Thursday, November 19, 2015

THE GALENS' annoying "BABY I DO LOVE YOU" Poing Poing Poing!

The first time I heard "Baby I Do Love You," I couldn't believe how annoying it was. I was not alone. Norman Galen, leader of what he probably thought would be a white version of The Platters, was appalled.

Over the men's soothing lullaby singing, and the icky-melange of his female vocalist's sugary emoting…there was a relentless POING POING POING noise. It wasn't there when he and his group recorded it. Where'd it come from? What was it?

The over-dubbed novelty could've become the soundtrack to an aspirin commercial: "Distracted by a pounding headache? Is your peace of mind being ruined??"

Just what that obnoxious noise was, nobody was quite sure. One of the trade publications of the day figured it was an ocarina. It sounded a bit more like somebody beating a hamster with a coat hanger. But, to quote an infamous David Seville line, radio listeners seemed to think, "That's almost good!"

It isn't, but it's certainly a fascinating and horrible experiment, a culture clash between an All-American whitebread girl, a bunch of creepy German crooners, and some kind of psychotic Ed Gein hillbilly wielding a weapon. (You can download now and try to guess what the hell it is...the answer turns up a few paragraphs down).

As originally envisioned, the basic tune had the three Galen guys cooing a Teutonic lullaby in German called "Du Du Liegst Mir Im Herzen." After a while, the baby doll lead vocalist steps forward to solo on the sweet refrain in English: "Baby I DO, DO LOVE YOUUUUU. Baby I want you so. Baby I need you so. Baby I love you so. I just keep missin' your wonderful kissin'"

It seemed like it could be a middle of the road hit. The familiar German tune had already been turned into "You, You, You are the One," a success for Russ Morgan back in 1949.

Twist of fate: The Galens' indie record label decided they loved it but the kids couldn't dance to it. Where was the beat? Apparently having no faith in the song rising to the charts like "Harbor Lights" or some other sappy platter, they brought in "rock" percussion. Or did they?

They found some guy with a musical saw, and had him relentlessly pound it throughout the song. POING POING POING.

It almost worked. Throughout the history of pop-novelty, listeners have been hypnotized into buying grating tunes: "The Hut Sut Song." "Three Little Fishes." "Purple People Eater." "How Much is That Doggie In the Window." "Dang Me." You name it. Some love it, some hate it, enough buy it so it hits the Top 20.

Like a moth putting a few little holes in a sport jacket, "Baby I Do Love You" with its sputtery high-pitched pounding noise fluttered just inside the Top 100.

This sugar-coated cyanide pill, which stuck in a listener's ear causing a brain melt, had some people wondering who were The Galens? What would they do next?

Technically, the band should've been called The Galen, because only one person in the band had that last name. Norman Galen grew up on exotic Catalina Island in California. He had been briefly paralyzed after a bout of polio, finding solace in playing the piano. The prodigy won the attention of the esteemed and pressed Walter Gieseking, who had recorded some impressive versions of Beethoven sonatas back in the 78rpm era. The Geese couldn't keep The Galen interested in classical music forever; the kid went off to pursue big band music and Vegas pop.

Galen formed a swingin' quartet with drummer George Ross, bassist Bob Hubener, and vocalist Charlene Knight, who sounded like a clone of Priscilla Paris. Galen loved her sound; he had arranged music for The Paris Sisters' Vegas act and was smitten by their sugary vocalizing. There was an entire genre of "sweet bands" in the 1940's and Galen was hoping to make money with his own brand of "easy listening." The Galens were managed by Faye Paris, who also directed the fate of her daughters.

Charlene Knight hadn't recorded much before joining The Galens. Her debut was on the Pamela label, an indie outfit from Monrovia, California. The title of her 1961 debut was "If You Pass Me By." I know, that's a straight line.

"Baby I Do Love You" released in 1963 was the first recording by The Galens. It was for the small but lethal Challenge label, and featured an almost equally appalling flip side. It was the coy "Love Bells," which included ""ting ah ling a ling uh" as a refrain. It was the kind of thing Mitch Miller would've foisted on Patti Page.

The Galens managed to issue a 1964 single their way. They chose the old war horse "Stranger in Paradise," mildly goosed into 60's rock sensibilities by a jittery back beat. The flip side was "Chinese Lanterns," another MOR-onic tune. By then The Platters' style was history and frisky rock was dominating the Top 20. They got one last chance to go back and get the teen audience via the 1965 effort "Young Dreams." It was a smack-worthy bit of cuteness, with "I Love You More Than You Know" on the backside.

No longer trying for the teen market, The Galens stopped making singles and became a successful live act for aging tourists at resort hotels. They were well known in Bermuda and in the Bahamas through the mid 60's, and recorded a short-run souvenir album of well-worn classic pop tunes. It's now a "collectors item" that's pretty hard to find. The group disbanded when Charlene Knight settled down to enjoy motherhood.

Norman Galen stayed in the music biz in a variety of ways, running a music store, teaching students, and sometimes staging concerts for fans of "easy listening." He and his partner Dale retired about ten years ago, and are, I assume, like the other three members of the long lost group, very much alive.

Back in 2008, Christine Knight was on the Net leaving messages about her long lost group. One of 'em was: "Looking for original recordings of The Galens, with Charlene Knight (myself) by Challenge Records in the 60's…How might I obtain copies for personal use?" She was wondering what had become of the masters. It's a familiar and usually unanswered question.

Below, the anvil-subtle Demento-esque percussive saw, punctuating "Baby I Do Love You." It's an early example of over-dubbing for the sake of a teen-rock audience. You might recall a much more successful example: "Sound of Silence," rescued from the poor-selling debut album by Simon and Garfunkel and brought to life with a folk-rock beat.

Also below, a few more examples of Miss Knight and The Galens. Fans of The Paris Sisters, and the solo Priscilla Paris, might recall that they could be pretty good with their musical saccharine ("I Love How You Love Me") and even original ("He Owns the World.") So no collection should be without something galling or Galen or going gentle into that good Knight…

IF YOU PASS ME BY Charlene Knight






The author of "Eve of Destruction" didn't live to see the actual destruction, but he came close, didn't he? Climate change? Isis? Kardashians?

P.F. Sloan (Sept. 18, 1945-November 14, 2015) was just 20 when "Eve of Destruction" hit the charts 50 years ago. He died at 70 (of pancreatic cancer). He lived to reach the 50th anniversary of "Eve of Destruction," joining Barry McGuire on stage in January. No, not on a PBS special or HBO show; just a gig at a somewhat obscure venue.

Roger Waters probably hated the guy, because P.F. Sloan, like so many of the 60's singer/songwriters who began their careers knocking out "Brill Building" pop tunes, was Jewish. Yep, he was born Philip Gary Schlein. The family switched Schlein to Sloan because there were too many people like Roger Waters in their neighborhood. This was still the era of quotas (Jews being denied chances in certain professions, being restricted at health clubs and other places) and if that wasn't bad enough, there was outright violence. Sloan's Dad, a pharmacist, realized a Jewish name was very bad for business.

Like Goffin and King, and Mann and Weill and Leiber and Stoller, all Jews whom Roger Waters would like erased from the music history books (perhaps replaced by Palestinian and Muslim songwriters who've given the world so much joy), the Jewish team of P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri began by writing for others.

The Jewish duo evolved from pop "I Found a Girl" (Jan and Dean) and "A Must to Avoid" (Hermans Hermits) to folk rock "Let it Be Me" (The Turtles) and "Where Were You When I Needed You (The Grass Roots, which originally included them as members). When 60's spy TV shows became popular, and Patrick McGoohan was imported to America, they gave us "Secret Agent Man," sung by Johnny Rivers.

When protest songs were hot, P.F. Sloan was right there with "Eve of Destruction." Barry McGuire's rendition had some purists shaking their heads. They found the opening tolling of the drums less than subtle, and McGuire's overboard growling wasn't Phil Ochs. Some felt the Dylan-esque harmonica toots here and there were a cliche if not insulting. Then there were some glaringly bad "punk swallows a dictionary" lines like: "my blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin' I'm sittin' here just contemplatin'."

But the more you heard it, the more powerful it became, and it was pretty powerful even the first time. You could listen to it often enough to even notice the odd splice on the last "tell me/over and over," where McGuire apparently couldn't quite keep up with the musicians. There was soon an answer song, "Dawn of Correction," replying to what (it was thought) McGuire had written.

The song was almost completely written by P.F. Sloan (Barri usually was the lyricist). No surprise, that P.F. Sloan's next move was to push for his own record deal, and the chance to become a true singer/songwriter.

While some obscure songwriters eventually made a dent singing their own songs (Randy Newman comes to mind) and some became stars (Carole King, aka Carol Klein), others languished. Along with Ellie Greenwich, Barry Mann and others, P.F. Sloan was a decent singer who could've had a hit off one of his solo albums, but it just didn't happen.

Depression plagued Sloan, his use of drugs didn't help, and he retreated back home to live with his parents, convinced his record label had not only failed him, but screwed him on royalties. "I was ill I guess for a good 20, maybe 25 years,” he recalled, although he wasn't able to recall some of those years with any great accuracy.

Summer-burned and winter-blown by the failure of Sloan, Jimmy Webb (who has issued many great albums to a niche audience of devotees) wrote a tribute song. Frankly, it was "P.F. Sloan" by Jimmy Webb that called my attention to what up till then had just been a parenthetical name under my 45 rpm copy of "Eve of Destruction."

Webb's song praised Sloan for continuing as long as he could, but acknowledged that he had dropped out of sight after 1968. (Sales of Sloan's "Measure for Measure" solo album were almost too small to measure.

"“I have been seeking P. F. Sloan/But no one knows where he has gone," sang Jimmy Webb. Rather than explore Sloan's life and work, subsequent stanzas note Roy Rogers' taxidermy-preserved horse, London Bridge becoming an American tourist attraction, and Nixon taking office. The song has one of Webb's most catchy sing-along choruses, which warns "don't sing this song."

