Sunday, March 29, 2009

BOB ARBOGAST dies 50 Years after "CHAOS"

Born on April Fool's Day 1927, and just missing his 82nd birthday, half-shot novelty wonder Bob Arbogast died on March 21st.

Half-shot novelty wonder? Well, he wasn't a one-shot novelty wonder, because his lone achievement "Chaos" was co-authored by the late Stanley Ralph Ross. It wasn't much of a wonder at all, since it failed to make the Top 40, but it's still a favorite among fans of ill novelty singles.

Back in 1959, Arbogast & Ross tossed their noisy double-sided parody of radio station disc jockeys into a market saturated with variations on "break ins," the style popularized by Buchanan & Goodman in 1956 (and continued on and on by Dickie Goodman until his suicide).

Your download is both sides of "Chaos," the doings at K-OS Radio. Disc jockey "Speedy Clip" offers a variety of commercials interrupted by singing station identifications, and a series of droning deep-voiced parody versions of Ritchie Valens' "Donna."

Legend has it that "Chaos" failed to hit the charts because it was banned from the radio after it had sold over 10,000 copies "because radio stations suddenly realized it was a parody of radio stations." More likely, it disappeared because by definition, a "novelty" track isn't going to stay novel for very long. It may also have gotten limited airplay if station managers felt they would be offending fans of the recently mangled Ritchie Valens, whose wistful ballad "Donna" was still on the charts.

Some of the gags were pretty zany at the time. At one point "Speedy Clip" shouts, ""I see by the old clock on the wall there's a dead fly!" Later, the station's girl singers warble, "Just to prove it's real, here's the K-OS approval seal!" You guessed it: instant sound effect of a seal barking. To quote a B-side from fellow Liberty novelty act David Seville, "That's almost good." Especially at the time.

Fans who haunt comedy bins of moribund record stores might want to pick up the album "At Carnegie Hall," which Arbogast co-created with another partner, Dick Whittinghill, or perhaps the "My Son the Copycat" album that Arbogast co-wrote (with Stan Ross doing the fake Allan Sherman vocals). Mainly Bob Arbogast's credits involve bouncing around a variety of Los Angeles radio stations, writing comedy for various performers, and doing a lot of zany voiceovers for commercials and some cartoon shows (including 'Roger Ramjet' and 'Hot Wheels.')

Bob's wikipedia entry was obviously written by a relative or a fan of his, and bears some comical warnings from Wikipedia: "This article does not cite any references or sources" and "This article contains weasel words, vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information." Among the yet to be verified information is that "Chaos" was banned anywhere, or that Bob was kicked off radio stations for being an iconoclast. Likewise, the note that Bob "originated" the concept of "The Question Man" in 1951, and is acknowledged for it in Steve Allen's book "The Question Man" is not accurate.

"The Question Man" bit was used in various ways by a lot of comics of the day, including Ernie Kovacs (and was turned into "Karnak" by Johnny Carson). Apparently when Steve began doing it on his show, Arbogast submitted material...and some kind of grouse about having originated the idea. What Steve actually says in "The Question Man," a book compiling some of the gags used on his show, is that "a funny man by the name of Bob Arbogast not only contributed a number of jokes but also provided us with the somewhat unnerving information that he had thought of the Question Man idea itself several years before we did." That's not exactly an admission of guilt. The idea of using a question as the punchline to a joke probably goes back to Shakespeare's day. As most of you know, Steve was an extremely nice guy who never fought about "credit" and "attribution."

The name "Arbogast" was momentarily popular circa 1959-1960, at least in a mentally ill way. It was the name of Martin Balsam's character in "Psycho," as well as the name on a crazy comedy team's novelty single. Exactly 50 years after it was first alarming people on the airwaves, here's "Chaos" back at you, as a salute to the weird duo that made it, Bob Arbogast and Stan Ross.
CHAOS by Arbogast and Ross


