Saturday, November 29, 2008


"If God had meant us to fly," Michael Flanders once remarked, "he would never have given us the railways."
In America, there was romance and excitement as the nation became linked via thousand of miles of track. It wasn't quite so exciting or romantic for those who were working on the railroad, all the live-long day.
To keep up their spirits, the workers sang, and often about the ironies and miseries of their lives. "For it's work all day for the sugar in your tay," was the Irish chorus on "Drill Ye Tarriers Drill." Another popular tune was "Pat Works on the Railway," which includes a typical Irish nonsense-word chorus, "Fill-a-me ory-ory-ay."
The lyrics are simple, easy to remember rhymes that could go for nine stanzas. "In Eighteen hundred and forty one, I put my cordoroy britches on. Put my cordoroy britches on, to work upon the railway..." Each year is just as bland.
"Drill Ye Tarriers" is more amusing, as the grousing lead singer takes a shot at his boss, the boss's wife, her cooking, and the cheap ways of the railroad. Hear for yourself the vivid picture of a fellow blown skyward, and his punishment.
The Weavers covered both songs, and they are joined by two extra Tarrier versions (Chad Mitchell and Cisco Houston) and two other "Pat Works on the Railway" attempts, one from The Cottars, and an oddity from Mechanicy Shanty, a European group of wild and crazy guys who sing with Russian-Polish accents and have their own nonsense syllables to replace "Fill-a-me ory-ory-ay," which sounds like: "Rilla-he-rollin-rollin-way."
The whole point of nonsense refrains was to create something catchy even illiterates or those who don't know the language can easily remember and sing. These days, it could be the entire song. But we'll save "Who Let the Dogs Out" for another day...

Various Versions of "Drill Ye Tarriers Drill" and "Pat Works On the Railway"


And now, gentle people, a gently-performed song about the end of civilization....not that it was ever so civilized. Religious people have always devoutly gone out to murder other people, simply for not sharing the same view of an imaginary friend. It's just that these heinous incidents are coming with a lot more frequency.
The two people in the photo were among the over 150 destroyed by religious terrorists two days ago.
It was a familiar message; Muslim maniacs or Islam assholes killing complete strangers, by way of declaring God is Great. All around the world, from London and Spain to India and America...these Middle Eastern monkeys are emigrating just to blow things up and gun people down.
The legendary Brigitte Bardot has actually been fined for speaking her mind on the subject of immigration. Her countrymen don't know the meaning of free speech, nor the threat she exposed five years ago in her book "A Scream in the Silence." Of the “Islamicization of France”, she declared: "Over the last twenty years, we have given in to a subterranean, dangerous, and uncontrolled infiltration, which not only resists adjusting to our laws and customs but which will, as the years pass, attempt to impose its own."
Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, not yet 30, came to Mumbai to be charitable and decent. They presided over Nariman House, a joyous, open, honest place where anyone was welcome to share a meal, pray or rest. They went to a foreign land to be part of a kindly outreach program. They came up against Islam-Muslim fanatics who had an outrage program...the slaughter of defenseless people. The terrorists found it very easy to storm into the rabbi's building...and neighboring hotels that housed unarmed tourists and business people.
In America in the mid-60's, a call for change was made non-violently by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and on the radio, by such men of Jewish heritage as Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. They were joined by Christians old (Pete Seeger) and new, including P.F. Sloan, who wrote "Eve of Destruction," a hit for Barry McGuire and covered by Anita Kerr's "Living Voices."
There's something unsettling about a middle-of-the-road choir handling "Eve of Destruction," but in this world gone wrong, their rendition can be interpreted in many ways. Were they harmonizing over a melody and ignoring the words? Or were these lambs all too certain that there was nothing to do but sing...and await the slaughter?