Below is a live version of "P.F. Sloan" by Webb, and also a live acoustic version of "Eve of Destruction" by Sloan. He delivers it thoughtfully, without the bombast of McGuire. Sloan's last album was released in 2006. He turned up in clubs now and then. Rumer recorded "P.F. Sloan" and in 2014 he joined her on stage at a gig. It was the same year he published his autobiography.

Sloan's book is "What's Exactly The Matter With Me? Memoirs of a Life in Music." If you didn't even know it existed, well, the book business is as fucked up as the music business, especially now that books can be so easily stolen and even scabbed on eBay by any seller who puts in a laughable caveat: "I own copyright or I am an authorized re-seller or the book is in public domain."

Fans will find much to enjoy, including notes on his various songs, and some passages that druggily slide around the line between fact and creative fiction. At least, unusual reporting. How about Sloan describing George Harrison driving in that famous area for stoners, Haight-Ashbury: ""the zombies started pushing and trying to roll the car over with him in it. They started crawling on the car like hungry lizards. As the car sped off, the zombies looked around for something else to crawl onto..."

Sloan's tome is from Jawbone, a small publishing outfit run by real nice hippie-type music lovers. I think I correctly recall in speaking to the head man one time, that he chose his company's name with a nod to a memorable song by "The Band." In true hippie-dippie fashion, the company allowed Sloan to pretty much write anything he recalled or thought he recalled, leading some fans to sigh about how accurate some anecdotes are. Like, did Sloan really suggest the sitar that was used on "Paint it Black?" And yeah, typos don't help! The book's available in both paperback and Kindle editions. It gives you the complete story. Or to quote Sloan: "Stardom and success lay in front of me now, followed by destruction and ultimately resurrection."


P.F. SLOAN (LIVE) Jimmy Webb

Monday, November 09, 2015

ADELE SINGLE: "'Coz My Hole's So Deep!"

Hooray. There were three things the world wanted before the year was out: to see a new "baby bump" on Kim Kardashian, to watch Justin Bieber luxuriating on a balcony with fake blond hair and his weewee hanging out, and…hearing something new from England's mad cow, ADELE.


While all the world cared about Kardashian and Bieber, it was mostly "The Real Lame Housewives of England" who needed that ADELE fix. These houswives seem to resemble Monty Python members in drag. For nearly three achy-breaky years, they were afraid that their porcine and bellowing role model was done. After all, another fat woman, Sam Smith, got the assignment to sing the new James Bond movie theme song.

The Real Housewrecks initially loved ADELE for the same reason as they did Susan Boyle: here was a dowdy, ordinary, not too bright replica of themselves up there being applauded. Better yet, both demonstrated that with cosmetic skill, the sows could put on silks and be made "glamorous." Adele seems to spend most of her day getting make-up lathered onto her face with a trowel. Then an army of art school fag-Banksy types etch her eyebrows and eyelashes, add blush to thin her fat cheeks, and chisel on her lipstick liner. They also flare her nostrils to be less pig-like, and do up her hair so that she no longer quite resembles a rabid porcupine.

ADELE, you might remember, became a star when she brayed a song about confronting a man smart enough to leave her. Mad cows all over England could moo their admiration for this gutsy 200 pound haggis mooooving on with her life. ADELE showed the world that a broken heart could no longer feel pangs of pain if it was encased in enough layers of fat. And if the bold sentiments of all-conquering ego came out at a high enough decibel to knock every trainspotter off the platform.

And yet, there were "haters." Why would anyone hate ADELE? Could it be her phony tears? Her phony blabs about her sad life and storybook success? Her phony fucking face?

Some people are not haters, they're just jadded. Anyone who already suffered those shitty Amy Winehouse albums resents being coerced into caring about another husky-voiced loony with cartoon make-up on. No! No! No! Jaded music listeners also figure there's still ARETHA around, and she's the original fat homely broad with a voice that can be heard by Ethel Merman in her coffin. So why care about someone with a team of hacks who help create sound-alike mega-hits so commercial they could also be jingles for England's constant TV commercials for online gambling?

And that leads to the "Sky Fall" (or cloud download, as we say on the Internet.)

It's an ADELE single!

Read that line carefully. This isn't saying it's by ADELE. No, it's from a drag queen imitating Adele. The perp popping the porcine pooper is Sherry Vine, probably the best "campy-dirty" female impersonator around. There certainly ain't much competition, since Kathy Griffin, Chelsea Handler, and SNL's Leslie Jones are also aggressive and gruesome but are actual vagina-owners.

Offended? You haven't heard the song yet!

AN ADELE SINGLE 'Cos My Whole's So Deep


I know it's a stretch, but so is the life of a 1st baseman. And so it is, that this music blog pays tribute to the non-musical normal Norm Siebern, a Kansas City (Athletics) Star.

He was a humble, soft-spoken guy. Not that I ever spoke to him. I did write to him, to express some of what you'll find below. He could've personalized the two photos I sent him, but he just autographed them without sentiment ("Thanks for remembering," "Glad you're a fan," etc.) and sent them back. He obviously was very much like I thought he was, a modest fellow not given to a lot of emotion.

Now, you're probably saying WHO in the world is Norm Siebern? Quite rightly so. There were few obits: the New York Times noted the death of the ex-Yankee, the Kansas City Star covered their Athletics' hero and a local paper in Naples, Florida paid tribute to its most famous retired citizen. All the write-ups led headlined what the average baseball fan knows: he was traded for Roger Maris. Which is better than the obits for Tracy Stallard, the pitcher whose only claim to fame was giving up Maris's record-breaking 61st home run. PS, Norm had a far longer and more illustrious career than Stallard, including All-Star game appearances.

The trade was actually a multi-player deal, but Siebern and Maris were the main attractions.

In addition to Maris, the Yankees got obscure infielders Kent Hadley and Joe DeMaestri, neither of whom remained in baseball past 1961. In addition to Norm, Kansas City got two old ex-stars (Don Larsen and Hank Bauer who Maris was replacing in right field) and the mediocre Marv Throneberry, who would eventually be traded to the New York Mets and become a symbol of their early years of ineptitude. Larsen, who had pitched a perfect game in a World Series several years earlier, was almost literally a one-game wonder. Once in Kansas City, he posted a dismal 2-10 record with a ballooned ERA of 5.20.

In "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders" Rob devotes several lively pages to whether the trade was a mistake for the A's or not. His view? Not really. That's a testament to the greatness of the little-remembered Mr. Siebern.

According to Neyer, the A's actually got the better of the deal, because despite his 61 home-run season, Maris turned in several mediocre years and flamed out. By contrast, Siebern was an All-Star with the A's, and while Maris didn't do much after his freakish 61 homer spree in 1961, Siebern was a league leader in 1962 and for several more years.

How did the promising Norm Siebern go from sure-fire left fielder to expendable in a trade for a right fielder? He had a bad day in the sun during a World Series game. Yeah, he lost two balls, but he sure had a pair anyway. Someone else would've lost confidence and never recovered after screaming headlines like: "Siebern Sunburn Singes Yanks."

Instead of becoming to baseball what heavyweight David Price is to boxing, Norm Siebern left the fabulous famous New York Yankees…to become a Kansas City Star. Yes, he set a lot of records for them, and citizens of that city remember him fondly, and so do true fans of the game and how it should be played.

As the New York Mets proved in the 2015 series, a team can do great things and then commit a lot of errors and mistakes. The 1958 Yankees were like that, in their battle with the Braves.

The great Yogi Berra (who would ironically be sent out to play left field after Norm was traded) let a called third strike get by him, setting up the winning run for the Braves in game #1. In Game #2 Bob Turley was pounded in the first inning, only getting one player out before being lifted. Part of that rally included a mis-play by Elston Howard, who was in left field instead of Siebern, because manager Casey Stengel started right-hand hitting Elston Howard in some games, left-handed Norm in others).

Norm got his chance in game #3. He walked twice, and one of his walks sparked a big inning for New York. He would scoree on a hit by aging Hank Bauer. (irony: Bauer would later become a manager, and trade for Norm.)

With a decent showing in game #3, Norm was back in left for the fatal game #4.

Norm wasn't seeing the ball well in the notorious "sun field" that late afternoon. Ace Braves pitcher Warren Spahn kept the Yankees scoreless, thanks to a break or two (the Yanks failing to bring in a man from third with less than one out). Meanwhile Whitey Ford was pitching just as well for the Yankees. in the sixth, Norm and Mickey Mantle let a ball hit to left-center get between them for a double.

Norm was blamed for it more than superstar Mickey. Tony Kubek's subsequent error led to a run scoring. Braves led 1-0. Norm definitely lost the ball in the sun in the eighth. You could see how bright the sun and lights were reflecting against the left field wall and the spectators. Norm had a bead on it, but at the last moment as the ball dipped, he suddenly cringed helplessly, knowing he might hit him in the face. Instead, the ball bounced near him and landed in the stands for a ground rule double. The Braves scored another run that inning, and Siebern, trying to redeem himself in the bottom of the frame, haplessly struck out.

The Series did end up going the full seven games, but Elston Howard was used in the remaining contests. Siebern was benched.

Charlie Keller, who had played left field during the Joe Dimaggio era, knew that the sun hadn't changed in the Mickey Mantle era, especially in late September. He rather poetically said, "“During the World Series the sun is low behind the stands. There’s a purple haze from the tobacco smoke. You have to play the position by ear because you never see a ball. You try to judge where it will go from the sound of the bat, and then you just pray that you guessed right.”

Keller was referring to the "natural" problems in left during his playing days. During World Series time in the late 50's, game were now on television and being filmed by color 35mm cameras. The already problematic sun glare was abetted by orders to turn on the glaring artificial lights so that the cameras could have better focus.