Last time around, you had ten, including the two definitive versions...Jerry Jeff Walker's country take, and the sophisticated cover by Bobby Cole that arrived on the charts at the same time. Now? Another dozen!
Who covered this janglin' story? Chet Atkins, Frankie Laine, David Bromberg, Hunt & Turner, John Holt, Lambert & Nuttycombe, Lulu, Nancy Wilson, Johnny Paycheck, Sammi Smith, Tom T. Hall...who am I leaving out...oh yeah, Harry.
Bromberg's live track deserves special note, since he gives the background to Walker's story (how Jerry actually did meet a guy in jail who danced for drinks and tips, etc. etc.).
There's plenty more out there. The song was also covered by Dennis Brown, Tom McKinney, Al Cherny, Gene Pistilli, Jud Strunk, Three Faces West, Jack Hennig, Ronnie Aldrich, Jim Rowe, Lana Cantrell, The Fortunes, Brenda Byers, Rod McKuen, Edwyn Collins, Steve Hall, Magna Carta, The Bentones and on and on.
At this point, what else is there to say about the song? Well, after all this time, maybe you'll notice Jerry Jeff's unusual use of repetition ("he jumped so high, he jumped so high" "he talked of life, he talked of life" "his dog up and died, he up and died"...) and his penchant for internal rhyme ("I knew a MAN BoJANgles" "Spoke with TEARS of 15 YEARS" "Most of the TIME I spend BEHIND" etc.)

In case you missed the first batch:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Serge Gainsbourg Covers! For Women, Serge Suits 'Em

Some of the most beautiful women couldn't get enough of Serge. Monsieur Gainsbourg was the French Bob Dylan or more accurately Leonard indifferent-looking Jewish guy who just happened to be fascinating, hypnotic, outrageous, and with challenging music and a strange sense of humor, able to get most any woman he wanted.

Here's a tribute collection of Gainsbourg songs performed by a fine array of female vocalists: Isabelle Adjani, Lulu, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin, Petula Clark, Catherine Deneuve, France Gall, Juliette Greco, Francois Hardy, Zizi Jeanmarie, Regine, and many more.


Monday, March 09, 2009


It's taken a while to get to Andy Bown, but hopefully this two-part entry does him justice. He opened his "Gone to My Head" album (guitar work by Peter Frampton) with a line that could well be the Illfolks anthem for those who get the urge to play odd music:
"Oh, woe, I'm feeling pretty ill today..."
Your first download (more in part two) features that album's two opening tracks, which happily tred the Ray Davies boards of being a pawn in the music industry game. It opens with a skull-grinning ode to road-induced infirmity, and segues into a combo of preen and self-pity as the rock star revels in his own ego and excess:
"On behalf of the management, please accept this list of expenses: stick-a soles, toilet rolls, taxi fares and small boys." Just keep on workin' 'cause it's gonna come off your royalty..."
Small boys??
One of Bown's traits is a willingness to embarrass himself, singing in the first person ala Randy Newman, and hopefully not having people believe every word refers to himself.
"Wiggle your hips and pout your lips. They'll go berserk you said. Oooh, didn't you forget something? Well it's gone right to my head!"
Yes, it's a celebration of disaster, a glam rocker's hand-wringing, toe-tapping salute to his own decadence and oblivion, not far removed from the Ray Davies school of omnisexual tributes to drink, kink, and sad yet sarcastic songs of the open road.
In part two, we go into more detail (and offer a hefty Rapidshare download of samples) that explore all the strange sides of the abundantly bizarre Mr. Bown.
Feeling Pretty Ill 'Cause it's Gone to My Head


"Luny" is NOT a typo. It's in the lyric sheet that way. An ordinary maniac of the Spike Milligan or Porky Pig variety would spell it 'Looney" but not our Mr. Bown, the well known typing error. (Yes, it's "Bown" not "Brown" and no, it's not "Alan Bown" it's "Andy Bown.")
"No ordinary Luny" is a phrase on his song "Nobody's Fool," only one of many that address madness of one kind or another. Another is a sprightly C&W tune with the refrain, "Crazy girl, she shot the man she loved."

How about "I've Got God on The Phone" in which a descent into a strait jacket begins by having a "blind black boy" in the back of his car, and how his "white shoes got gravy stains." Another tune, "Etcetera," upbraids a girl for a similar indiscretion: "I heard about the way you got picked up the other day, a spade in a pink Chevrolet. Was he rich and lonely?" "On "P.S. Get Lost" he declares "the sheets, they don't tell lies," as he not only witnesses the mess left by his girlfriend with another man, but tells the world of his embarrassing humiliation. On "Nobody's Fool," Andy dishes about a tart, "She tell me stories I believe every word she said. She mess up my boy friend, she mess up my boyfriend's head." Is he singing as a woman, as a gay guy, as a we want to know?

