Wednesday, December 29, 2010


When the somewhat frail Groucho Marx made his "comeback," sparked by companion Erin Fleming and such devotees as Dick Cavett and Marvin Hamlisch, he briefly toured in a one-man show. Released by A&M cobbled from several tapes (as Groucho wasn't always on target at every performance with every song or anecdote), the program sounded like a triumph. Old Julius was getting stampeding applause just for mentioning the names of old movies. Every anecdote and witticism was treasured (and most deserved to be) and a big revelation was his choice of songs. Naturally he included crowd-pleasers written or co-written by his friend Harry Ruby, but he dipped into nostalgia for some numbers he remembered others singing in vaudeville or on 78rpm.

One of those: "Stay Down Where You Belong," is by the usually optimistic Irving Berlin. It's about The Devil himself, talking to his son about how much nicer it is in Hell than on Earth. A song that would've been a little too grim for Rufus T. Firefly to sing in "Duck Soup," it's an anti-war piece that includes these lines, which Groucho sometimes reprised for his audience in an encore coda: "They're breaking the heart of mothers, making butchers out of brothers. You'll find more hell up there than there is down below."

While the song was also covered by Tiny Tim (it appears on "God Bless," 1968) the original's been an obscurity since 1915, when it was recorded by one of the great stars of the era, Henry Burr (born Harry McClaskey in Canada, January 15, 1882 - April 6, 1941). Burr was one of the busiest performers in the acoustic days of brittle black shellac, making discs faster than clumsy people could break them. Scholars are still unsure how many sides Burr recorded…estimates are 3,000-5,000. Aside from being a soloist, he sang duets with Ada Jones, Albert Campbell, Louise McMahon and many others, and was a key member of the Sterling Trio and the Peerless Quartet. He also used plenty of aliases as he recorded for many rival labels. He was Harry Barr for Harmony, Harry Haley for Apex, Henry Gillette for Aurora, Alfred Knapp for Velvetone, Alfred Alexander for Pathe, Robert Bruce for Emerson, and on and on.

As you'd expect from a guy who was required to sing loud and clear for primitive recordings, and to reach the back row of a concert hall, Henry's style was somewhat melodramatic, which matched the sentiments of so many of the songs he covered, including "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," "If You Were the Only Girl in the World," "I'se Gwine Back to Dixie," "Missouri Waltz" and "Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight?" As you can tell by the titles, the best way to reach buyers at the time was to play on their patriotism, ethnicity, or maudlin love of home and family. It was definitely odd for Burr to sing a cynical number such as "Stay Down Where You Belong." The songs that were most popular in the World War One era were positive ones, including the George M. Cohan classic from 1917 that ends: "And we won't come back 'til it's over Over There!" The few anti-war numbers ("I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier" and "Don't Take My Darling Boy Away") were sentimental, with this one, perhaps the only hit that was a downright protest song.


CAMP RUNAMUCK - Homer & Jethro

It's December 29th…here's a post on "Camp Runamuck," and you're wondering: "Why would anyone care about a summer camp…in winter?" Well, so were the execs at NBC, who by this time were solemnly checking the ratings for their sitcom about a boy's camp (and the efforts of its counselors to connect with the all-girls "Camp Divine" across the lake). But by winter of 1965, it was obvious that this show about campers was not warming up viewers, who instead were watching "The Flintstones" on ABC or Robert Conrad's spy-Western "Wild Wild West" on CBS.

However, in sympathy with the ill spirit of conjuring up a summer camp in winter, the Illfolks blog presents you with not only the original Frank DeVol instrumental, but the ambitious lyrical version from Homer & Jethro, who musta thunk that the show would be a hit and propel their "Old Crusty Minstrels" album to the top of the charts. They probably would've done better to cover Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah Hello Faddah," which was probably the inspiration behind the development of "Camp Runamuck." Sherman's novelty song was a hit in the summer of 1963, won a Grammy in 1964, was exploited via a fresh "1964 version" single the following summer and then its own board game in 1965 along with a children's book.