Norm made no excuses. He told reporters that he missed a few "in the sun and against the lights," Stengel stood by Norm: "I'm not asking waivers on him, and you can print that! He's a nice kid and I know he'll worry over this. He's playing the toughest left field in baseball, don't forget. He hit .300 for me. He's good at getting walks and he's good at going from first to third. I think he did real good in his first full year in the majors. He's not an easy man to get out."

Siebern stayed with the Yankees in 1959 but in a diminished role, thanks to the option of using Yogi Berra or Elston Howard in left instead. On December 11, 1959, the Yankees tossed Norm Siebern, Jerry Lumpe and a few others to the A's, in return for Roger Maris and a few others. Maris was by no means considered a star at the time. It was simply felt that Siebern was done, and Maris had potential (and the Yankees were getting a few other decent players, too). Rob Neyer: "From July 30 through the end of the (1958) season, Maris batted .162. " PS, Mr. Powerhouse only popped two homers through all of August and September. Yet, the .300 hitting Siebern who had a bad day in the sun was sent packing.

Neyer: "Siebern wasn't the player Maris was. But the difference between them certainly wasn't huge, particularly considering that Maris probably enjoyed at least some advantage from batting just ahead of Mickey Mantle…From '60 through '63 the Yankees finished eight, eight, five and ten games ahead of the runners-up. They'd have won those titles with Siebern in right field rather than Maris.

"Did trading Maris hurt the A's? They didn't finish within twenty games of first place in any of those five seasons…" Considering that Maris batted only .235 in 1957 and .240 in 1958, there was nothing to suggest he'd be a huge star, even for one season. Compare what Siebern did in 1958. Just 24, and a promising star, he batted .300 with 19 doubles, five triples, and 14 home runs. He walked 66 times and, irony of ironies, won a Gold Glove for his play in left field. The Yankees had every reason to think they had the best left fielder since Charlie Keller. Considering that the great Yankee outfielders were always in enter (Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle) or right (Babe Ruth), Casey Stengel had welcomed Siebern to New York by boasting that he "finally" had a solution to the team's left field "problem."

When Siebern came to Kansas City, the 6'2" player moved from left field to first base. This helped his confidence. In 1962, while Maris was fading (after earning MVP honors in '60 and '61), Siebern was coming on strong, playing in EVERY one of the season's 162 games, batting .308, smacking 25 doubles and 25 homers, and leading the league in several categories. He was the only member of his team selected to the All Star Game. He even made a run at the MVP, finishing 7th in the voting (Mickey Mantle was the winner that year.)

Norm was traded to the Orioles after four years. The manager was none other than Hank Bauer. In his first game against his old team, Norm came up in the bottom of the 10th and smacked a "walk off" home run.

The number of players who make it to the major leagues is few. The numbers who stay around for more than a year or two is fewer. Norm Siebern was in baseball for a dozen years. He had made it his life, after leaving Southwest Missouri State Teachers College where he was studying for a degree in journalism. In another era, he might've been able to keep studying and play in the minor leagues, but not then. He also had to give up a few years for Army duty. But after that, he progressed quickly to the majors, and was a top player from age 24 to about age 30.

Overcoming a potentially career-ruining day was one reason I admired Siebern. Generally, my favorite baseball player tend to be the ones who had good careers even without the perfect bodies of a Derek Jeter or Reggie Jackson. There was the cranky "fat kid" Thurman Munson, the also improbably built Yogi Berra, little Phil Rizzuto, and iconoclastic Jim Bouton. Add players overcoming mental blocks or physical problems (such as one-handed Jim Abbott). I also liked anyone with an odd name, from John Wockenfuss to Rusty Kuntz. No less a baseball fan than poet Marianne Moore once commented on how much she admired Bill Monbouquette. She noted that the last name translates as "my basket," and Bill had the common baseball player habit of adjusting his "basket" between pitches. But, I digress.

Both Roger Maris and Norm Siebern retired at the age of 35. Norm went on to become successful in the insurance field. He was invited to "Old Timer's Day" events once in a while by the Yankees, and much more often by the doting Kansas City A's (and their replacement team, the Kansas City Royals.) Little known fact: when new owner Charlie O. Finley came up with the idea of gaudy yellow and gold uniforms, it was Norm Siebern who donned the duds and had to pose for reporters. He later said, "I was quite frankly embarrassed, embarrassed to death!"

Still, he recalled his years with the Athletics with fondness. "I had such a great time with Kansas City," Norm said at an Old Timer's Day event there a few years ago. "I was traded from the Yankees and people thought "Well gee whiz, you're going from New York to Kansas City." I told them, "No, listen, I'm a native Missourian, I've been to Kansas City, I love Kansas City. it's a great thing to come back here and play ball with the A's."

Norm will have memorial services both in Florida, and in Missouri. Asked if he had any advice for today's players, the humble All-Star said, "Give it 100% and hope for the best. It's a tough, competitive business, but a lot of times if you give it your best, you'll win out in the end."

Below a song called "Kansas City Star," which was a pun on the town's newspaper. It's also a fitting term for a little-known but great baseball player whom true fans have always admired.

The Cover of the Kansas City Star

Sacrilege Series #10 Buddy "Hiccups" Holly and "The Day the Music Died"

The "Sacrilege" series returns, with a new entry. It features some nose-tweaking satire from the rock group Wilderness Road, who dare to ridicule the Father, Son and Holy Ghost of classic rock, "The Big Bopper," Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly. Or rather, they ridicule the ridiculous rejects who've solemnly made the dead pop stars into religious icons.

Thanks largely to Don McLean, there are young fools and old mopes who will morbidly insist that on February 3, 1959 "the music died." No, not if you consider that the greatest rockers, The Beatles, had yet to hit the airwaves. Not if your tastes in music include anything from the 60's onward, or jazz from the 20's or classical music from the 19th Century.

A snickering disc jockey died. A somewhat greasy and porcine Latino, too. And a hiccuping Texan. While they were all entertaining, and some of their work is star quality, they weren't the only stars on the charts in the late 50's. It was a shocking, tragic incident and there haven't been many air disasters where three well-known people were aboard. But it wasn't the fucking end of music as we know it. Christ, even greasy bop, dance and novelty would continue with plenty of great performers. Just look at the Billboard charts for 1960 and have a reality check. You'll find plenty of catchy and near-genius stuff on the charts after these three died.

And you'll find, in the download link below, a little bad-taste fun with a tune that mockingly mimics just how unimpressive some of that trio's music is to most people.

Had they lived, chances are that "Big Bopper" J. P. Robertson [sic...note comment below] would be dead by now, and largely forgotten. Without the added aura of early death, his cackling, leering and vaguely pedo-esque one-hit-wonder "Chantilly Lace" might only be anthologized as much as "Babalu's Wedding Day" (by the non-eternal The Eternals) or "Baby Don't Forget My Number" by the forgettable Milli Vanilli. Odds are he wouldn't have had another novelty hit, any more than Sheb Wooley ("Purple People Eater") or Larry Verne ("Mister Custer").

As for Ritchie Valens (nee Valenzuela), if he was still around, he'd be like Chubby Checker. He'd be appearing at oldies shows to sing his ONE hit. Chubby had "The Twist" and Valens had "La Bamba," and IF YOU'RE BEING HONEST, that song is as big a piece of drivel as a soggy, dripping burrito. Listening to Valens babbling "La Bamba" is probably no different from what guys with stomach aches yowl in the bathroom of a Taco Bell.

That leaves the hiccuping genius Buddy Holly. Del Shannon and Roy Orbison had vivid hits but then played the 70's and 80's getting sick in too-cold or over-heated little clubs. They sang the same fucking songs to a small circle of aging fans till they were ready to have a heart attack or commit suicide. Do you doubt Buddy Holly would've had a similar fate. He would've sung "Peggy Sue" till he dropped of slightly more natural causes than a plane crash. At best, he'd be like Chuck Berry, who hasn't written a decent song on 40 years and tours places you never heard of.

To all the morons who whined, "the music DIED," here's two words for you: Bob Dylan. He came after "the music DIED." Another two words? "The Beatles." Another two words? "Martin Briley." Oh, pick any two words. Including "the old two word suggestion," as Art Garfunkel once called it.

And now, the "mean" bit of satire called "Bad Hopper, Hiccups and Havana."

It's an outtake from Wilderness Road (another "two words" for you). This brilliant, under-appreciated Chicago group could rival The Band (first album on Columbia) or offer a blend of rock and iconoclastic smugness that might impress a Zappa fan (their second album on Warner Bros.)

As you'll hear, they mercilessly dispatch all three deceased artistes for what they actually were: creepy, hiccupy and greasy. Usually parodists roast their their victims alive (Bob Dylan, Jagger, Baez, Neil Young, Kate Bush, Lennon, Paul Simon are all lampooned on this blog via amusing novelties). Is it cowardly that the band attacks these dead guys? Actually, they are attacking the fans more than the guys. The guys are all ok. Fans who worship them and get all spooky-somber about the crash need to lighten up a bit. I mean, Lennon got killed at that's an equal trauma, but nobody pretentiously calls it "the night the music died."

Needless to say (but it has to be said, because a lot of people are stupid, including browsing bozos who are not regulars to this blog), nobody is laughing or happy that three people (and a pilot) died back in 1959 on a foggy rainy night near Clear Lake, Iowa.

The three singers aboard obviously did have talent that was wasted in that crash. "Donna" by Ritchie Valens was a gentle piece of melancholy, although anybody could've sung it. "Chantilly Lace" IS a unique novelty (which inspired Jayne Mansfield among others to do a variation on it) even if the rest of J.P.'s work (enough to fill an album) isn't too amusing and is pretty repetitive. As for Buddy Holly, he influenced a lot of people. Without the hiccuping, a few of his songs are decent late 50's rock. But how many people skip past the Holly, Berry AND Perkins tracks on those early Beatles albums because they are inferior songs to Lennon-McCartney? Give him credit for "That'll Be the Day" the riffy "Not Fade Away" and "It's So Easy," but Jesus, enough with "Peggy Sue." And understand that Shannon and Orbison wrote just as many classics, if not more, AFTER the music supposedly died.