If you know Bown's name at all, it's probably in connection with saner rock music. He was leader of the pop-glam band The Herd in the late 60's (till the attention focused on cutie lead guitarist Peter Frampton), and since 1982, has played bass and written songs for the journeyman rock group Status Quo (and never was there a name more fitting).

But solo (two albums on Mercury, two on Capitol) Bown explored unique territory on his own. His songs back in the 70's were often perverse and morose, with giddy ups and hoarse-drawn downs. The manic-depressive aspects of Andy Bown's solo career include ballads even more grim, sulky and morbid than his contemporaries, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Jimmy Campbell and Matthew Fisher. Some songs are as cringeworthy in their honesty as Harry Chapin's, with confessions of failure in love and life. "Eventually," one of his most poetic and shoegazingly heroic numbers has him in breathy (or is it last-breathy) mode, facing up to the fact that "eventually, my eyes are gonna close," and never open again.

On his last Capitol solo album (not released in America) he dared to expose a bruising, impotent scene as the husband who has lost his wife to another man and foolishly calls up the man expecting some kind of apology. His rival is not sympathetic, leaving Bown "so angry, I was cold," his world a "savage crazy blur." Not exactly the most masculine reaction, huh? Yet Bown's artistry allows for such a moving confession. He's left mumbling "money, pens and women can be lost the way they're found."

Happily, Bown's albums aren't completely sad, they skip into light fandangos, with songs that at least have catchy, if not frenzied melodies to go with the strange lyrics. The mockingly bawdy single "New York Satyricon Zany" makes fun of some trendy, wacky free spirit who seems alarmingly like Bown himself in camp-mode. Camp-mode also serves on the aforementioned upbeat beat up "I Got God on The Phone," where our hero cheerfully notes "bone orchards bloom" all around, and admits thoughts of suicide dance in his head, especially after kinky interracial gay sex.

Your RS download can't possibly contain all the grand tracks on Bown's albums, but don't despair, the world of dollar bins and desperate recession-starved eBay sellers can supply you with the all the vinyl, and cheap.

This "Best of solo Bown" has no tracks from his second album, "Sweet William," at least not the American version (apparently a British pressing had "New York Satyricon Zany" and other tracks released as singles). Many good album tracks on the other three were sacrificed for the sake of obscure singles that are much harder to find. Perhaps a future post will feature his late first wife Carolyn (aka Caroline Attard) who led "Storyteller," a band that released two albums (1970, 1971) produced by Andy along with Peter Frampton. There's nothing here from the easily found "The Herd" or "Status Quo." Bown wrote all the songs and produced Judas Jump's album "Scorch" but he left the lead vocals to Adrian Williams. Little of the Herd, Quo or Jump material written or sung by Bown is anywhere near the heights or depths of his solo work.

Here's some annotation, as you submit yourself to Bowndage:

1. And If My Love/P.S. Get Lost. Andy segues from a brief glimpse toward the cemetery to an embarrassingly masochistic tale of getting a "Dear John" letter from a heartless bitch.
2. Eventually. A meditation on a "beautiful viper" draws Andy into a grim but strangely comforting reality: "Eventually my eyes are gonna words turn to bone...the streets have forgotten my's a joke..."
3. If It's All the Same to You/Please Remember Me. A sweet and sour ballad of letting go leads to a progressively more anxious plea: "Please be good to me and to my memory...bless and pray for me. I'm in my agony..."
4. Nobody's Fool. She's "no ordinary "luny." Andy is both a first rate bassist and Hammond organ player. This one has a thundering bass line plus prowling keyboard accents.
5. I've Got God On the Phone. Check the opening discordant splash of bitch-slapped chords and then pay attention to the delerious dada of the mad, death-obsessed lyrics. "Bone orchards bloom..."
6. Another Shipwreck. The kick-off to Bown's last solo album, heroic and doomed. This is a guy who'd get rescued from the Titanic only to be booked onto the Lusitania.
7. Good Advice. "It's just a spiral from contentment to despair." A sadly touching tune. At least the album's cover had the visual joke of Andy contemplating the "good advice" of getting his head shaved by a skinhead barber.
8-10. Singles: Feeling Better, Help Me and One Forward Two Back. Play them in reverse order, too.
11. New York Satyricon Zany: A jagged Jagger'd put-down of someone who probably looked like Holly Woodlawn impersonating Bianca.
12-13. Tarot/Lulli Rides Again. A-side "Tarot" was a successful TV theme song.
14. Supersonic. The theme echoed the intent of the TV show where Roy Wood or Jackie DeShannon lip-synched their latest chart topper.

