Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Great Roger Smith

Here's a record I've owned for all of about five hours, and I couldn't wait to share it with all of you.

Because today's featured singer is Roger Smith. He primarily recorded on the Air label, but his name turns up on a dozen other, smaller labels; in this case, the tiny "Top Rock" label. The blandest of names masks one of the most unusual singers of song-poems in the field. I have only heard a handful of records he recorded, but have loved every one of them. He had a borderline ridiculous, yet endearing way of selling a song.

The reason I have never featured Roger Smith here is that most of the tracks I own which were released under his name, I own only as MP3's, those graciously gifted to me by fellow collectors. and I have generally not featured records that I don't personally own. And the only Roger Smith record I did own, prior to today, has already been shared on another blog. I see that the post I refer to, now has dead links, so maybe I should share that record, soon, but in the meantime, here's the better of the two sides, posted to Soundcloud. It's one of my favorite records ever.

Today's offering, which doesn't quite match that track for sheer wonderfulness and insanity, is still 100% wonderful. It's called "Same Old Stuff" - a mention in Billboard dates this release to late 1961, but it seems to exist pretty much out of time, a rather peculiar and unique mix of elements of Western Swing, Dixieland and Roller Rink Organ. And if I haven't already made it clear, it's magnificent from start to finish. As if that musical backing wasn't enough to draw me in for multiple listens, Roger Smith again provides a weirdly compelling and inimitable vocal. I love this singer, and I love this record.

Download: Roger Smith, Western String Band - Same Old Stuff

As much as I've just praised the Roger Smith side of this record, I don't want to neglect the flip side, which is just as wonderful in its own way. It helps that the singer is Cara Stewart (that always helps), but in addition, this is a funny song with some inspired lyrics about the implications of having a lot of kids on one's love life. If I'm taking the lyrics literally, I believe the writer intends us to think the protagonist of the song has 15 children. Cara Stewart does her usual great job of selling the material, and Lee Hudson's group, with that indelible guitar sound, support her nicely.

Download: Cara Stewart, Lee Hudson Orch - Eeny Meeny Miney Mo

Not that you asked, but an even better song, on a similar subject (at least in the early verses) - and one of my very favorite records ever, is by Jimmie Driftwood, and can be found here.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Is That You, Popeye? Nah, It's Just Billy Grey

It's always a good day when I get to share the sounds of the perpetually ridiculous Billy Grey. I don't have nearly enough of his records, or else I'd feature him more often. His borderline incompetence, paired with the material his bosses at Tin Pan Alley gave him to sing, topped by the genuine incompetence of the band TPA used at that moment all result in records that are stunning in their entertaining awfulness.

First up, let's hear Billy sing the plaintive cry of a normal, idiot American (and proud of it), in the song "I Am Just What I Am". Here's a fun game - count the number of times that the bass player doesn't follow the chord structure, and then add in the time (near the end, in the last bridge) that the rest of the band seems unable to agree on what the chords are supposed to be:

Download: Billy Grey - I Am Just What I Am

The flip side, "Tongue Tied" may well circulate among song-poem collectors. It was part of the original set of downloadable songs on the AS/PMA site, but somehow never migrated over to the otherwise "complete" set of those downloads that cropped up years later at the WFMU blog.

This one is also worth hearing, for it's general half-assed-ness, but also for a fairly weird turn taken by the lyrics. 

Download: Billy Grey - Tongue Tied

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Dick Kent's Home Is His Castle

Before I get to this week's feature, I have quite a bit of housekeeping - a variety of comments which I want to acknowledge, share with the readers and/or respond to. 

First, regarding what I thought was a mysterious performance labeled as being by "Rod Rogers" on Halmark, of all places, a great blogger and frequent commenter here, Darryl Bullock, has indicated that there indeed was another song-poem performer who went by that name, aside from Rodd Keith. He writes: 

Surely the vocalist on Trailways Bus Driver is Nu Sound's dreadful Todd Andrews? Incidentally, there is also at least one Rod Rogers 45 on Nu Sound, 1008: Don't Be A Dope/Birds And Bees And The Stork (both L. Smith). I don't have a copy of the latter but I'd put money on that Rod Rogers being Todd Andrews rather than Rodd Keith 

Regarding a post from February, featuring a singer identified as "Dan Monday", who I indicated was Rodd Keith, I heard the following from our friends at the excellent record label Roaratorio

Just as an FYI.... Rodd Keith was *not* the singer known as Dan Monday, on any of the records, as far as I know. I think this misconception was fueled in part by the misattribution of the Dan Monday track "General Custer's Story Remains Legend" on 'I Died Today' to Rodd... but they were most definitely two different vocalists. Milford Perkins also gets lumped in with the Rodd pseudonyms on occasion, but he too was a different vocalist.