PS, I rhetorically ask the God-fearing and perpetually sobbing people who feel "the music died" in 1959, why Waylon Jennings was spared. Did God think more highly of Waylon Jennings than the other three. He's a fuckin' country music fan? God knew that if Waylone was spared, music fans would get "I'm A Ramblin' Man," "I've Always Been Crazy" and the theme for the "Dukes of Hazzard" TV show???

How would the world have been different if Waylon died in 1959 and "The Big Bopper" lived to 2002 (the year God chose to end Waylon's life)?

This blog asks the tough questions. You sure can't turn to Zinhof for this kind of literate shit and provocative music discussion. All you get is a regurgitation of stolen Neil Young albums over and over, with an annoying "password" you have to type in. Right, steal from somebody who stole the music, and make sure to add your name as the "password" to give yourself credit. Credit for what, exactly? WHAT a player in the music world, what a rock scholar, that guy.

You'll notice a bonus track below.

It's a reliable dead baby joke.

Who likes babies? "They are here to REPLACE YOU," noted Mr. Seinfeld. They are noisy, smelly, stupid, and often come out of a Kardashian kunt. So here's a fake commercial for something better than "bronzed baby shoes."

HUGE HOPPER, HICCUPS and HAVANA Wilderness Road BABY BRONZER (Sick Commercial!) Wilderness Road


"You're a hot country woman…" Well, just the slightest pause between syllables on country, and you've got some amusement. Sing about a woman wearing so little clothes you can see "all that skin wavin' in the breeze," and you have even a more bizarre and vivid picture. Add one of those Lee Hazlewood downward spiraling guitar licks, and you've got a near classic. That's "Don't Go City On Me," your choice to remember Tommy Overstreet by.

Instead of Jeannie C. Riley standing up against slut shaming, or Nancy Sinatra bitching about her boots goin' walkin', Tommy is goin' all Okie from Muskogee on a girl who has the NERVE to look "city" and wear her dang dress too dang high. (Tommy was born in Oklahoma). Lordy. Walter Brennan would've approved. Brennan, by the way, was once signed to Dot, the record label that in the late 60's relied on Nashville exec Overstreet for guidance.

What did he do? Within two years, he had signed HIMSELF, moving from the desk to the recording studio! Yes, if you want to get ahead in show biz, maybe acquire enough power to make sure your records get made and played!

Tommy (September 10, 1937-November 2, 2015), was the manager of the whole shebang at Dot Nashville. Overstreet didn't make a mistake in signing a virtual unknown named Overstreet, nor did he ask the guy to change his name. His first Top 100 hit was "Rocking a Memory (That Won't Go to Sleep)." Tommy also did well with girls names and a parenthesis. He had his biggest hits with "Gwen (Congratulations)" "(Jeannie Marie) You Were a Lady" and "Ann (Don't Go Runnin')."

If I'm Being Honest…Tommy, cousin of crooner Gene Austin, was not a favorite of mine. For me, the approach of Tommy, Vern Gosdin or Conway Twitty doesn't have the pathos of George Jones or the grit of Johnny Cash. Still, I think the track below would be of interest to most any C&W fan, and it's the only single of his that I have.

Well liked and genial, the handsome C&W star turned up on "Hee Haw," and toured enough to wreck his first marriage. As tastes in music changed, he spent the last years of his career in Branson, Missouri, the town that carved itself into an Old Performer's Home, with tourists flocking to hear everyone from Ray Stevens to Andy Williams.

He enjoyed the relaxed pace in Branson in the 80's. He had exhausted himself in the previous decade: "There were 329 one-nighters, then 36 days in Nashville in a year's time," he said. "I also recorded two albums and did a European tour for 18 days. Unfortunately, my ex-wife and I separated and divorced. The music business and what we do in that career is not great for relationships. You're gone too much. I wouldn't encourage anyone to work that hard. I shouldn't have. I should have stopped and smelled the roses and spent more time with my family. But you learn those things in hindsight. Hindsight is 20/20. As you go down this road, you do what you think is the best thing at the time, and I did. Unfortunately, it cost me some heartbreak and disappointments, but that's how life is."


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Marty Ingels Dead : The "I'm Dickens He's Fenster" March

I was saddened that Marty Ingels (Marty Ingerman, March 9, 1936 – October 21, 2015) died of a massive stroke…and that obits pretty much went with "husband of Shirley Jones" as his fame. He was a pretty unique comedian, even if his style, and his demons, got the better of him.

Yes, Marty was a "piece of work," but he did what he could with some serious problems. In the Shirley-Marty autobiography he mentioned some of the mental frustrations he had to deal with; everything from breakdowns that left him lying flat on his back and unable to move, to phobias that made life difficult (such as his fear of flying). He once suffered an anxiety attack while doing a stand-up routine — during an appearance on "The Tonight Show."

I didn't have that much contact with the guy. I was involved in one project with him, and years later, another which included a series of phone calls. On the latter, which involved a third party, the third party called ME begging, "Please talk to Marty and tell him to stop driving me crazy!" Yeah, Marty could be a bit "noodgy," or just "spooky-serious" (which always seems frightening to people who expect a comic to always be cheerful and cracking jokes). The problem was that these traits couldn't be excused with "ah, but he's a genius." He never got much of a chance to show genius in comedy, not even at the level of the notoriously nutty Red Skelton.

Marty was sort of a Jewish Red Skelton. He was tall, childlike and had a crooked grin and an amusingly raspy delivery style. He played good natured fools who meant well but were bumblingly aggressive and lacked some social skills. Playing Arch Fenster, a "man child" opposite the worried Harry Dickens (John Astin) he won some fans when he starred in the intelligent slapstick sitcom called "I'm Dickens He's Fenster." It was recently resurrected on DVD, complete with a booklet describing the show's pedigree (great writing, directing, co-stars) and how it was somehow a failure that maybe could've blossomed into a hit if given another season.

Marty did manage to tour in stage productions of well-known comedies, take some good supporting roles on TV and was in a variety of pretty dated 60's film comedies, and then turn to managing when he became older. He met Shirley Jones at a party in 1974 and they were wed in 1977. Like most comics whose trade is naive bumbling and goofy rudeness, his schtick just didn't work after middle-age. At that point, whether you're a Tommy Smothers or a Bill Cosby, you better find a new way of presenting yourself or you're going to be a nostalgia act at best. And Marty didn't have much for nostalgists beyond his "Arch Fenster" character. So he ended up Mr. Shirley Jones, and also a bizarre guy who was prone to litigation and fighting with his clients.

Probably his most notorious legal case involved his client June Allyson. In a dubious bit of brand-marketing, which made her the butt of many a stand-up comic's jokes, Marty signed June to do ads for Depend, an adult diaper. Later, Marty was pissed; he claimed June owed him money. He allegedly called her all day about it…making 138 calls. Apparently the phone company verified this, and ultimately Marty lost the case. It would not be the last time his rush to legal judgment ended with him paying court costs and suffering defeat.

As Variety's obit gently observed, "In his later years, Ingels was relentless in promoting various TV, film and stage projects he sought to get off the ground as a producer. He was known to make frequent calls to Variety editors and reporters with story pitches. A conversation with Ingels could be time-consuming, but it was never dull."

He never really changed. Even when he became another D-lister on Facebook, he was prone to driving everyone nuts. He'd suddenly go off on some conservative rage about politics and morality, and amid the "good for you, Marty" and "that's how I feel, too," he'd get a lot of shrugs of chagrin. Sometimes he'd apologize for going off, sometimes not. I am not sure if his Facebook account was "deactivated" when he died, or months earlier. He might well have scuttled it in anger and frustration over some real or imagined insult. The NY Times obit wittily remarked, that Marty "was by all accounts highly voluble, genially combustible, energetically litigious and unmistakably larger than life." Indeed.

Yeah, he was one of those guys that you might think twice about dialing up. He could easily find some reason to seize on a particular remark and become offended, or just take it in a wacky direction. But he was, though not given enough chances to show it, a genuine, authentic and charismatic character. Shirley Jones would tell baffled fans and friends and reporters that she too could find Marty a bit difficult and/or embarrassing. His death was announced via a statement from Jones, which ended with: "“He often drove me crazy, but there’s not a day I won’t miss him and love him to my core.”

So we leave it at that. Sometimes, especially with comedians, whom we are used to seeing as zany, smiling, good-natured and goofy, the other side seems a bit appalling and dark. But on a good day, he was very good.

And below? Two versions of the "I'm Dickens He's Fenster" theme song. The show's pedigree included having Irving Szathmary write the theme song. Who better? Irving (brother of Bill Dana, aka Jose Jimenez, and once known as Bill Szathmary) began his career helping to score Raymond Scott's zany instrumentals. He later recorded an eccentric ten-inch album (as Irving Zathmary) called "Moods for Moderns." It was a Leroy Anderson-type deal; he offered cartoonish versions of such dopey classics as "Sailor's Hornpipe," "Irish Washerwoman," and "Pitter Patter Polka." The kiddie classic "Hickory Dickory Doc" was "swung" into the re-titled ""Dick-Dockery." Irving would later achieve immortality writing the theme for "Get Smart." Here, his intent was very much to establish the link between the modern Dickens and Fenster and past masters at slapstick foibles, Laurel and Hardy.

You get two versions of the Dickens and Fenster march…the original TV soundtrack, and Nelson Riddle's expanded version. Here's to Irving Szathmary, whom Jose Jimenez would have noted, was a very talented Jungarian Hew.

Original TV THEME Just as it was heard on the sitcom soundtrack

Dickens and Fenster in STEREO Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra.