BOWN for Glory via rapidshare
BOWN for Glory via Box


A few days ago, March 6th, as they've done since 1836, very few people remembered the Alamo.
So why break the illfolks tradition of posting on a 9, 19 or 29, just so a straggling few might actually remember the Alamo on the right date? To use a well known Native American expression: Feh.
In case you don't remember, for thirteen painful days, Feb. 23 to March 6, less than 200 Texans held off about 2000 Mexicans (the number is 5,000 in the "Ballad of the Alamo").
This brings to mind a joke.
A stewardess comes rushing down the aisle of a small plane, announcing, "We're losing altitude. Three people will have to jump from the plane in order to steady it! Who will make this sacrifice?"
A British citizen stood up and proclaimed, "There will always be an England," and jumped. A Frenchman cried out, "Vive La France," and jumped. A burly Texan stood up and shouted "Remember the Alamo!" And he pushed a Mexican out of the plane.
A key fort in the territory war between "Texians" (citizens of what is now Texas) and Mexicans was San Antonio's Alamo. Two men later to be legends (with TV shows about them, the ultimate honor) helped defend it; James Bowie who was among the first to request reinforcements, and Davy Crockett, who with a few volunteers was among the very few to heed the call. Colonel Travis was in command. As the massive Mexican army began to wear down the Americans, legend has it that Travis drew a line in the sand with his sword, offering any man the chance to step over it and escape certain death.
Death came for the surviving Alamo fighters on Sunday, March 6th, when the Mexicans surrounded all four walls of the Alamo and poured in, allowing no surrender. Bowie, who had taken ill many days earlier was slaughtered on what became his death bed.
"Remember the Alamo" became a rallying cry, and the rest is indeed history, for the Mexicans would never again come pouring over the borders into the United States. Right?
Well, let's not be too down on immigrants. Immigrant Dimitri Tiomkin wrote some of the most authentic Western music in the history of movies, including "High Noon" and his theme for John Wayne's "The Alamo." His song "The Ballad of the Alamo" became a semi-hit, with Marty Robbins' version edging a cover by Bud and Travis.
The original tune is sort of a lame hoedown, telling the story in an almost Disney-jolly kind of way (Crockett was already a Disney hero and hit song subject).
The Robbins version clocks at 3:44, and tries to tell the complete story, with a bugle playing "Taps" toward the end.
Bud & Travis shoot it down to 2:48, stepping up the tempo and cutting away some of the flabbier lines of story-telling.
The Alamo to remember is from Bud and Travis a duo that once came to nosebleed blows because they disliked each other so much. But could they harmonize? Why, like the Kingston Trio with one guy missing. They sure could.
This version packs cinematic punch, pulsing and poetic, with fierce guitar-slapping percussion (ironic...that's a Mexican guitar trick, not an American one) and the periodic blood-spills of swirling violins. It doesn't let up enough for the music's punchline (the melody line from "Taps" as we mourn the men "asleep in the arms of the Lord") but that's a minor flaw in an otherwise brilliant piece of folk-rock glory. And this take is in stereo!
In mono, you also get a very, very rare alternate take. It's got an identical music track, but a slightly different vocal from Bud and Travis. They aren't quite as focused on this take, not always in synch either. But in the interest of collector-obscurity and morbid curiosity, you can now own it.
You also get two versions of "Remember the Alamo" (Cash and Leatherwood) which concentrates on the Travis "line in the sand" legend.
"Ballad of the Alamo" is represented by Marty Robbins, Bud & Travis, Terry Gilkyson and an instrumental version by the Ned Nash Orchestra. Plus there's the lyrical "coda" from the original soundtrack, a summing up featuring a chorus and the orchestra led by Dimitri Tiomkin.


Update November 2011: Several individual songs have been re-upped individually:

Bud & Travis stereo
Bud & Travis rare alternate take mono
Frankie Avalon "Ballad of the Alamo."

Download or listen on line. No pop-ups, porn ads or use of sleazy companies that pay a percentage to bloggers for their "hard work." The hard work was done not by upping files, but by the original writers and performers.