It's not clear to me how the writer knows for certain that Dan Monday is not Rodd - it certainly sounds like him to me - and I admit that I've not written to ask, due to the general busyness that I've alluded to, but I will defer to the folks at Roaratorio, whose knowledge and insight about Rodd far surpass mine. 

Finally, Jake writes to ask: 

Are you aware of any song-poem companies that are still active or is this pretty much a dead medium in the 2010s?

It's not I can't answer this for certain - but I strongly suspect that the scam is still out there. It certainly was a decade ago, when a friend of mine was an avid collector of recent CD releases of song-poems on the then-current song-poem labels. Also, in the late '90's, a few of us got together and purchased a song-poem based on a poem by a late acquaintance of one of our group - I believe the price was $200 - and I think we did business with the folks who now run whatever the current name of Halmark Records has become. To be certain about its continued existence, one might buy a copy of The National Enquirer, or some other similar rag, and look in the classified ads, but that's not something I'm going to do. I know for a fact that the poetry version of this scam (in which people are self published, or have their poems narrated on CD) still exists. 

Thanks, everyone, for writing - I really appreciate all comments!

And now, on with the countdown!

Today, we have the singer best known as "Dick Kent", sounding very young, singing in what I'm guessing was early in his career, trying to "advance" himself up the ladder of success, on the Advance label, under the name "Dick Castle". The song is "A New Love", and the entire, fairly pleasant, non-taxing enterprise sounds like something Paul Anka might have released in the early '60's (which is when I'm guessing this dates from), including Dick himself sounding more than a little bit like Anka. Although I hasten to say, Dick Castle/Kent, like 98% of the vocalists who have ever been recorded, is a better singer than Mr. Anka.

Download: Dick Castle, Vocal, with Page Cavanaugh - A New Love
The flip-side, "Dream One Dream At a Time", is a far duller trip, to my ears, a lyric as clunky as the title, and a music bed which has nothing to recommend it.

Download: Dick Castle, Vocal, with Page Cavanaugh - Dream One Dream At a Time

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hand Me Down Girl

I thought I heard a little bird whisper in my ear "you haven't featured an MSR 45 in almost 15 months". So I went to the box, found one from that label's early days (being that I am strongly non-partial to their latter day releases), and found a nice little song from Bobbi Blake, written by that famous song-poem "Dee", a lyric with a sad story to tell, titled "Hand Me Down Girl". The lousy sound quality is rests entirely on the shoulders of those who pressed this record.

Download: Bobbi Blake - Hand Me Down Girl

On the flip side, we have an unusually uninspired offering from Rodd Keith (listed here as Rodd Rogers), on "Me and My Guitar".  Not that the songwriter gave him much to work with. At least in this case they gave the guitar a prominent role - I've heard several song-poems about certain instruments which hardly feature the instrument in question, if at all.

Download: Rodd Rogers - Me and My Guitar

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Travelogue with Sammy Marshall

I really do intend to get back to posting once a week... I can hardly believe how busy my home and work life is getting - I truly intended to get back to once-a-week posting - it's Summer, for God's sake, how much can there possibly be to do. I had no idea....

The question for today is: Did Alice Lindhout write today's pair of songs in some sort of official capacity, with a mandate to publicize Palm Springs and the then-brand new Aerial Tramway into the San Jacinto mountains (this would have presumably been in 1963 or, more likely, 1964). Or did she simply take it upon herself to send it two sets of lovely lyrics about her environs and their most recently added feature?

Which is the true story, she (or the city) paid the good (?) folks at the Globe Song-Poem Factory to produce her two songs, with Sammy Marshall offering stellar vocals, and press them up on the "Souvenir Records of Palm Springs and Aerial Tramway" records label. I'm guessing there weren't a lot of releases in the label's catalog.

