thousands and thousands of listeners. The Gerry Goffin solo albums? Maybe a few hundred are playing them tonight in his honor...but that doesn't mean they aren't good. They show the wide, wide range of songwriting this guy was capable of. So, no Goffin-Coffin puns here...just a sincere, "Thanks...you very talented man." Gerry Coffin (February 11, 1939-June 19, 2014)

Gerry Goffin A Woman Can Be Like a Gangster

RAUN MacKINNON - the COLOR WHEEL is still Bright

Last month, Raun MacKinnon wrote: "I think my site may have been hacked. I got a very odd comment message, so I have removed both Music Sales pages, which didn't have much activity anyway, because an enormous amount of source code was put into them, and I am not sure if it is Weebly's code, CD Baby's code or some outsider's code.  Since there were links to CD Baby on those pages, I am going to assume that that's how the intruder got in…"

That's the Internet for you. A woman with two out of print albums…and four indie albums on CD Baby…and she's having problems. As to her website, raunmackinnonburnham.com: "I will get around to reconstructing it, and hopefully whoever is using this bandwidth for whatever weird purpose will go away. If I'm made aware of anything else weird…I am perfectly willing to shut the thing down."

As Raun MacKinnon Burnham, the former folkie has covered some new and experimental territory since her folkie days. This especially includes "Earworm" and "Pocket Mass."Her first album was on Cameo Parkway (Spike Lee's Dad Bill was her bassist). Her folk-rock classic was on Kapp.

Kapp was a bit schizophrenic, having moved from Jose Jimenez comedy albums and the "Man of La Mancha" original cast album to experimenting with hard rock (The Good Rats) and the unusual singer-songwriter Ms. MacKinnon. Raun could sing sensitive ballads about a nun ("Sister Marie"), but rock out for the psychedelic times with "Color Wheel." Those tracks you'll find below.

The newer material is indeed available on CD Baby, with 30 second samples. As Raun says, "I can say truthfully, though, that my stuff is worth a listen, and if you like what you hear, it would be great if you put your money where your ears are and buy one or all of the albums."

The Raven, forevermore... 2 from Raun MacKinnon

ILL-USTRATED SONGS #27: FROZEN IN THE NIGHT

It seemed like Dan Hill was going to be a a huge, huge star when "Sometimes When We Touch" became the achy-breaky ballad of 1977. The music was co-written by the legendary Barry Mann. And yet, the follow-up album, 1978's "Frozen in the Night" went nowhere, and few except ardent fans are familiar with his late 80's albums. Known primarily in Canada now, he's 60 and rather suave-looking. He no longer resembles, well, a Cro-Magnon. It might have been pictures like THIS, that led romantic teenage girls to look elsewhere for a wall pin-up:

Oh well. Most everyone who took a photo in 1978 regrets it now! The title track is no "Sometimes When We Touch." Again, with musical help from Barry Mann, "Frozen in the Night" seems more like some creepy Harry Chapin cautionary tale. You remember Harry singing about depressing bar pick-ups, women who put cigarette burns in their skin, mail-order brides and such? Well, here's a grim tale about an older man picking up Little Slut Lost.

The purple prose describes a few details: "Her dress was as black as the night was hot. Her eyes so green they could kill you...her brown skin young but aging fast." Her name? "Call me anything you want makes no difference anyway." And once they get into bed…"You know what I'm after. I don't wanna hurt no one…" And sounding like a page from an overbaked romance writer's novel: "and the moon shone down so softly in mock defiance."

All of this is sung like Meatloaf after eating some bad meatloaf. The 1978 production values are no different than what you'd get on a pretentious Hall & Oates album. About the only cliche that was missed is that there's not an actual siren blaring during the "a siren screamed just a bit too late" line.

Like "Indiana Wants Me," this thing is a kind of perverse, guilty pleasure. We sure don't care too much about either of these losers.

While the rest of the album is just sorry, strangle-voiced mewling about sensitive love scenes, I guess most DJ's played the first track, were turned off, and didn't bother to search for another track that might be a hit. They just went back to flogging "Sometimes When We Touch" to death. It took a full decade before Hill scored another hit ("Can't We Try", a duet with Vonda Shepard). He still performs, and has written a book about his childhood. And his two protagonists remain "Frozen" on a slab of out of print vinyl.