"A Satchel and a Seck" - "Guys and Dolls" becomes "Faygeleh and Doll" via Allan Sherman

One of the earliest parodies Allan Sherman wrote was "A Satchel and a Seck," lampooning one of the stupidest hit songs of the day. A song with THIS lyric just BEGS for parody:

"I love you, a bushel and a peck!
A bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck!
A hug around the neck, and a barrel and a heap
A barrel and a heap, and I'm talkin' in my sleep.
About you. About you! About you!
My heart is leapin'!
I'm having trouble sleepin'!
'Cause I love you, a bushel and a peck
You bet your pretty neck I do!
Doodle, oodle, oodle. Doodle, oodle, oodle. Doodle oodle oodle oo.

Back in 1951, Frank Loesser's "A Bushel and a Peck" (from "Guys and Dolls") was a big hit. So was Mickey Katz, a Capitol recording artist who specialized in taking pop songs and "kosherizing" them with idiotic kosher food references sung in a stereotypical, high-pitched nasal whine.

Allan wasn't able to interest a major label in his effort to compete with Katz, but he did manage to at least get his novelty tune released (originally on 78rpm). At this point the most notable thing about it, is the unexpected comic insult from duet partner Sylvia Froos: "You sound like a little faygeleh." Allan apparently doesn't know enough Yiddish to realize this is not a compliment!

Allan went on to stardom. It took a decade. As for Sylvia? She'd already known fame. She was a child star in vaudeville. While Al Jolson made the first feature-length "talkie, "Baby Sylvia" starred in two short sound films released six months earlier.

Sylvia, "The Little Princess of Song," remained popular through the 30's, and turned up in Shirley Temple's "Stand Up and Cheer." She even had her own radio show. Well before "A Satchel and a Seck," Sylvia scored some novelty hits including "Who's Your Little Who-Zis?"

This single (Sylvia was not on the flip side) was simultaneously a farewell to the winsomely lilting vocals of Froos and a hello to a new voice in semitic silliness. Allan died in November of 1973. Sylvia enjoyed a long, happy retirement and died in March of 2004.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Original Petticoat Junction babe Pat Woodell dead at 71 - Curt Massey sings theme

There were 3 "sisters" on the old sitcom "Petticoat Junction." The eye-catching opening for the show had the three of them (Betty Jo, Billie Jo and Bobbie Jo) skinny-dipping in the water tower. The wet silo was above the "Shady Rest" hotel, and giving the show its name, the girls' elaborate petticoats seemed to always be up there hanging out to dry.

It was a naive age, wasn't it? Kids growing up in the 60's were supposed to sigh and think of which one would be their ideal sweetheart. And ooh, petticoats! That was naughty enough back then!

I'll confess, of the originals, I preferred the kinda slutty Jeannine Riley. It seems most thought she was the hottest, which is why Jeannine stayed around only two seasons, replaced by Gunilla Hutton and then Meredith MacRae. Also leaving at the same time was our recently departed Pat Woodell (replaced by Lori Saunders). In Pat's case, the lure was a singing career and a record contract. The one woman who never left the show was Linda Henning...who happened to be the daughter of the show's producer, Paul Henning.

In a strange twist of fate, the late Woodell's replacement Lori Saunders, was scheduled to appear at the infamous "Chiller Theatre" convention in pathetic Parsippany this weekend (23rd-25th). Lori was ready to allow various old hoobastanks to pose with her and get her autograph. Alas, she had to cancel due to health problems. The show does have Henning, and one of Riley's replacements, Gunilla Hutton. But it's eerie that she cancelled and, as it turns out, Woodell had gotten The Big Cancellation a few weeks earlier.

Yes, Pat Woodell actually died a few weeks ago (July 12, 1944 – September 29, 2015) but for some reason, nobody found out till today, October 19th. The news was broken by the L.A. Times and Variety. She had been ill with cancer for many, many years.

Born far from Hooterville, in Winthrop, Massachusetts, Pat got her break at the Warner Bros. lot, appearing in their various TV shows including "Cheyenne," "Hawaiian Eye" and "77 Sunset Strip." Within a year of these guest spots, she was cast for "Petticoat Junction." Probably her favorite memory of the show was when she and the other sisters pretended to be the female Beatles, "The Ladybugs." Aside from doing songs on the show, "The Ladybugs" managed to get a booking on Ed Sullivan's show. It was nowhere near as earthshaking as The Beatles.

Pat had a promising new start as a singer, opening for Jack Benny across the country, and releasing an album. Pop music in the late 60's was switching from wholesome types to rockin' babes. She switched back to acting, and made a few films in the early 70's, but retired after a few discouraging years. Perhaps somebody told her to have her head examined, because she left show biz for the Erhard Seminars Training group ("est") which offered bizarre pop-cult "awareness" techniques.

She made herself available for some "Petticoat Junction" nostalgists (she was on a documentary about the show) and was still married to husband #2 when she suffered the health problems that eventually led to her demise.

Below is the theme song as recorded by Curt Massey, who co-wrote it (with producer Paul Henning).

And what good would it do to offer one of Pat Woodell's solo songs? Well, it would show that she really could sing. So below is "What Good Would It Do." Pat's legacy remains tied to a petticoat on a sitcom some still remember with fondness and a teaspoonful of lust.

CURT MASSEY Petticoat Junction Theme PAT WOODELL What Good Would It Do?

Colin and Rod, "JUST OUT OF REACH" in 2013 and Now, Too

Look, there's a lot of ageism in rock. The New York Post writers ALWAYS refer to Mick Jagger as a "wrinkly rocker." Keith Richards gets it, too. Should those guys Botox themselves and look like zombies instead?

Speaking of The Zombies, some are complaining that they should hang it up, and that sometimes the high notes are "Just Out of Reach." Yeah, they, McCartney, Brooker, Ian Anderson etc. sometimes hit a clinker, but so what. Perhaps some anhedonia-prone fans get to a certain age, don't like to see their idols aging too, and the twinge of mortality makes 'em say "Please, don't remind me. Please retire!"

Looking on the bright side (as grinning old Eric Idle does), the fact that a geezer won't go away and leave the stage to Viley Virus and Justa Beeper is a rockin' sign of rebellion. As George Foreman once said, "Being 50 is not a death sentence." Or 60. Or 70. Or even 80 in somecases.

If you think about it, it's great that Rod Argent still has ANY enthusiasm playing the same old songs over and over. So if he looks like he's waiting for the Viagra to kick in, fuck it.

As for his cute lead singer, well, the guy's older and his face has character!

Yes, Colin Blunstone looks an awful lot like Bill Murray. So what. It's not a bad look, especially compared to the bassist. (Just keeding...whoever you are).

No kidding, here's a 2013 performance of "Just Out of Reach," which was when the photos above were taken. The crowd's loving it. The Zombies play smaller venues but still have enthusiastic people coming to see them. Who knows how long they'll be staggering around with original band members? Thanks to old fans, and perhaps interest in zombies in general (zombies are now much more popular in film than vampires) they are currently touring the world yet again. They will even be joining the Moody Blues on a cruise in the winter of 2016. Book now!

The average "rockin' 5 day cruise" might be described as Ringo Star's All-Stars without Ringo, but with sea-sick bags. Now why these bags just don't stay in Miami I have no idea. Off they go, climbing aboard a ship in order to see rock acts almost as old as they are. The Zombies' cruise will feature, in addition to those guys who are famous for songs about nights or knights in white satin or Satan, supporting geezer groups The Strawbs and Vanilla Fudge.

Just how many 60's and 70's acts SHOULD hang it up, well, you can find a lot of nasty remarks on YouTube comments for various bootleg camcorder recordings. Still, the unsteady camera jerks want to capture their favorites, and their youth…a time when they weren't obese, impotent and irrelevant. Mostly, the 60's and 70's rockers still out there are doing little harm. But really, if you and Micky are singing "Daydream Believer" together, you should pay closer attention to the hospice care brochures that arrive in the mail.

Hopefully the 2016 Cruise will get a better review than the 2013 version.

Meanwhile, most fans of The Zombies insist their gratefully undead faves ARE almost as good as ever, on a good night. See 'em while you can, because immortality is…JUST OUT OF REACH.

THE ZOMBIES Just Out of Reach

I DO (not) LIKE TO BE BESIDE THE SEASIDE - Bitter End Singers, Lesley Duncan & Suicidal Mark Sheridan

We're approaching Halloween, which means a preoccupation with ghouls, zombies, death and ISIS. Oh, no no, that's TOO grim. Nobody's going to trick-or-treat as Jihadi John. Or suggest that the burqa is a ridiculous costume that shouldn't be worn at all. ("Let's have transparency," declared Julian Assange, looking at a kodachrome slide of Justin Bieber naked).

One of the grim things about this time of year, is that it's COLD out. Christmas greed is just around the corner. And all the seaside resorts from Coney Island to Blackpool are shuttered, or offering shuddery and pathetic off-season attractions at low prices ("Opening Night Offer - Two tickets to see a blobulent geezer who used to be in the rock band SWEET for the price of one. £6 to £8,Concessions £2.00 off!')

Over a hundred years ago, there was a popular song called "I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside."

Mark Sheridan first recorded it in 1909. The tongue-twister was resuscitated by Basil Rathbone when he impersonated a vaudeville singer during a light moment in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." (And yes, you can go to Blackpool's Grand Theatre and see a production of "Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders" for a bargain price this time of year.)

The eccentric Mr. Sheridan, in top hat, with wacky bell-bottoms strapped to his knees, twirling an umbrella, toured the U.K. again and again yammering about loving to be beside the sea. But beside that, and secretly, he was depressed. At the age of 50, no doubt afraid of being replaced in the public's affections by Miley Marie Lloyd or somebody else, he began his rehearsals for retirement. He recorded only one single in 1912, nothing in 1913, one side in 1914, and just one more in 1915.