But these two are lovely, particularly the bouncy "Come On Down". It's a minimalist arrangement, driven by chugging piano and what sounds like a quartet of Sammys, although it could just as well be a real vocal group, supporting Sammy's enthusiastic lead vocal. Whoever is singing (and playing) is a winner from start to finish.

Download: Sammy Marshall: Come On Down

The flip is a more sedate story of The San Jacinto Mountains, here mislabeled as "The Sanjacinto Mountains". Oddly, Ms. Lindhout's lyrics portray the very first reason for going to area being that it grants wishes, with the specific wish one should make being a wish that Sammy Marshall would "be your fella". That would not be my wish.

Download: Sammy Marshall: The Sanjacinto Moutains

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Mystery Upon Mystery

Here is a new addition to my collection of Halmark 45's. And it presents a number of mysteries, at least one of which is completely unseen (at least by me) up to this point in the saga of the song-poem industry.

I very excitedly bid on, and watched myself win, this Halmark 45, because its label indicated that the vocalist was Rod Rogers. This seemed to me an impossibility. Rodd Keith worked in Los Angeles, and the folks at Halmark (in Boston) could very well have barely been aware of him. Rodd had also retired that particular spelling of his nom-de-song-poem when he moved from Preview (where he was Rodd Keith) to MSR (where he remained Rodd Keith for a time then became Rodd Rogers). The name Rod Rogers (in that spelling) hadn't regularly appeared on records since he'd left Film City, in the mid '60's. Given that the majority of the Halrmark records which can be dated seem to come from 1973-76 (although they existed well before and after these dates), it's not even certain that Rodd Keith was still alive when this recording was released. Could Rodd Keith have made a record, near the end of his life, for the Halmark label?

Sadly, that's not the case. The song is called "Daddy I Love You", and it's quite clearly sung by the husband and wife team of Dodie Frost and Jack Kimmel, who were Halmark stalwarts (with Kimmel's name usually shorted to "Jack Kim", when he was credited at all). It's sung over one of Halmark's patented, reusable backing tracks - and they didn't even bother starting over again when the tape stuck a bit and caused a glitch at the very beginning. I find the Frost/Kim Halmark records to be particularly, egregiously horrible, and this one is no exception.

The song itself is a fairly desperate answer record of sorts to the massive hit song "Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast", by the very unfortunate Wayne Newton, which hit number four in Billboard in 1972. While in that song, the father is leaving the mother, only to be pulled back in, for one more try, due to the calls of his daughter, in this case, the child herself is narrating: the mother died in childbirth, and rather than the poignant, life altering moment (or, at least, intended so) of the original song, her lyrics are mostly a complaint that, when her daddy would take her out for a stroll, he would, literally, walk too fast for her. Given the lyrics to this thing, it's downright weird that the title is "Daddy I Love You", which is hardly the main point of the lyrics.

But I would LOVE to know how Rod Rogers' name got attached to this thing.

Download: Dodie Frost and Jack Kimmel (Labeled as Rod Rogers): Daddy I Love You

Okay, so that's one mystery. When I got done with my disappointment after hearing that Rod Rogers was not on "Daddy I Love You", I flipped the record over and saw that the Frost/Kim team were credited on the flip side. For a moment, I thought - "Maybe the artist credits were reversed, and THIS will be Rod Rogers".

But it's not. However, it's also not Frost and Kimmel! It's quite clearly a vanity recording! As I found in a record I posted in January, Halmark apparently pressed up their song-writer's own recordings from time to time. Or, in this case, someone outside of the Halmark facilities singing the song-writer's song. For, unless there are other mistakes on this record (which is entirely possible), this song was also written by the composer of "Dadd, I Love You", Mrs. Aristy Ledford.

The song has the unlikely titled "My Trailways Bus Driver", and it's a true winner. I don't doubt that Mrs. Ledford wrote the song, or at least that some woman did, at least given that it was written in those hetero-centric days, as the lyrics have a definite, "I'm attracted to the male bus driver" tilt to them. Why, then is the vanity recording performed by what appears to be a mail vocalist?