Dirty Losers Get Hot and then Cool It Frozen in the Night

Monday, June 09, 2014

Neil Patrick Harris - It takes a SUGAR DADDY to see "Hedwig"

Which costs more, a sex change operation or front row to the revival of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch?"

Considering that under some programs, "gender reassignment surgery" is paid for by the government...the answer is the Broadway show.

Ticket brokers (once called "scalpers" in the old days of morality) are asking $1405 for Saturday night, June 28. That's what Stubble, or whatever they call themselves, want. Other Internet sites want even more...with nosebleed (bring a Tampax, girl) seats starting at about $200. Sunday July 6th matinee? Same price. You're not getting front row for this, but fairly close (Row C). I'm not sure if they even sell single seats, so that's $1405 for you and your partner, male, female, or transgender. You'd think transgenders, with a note from the doctor, might get something off??

It's nice to know that TG's, formerly squinted at or laughed at if not spat it, are now PC. It probably helped that despite usually casting transvestites and transgenders as psychopaths ("Psycho," "Homicidal," "Dressed to Kill,") there's enough spooky allure to make many of them rather fascinating. Christine Jorgensen wasn't bad looking, Coccinelle was the toast of Paris, and by the 70's, there was Amanda Lear, who may not have openly announced having been formerly male, but didn't deny it either. Her records were worldwide hits, and her Dietrich-of-Disco act was a lot of fun (I know, I spent an hour alone in her hotel room for an interview). She was honest, droll, and some of her work transcended the dance floor.

Neil Patrick Harris, star of the "Hedwig" revival, has been declared a very able replacement for the original star of the off-Broadway version and the film. And this one-shot wonder (the team behind this hasn't tried for another musical or even an album of misc. songs) remains both theatrical and fascinating. The songs are varied and the script has a wide array of symbolism to play with (aside from gender issues, there's the use of a Jewish sidekick for the German star, the theories of what creates a perfect union, the choice of name for Hedwig's antagonist, etc.)

Despite being a fair hit around the world (various productions of "Hedwig" even in foreign languages) and despite having some good songs, it's rare to find anyone covering them. The most notable probably would be Yoko Ono on "Hedwig's Lament: Exquisite Corpse." No complaints with what you'll be hearing below, in stereo, "Sugar Daddy." In this C&W/pop rouser Hedwig struts her stuff to the excitement and alarm of a small audience somewhere in Middle America.

When it was performed live on TV, it was to a black tie audience of superstars...including Sting, who played along when Hedwig sat on his lap, but didn't appear to be overly happy about the whole thing.

The Harris production is sold out because it's a limited engagement. It also appeals to any tourists who liked the guy in the crappy Doogie sitcom he did years ago. And there is no shortage of affluent homosexuals and drag queens, either. Having just won a Tony for Best Musical, even the already painful scalper prices will go up more than an inch. Too bad Neil and the cast don't get a royalty or percentage on the REAL prices people are paying to get in. Too bad those of us who'd just like to see a good rock 'n horror show would have to go dip the checking account into the red to have a look.

Hopefully the show will be filmed by HBO or Showtime or Lifetime or somebody...and perhaps the run will be extended with some novel new star in the lead...Amanda Lear, Liza Minnelli, RuPaul, Kylie Minogue, Viley Virus, Justin Bieber, Alice Cooper, Ray Davies, k.d. lang, Weird Al Yankovic...so many possibilities...

Below, "Sugar Daddy," and if you do get to see this show, let me know how many combos of Sugar Daddy and Tranny are sitting in those very, very expensive orchestra seats. HEDWIG SUGAR DADDY

GEORGE JESSEL sings - TWO TEAR JERKERS

Once upon a time, "jerkers" didn't mean songs like "I Touch Myself" by The Divinyls.

It didn't mean having The Who on the turntable while wanking to pictures of Lily...St. Cyr.

No, around the turn of the 20th century, a "jerker" was a woeful and sentimental song, designed to exude wetness from the eyes. Elton once sang, "Sad songs say so much." He (Bernie Taupin) was right. For many, a morbidly depressing tune purges the blues. You think YOU had a tough day? Listen to this…

"This" could be "Danny Boy" (which Saturday Night Live cast members once performed as "The Irish Crying Song") or "He Stopped Loving Her Today," "I Can Never Go Home Anymore," or "Gloomy Sunday."