From 1987 to 1989, Morton Downey Jr. thrived as the wart-faced descendant of abrasive talk show pioneer Joe Pyne, cigarette smoke his blowhard trademark. He'd paid his dues with local talk shows on radio and TV. When he left KFBK-AM, a fellow named Rush Limbaugh replaced him.
As Downey's fame soared, David Letterman, noting Pyne's brief flash of fame, said "We see this every 10 or 12 years...I don't quite understand why everybody's falling over backwards over the guy." Soon enough, people were bored with the cries of "Zip it" and the artificial confrontations. In these pre-Springer days, there weren't enough morons to keep Mort on the air, and the indie stations running his syndicated show suffered backlash from sponsors.
In 1989, Downey knew he was flaming out, and made a desperate attempt to show he was still relevant. He emerged from a San Francisco International Airport toilet with a swastika strangely marked backwards on his face. He claimed he'd been attacked by Neo-Nazis, but it was obvious that he was lying...and only someone using a mirror could've made a backwards swastika.
Mort's show sank, as did his 1990 "Morton Downey Jr. Sings" album. A somewhat nicer Downey was on the cover, befitting a man who had self-consciously had his warts an attempt to give his critics a little less of a visual target. Always known as a "loudmouth," Morton's choice of singing style will surprise you. Showing a somewhat weak country tenor, and here, abetted by a band member to form a Dr. Hook-ish duet, Downey offers a down, quietly pessimistic view of the future. The guy was actually a singer before he grabbed fame as a shock-talk host. In the early 80's he was Sean Morton Downey, and his 1981 country single, "Green-Eyed Girl," grazed the outer reaches of the Country Top 100 chart.
Downey bounced around various local TV and radio stations, and had a lung removed during cancer surgery in 1996. He died in 2001.
But back in 1990 he was convinced the planet was dying...
"There ain't no solution to pollution anymore. We won a couple' battles but we're losing the war. We're dumpin' in our oceans, we run sewers in our lakes. We build mountains made of garbage and we bury toxic waste....take a look around you, man is snuffing out his life."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It Kinda Makes Ya Wonder Don't It

Most any song can inspire drivel. Some songs lead a writer to do a "memory piece," describing remembered (but best forgotten) anecdotes from a nostalgic (if boring to everyone else) past. Sometimes pontificating about a lyric or giving a bio of its singer is just showin' off. So why bother? It kinda makes ya wonder, don't it?
Today's entries are all short, 'cause most times, a novelty song squeaks for itself. Now, the existential question posed by Jerry Van Dyke...nah, there could be an analysis here, a memory piece about watching "My Mother the Car" or "Coach" or a bio of his life and times but...nope. kinda makes ya wonder...

"It Kinda Makes Ya Wonder Don't It"

Ill-Ustrated Songs #17 "DIRTY MAGGIE MAY" Vipers Skiffle Group Pre-Beatles

"Dirty Maggie May...she'll never walk down Lime Street anymore..." What happened to the rest of "Maggie May" on The Beatles' "Let it Be" album? Why didn't they complete it? Maybe Lennon figured everybody knew the song so well he didn't need to go on. John and his friends knew The Vipers Skiffle Group version by heart. Download it and you will, too.


Margie Day - Take Out Your False Teeth, Daddy!

"Take out your false teeth daddy, your mommy wants to scratch your gums! Well you're gonna feel good after I've rubbed them some. You're always complainin' about your gums. Take 'em out baby, let's have some fun!"
Margie Day, 1954.

Take Out Your False Teeth - MARGIE DAY

Sunday, November 09, 2008


"She stood there laughing..." Exactly 40 years ago.
Longer, if you consider the movie version, not the Tom Jones song.
That's cold, cruel Hedy Lamarr in both photos. She played Delilah in the movie "Samson and Delilah." It's one of the few things anyone remembers about her. She also was one of the first famous actresses to do a nude scene, and she successfully sued Mel Brooks for corrupting her name into Hedley Lamarr for "Blazing Saddles" (figuring a tribute pun wasn't the same thing as...getting paid.) She also uttered a memorable observation; she said that it was easy for a woman to look sexy: "all you have to do is stand still and look stupid."