And what a song (and recording) it is. For one thing, if the early lyrics are to be trusted, the driver is apparently holding the singer while driving the bus. Then there's the whole focus of the song, which is literally a tribute to the driver of a bus doing his job. The sound quality is abysmal, and the "High Fidelity Vocal and Orchestra Directed by Ted Rosen", which are described in exactly that way on the label, consist here of a single six-string guitar.

Download: Labeled as Dodie Frost and Jack Kim - My Trailways Bus Driver

Who is singing this song? Why did Frost and Kimmel get the credit? Why did Mrs Ledford pay for one song to be produced by the Halmark factory yet submitted another one complete and on tape, sung by a male singer with his guitar? And how on earth did the name of Rod Rogers (who may well have been dead by the time this record was released) end up on this 45?

I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on this matter!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Zombie Song-Poem

It's always a good time for an early Tin Pan Alley record - in this case, one from 1956. And with the recent death of George Romero, there couldn't be a better time for a tribute to the man behind the modern zombie film, than a Tin Pan Alley song-poem about....yes.... ZOMBIES! 

Here's "Zombies Dance in the Night". It's sung by Alberta Jordan, whose name turns up on only a handful of TPA singles. And that's too bad, because she had a fun sound to her voice, which would have enhanced any number of song-poem records. The AS/PMA website lists one Jordan record, and I own two others, both of which I've now shared here (the other is currently mothballed, due to the loss of the links to my earlier posts.

The record has a bump and grind beat, which is an interesting choice for a song describing Zombies dancing. The author did not provide a whole lot of lyrics, leading to a lot of "La-La-La's" at a few points. But they still paint quite a picture.

Download: Alberta Jordan: Zombies Dance in the Night

The flip side, "Mister Radio Operator". And this is a fine, fun record, with a swinging, early rock and roll beat, with a nice sax solo, and a great feeling throughout. I'm not sure where the protagonist is located, but in the song, she's beginning the title character to somehow manage to pull in a strong signal so that she can hear her favorite music. Alberta Jordan does has a weird way of pronouncing words ending in a long O - including "Radio" - not sure where that accent comes from.

And how do I know this record is from 1956? Well, I did a search for the titles as well as the name of the label, and I found this listing. It seems that label honcho Jack Covais was thorough enough (proud enough?) of his co-writing credits - for writing the music - that he took the time to copyright these songs.

Download: Alberta Jordan: Mister Radio Operator

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Mid-Summer Treat - A Full MSR Album from 1971!

I thought I'd send out something extra special today, especially in light of the fact that I've been sharing more like three "song poems of the week" each month instead of four for most of the year.

So.... here's a FULL album from MSR, titled "New Songs for '71", featuring Dick Kent and the Lancelots on most of the tracks, and Bobbi Boyle (Bobbi Blake, I do believe) and the MSR singers on the remainder.

Just a few notes:
     - I believe that "Hot Pants and Leather Boots That Shine" has traveled the song-poem collector  circuit, although I'm not sure. I just know that I'd heard it before getting this album.
      - Even though that's the case, it is not, by far, in my estimation, the most interesting track here. The next to last song on side, for example, "Do Right", stood out to me for it's ridiculously simplistic sloganeering, and the final track on side one, "California City" is a marvel, in the way it seems to be wanting to tell a story, but simply repeats the same incomprehensible and pointless anecdote twice.
      - The most amazing track here, by far, is on side two, and is called "Forty Going North". I was actually inspired to get up and make sure I still had the same album on the turntable, so different was this from anything else on the album, and indeed, from anything else MSR was doing around this time. Truly an amazing track.

I have not separated out the tracks - they are linked here simply as side one and side two.


Download: Dick Kent and the Lancelots and Bobbi Boyle and the MSR Singers - New Songs for '71, Side One

Download: Dick Kent and the Lancelots and Bobbi Boyle and the MSR Singers - New Songs for '71, Side Two

Friday, July 07, 2017

First, I Will Serve My Country

Well, here we are, with a patriotic tune, appropriate for the week, just a few days late for Independence Day. And it's an early effort by Norm Burns and the folks at Sterling records, from that brief period when they were making a few wonderful, early-'60's sounding rock and roll records. The release comes just a few label numbers after the unimpeachable "Darling, Don't Put Your Hand On Me", which may well be my favorite song-poem record, and which you can hear here.