"Camp Runamuck" was simply not cut out to last more than a season (it's 26th and final episode aired April 15th, 1966). The show had a "zany" cast, but they were all minor sitcom actors who could be very funny in a supporting guest role, but didn't have the major skills to carry a series. Head counsellor Dave Ketchum was much more memorable as hapless Agent 13 on "Get Smart," mildly confused Dave Madden wasn't even much on "Laugh-In," and there was little for other sour or bumptious actors (Leonard Stone as the camp doctor, Hermoine Baddeley as the owner of the girls' camp) to do for big laughs. The lead was Arch Johnson, owner of "Camp Runamuck" but not the most hilarious of "blustery" and exasperated sitcom heavies. Probably the most notable cast member was Nina Wayne (brunette sister to infamous dizzy blonde Carol Wayne).

Some Brits might remember this series. The BBC actually imported "Camp Runamuck" as a Saturday morning kiddie show back in the 70's. One good thing about the piracy that has caused much fewer movie releases, and more mindless TV reality shows, is that budget-conscious cable stations and streaming video sites are starting to pick over the funny-bones still lying in the vaults. When very few new sitcoms last six episodes and are a total loss, a full 26 episodes of an old oddity sounds pretty good!

There were many one-season wonders back then, sitcoms that had a weak premise but professional writing and acting. Consider "It's About Time," about astronauts going back in time to encounter cave dwellers Imogene Coca and Joe E. Ross or "The Smothers Brothers Show" (Tommy, lost at sea, returns as an angel seen only by brother Dick). I don't think the alternatives are Jonathan Ross, Judge Judy or "the Kardashians visit the Jersey Shore." PS, if you were wondering if you'd ever get to see the legendary "worst sitcom of all time," you can. The Jerry Van Dyke-Ann Sothern novelty "My Mother the Car" is now streaming your way via

CAMP RUNAMUCK - sung by Homer and Jethro

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) passed on the other day, and since he was very well known, and well bootlegged, and well downloaded, not much needs to be said about him here. Except that the "awful awful diseases" that Warren Zevon sang about, do strike even the rock titans, and it's sad to realize that a guy who was often struggling for money in pursuit of his unique vision, was in the end struggling against multiple sclerosis. Among those who chose to be weird and challenging, the Captain certainly ended up a lot more famous than, say, Kolonovits…who did create one very provocative album before he moved on to much more lucrative things.

Circa 1977, a strange album called "Life Is Just a Carnival" appeared…an odd audio collage of electronica and dada, inspired by everything from Lennon's "Strawberry Fields" to the symphonic Zappa, and even the sorrowful balladry of Nilsson. That's all the tease you need to download four representative tracks: "Life is Just a Carnival" "Join the Carnival" "Society" and the spoken "TV Love Story," just as they rolled off side one of the album originally released on CBS in Germany…and which some eBay sellers hope will put some dinner on the table.

CBS/Columbia in America wanted no part of 25 year-old Christian Kolonovits, so it took a few years before an indie label pressed a few thousand copies. The album notes declared: "With this album the artist tears off the mask and gives up the role forced upon him. His keyboards fly unfettered. The compositions are rich with the baroque influence of Bach and the purity of Gregorian chant. Kolonovits is a new name in the States. Soon it will be known, admired and sought after by all lovers of outstanding progressive European music." While the album was ignored as an eccentric item from an unknown, "Life is Just a Carnival" was only the beginning, and this musician has had a full career over the last three decades. Though not particularly as a singer/songwriter of his own symphonic rock epics.

Christian was born in Burgenland, the son of a Croatian father and a Hungarian mother…which might mean that he would understand getting bootlegged by some asshole blogger in Croatia, but would still feel gloomy about it. He studied piano, cello and composition at the Vienna Music Academy, and in 1980 after his solo album and a year in France, he came back to Vienna to produce a variety of Austropop artists including Wolfgang Ambros, Reinhard Fendrich and Ludwig Hirsch. He later composed movie and TV scores (including the 2008 movie "North Face"). According to his website his projects have garnered 70 gold and platinum awards. Which isn't to say he's got that many statues on his desk, but produced or engineered or had a writing credit on some very successful discs.