But that's not why you're here. You're here for SEVEN versions of DELILAH.
The song's about a cheatin' shady lady whose sillhouette of herself and another man caused Tom Jones to go out of his mind in 1968. "My my my Delilah! Why why why Delilah!"
Tom went all "Son of Sam" on Delilah, defying the odds that a murder ballad, in oom-pa-pa waltz time, could become a worldwide hit.
Hit-man Tom is such a powerful, unique singer, that when he bellows a tune...almost nobody dares to out-shout him.
Some of his songs are so STOOPID, they are his nobody in his right mind would cover "It's Not Unusual." As for "What's New Pussycat, Whoaaahhhh" nobody touched it except that Welshman filled with too much fermented grape juice.
No MOR-singing MOR-on could equal Tom, but some genre-singers gave "Delilah" a try. And in your download, you get the Italian version, "La Nostra Favola," via the rather light tenor Jimmy Fontana. You get another operatic version as well, plus a country take by the forgotten (well, except to Red Neckerson) Theron Gooslin. Don't you think he's psycho, mama? Just listen.
You'd expect a heavy metal version to be good, especially if it has lesbian overtones (lead singer female), or that maybe a crazy reggae artist would do a killer job but when you listen to those versions, you might not be impressed. Actually the most entertaining version beyond Tom's bathospheric bawl, is probably the live take by that overage delinquent Alex Harvey. The late Scotsman was always good at portraying slightly retarded hoodlums, and is a most believable murderer on one of the most ridiculous pop songs of all time.
With its overdone orchestrations, Tijuana brass-section, shifts from waltz-time to bolero, and fast (literal) cut from corn (didn't we hear about "silhouettes on the shade" just a few years earlier) to operatic violence, "Delilah" is a classic. And yes, there are a few other cover versions out there, but..."forgive me Delilah, I just couldn't take any more."

7 Versions of DELILAH

Amy Camus Didn't Die. Yma Sumac did.