Taking the advice of a middle-aged music fan called Senior Mole (I think), he decided "to tour, and forget about making money from recordings." He drew the line at selling t-shirts. All seriousness aside, Sheridan did continue the uncomfortable and unpleasant life of the touring entertainer. He played a comical Napoleon in a show called "Gay Paree." The morning reviews from the Glasgow papers were negative, and Sheridan was positive there was no hope. You'd think that he would've gone to be beside the seaside, and take a rest. Well, he did take a rest. Permanently. He walked into Kevin Grove Park and shot himself.

It would've been more ironic if he drove to the seaside, walked into the waves to had a watery grave. But when you're suicidal you're usually not all that rational, or care about whether you're death will get good reviews and be considered memorably theatrical.

Reflecting the underlying grimness of Halloween, the still-sprightly "I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside" is contrasted here by downloads for utterly depressing seaside death songs from Lesley Duncan and Bitter End Singers.

Duncan's dry-eyed and morose "Walk in the Sea" (written by Alan Hull) starts with loner complaints and drifts into pessimism: "think I'll go walk in the sea. Nothing much better to do. No, nothing for me. Not even you."

The Bitter End Singers received liner note praise from Tony Bennett: "The Bitter End Singers absolutely gassed me." (Gee, Tony, I didn't even know you're Jewish.)

The group's album, tempting fate, was called "Discover the Bitter End Singers." The song, "A Song By the Seaside," is complex, and you'll need to acclimate. Frankly, it didn't get to me the first time around. Once the tangled, sea-weed murky melody line became familiar and I got used to the group's MOR-Mitch Miller approach, I began to get into the repulsive minor key discord that was intending to evoke turbulent seas, and I caught the dank spray of the lyric lines.

The seasick song is about a wife who misses her husband in the worst way: "One day when she cried all the tears she could cry, she ran from the house where the wild swallows fly. She walked to the ocean, she smiled at the foam. She walked in the ocean. She smiled at the foam..." guessed it.

The late (as of June, 2015) Will Holt wrote it. He's best known for "Lemon Tree," which seems like an old folk song but isn't. He also wrote that 60's variety show perennial called "One Of Those Songs." Will always had a kind of amused chagrin about that one. If someone said, "Oh, you're a songwriter, what did you write?" He'd say "Lemon Tree" and get an approving nod. Then he'd say, "I was the first one to record and adapt "The MTA Song" which became a hit for the Kingston Trio." Another nod. Then he'd say, "I also wrote 'One of Those Songs.'" That would get no reaction at all.

Will would then sing the opening line, ala Durante: "It's just one of those songs that you hear now and then..." Ohhhhhh! THAT song...

The Bitter End Singers were three men and three women) including two guys formerly in The Ivy League Trio, and the always provocative Nancy Priddy (mother to Christina Applegate, and already mentioned on this blog in regard to her solo album).

And now, the music.

Mark Sheridan Beside the Seaside

Bitter End Singers Song by the Seaside

Lesley Duncan Walk in the Sea

Friday, October 09, 2015


Yes, that's the "Greatest Hits" CD collection. Billy autographed the back panel for me, and one thing I have to say about getting autographs of CD panels; they preserve very nicely when put back in the plastic case.

"Down in the Boondocks" was, like "Patches" by Bobby Goldsboro or "Harper Valley PTA" from Jeannie C. Riley, a kind of "country crossover" that everyone could love. I mean, everyone. The song charted higher in Great Britain (#3) than it did in the states (#9). It was written by Joe South, who also gave the world "Games People Play" and "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden."

Yeah, the song was a hit back in 1965 but Billy Joe Royal (April 3, 1942 – October 6, 2015) was still working, almost to the end.

Royal's last concert was at the Gwinnett County Fair in Georgia, back on September 24th. Billy was born in Georgia, spending his early years in Marietta. He died in his sleep a few nights ago, at his home in Morehead City, North Carolina.

A down-home, nice and neighborly guy, Billy had a friendly nature, as you can see from this picture:

Though his national fame peaked 50 years ago, Billy scored a few lesser hits (including "Cherry Hill Park" in 1969) and made several C&W albums over the years. It's been said that his song “Burned Like a Rocket” could've returned him to the Top Ten...except that radio stations began pulling it after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Country fans would tell you they bought Top 100 singles by Billy Joe including “I’ll Pin a Note on Your Pillow,” “Tell It Like It Is,” and “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore.” Thanks to these more recent C&W songs, as well as the old classic about the boy from down in the boondocks, Royal was welcome as part of touring shows featuring other older stars including Ronnie McDowell and B.J. Thomas. Billy's 2007 album "Going By Daydreams" was released on B.J. Thomas's record label. Thanks to the universal appeal of his biggest hit, Billy could also turn up at oldies shows, the kind that would feature Peter Noone and Jackie DeShannon.

He weathered sudden but fleeting pop music fame, crossing back into pure country music, and the worries about which new single, if any, would climb the charts and refresh his fame. “I heard stories about how Clark Gable would finish a movie and say, ‘I’m never gonna work again,’” Royal recalled. “So I guess everybody worries about that kind of stuff. After a while I just stopped worrying about it.”

A modest man, Billy said of his smash hit, "Once in a while I hear it on the radio, and it still stands up. The song meant everything to my career. I was making about $125 a week before that."

In 2009 Billy recorded "His First Gospel Album," but it's turned out to be his last. He's survived by his mother, some ex-wives, and his daughter Savannah. Below? Billy Joe Royal was a very fine singer, and he could tackle even the toughest of songs, including the Roy Orbison (Del Shannon, Don McLean) classic, "CRYING."

Crying Billy Joe Royal


Not many child actors are role models, or handle adulthood very well. Kevin Corcoran, who died the other day, was one of the elite few. For a few years (1957-1964) he was arguably the best kid at playing a kid in movies.

Kevin's nearest competition, at least for being a little kid other little kids could identify with, probably came from television. Despite the regional accent, Ronny Howard's "Opie" on Andy Griffith's show was also a nice looking, average All American Boy. You might add Billy Mumy, although he played average kids in less than average situations, both in "Twilight Zone" episodes and "Lost in Space." You can add Micky Dolenz as "Circus Boy," in a role similar to Corcoran's "Toby Tyler."

If there was a defining thread to Kevin's roles, it was that he tended to play smallish kids trying to be noticed in the adult world, or accepted by their older and bigger peers. One of his first key roles was in "Old Yeller," (1957), which was either about a dog that was colored yellow, or one that barked a lot. It's been a long time since I saw it. Three years later he had a hit with another canine film, "The Shaggy Dog." For some reason, many of the characters he played in his Disney movies were nicknamed "Moochie." That would include "Moochie of the Little League," a 1959 effort about a kid who longs to be the catcher on his team. It co-starred Lee Aaker (a kid actor best known for the "Rin Tin Tin" TV show). Among the goofy adults were Stu Erwin and Alan Hale Jr., and it was directed by the venerable "One Shot" Beaudine. It was a different age...meaning, hardly anybody watches those somewhat maudlin and corny All-American films anymore. They were great at the time. It would be nice if more eight or ten-year-olds would stop fingering their iPads and go play baseball instead, like the mythical Moochie.

Trivia fans probably know that Corcoran came from a big family of kid actors, including his sister Noreen, who was the teen star on John Forsythe's "Bachelor Father" sitcom, another vintage item reflecting a very bygone lifestyle. A smart kid, Kevin gave up acting to attend school. Very few (Ronny Howard comes to mind again, along with Richard Crenna) made any kind of transition from child star to acceptable teen and adult in front of the camera. After graduating college Kevin returned to Disney for behind-the-scenes work as an assistant director. He was soon directing and producing a variety of things, from kiddie fare ("Return from Witch Mountain" and "Herbie Goes Bananas") to adult television ("Quantum Leap" and "Murder she Wrote.")

The long career of Kevin Corcoran (June 10, 1949 – October 6, 2015) ended a bit prematurely, due to colorectal cancer. In many cases, that's a form of cancer that can be rectified (pardon the pun) if caught in time. He's survived by his wife Laura, whom he married in1972.

Kevin Corcoran calls out and Jerome Courtland sings about... OLD YELLER

Eleanor McEvoy - October 9th - (John Lennon's 75th Birthday)

It's a story I've told before.

It was the night of October 9th, some eleven years ago. Mid-way into her set, Eleanor McEvoy did what I was hoping she'd do...sing "Last Seen October 9th."

By way of preface, expecting her song title for an answer, she asked the audience, "Anyone know what day this is?"

From my ringside seat, I answered, "Yes...John Lennon's birthday."

"Is it? Really. I didn't know that..."

Today, the connection between this date and Lennon may be in the news. Today October 9, 2015, John Lennon would have celebrated his 75th birthday.

Eleanor won't be playing the song tonight. Not in public, anyway. She told me that she only plays the song on stage if it actually IS October 9th. Today, Eleanor is somewhere between Lancaster, Pennsylvania (where she performed last night) and Somerville, Massachusetts (where she'll perform Saturday night).

The song is about a person gone missing, not someone assassinated, but the effect is the same. The song, in its quiet, sober, somber simplicity, says a lot about life's fragility and the emptiness that goes with loss. After the show, I mentioned to Eleanor that home-made "last seen" signs, xeroxed with a snapshot of the missing loved one, were vivid on bus shelters and lamp posts and in store windows after 9/11, and stayed up until the rains and wind mottled and bent them, and the faces and names on them were faded and streaked. It was impossible to hear her song that night without thinking about all the "gone missing" people, from the thousands on 9/11 to John Lennon and that night of December 8th 1980 that remains one of the most scarring moments in my psyche.

One of the nice things about having a real CD instead of a blip in your iPod, is you have the artist's complete vision, including the booklet and lyrics. You also have something that can be autographed. My copy of her album is reproduced here, amended a bit in tribute to John.