Back in the 1890's, tear-jerkers were prone to involve mothers, fallen women (often the same thing), orphans, or death. There's probably a song out there about a fallen pregnant woman who died giving birth to an orphan.

George Jessel put out an album of "Tear Jerkers From the Not-So-Gay 90's" around the time radios were squealing "Teen Angel" and "Tell Laurie I Love Her."

The whole album is not below, not only because of bandwidth/storage issues, but because he recorded for such a cheap record label he wasn't paid enough to sing more than a few numbers. Most of the album features an unknown and lamely harmonic singing group.

Jessel, for those who've avoided him, was a legit star in the 20's. Aside from singing, he was known for his "Hello Mama" phone monologues. His rival was Al Jolson. Both were Broadway stars, and it was George who starred in the 1925 stage hit "The Jazz Singer." When he and Warner Bros. couldn't come to terms, Al Jolson was picked to star in the film version. Out-living Jolson by 30 years, George worked most often as a film producer. He also had a nostalgia act, as one of the last (Durante and Sophie Tucker were also around) performers of vaudevillian show tunes. He'd always remind people that HE could've been a superstar if he'd signed on for "The Jazz Singer." It might not have been a big hit film with him in it, but it still would've given Jessel immortality as the star of the "first talking picture."

Georgie was also America's "toastmaster general," giving eulogies each time an old star passed on. He also hosted tribute dinners to stars that were going to die fairly soon. He appeared often on talk shows hosted by Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson, but by the Vietnam War era, he wore out his welcome. He was just a rheumy-eyed old right-winger with a greasy flat wig on his head and a ludicrous Army general outfit, sourly declaring the anti-war New York Times to be "Pravda."

Actually in the proper setting (50's Friar's Roasts, mostly) George could be very funny, despite his slightly officious delivery style. He was a welcome presence on most any dais, with a good stock of classic jokes. At the same time, he issued both comedy records and bad albums of corny songs for the obscure indie record labels that would have him.

Well aware of being a nostalgia act, Jessel acknowledged that "tear jerkers" were corny, but hoped people could find some pleasure (campy or otherwise) in hearing them again. You can sense he's just a tad embarrassed to be singing "In the Baggage Car" or "The Pardon That Never Came." You at least, can download this stuff anonymously, and while playing it on your iPod, can pretend it's really the latest sappy ballad from Sir Paul or Sir Elton.

GEORGE JESSEL TEARJERKERS

BBC Kills 1932 "Nigger" Song and Mortifies DJ David Lowe

Oh, that naughty N-word has done it again…it sent shudders through the BBC and led them to instantly shoot down a harmless 68 year-old disc jockey who liked to play old 78's.

The song in question? A fox trot from Ambrose and His Orchestra, credited to the writing team of Noel Gay and Ralph Butler (who weren't billed as Gay-Butler…which could've raised eyebrows). Ambrose was a Jewish band leader born Benjamin Baruch Ambrose, but billed as "Bert Ambrose" on stage. "The Sun Has Got His Hat On," (part of the musical "Me and My Girl") arrived in 1932 via HMV. It's a cheerful bit of big band cheese, rendered even fruitier by the era's vo-do-dee-o style of singing. The vocalist in this case might be Sam Browne, but who knows…Ambrose didn't always credit his vocalists on the record label.

So how did this silly old song suddenly get to be controversial?

ONE listener complained to the BBC (Big Bunch of Cunts).

Old Man Lowe, who used his own records on the show, is just a Miniver Cheevy who likes living in the past. Had he been aware the song had "a Nubian in the fuel supply" (a W.C. Fields term) he said he would have prefaced playing it with a mild "apology" if anyone was offended by the "ethnic slur." "Nigger" (as well as "coon") was a widely used term that didn't necessarily denote murderous hatred. Some in the 30's used "nigger" in the same mildly unpleasant way they also would say "don't Jew down my price" or "let's go out for Chinks." Ignorance is not always racism...racism being defined as hating all members of a particular ethnic group and denying them their rights.