"Twenty-Three" isn't the equal to that masterpiece - and what is? - but it's a solid record in the same genre, clearly cut from the same cloth, with another unique Norm Burns vocal, and a lyric that tells its story effectively enough. Interesting enough, the lyricist here is female, but wrote a song from the point of view of a young man who has been drafted.

Download: Lew Tobin's Orchestra, Vocal, Norman Burns - Twenty-Three

On the flip side is a straightforward, sad ballad titled "Lost in Hopes of You". The singer's been gone for awhile, and has learned that, in his absence,  his sweetheart has found another. Since this has the same lyricist as "Twenty-Three", it seems at least possible that writer Mary Genco saw this song as being from the perspective of the same person who was portrayed on the flip side, a few months later.

Download: Lew Tobin's Orchestra, Vocal, Norman Burns - Lost in Hopes of You

Friday, June 30, 2017

My Heart Has a Flat

I love many of the 1960's Preview label releases. But as the early '70's move into the mid '70's, I tend to find fewer and fewer of the recordings on this label to be of interest, as more and more of them feel like poorly arranged, tossed off, forgettable nothings.

So I didn't have a lot of hope for this record, which seems to date from around 1974. But I was pleasantly surprised - delighted, actually, to find a funny, pun-filled record. "A Check Up With Love" is certainly not the first - or even close to the best - record to use car metaphors to describe a relationship, but it's a well done example of that concept, with several genuinely unusual, dryly humorous lyrics (although someone should have told the song-poets that no one has ever called it a "window-shield".

Gene Marshall does a solid job singing it, although it's not up to his standards. He was probably sight reading (as was usually the case) and he sounds a bit unsure here and there, tripping over the unexpected turns of phrase (I do love the little "yeh" at 1:33). The band sounds good, particular the excellent drumming.

Download: Gene Marshall - A Check Up With Love

On the flip side, a more typical recording of the era, built around the phrase "Why Waste Time, Time Does Not Waste On Us", a trite thought which somehow puts me in the Yakov Smirnoff. The song is heard in a suitably blandly professional performance.

Download: Gene Marshall - Time Does Not Waste On Us

Friday, June 23, 2017

My Minutes with Demento

In July of 1975, I was a month beyond my 15th birthday. I was hooked on buying all things Beatles, watching (and recording) episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus every Sunday night on our local PBS station, and cutting a bunch of lawns for money.

Over the course of a few weeks, I heard from two different friends about a radio show they knew I'd love, The Dr. Demento show, heard Sunday nights over WSDM, 97.9 (SDM = "Smack Dab in the Middle" of your dial). On July 20th, I gave it a listen.

I was hooked from the very first song, "The Q5 Piano Tune" by Spike Milligan, an amazing feat of nonsense wrapped up in a hooky, noisy and extremely well produced package (not surprising, as it was produced by George Martin). As the show went on, I heard several more excellent records that I'd had no idea existed, in styles and genres I barely had known about, as well as a few that I'd grown up knowing, such as "Three Little Fishies" and "The Purple People Eater".

I was getting very into this new show, but then, near the end of the episode, came "My Boomerang Won't Come Back" by Charlie Drake, and I was over the moon. The record is a masterpiece of production (and, again, by George Martin!), has funny lyrics, great harmonies and an absolutely indelible tune. I have no doubt it was the record I listened to the most over the next two or three months, and remains one of my very favorite records.

For that treat alone, I made sure to listen the next week, and the next, and the next, in the hope of hearing something else that I would love. I was usually rewarded with something else wonderful. I was hooked on Dr. Demento's show. And like most things I fall headlong into, I have continued to be into Dr. Demento, full bore, ever since. His show changed stations a few times in those early years, but it eventually landed on WLUP (curiously, the station which took over the frequency of WSDM), and stayed there for more than 30 years, before the show itself moved to an online-only presence.

Over the course of those years, I recorded nearly every episode on reel to reel, copying onto cassette tape after cassette tape all of the material that I loved, and there was far too much of that loved material to mention here, although I will point out that his show was the source of my introduction to Thurl Ravenscroft, whose career I celebrated here.