"Last Seen October 9th" appears on "Yola," Eleanor's first album after going indie. The new one's called "Stuff," since it's a collection of singles, and obscure tracks that fans have sometimes found hard to find. Of course she was selling this at the show I attended recently, and I bought a copy. She told the crowd that she wouldn't have titled the album "Stuff" if she'd known it was such a popular slang word for drugs!

I'll always go to see Eleanor McEvoy in concert. She is simply one of the most ebullient, touching and talented artists around. She loves her audiences and they love her. From her biggest hits ("Only A Woman's Heart" and "Sophie") you might get the idea she's one of those "dull and sullen" types, but in live performance she actually apologizes when she covers one of the sadder tunes. Her life is a lot happier now, and she makes audience joyful every time she performs.

Her show is a dazzling display of musicianship (she was classically trained and between 1988-1992 was part of a symphony orchestra in Ireland). She moves from piano to guitar to violin with both virtuosity and an almost child-like enthusiasm, and even performs a cappela while slapping her guitar for rhythm or rattling two boxes of matches.

All that, plus a repertoire of songs that range from haunting love ballads to lusty blues to unique covers make for an evening that flies by. One night you might get a surprise version of Bob Dylan ("Just Like a Woman" or "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight") or anything from a rousing "Eve of Destruction" to Joni Mitchell's wickedly amusing Afro-samba "Carey." On her CDs she's offered a very surprising and intimate take on Chuck Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee" and a baroque "God Only Knows," which typically highlights her classically trained piano skills. Her piano, violin or guitar accompaniment always has layers, textures and nuances that richly enhance the melodies.

Eleanor also has a kind of Carol Burnett-like (or for younger readers, Ellen Degeneres-like) talent for ad-libs, anecdotes, and breaking down the wall between stage and seats. You almost feel like you're in her living room, as she prefaces songs with funny stories or suddenly kicks off her shoes so she can better hit the pedals on the keyboard.

You might ask, "Well, why haven't I heard of her?" In her native Ireland, where the best selling pop album in Irish history features "Only A Woman's Heart," she's very well known. She's also got a strong cult following all over the world, which is fairly similar to what Randy Newman has. Even "Short People" didn't widen Newman's basic core audience. Often one big hit is simply that; Loudon Wainwright III had one with his "Dead Skunk" novelty single but isn't a big CD seller and tours comfortable smaller venues. Warren Zevon (who had a novelty hit with "Werewolves of London") needed cover versions by Ronstadt and others to bring real royalties in. He too played smaller venues and there were sometimes years between label deals. Like Randy, Loudon and Warren, Eleanor is perhaps so distinct and intelligent, she connects best when playing in front of loving, attentive, intimate audiences.

Long ago, Eleanor chose to leave Columbia Records and be an indie artist. Perhaps part of being "non-commercial" is that she doesn't model clothing ala Stevie Nicks, and doesn't swirl around in something from the Witch's Taffeta Collection. She's down to earth. She drives around in a hearse, not because she's eccentric or death-obsessed (which you could easily think from so many of her earlier songs) but because a hearse can fit all her musical equipment.

Her voice isn't that commercial. The beautiful Irish accent is unique, and the tone she has is sort of "French Horn." It's a beautiful instrument, but it's not like a trumpet or sax, so a McEvoy album tends to stay in the same groove whether the song is slow or fast. She's not going to suddenly belt out a dramatic number like Dame Shirley Bassey. The closest she gets to a bluesy lady like Judy Henske is having the same lovably eccentric hairstyle. And so, (to borrow a Fleetwood Mac reference) she goes her own way, creates indie CDs of beautiful sonic quality, and is perfectly happy doing so. Her live shows are a celebration, and often at venues that allow the customers to enjoy a beer or two. Or three.

I just wish whoever introduces her makes sure to get her name right. At the last gig I saw, someone lumbered out, read credits off a card, and welcomed to the sage "Eleanor Mick-avoy." The last name's pronounced Mack-evoy.

Apologies for offering one of her more stark numbers, but it IS October 9th.

OCTOBER 9th Listen on line, no pop-ups, porn ads or wait time.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sewers of the Strand - Spike Milligan


Check today's headlines and the world's a sewer, isn't it?

Sewer enough! It is!

Does this mean we can't be cheerful? Needle noddle nu!

Here's Milligna, the well known typing error, the Godfather of British comedy, singing about the wonderful "Sewers of the Strand."

So, naturally, the sewer in the picture is actually located in Paris. SAPRISTI again!

Both manic and depressive, Spike was one of the most complex and contradictory of comedians. He was the eye of a creative hurricane, capable of surreal jokes, aching poetry, whimsical nonsense and passionate letters-to-the-editor on a variety of issues. He'd be typing furiously about Mr. I. Duncan Smith, Syrian immigrants, ISIS, climate change, overpopulation, and the plague of Viley Virus, Kim Kuntrashian and selfies in general. So, maybe, to paraphrase another grand old British song, he's better off bein' bloody well dead.

John Lennon loved Spike. He sent a copy of "Primal Scream" to him and reviewed "The Goon Show Scripts" in the New York Times. So get Gooned and Spiked with...

An INSTANT listen or download


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Grim Reaper SOCKS IT to JUDY CARNE

The death of Judy Carne (April 27, 1939-September 3, 2015) brought a true pang of sadness for many of us. Part of that involves acknowledging that time has passed. Was it that long ago that "Laugh-In" presented funny hippie protests and a healthy new attitude toward sex? What happened to that joy? And Judy Carne was HOW old?

There were plenty of enticing ladies in that "Age of Aquarius," the late 60s. TV had fantasy figures from Barbara Eden and Barbara Feldon to Diana Rigg and Stephanie Powers. But how many truly reflected the spirit of the SIXTIES, and especially that whole "England Swings" vibe? You might say Jean Shrimpton? Twiggy? Petula Clark? None were on TV in a regular series. I'd say Judy Carne was tops.

After two bland, almost-forgotten sitcoms (she co-starred on "The Baileys of Balboa" and then joined the suicidal Peter Deuel for the mild-mannered "Love on a Rooftop") she and her British accent emerged, with splashy panache and style, on "Laugh-In."

On that pioneering show she was sexy and sassy, impish and fun-loving. That's what the "British Invasion" and the "swinging" 60's was all about. No guns. No overt big-boobed sexuality (not that we didn't appreciate Honor Blackman's Pussy Galore). Judy Carne was cheerful; almost a Julie Andrews type. Julie starred in "The Boyfriend" in 1955, and Judy in the revival in 1980. But unlike Andrews, Carne was, CARNAL, although in a Carnaby way. She boasted about having fucked her way through her late teens, in bed with everyone from Stirling Moss to Anthony Newley. And once in America, she added Warren Beatty and Burt Reynolds, who would become her first husband.

"Sock It To Me," as chirped by Judy Carne, sounded frisky, not dirty. Most in the "Laugh-In" audience, especially kids, didn't really think too overtly about the idea of Judy being spread on her back and "socked." But that element was there. And she proved to be a sad, sad reminder of how the "flower power" era ebbed and then crashed, when her "sex and drugs" cheerfulness degenerated into abusive relationships and addiction. In 1977-78 she was arrested three times. In 1978 she literally crashed in a car accident, and for a brief time, she was memorably seen on talk shows wearing a kind of cage over her head, with bolts keeping her broken neck in place.

A few years later, and she was forgotten. In 1983 she turned up on a "Laugh-In" reunion show. Judy's embarrassing autobiography about laughing on the outside and crying on the inside arrived in 1985, and that was it. A few years later and she was just a has-been, taking a one-way ticket back home.

Judy disappeared back to the safety of Pitsford, which was near her original hometown in England. There, she was once again "Joyce," not Judy, and I guess that using her real last name (Botterill) helped keep her privacy. She was one of those rare celebs to evade the fanboys and the collectors who wanted to get an autographed index card by mail. Nobody seemed to know where to reach Judy Carne.

She didn't want to be reached. When she died, few people had anything to say. She didn't seem to have kept in touch with any of her "Laugh-In" co-stars. After all, she walked out on "Laugh-In" before its third year had ended. She was complaining that she was tired of "Sock it to Me" jokes and dancing around in a slim bikini covered in stenciled flowers. Some snickered that it was because she was jealous that Goldie Hawn had eclipsed her as the show's leading lady.

Over thirty years later, and her neighbors all seemed to say the same thing: "Oh, Joyce was a lovely lady. I'd see her walking her dogs." But talk to her? No, not really. Appear at a memorabilia show? NO, not really. What her income might've been, after all her legal problems, I have no idea. But selling photos of herself, or posing with big fat grinning Hoobastanks was not her deal.

Sadly, time has not been kind to "Laugh-In" either. The show seems dated and there aren't many DVDs available o it. Revisionist historians are quick to sneer that the show was "abusive to women," and "politically incorrect." How? Oh, "Laugh-In" promoted the stereotype of the bubble-headed idiot (Goldie Hawn), the loudmouth (Joanne Worley) and the ugly duckling nobody would want to fuck (Ruth Buzzi). And Judy was, of course, the abused sex object victimized by slapstick.

Just how often Judy appeared in public in England is hard to determine. Supposedly she made sporadic appearances in dinner theater productions. "She was a bit of a recluse," one Pitsford fellow admitted, and in her 70's was "frail."

"A Most Peculiar Lady," to paraphrase a certain song, she kept to herself to such a degree that people at first thought her death was a hoax. Who was going to confirm this? She had no agent? No friends? Her death on September 3rd was finallly confirmed on September 8th by a woman named Eva Duffy. Friend? No, a spokeswoman at Northampton General Hospital. Pneumonia was the cause of Judy's death.

"Reality," as the self-destroyed Mr. Williams used to say, "what a concept." So let's leave reality behind and enjoy the brief delusion that Judy is alive and well, and it's the happy late 60's again. Download "Sock it to Me," by Judy Carne.