After he was sacked, Lowe appeared on Jon Gaunt's show to say, "to the best of my knowledge, the version of the song I played was, certainly until just a few days ago, on the BBC’s ‘Okay to play’ list. And one of my all-time favorites, Oliver’s Army by Elvis Costello, which features the N-word, is still played regularly on British radio."

Eventually the BBC offered to take the shell-shocked disc jockey back, but on his blog he wrote: "I have hung-up my headphones for the last time. Why? Because I made a silly mistake. Yes, I know we all make mistakes, but where political correctness is concerned in UK today, there is no room for excuses or forgiveness….I admitted my mistake immediately after listening closely to the ‘offending’ track. I then apologised to my BBC managers, and offered to apologise to the listeners at the beginning of, and again during, my programme on May 11…

"A series of emails between myself and the BBC ensued over the following few days, including one which stated, “We would prefer that you don’t mention anything about last week’s broadcast.”  In the end, the BBC wrote to say, “Regrettably … we will have to accept your offer to fall on your sword to resolve the situation.

"…this was a genuine error on my part … the first of its kind I made in my 32 years of broadcasting … but, given today’s unforgiving obsession with political correctness, I have been compelled to pay the ultimate price." And rather than be further stressed, he's retired.

Fast-backward over 80 years…to 1932 and the use of "Nigger" in songs.

"Niggers all work on the Mississippi. Niggers all work while de white folks play…" That was how "Show Boat" opened. This was the intro to the hit song "Old Man River." Nobody in the cast seemed to object, and no critics did either. Which doesn't mean some weren't offended. The black singer Paul Robeson was sensitive to the word and when he recorded the song in 1932 (same year as "The Sun Has Got His Hat On") he changed it to "colored folks." Still, in the context of the times, "nigger" was not the totally un-PC word it is now. Now even discussing it, it's called "the N-Word" which sounds like parents talking to a child (any child but Justin Bieber). Adults talking about the N-word and the F-word and the C-word? Pretty childish and ridiculous.

Can anyone seriously think that Ambrose and his Orchestra were deliberately being malicious in 1932? The lyrics are playful. At worst, Butler-Gay were goofing around with minstrel humor, as even cartoon characters were doing (there are Bugs Bunny in blackface cartoons you simply will NOT see on a Warner Bros. DVD because of PC considerations). Blackface jokes were in 3 Stooges shorts. Groucho's "yeah man, sho nuff" ad-libs during the Negro spiritual parody that ends "Room Service" are unfortunate now, but weren't intended with malice back then.

Still, you don't hear "Nigger" in a Warner Bros. cartoon or 1930's comedy, so I can't fully absolve any use of "nigger" in that era. "The Sun Has Got Its Hat On" could've used "colored" or "negro" instead. It seems pretty doubtful that the author (or the singer) would actually call a colored chap a "nigger" to his face and think it was ok. But I wasn't around in 1932 in the UK or anywhere else.

Still, as you listen, you can almost imagine this as the soundtrack to some stupid cartoon where cats and dogs are dancing as the sun shines, tongues out and eyes blinking in rhythm, and some character named Bosco might look a tad "native." But unless you're really listening for it, the n-word will go right by you. As opposed to, say, the hundreds of rap songs where "nigga" is bellowed, cackled and shouted.

Bert Ambrose was hardly a racist…in his heyday when he starred at England's top clubs (May Fair and the Embassy Club) he brought in pianist Art Tatum for a three month engagement.

Should original era "The Sun Has Got His Hat On" recordings be forever banned, even if a disc jockey (or a blogger) offers up an apology for the bad, bad word? The question is the same as "Should we never play Wagner because he was an antisemite?" Or "Do we play Charles Manson's songs?" The answer depends on the quality of the work, whether it's worth playing, and whether the point of playing it is to promote racism, antisemitism or the "fun" of embracing someone that society believes is evil.

Nemo and also Jonathan King both recorded modern versions of the song…which now has a few substitute choices for the N-word. One version has the sun "roasting peanuts" and in an alternate, "shining brightly."

A 1932 song with the word "Nigger" somewhere in it

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Macauley Culkin as Lou Reed. Not. "Take a Bite on the Wild Side"

Stop me if you've heard this one. It's about a kid actor, kind of homely, who got famous for slapping Old Spice on his pubescent face and popping his eyes because it stung. The rest of the movie, "Home Alone," had the kid running around a lot and showing that he could follow directions...not that he could act.