Being a major record collector myself, Dr. Demento (AKA Barry Hansen) became a hero to me, for his collection, his knowledge and his desire to/excellent ability at sharing his collection with the world.

I even got a song on his show. After I completed a self-produced, privately distributed cassette tape of funny songs, I sent off a copy of a few of them to the good Doctor, and was rewarded a few months later when my song "Bad TV Acting" (a parody of "Sweet Soul Music") got a spin on the show (later, the entire cassette album was posted online, here).

Flash forward a few more years, and an episode of the show was done which paid tribute to Elvis, 25 years after his death. I wrote a very favorable post about it in the Dr. Demento Usenet Newsgroup (remember those), and someone in his camp forwarded it to Dr. Demento himself. Thus began an occasional correspondence between us. This was more than I would ever have dreamed of, but over the last couple of years the correspondence has became more frequent, starting with my making suggestions for the show, and offering up items from my own collection. Soon, he and I were going off on tangents and writing to each other about our lives, our collecting, etc.

Hearing that Dr. Demento and I would someday become friends would have probably put the 16 year old, or 26 year old me into shock. And yet, that's what had happened. I had, by this point, started recording my own material again, and I began sending some of these songs to him, as well. Since early last year, he's played four of these, and has featured several additional items from my collection, several of them song-poems.

When I learned last fall that Dr. Demento would be appearing live in a theatre about an hour from my home, around Halloween, I quickly bought a ticket, and inquired with him whether he thought there'd be a chance for us to meet before the show. The answer was yes, and so, last October, prior to what was a wonderful presentation, I got to spend about 20 minutes with the Good Doctor, in the theatre's "green room".

What did we talk about? Lots of things, including, of course, being a collector and ways of having a collection. But does it really matter? Someone I considered a hero, someone who built an amazing career out of something I've done as a life-long hobby, is now a friend. And we had a really nice conversation, and that's what matters. Since then, our conversation continued, via e-mail. So have my submissions of records from my collection for the show: Just last week, he played "The 23rd Channel", a ridiculous Noval label song-poem, during a segment on television.

Thank you, Dr. Demento - Barry Hansen - for more than 40 years of entertainment, for the myriad beloved songs and other recordings you've introduced me to, and for welcoming me into friendship with you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

An All Time Favorite

Today is my 57th birthday, although I prefer to look at it as being 19 for the third time. Regardless of all that, I'm going to give a gift to you - a record which I've owned for a long time as part of a shared tape exchanged from long, long ago, but only acquired on vinyl in the last few days. And it is, as indicated in the title, an all-time favorite of mine. I was actually amazed (in searching, prior to making this post) that it never seems to have been shared by anyone before.

It's Rodd Keith, in his Rod Rogers mode, in a recording clearly made at the Film City song-poem factory, but released by a vanity label run by Roy "Curly" Rivers and Evelyn Sheets, who wrote songs together, and who combined their last names to form the Shevers label.

What's so special about this one? Well, there are several records made by Rodd Keith in a country vein wherein he sounds like he's less than serious about the genre, and seems to have his tongue in his cheek to varying degrees. For this song, however - the aptly named "Poverty" - his complete contempt for the material and the style fairly drips off of the grooves. The addition of a few added sounds tied into the lyrics is a nice touch. (The awful edit at 1:01, on the other hand, might be another indication of the level of seriousness with which he took this particular recording.)

Perhaps his intentions wouldn't be as clear if we didn't have Rodd's other records to compare this to - if all we knew was that this record sounded if it was made by an idiotic backwoods hick. But we know what he could do when he was serious, or even doing something lighthearted that he respected. This is just a complete deconstruction of a genre.

The couple behind the scenes at Shevers seem to have not been bothered by this - or perhaps it's what they asked for - as this is actually a single lifted from an entire album of songs that they commissioned, one which goes for a whole bunch of dollars, on the rare occasions that it turns up for auction.


Download: Rod Rogers - Poverty

On the flip side - and also from the "Singing in the Country" album, is a much more typical Rodd Keith Film City era record, titled "Luella". This track has a swinging Chamberlin track, with some creative soloing and voicing choices. The song has an interesting lyric, and Rodd sounds fully engaged with this one, with good reason, I'd say.

Download: Rod Rogers - Luella