He's worked with Placido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa, Sarah Brightman, Helmut Lotti, Michael Bolton, Patricia Kaas and the Scorpions. As one might have expected from the eccentric glimpse of orchestral bravado on "Life is Just a Carnival," the guy has spent most of his past decade as a producer, arranger and conductor, working with the Vienna Smphony, Berlin Philharmonic, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Budapest Philharmonic, and others. In 2006 he wrote for the British band Tiger Lillies (not to be confused with a British punk band of an almost similar name, which has floundered without its founding lead vocalist.) He wrote tracks for "Sting in the Tail" by the Scorpions and most recently produced the debut album for Alexandra Schertler. And if you go and check, he maintains rather stern poses of himself at (including the inset B&W on this page). Perhaps he is still asking the musical question: "Life is just a carnival…isn't it a joke??"

LIFE IS JUST A CARNIVAL Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait time, or whines about paying for a premium account.

Angel of the Morning Skeeter Davis Merilee Rush etc.

When premarital sex was still a very troubling "sin," this tune turned up, just a hot skip and a hump away from "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." Progress: THIS girl thinks she can have a devilishly good time all night and still be an "angel of the morning."
Especially since a man wrote this: Chip Taylor, offering an alibi for chippies.
Saintly martyr Merilee's Rush to judge her one-night-stand:
"There's no need to take a stand for it was I who chose to start. I see no reason to take me home. I'm old enough to face the dawn...Just call me angel of the morning...Then slowly turn away from me."
Even Humphrey Bogart couldn't follow that instruction without busting a gut laughing. "You're good, angel, very good. Now I'll slowly turn away, and you can leave...and I'll change the sheets..."
More from this sanctimonious slut:
"If morning's echo says we've sinned. Well, it was what I wanted now. And if we're victims of the night. I won't be blinded by the light. Just call me angel of the morning."
Can I just call you a cab and sleep an extra hour?

"A pretty dirge, is like a melody..." Share a load with:
Chrissie Hynde
Merilee Rush (original and re-make)
Joya Landis
Barbara Jones
Skeeter Davis
P.P. Arnold
Juice Newton, etc. etc.
The song ends with this:
"I wont beg you stay with me. Through the tears! Of the days! Of the years!"
OK, bitch, bye!
Get lucky. Download the ANGELS

Update November 2011: Some extra versions upped individually:



Strange, isn't it…almost all the successful work done by Blake Edwards is linked to music by Henry Mancini. While a few composers are best known for soundtracks done for specific directors (most obviously Bernard Herrmann for Hitchcock and Nino Rota for Fellini), it's very rare to find hit movies from one director mated so often to hit songs by one composer.

Blake Edwards (July 26, 1922-December 15, 2010) found his hit movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) matched by the Top Ten hit "Moon River." A year later, "Days of Wine and Roses" was in movie theaters and the theme song was being sung by bad quartets and mediocre torch singers all over the radio. And when it comes to instrumentals, it's impossible to think of Blake's hit TV series "Peter Gunn" or hit series of "Pink Panther" movies without those theme songs coming to mind.

Edwards was a bit too prolific, and his wide variety of hit-and-miss movies has diminished his legacy as a director and writer. He no doubt has a cult following for at least some of these: Operation Petticoat (1959), The Great Race (1965), What Did You Do In the War Daddy (1966), The Party (1968), Darling Lili (1969), Wild Rovers (1971), The Tamarind Seed (1974), S.O.B. (1981), Victor Victoria (1972), 10 (1979), and many more.

Born William Blake Crump, he entered show business with his middle name ands step-father's last name, assembling a varied list of credits including the role as young and ineffective hero in "Strangler of the Swamp," a 1946 obscurity that boasted some moody low-budget effects (lots of fog) and a confused, Evangelical script that managed to work in God's role in vengeance and redemption in handling a swamp zombie; a twist on Christ's role in repelling vampires. Edwards had more luck as a script writer for radio ("Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar," a witty private eye series starring Edmond O'Brien) and screen ("Operation Mad Ball" with Ernie Kovacs). He became a director of noir TV shows: "Richard Diamond," "Mr. Lucky" and ultimately "Peter Gunn."