After he became famous, he turned into a a bit of a brat, and then a has-been. Then people felt sorry because he looked like a geeky vampire. They worried he'd have an early demise like some other child stars, and go suffocate himself in a pair of Dana Plato's panties or something. What to do? Well, living in Manhattan, having his picture taken in any nightclub he stumbled into, Big Mac developed into a "hipster." Cool. Er, kewl. Now, to make it pay.

Maybe he remembered how kid-star Billy Mumy became half of Barnes and Barnes and had a mock-hit with "Fish Heads." That could be the reason he ended up banging a stick and tooting a kazoo as the lead member of "The Pizza Underground," which is just about to the Velvet Underground what Barnes and Barnes was to Frank Zappa: not competition.

Inane hipster nightclubs (mostly in dorky Brooklyn) seemed to welcome The Pizza Underground, and guffaw over vaguely remembered songs re-written to be full of pizza references.

"Hey dudes, let's go see how that Macauley Culkin kid grew up to be SO sardonic and hip and doing this groovy put-on of shouting PIZZA a lot. And like some asshole who puts too many toppings on his pie, he just can't stop himself from putting too many pizza phrases into each song! So bad it's good, huh? Peace out!"

ROTFL. Har har. LOL.

That's the joke. Child actor trades on his very dim fame in "Home Alone" to become a "Does he still look like shit?" freakshow act. Wouldn't singing songs about PIZZA be hilarious...after being lubed up on the two-drink minimum? Or will everyone throw bottles at the pretentious bastard?"

It seems the Incredible Culk did go from being a Brooklyn titter to getting hit (on stage in England). Well, some people can take a bad joke, and others can take a bottle and throw it at a guy who ain't really that funny at all.

Your download below is an audience in Brooklyn yocking it up to a Pizza-fied version of "Walk on the Wild Side," sung while Lou Reed was dying of liver cancer. There's an in-joke here that might need to be explained. Culkin substitutes "Famous Ray" for Candy (Darling) as one who "never gave it away." "Famous Ray" refers to Ray's Pizza, a once-trendy pizza chain in New York. It was so famous that various pizza joints tried to confuse tourists and get them to come to...Original Ray, Original Famous Ray's, Ray Bari, and various Ray-clones. (There was never actually a Ray...the original guy was named Ralph, and the opportunists included guys named Gary and Joe!)

PS, among the many obnoxious things about NYC is the insistence that it's not only home to the world's best pizza (which may be true) but you're a fuckin' spud if you go THERE instead of HERE. "There's this place in Brooklyn…" "No, there's John's on Bleecker…" "No, that's too flat…the REAL thing is Sal's Pizza…just don't trust any of their delivery boys because there WAS that rape incident…"

But I digress, as I really can't stomach talking about The Pizza Underground any further.

Listen. You can be just like Culkin. You don't even have to download his amateurish and obvious "Take a Bite on the Wild Side." Just smack yourself in the face with some Old Spice, take a lot of drugs, dye your hair a sick color of yellow, and then substitute 'PIZZA" or "MOZZARELLA" or "SAUCE" or "CRUST" in ANY song you like. Like...a Bob Dylan song:

"Mama take this MOZZARELLA offa me. I can't use SAUCE any more. It's gettin' TOO SPICY to see. I'm knock-knock knockin' on PIZZA CRUST…"

Har har har har har. The world really would be a lot more pleasant of Culkin remained…HOME ALONE.

Stay home alone and groan to... Take a Bite on the Wild Side

LIBBY TITUS - "Darkness Til Dawn" w/ Carly Simon and Craig Doerge

One of the sure-thing albums released in 1977 was Columbia's "Libby Titus," the second album simply titled "Libby Titus." It features one of her best-covered songs, "Love Has No Pride," and several songs by Carly Simon, including one with Simon's music and Libby's lyrics ("Can This Be My Love Affair"). Another excellent song is a co-write with Jacob Brackman: "Darkness Til Dawn." Brackman, of course, often co-wrote with Carly.

The first cut on the album, "Fool That I Am," (co-written with Al Kooper), was the choice when the timorous, unusual beauty with the very pale complexion and mass of curly black hair turned up as the musical guest on a "Saturday Night Live" episode. In an age that seemed to say it was all right to be a bit quirky (Diane Keaton, Jill Clayburgh, Kate Bush), Libby fit right in.