Yma Sumac (September 13, 1922-November 1, 2008) was sort of Charo crossed with Margaret Dumont and Marni Nixon. Like Nixon, she truly did have a remarkable voice, but like Charo and Dumont, at times there was a dash of self-parody or self-delusion in there, but like any pro, you don't argue with what you're being paid to do.
She was born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo, and sang as Imma Sumack (the name loosely translated as "How Beautiful") in her native Peru. She recorded her first tracks in Peru in 1943, and came to America three years later. America was friendly to all sorts of ethnic folk acts, rhumba bands, guys banging a drum and shouting "Babalu" or women wearing fruit on their heads and flirting with Groucho Marx. Our Peruvian princess, with husband and kid, was more than willing to play the game, and changed her name to Yma Sumac. (Which led some wiseguys to reverse it, and claim she was phony Amy Camus from Brooklyn!). She signed with Capitol in 1950 and melded South American folk songs to the soundtrack-music stylings that made up a lot of that era's middle-of-the-road easy listening albums.
She found herself part of a new wave of ethnic-soundtrack stuff, which would include Les Baxter's instrumentals, way too many Hawaiian and Tiki albums, and the hit "Quiet Village" (with jungle sound effects) from Martin Denny. Just as Carmen Miranda knew how to wear bananas, Yma knew how to milk her cash-goat...turning from plain folk singer to a specialist in ultra-strange exotica. She appeared in two films, "Secret of the Incas" (1954) and "Omar Khayyam" (1957) but when jungle novelty wore off, her albums sadly found their way to the cut-out bins along with Baxter and Denny.
Yma would've easily qualified as a forgotten illfolks oddity except the same gays that found Carmen Miranda, found Yma, and they turned her into a gay cult icon. Which was fine with Yma, as long as it meant more money, concerts, and a campy comeback album called "Miracles." Another decade passed, and Sumac was further elevated by vinyl geeks. These were nerds, backpacks strapped to their thrift shop shirts, mistaking bad plaid as retro fashion, and their uncle's forgotten failed hipster albums as the ultimate in cool. As girls rarely go into record stores and don't think backpacks are a fashion accessory, Yma's new-found devotees soothed their lonely, sexless hours by staring at her formidable cover art and convincing themselves that liking her 4 octave range and actually listening to this stuff more than once every Halloween, marked them as...kewl. These guys even had their own terms ("outsider" music or "lounge") so they could grunt to themselves, "I'm not like everybody else," small solace for constant masturbation and record store haunting.
Yma, like Ed Wood Jr., deserves a bit better than to be a cult item for assholes. But by how much? A three-song tribute gives you an idea of whether you want to buy or cadge free downloads and hear more.
These three samples of Yma are from three distinct stages of her career.
MONOS (translation: MONKEYS) is typical of her early Latin novelties.
XTABAY is her famous half-sung half-vocalise exercise in jungle drama. Quite a few numbers like this are as intoxicating as a pina colada...with an extra splash of tequila (and don't forget the worm).
MEDICINE MAN comes from her foolishly titled "Miracles." This album also has her take on "El Condor Pasa" and while it's nice that she ignores Paul Simon's lyrics, her menopausal cooing sounds like a toucan on crack. Not that this is a bad thing. It's well worth hearing, but "Medicine Man" is even more bizarre, with Yma whooping it up over multi-octaves. Yes, it proved she had a wider range than the other gay fave of the day Bette Midler. To which, most any sane person would ask, "So what?"
Yma Sumac was an amusing novelty singer in her day, with some numbers giving off an air of both inspiration and perspiration, but these days her memory is mostly evoked by gays who should simply buy opera records or have the honesty to dress up in drag while listening to Carmen Miranda. Additionally, there's the lounge and exotica crowd who still can't get over the fact that Martin Denny threw some bird noises into a middle-of-the-road bit of soundtrack music...and have made a cult out of anything that came from any place that grows guavas.
At her best, Sumac might be described in the same manner James Russell Lowell wrote of his contemporary, Edgar A. Poe: "Three-fifths...genius and two-fifths sheer fudge."
The percentage may be different with Yma, but it would be a good idea, if you're going to listen, to have a fifth handy, and take a few shots before you start.


In 1966, the Byrds and the Monkees nearly had some competition from a band named for a curmudgeon who died on Christmas Day, twenty years earlier.
But did the group's lead singer sound anything like W.C. Fields?
Well, no. He sounded more like any guy fronting a Strawberry Watch Band Love-In Groove band of the day...
The band released a single "Hippy Elevator Operator" b/w "Don't Lose the Girl" on HBR...which was the music wing of the less-than-hip Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon factory. DJ's may not have taken too seriously anyone associated with Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw, but the group did have rock creds. The main members of the group were George Caldwell and Robert Zinner (who co-wrote "Hippy Elevator Operator"). They had previously been in a Redondo Beach area band called The Bees, a band that showed some Rolling Stones influence and covered Dylan once in a while. They played fairly regularly in Southern California but only recorded a few tracks. Then came a name change. According to Caldwell, "One night I was lying on the couch watching TV and the name just came to me on a piece of flaming lemon meringue pie. I saw the words on the screen being typed on a piece of paper - "W.C. Fields today" - and so I renamed the band the next day."
The band also issued one single for Mercury the same year. They were the first to record "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone," but it was The Monkees who brought it into the Top 10...while the Fields band disappeared into the haze. They are still fondly remembered, and/or flash-backed, by fans of garage-psych, and sometimes a comedy fan will raise an eyebrow and ponder one of their 45's, and wonder if it's worth buying for $10 or $20 because the band members might be somehow doing an imitation of Uncle Bill. No, no matter how much Sheepdip you consume, you won't be able to hear anything to remotely remind you of The Great Man.
But for mid-60's spaced-out grunge, these guys deserve to be more than stepping stones to The Monkees.