CANDIDA the song, the disease, the porn star CANDIDA ROYALLE

A few days ago, Candida Royalle (October 15, 1950 – September 7, 2015) passed on. She was a bright, intelligent lady. She was also one of the more attractive pioneers of full-length porn. As 8mm loops became more easy to find in the early 70's, so were hippie chicks willing to do what only fairly homely prostitutes had done: actually fuck on film.

8mm porn was sold by mail at about $20 a ten-minute reel, or watched in "peep show" booths at a quarter per minute. When the swinging 60's had made sure ordinary porn flicks were not likely to cause arrests, companies began to flourish and they hired attractive talent. There was Swedish Erotica, Lasse Braun, The Collection, Diamond Collection, and the appropriately named Prettygirl series, which had a star in men's mag model Linda McDowell (who also worked as Linda Powell). She was followed by the black-haired beauty Tina Russell, and eventually porn left the dirty bookstores and turned up in movie theaters. At first, the "talent" was still fairly homely (Spelvin) or mildly attractive (Lovelace), but soon there was Annette Haven and, yes, an exotic New Yorker named Candice Vadala.

In a remarkable display of sophistication and restraint, Candice didn't call herself "Candy." Yes, 8mm stripper Candy Barr was long gone, and Candy Samples was a big-boobed broad with the face of a diner waitress, but why go for a cliche? She became CANDIDA.

Vadala became ROYALLE, which probably was a relief to her father, Louis Vadala, who was a jazz drummer. Louis played in a variety of house bands, including ones that toiled at the Tavern on the Green restaurant in the middle of Central Park, and at the classy Waldorf Astoria, in the East 50's. I can't find actual credits for him on recordings (mostly because I didn't look), but he may have been in on sessions for Raymond Scott, Lester Lanin and Louie Prima, among others. Band members or session men were seldom given liner notes credits on pop albums of the day.

The musical tribute to her, is therefore, sad to say, not anything by her Dad, but instead, the pretty obvious choice of "CANDIDA." The song was the first hit for Tony Orlando, who had quit his not-too-successul singing career to work in the publishing division of Columbia. When producers couldn't quite find a voice that suited a song knocked out by Irwin Levine and Toni Wine, they persuaded Tony to cut a Latin-tinged demo. The rest, as they say, is misery. MOR star Andy Williams was one of many to also cut "Candida" after it became a sizzling hit, and it's his mild-mannered version you'll find below. It's not better than Tony's, but this blog can NOT get so cheesy as to have Orlando on it. Besides, Williams is dead and it's nice to remind people that he was once alive.

No longer alive is Candida Royalle, who made several dozen porn films. As she aged, she took an interesting direction. She became a porn producer herself, and in 1984 created a line of "Femme Fatale" movies aimed at couples. She figured, rightly, that most porn out was intended solely to arouse men (and slightly masochistic women working out their slut fantasies). Her notion was to ad some romance and subtlety. If she succeeded, I have no idea, since I never saw any of them. Candida also had a line of "contour" sex toys, and was literate enough to be invited to speak on porn and sexuality to audiences at the New School for Social Research, the Conference o the American Psychiatric Association, and even the New York Rotary Club.

In producing porn, Candida hoped to treat her actresses with respect and dignity. She made sure they came to the set healthy, and left in the same condition. In other words, she didn't want them suffering from Candida Albicans, a yeast infection. Candida is in the body naturally, but it can mutate into a fungus. It can cause gas and diarrhea, it can contribute to eczema, and if we want to use the medical term, it can also cause "cunt trouble." Most people seem to think that Candida is strictly a "female" problem but that's only one type of infection.

No, Tony Orlando wasn't singing about a stinking twat back in 1970. And the porn actress wasn't winking about having a royal pain in the cunt, when she began cranking out porn as "Candida" in 1976. After turning up in a variety of cheap flicks under a variety of names (Cyntnia Pleschette, Kathy Silverman, Candice Chambers, Bettina Mia) she became Candida Royal in 1979. The poster above, which was one of the few items from the "old days" on Candida's website, also misspells Susan Nero's name. The first correctly spelled film appearance as Candida Royalle was in "Pro-Ball Cheerleaders," where she was noticeably the slim and seductive brunette opposite the more full-figured redhead Lisa DeLeeuw. Through the late 70's and early 80's, Candida was certainly one of the favorite dark-haired vixens of porn, and then she moved on to her "Femme Fatale" years, her lectures and other enterprises, and she was even working on a "straight" documentary about her life at the time of her fatal illness.

Below, the cover version of "Candida" by Andy Williams. ANDY WILLIAMS CANDIDA

It's STUPID not to love ANNE McCUE

Anne McCue certainly deserves to be mentioned along with Cash, Williams and Harris. More people should know that.

Actually, when it comes to "supporting" the artist, I'm right there whenever McCue (or Cash, come to think of it) tours or has product to buy.

Anne is touring in support of her new one, which is quite a bit more jazzy than past efforts (as you might tell by the affectation o the porkpie hat). My introduction to her was when, with a Byrds-type jangle, she came up with a smart piece of writing called "Stupid."

The more you listen to Anne's song, the more clever it becomes. She can easily reference John Lennon and Bob Dylan, but this comes out of knowledge and respect for their work, not desperate name-dropping. "Lennon said there are no institutions. There's nothing to believe in anymore. The time of the flood is almost here. The end of the world is drawing near..."

But that's no reason to do something stupid. The song is about not giving up on life...which is remarkable coming from a woman who filled up early albums with some pretty grim and dark songs. Yes, singing about drunks ("Jesus' Blood") disaster ("Any Minute Now") and feeling like a "$50 Whore" all suggest that fans of Dylan (or Lucinda Williams, whom critics say she sounds like) might do well to add McCue to their eMusic queue.

"I suffered your shit and shoveled your debris," she sings to the guy who nearly drove her to suicide. But really, why kill yourself over some guy? Or some guy at 11pm giving you bad news? He's not a prophet, and "no man-made God" should lead anyone to a premature and fatal decision. If Anne can manage the trick of being depressing and uplifting at the same time, then there are indeed wonders to ponder every day.

On this track she warns, "I'm gonna write a Bob Dylan song..." Well, why not, she upped the ante on her pal Lucinda already, and some of her stuff is more than good enough to be covered by Dylan on a lonely afternoon.

STUPID Instant download or listen on line.

SWAMP GIRL! (Frankie Laine and Loulie Jean Norman)

Are you like me, do you pick a book off your shelf and just browse now and then?

It's ok to admit it. I didn't ask, "Do you like me," just "ARE you like me."

When it comes to non-fiction and especially biography, I might thumb through to the parts of a person's life that particularly interest me, and leave the rest. It's rare that the whole book is so compelling, and so full of anecdotes, that I read it straight through.

In the case of Frankie Laine's "That Lucky Old Sun," I did both. At first I just thumbed through for references to favorite songs. Then later on I found myself interested in going back to get the full story from beginning to end. And now, now and then, his is one of those books that I'll pick up in order to re-read an amusing story.

A few weeks ago, I re-read his recollection on "Swamp Girl," one of the greatest, and most bizarre songs in his catalog.

Mitch Miller had changed Frankie's career. Laine had been known as a jazz singer, a big-band guy. Some of his songs, like "Shine," even had listeners thinking he might be black. But when the peculiar Mr. Miller began producing Frankie, he had new ideas. He gave Frankie a western song to try. Laine thought the guy was nuts. "Mule Train" became a huge hit. Miller brought in another million-seller when he had Laine record "The Cry of the Wild Goose," with a typically overboard, bombastic arrangement.

Next, "we found another big hit in "Swamp Girl," a very offbeat song by a writer of specialty material named Michael Brown. It was all about a Lorelei of the marshes who lured men there to meet their doom, and it was out of line with anything I'd been doing up to that time. It still sounds avant garde today."

Indeed, of all the Laine songs, "Swamp Girl" might be a first choice to get a person involved in the amazing world of Frankie Laine. It might be a stretch, but it can be argued that Frankie Laine was THE GREATEST AMERICAN MALE VOCALIST OF ALL TIME.

Yes, you read that right. How do I place him above Sinatra?

Easy. Sinatra had two gears: ring-a-ding and morose. Yes, he had great phrasing, and some of his versions are definitive. He also had a tremendously fascinating private life. But if he wasn't doing some stupid fucking finger-snapping "Fly Me to the Moon," then he was moping about "It Was a Very Good Year" or "There Will Never Be Another You."

Laine? Laine could sing jazz damn well, from noir pieces like "Satan Wears a Satin Gown" to standards such as "Sunny Side of the Street." Unlike Sinatra, he could also sing a huge full-throated ballad like "Lord, You Gave me a Mountain." Could Sinatra put over a sappy religious ballad like "I Believe" or an over-baked bit of nutsery like "Annabel Lee" or "Blazing Saddles?" Hell no.

Oh yes...Frankie was a bit chubbier than Frank and had a more worse toupee.

But Francesco LoVecchio should be considered a damn strong contender to Francis Sinatra.

PS, as much as Sinatra needed a good arranger behind him (Gordon Jenkins or Nelson Riddle), Frankie Laine also was helped by strong production. If you listen to some of Laine's best work, you'll note that he had some of the finest producers in the business, and in his book he mentions how often he worked very hard with a full orchestra and take after take to get things right. The legendary "whip crack" noise on "Rawhide" took some ingenuity. And on "Swamp Girl," one of the key factors in making it brilliant is the ethereal vocalise work of Loulie Jean Norman. Loulie would later add strange counterpoint to "Lion Sleeps Tonight" by The Tokens, and was the soaring voice behind the original "Star Trek" theme.

"Swamp Girl" straddles the fragrant bog between Laine's romantic and jazz side, and his often blinding flare for the dramatic. He was a great man.