The album also includes tasteful takes on both Leiber & Stoller's "Kansas City" and Cole Porter's ironic lynch-mob song "Miss Otis Regrets." Somehow these extremes, as well as Libby and Carly's originals, all fit together seamlessly. The musicians who dropped by for the sessions reads like a Who's Who of the era. Phil Ramone produced most of it. The credits include Hugh McCracken, Tony Levin, Robbie Robertson, John Gueren, Grady Tate, Garth Hudson and in backing vocals…Carly Simon, Paul Simon and James Taylor.

Your download, "Darkness Til Dawn," has Libby's voice complimented by Craig Doerge on solo piano. You may know that name from his work as a member of The Session, and on albums by James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Harriet Schock, Judy Henske and many more. In a music world loaded with performers who can play piano, it's quite an amazing achievement that Craig Doerge has been the "go to" keyboard player for so many decades.

Libby's first "Libby Titus" album (with a color cover) was released back in 1968. On the Hot Biscuit label, it's covers of pop songs of the day. Her style back then was fairly close to Judy Collins, most evident in her interpretations of Paul Simon's "Cloudy" and The Beatles' "Fool On the Hill," and most certainly Joni Mitchell's "Michael From the Mountains," which was popular via a Collins cover.

The Titus of '68 was more songbird than chanteuse…the style of her more mature second record. It was her last record. She didn't retire, she simply performed in intimate nightclubs where sophisticates appreciated Cole Porter as well as Carly or Paul Simon. She also continued her songwriting. Her co-writers include some famous names: Burt Bacharach, Martin Mull, and a guy by the name of Donald Fagen…her husband since 1993. Extra trivia note: her daughter is Amy Helm. She and Levon Helm were an item in the late 60's and early 70's.

LIBBY TITUS Darkness Til Dawn

Monday, May 19, 2014

ALL ALONE — EYDIE GORME (and a Jerry Vale obit note)

Yesterday Jerry Vale died (born in the Bronx, Gennaro Luigi Vitaliano…July 8, 1932 – May 18, 2014).

Wubbo Ockels also died on the 18th, but I'll save that tribute for another time, perhaps. Jerry was such a representative of Italian lounge singers that he turned up in the gangster films "Goodfellas" and "Casino." He had a nasal but velvety tenor voice, and pleasantly average looks…and was more in the league of Andy Williams and Mel Torme (friendly nice guys) than Robert Goulet or Sergio Franchi (overtly handsome and bombastic guys).

No wonder Ed Sullivan had Jerry on his show so often, even if he tended to make easy-listening albums full of songs that were hits for other people. And that…is all I have to say. I don't own a single song by Jerry Vale. Nothing by Goulet either, and only one single by Sergio, and maybe two Andy Williams and Mel Torme records. But for many, news of his passing will bring back nostalgia. If you're a real Vale fan and feeling alone…well, here's Eydie Gorme singing "All Alone." Which I intended to post this week anyway. Because…

Last week, I went to a thrift shop and dumped 75 CDs and a whole bunch of DVDs. And I found an Eydie Gorme album I didn't have (because I only have a few of them). I wasn't expecting to buy vinyl...can't remember the last time I did. Amazingly, I saw eight big plastic bins of records on their own table. Usually records aren't even sold in thrift shops anymore, and if they are, they're UNDER a table, where you rightly get kneed in the head and kicked in the ass by normal people passing by to get to CDs and bric-a-brac.

So I gave a flip, for old time's sake, and there was an Eydie album with "All Alone" on it. I thought, I'd kinda like to hear her take on it.

I grabbed it and stood behind two ninnies at the checkout line. I knew I was in for a long wait. The older ninny, buying blice (a pair of blouses), couldn't stop yapping to the clerk about how she'd been looking and looking for JUST THAT COLOR…She was fussing in her purse and her wallet and her change purse to give the EXACT change, burbling as if the bored cashier was her best friend.

Meanwhile the hawk-nosed nasal debutante also in front of me was busy whining (they don't talk, young girls, they WHINE) into her cell phone. I heard every word of her meaningless idiot conversation conducted in a mincing cadence and strident volume. She stayed on the phone when she made her purchase, barely listening to the cashier telling her the price. "Hold on," she said into the phone, "I can't hear you. Somebody's talking." Right, the somebody who wanted six bucks and tax.

I rolled my eyes and tried to point them elsewhere...but the store was crowded with unsightly idiots, and now somebody in the store had put on some Lady Gaga disco shit. As it thumped, the girl pulled out a bunch of credit cards, fussed about which one she'd use, and kept up her breathless conversation, yelling over the Gaga shit: "I'm buying a throw pillow! THROW PILLOW! It's pink and about ten inches…" Yeah, I was thinking of something else she could use. Long and deep to shut her mouth. She wasn't done yet. With great exasperation she paused her conversation. "What did you say? Oh. Paper or plastic…" Into the phone: "The clerk wants to know if I want a paper bag or a plastic one. I never know what to do. I know paper is good for the ecology and all that, but I need plastic bags for the garbage." To the clerk: "Do you have a paper bag with handles? No, that's too big. That's…too small…" Finally baby bear found one that was just right.

I placed the late great Eydie on the counter, slapped down a dollar and the fucking pennies for the tax, and was out the door, no bag, no conversation.

The way home? I heard loudmouth males bellowing and guffawing at each other over things even more stupid than what that simpering little slit was squealing about in the thrift shop. From behind I heard some bitch slapping the sidewalk with heeled boots (in 80 degree weather) following behind me for blocks. The sound was drowned for a while by some ethnic nutjob blasting disco from his car, and then from a howling ambulance siren set off by somebody who just wanted to speed down the street. Various little brats were crying and squalling over nothing. A dog, tied to a pole, was barking its guts up. And several nannies sashayed along blabbering to each other, their baby carriages forming a blockade that had me stumbling out into the gutter to get by them. I had to get back out of the gutter quickly, as there was construction work going on in the middle of the street, with a guy working a drill at top volume, his beer belly fluttering and shaking in time to the RAT-A-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT.

That's when the irony of my purchase hit me. ALL ALONE. That's what I wanted. To be home, listening to Eydie Gorme singing ALL ALONE, and having NO noises interfering. I hope when you download this, your asshole neighbors don't disturb your enjoyment of this most poignant song…about solitude. Solitude can be a lonely thing, but more often, it's something you wish for, and almost never get. Until you're as dead as Eydie Gorme or Jerry Vale

EYDIE ALL ALONE

"It's Such a Happy Day" - Jackie Gleason wrote it for his skits…

While two songs closely associated with Jackie Gleason were not written by him (his "theme" song, "Melancholy Serenade," and the ubiquitous "Shangri-La,") he's credited with writing the one below.

"It's Such a Happy Day" was used quite a bit on Gleason's 60's variety show, usually over the silent antics of Jackie as "the Poor Soul." No reason to believe he didn't at least hum the melody for this thing, which was then orchestrated for him. That was the M.O. for quite a few celebs. A contemporary of Gleason's, with a sketch comedy show involving mime, Red Skelton, also wrote a lot of tunes that an arranger polished up. Two albums of Skelton music were issued by Liberty, and some cuts were pretty good. Both Jackie and Red were probably thinking they were in the same league as Chaplin…who not only wrote, starred and directed his comedies, but often created the music, too.

Gleason was one of the foremost sellers of lounge music. In his day, he competed successfully with Mantovani, Percy Faith and Melachrino, in coming up with sappy "music for lovers." Apparently he came in to "conduct" the orchestra, after others created the charts. The character Frank Lorenzo, on a memorable episode of "All in the Family," loved playing the romantic lounge albums for his swinging wife: "that Jackie Gleason…he knows more about love than anybody!" Leaning more toward brass than strings, maybe there was some subliminal "blow" message going on, but there aren't many serious music critics who find anything worth praise on the albums conducted by "The Great One." Today most of the interest is from album-cover-lover types, who like the kitschy poses of women turned horizontal, eyes closing in rapture.

It's kind of interesting that a guy best known for playing a childlike, brawling bus driver, and a few unattractive and peculiar characters in sketch comedy, would have such an impact on the field of romantic lounge music. However, comedians in general are very musical. In an interview I did with Phyllis Diller, she talked about timing, and pointed out that "most comics are also musicians." We tallied up the list…Woody Allen on clarinet, Jackie Vernon on trumpet, Morey Amsterdam on cello, Henny Youngman and Jack Benny on violin, Steve Allen on piano, Johnny Carson and Mel Brooks on drums, Harpo Marx on harp…you could end up with quite a band…one that could've been conducted by Jackie Gleason

JACKIE GLEASON wrote "It's SUCH a HAPPY Day…"

THE KEY NOTES - PLEASANT HARMONY ISN'T ALWAYS PLEASANT

Harmony: the more people there are, the worse it is.

Think about barbershop quartets. Four assholes. Why are they assholes? Because they are oh-so-strenuously straining to produce a human chord, and oh-so-fucking-proud of the result. They're in love with their own voices, which is pretty damn sad when all they're singing is shit like "Sweet Adeline."

One of the oddest quirks in pop music was that after the vaudeville Barbershop Quartets, there was the Big Band and lounge era; the 40's and 50's, loaded with foursome and fivesome idiots in love with the sound of their own voices. They'd get behind Johnny Mercer or Doris Day and croon oohs, aahs, and repeats of certain words of the chorus. They were, in a word, PESTS.

They also had pesty names, like The Hi-Los, The Pied Pipers, The Merry Macs or The Skip-Jacks. Many a decent vocal by anyone from Frank Sinatra to Patti Page, has been ruined by the intrusive, chummy "harmonizing" by a bunch of drones who make a pleasant old recording sound horribly dated.

Below, two examples. This isn't one of those cruel, effeminate "listen to this, it's so bad it's good" blogs. The cuts below aren't gonna make you laugh. They're presented as historic examples of what is now, in hindsight, a strange phenomena of a bygone age. The Key Notes were professionals and they could sing, but the arrangements were mostly insane. Part of the reason: harmony for the sake of harmony (and ego).

The main thing that distinguishes a rotten "harmony" group is a total lack of interest and empathy for the lyrics. It's all about "DON'T WE SOUND GREAT? ISN'T IT WONDERFUL HOW OUR VOICES HARMONIZE?" So listen to The Key Notes wreck "I Ain't Got Nobody." This is supposed to be a sad, wistful song. Certainly The Mills Brothers and others could get that across, concerned more with emotion and phrasing than harmony. You can easily imagine these smiling as they sing. Whee: "I ain't got nobody…and nobody cares for me…yee-hee-hee!" Yes, they do add that "yee-hee-hee."

Harmony probably goes back to the days of wolf packs. Cavemen would hear a chorus of wolves going off all night long, and grunt, "Hmm, not bad." This led to such strange groups as the "Sons of the Pioneers." What are these guys doing, without women, sitting around a campfire with their arms around each other, crooning about tumbling tumbleweeds, the 69 of bushes?

More recently, there's the incredibly obnoxious King's Singers, who not only seem on the verge of wetting their pants over their own harmonic genius, but make the most ridiculous faces as they gather close together and ooze. I have less problem with mobs of singers who are just making a racket, like The New Christy Minstrels.

When you get down to three people, there's less of a chance that they'll be precocious and precious as they sing together. The Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary and other folk groups were as busy with the message as with the harmonies. Even Crosby, Stills and Nash weren't pretentious (most of the time.) Get down to a harmonizing duo like the Everly Brothers or Simon & Garfunkel and you're pretty much ok.

The Key Notes getting a record deal represents the apex of wrong-headed harmony groups. Mostly back-up groups did their damage on a star's song, not on their own. Who wanted just The Modernaires? Or The Jordanaires? But in the late 50's, cheery and mindless groups, mindful not of lyric but of musical coloring, began to appear on record store shelves.

"I Aint Got Nobody" is followed by "Jada," mostly because you've heard this annoying tune hundreds of times, but probably only as an instrumental. Yes, there are words. And The Key Notes make every one of them excruciating. Again, they're just so full of their own cheery ability to sound like human harmonicas, they forget to be entertaining. Cliff Edwards was able to sing this crappy song without trying your patience. Not this bunch. Following a fey attempt at mimicking old 78's, they lose their minds and happily coo "AH HA HA HA…Ja da! JA DA! DING DING!"

The Key Notes I Ain't Got Nobody - Jada