Through his many decades making films, Edwards was adept at drama and often had his best successes with comedy. He was one of the few directors in the 60's and 70's to try and bring back the visual gags of the silent era, although in everything from "The Party" to "The Great Race" and the Panther series, there were some painfully obvious and labored moments that were quite leaden. But mixed in, were inexplicably brilliant vignettes ("Birdy Num-Nums" in "The Party") and superbly timed bits that never grow old (Sellers as Clouseau spinning a globe, and inevitably resting his hand on it while it's still in motion, slamming toward the floor). Edwards usually knew exactly the right angle for the maximum effect.

Perhaps his best work is actually in the thriller "Experiment in Terror" (1962), which boasts of some eerie scenes shot in shadow, a brilliant use of voice (Ross Martin made his film debut mostly heard but not seen), and a strong, believable pace in presenting the drama of Lee Remick being caught up in a tense and deadly blackmail scheme.

In creating the musical settings for Blake Edwards' best work, Henry Mancini pioneered the jumpy tempo ("Pink Panther Theme") that Bacharach would eventually trademark, turned out melodies that schlock lyrics couldn't destroy ("Moon River") and produced almost a bombastic parody of boogie-woogie and jazz in "Peter Gunn." But he also was a maestro who could conjure up just the right instrument for just the right effect: the autoharp, for example, striking some somber notes in the theme for "Experiment in Terror." Since there's no shortage of places to cop a copy of "Moon River" or the "Pink Panther Theme," it's the Illfolks choice to salute the memory of Blake Edwards.

Edwards, who had bouts with depression and chronic fatigue syndrome, had a famous love-hate relationship with Peter Sellers, and was certainly a maverick in doing things his way (including the highly criticized topless exposure of wife Julie Andrews for a key scene in "S.O.B.") He acknowledged that he was a complex, difficult man, one in need of psychiatric treatment (he even wrote a few film scripts with his therapist!). He was aware of Hollywood's love-hate reaction to him and to his work:

"I like the old Chinese proverb: If you wait long enough by the river then the bodies of your enemies will float by. That used to console me through the dark patches. And then one day I realized that downstream from me there was this whole gang of people I'd been rude to, all waiting for me to float by."

EXPERIMENT IN TERROR THEME Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait time, or whines about paying for a premium account.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


Stan Freberg wrote some nicely cynical songs, including the seasonal classic "Green Christmas." He usually sang his own material, but an exception is "Money," which was recorded by both Paul Frees and Mel Blanc.

My guess is that both versions came out around the same time, but it's hard to say who got there first. Blanc's version is in print via "The Best of Mel Blanc" from Collectors' Choice, but since they don't have a budget for decent album notes, the chintzy fold-out booklet barely has room for a few paragraphs of information. No release dates are included. Mel was issuing novelty singles on Capitol as early as 1949. His album "Party Panic" arrived in 1953. "Money" could've come out the following year. Paul's definitely did.

The Frees version was recorded on the obscure Century Records label in both 78rpm and 45 rpm forms in 1954. He usually released things under his own name, but this one's credited to "Big Jim" Buchanan. The name may have been a loudmouth conman character he created during his stand-up or radio days.

I'll give the nod for best version to Paul Frees (and not just because I cherish speaking to Frees, and never had the chance to encounter Mel Blanc.) The song is simply better suited to Frees, who talk-sings it with a W.C. Fieldsian sense of glorious corruption, and an almost obscene appreciation for filthy lucre. Blanc, who tries a similar tone, probably would've done better going for cartoonish laughs and using his Daffy Duck voice (although toward the end he can't resist a kind of Woody Woodpecker chuckle.)

Younger fans of musical dementia know that "Money" was covered twice by The Muppets…first on an episode of "The Mike Douglas Show" by a failed puppet character called Tommy, and later by the garishly memorable Dr. Teeth on a Jim Nabors-hosted episode of "The Muppet Show." This time of year…is the perfect time to hear this crass rap about the almighty dollar.

MONEY by Paul Frees as BIG JIM BUCHANAN Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait times or money extortion.


I recently spent a few minutes talking with Noel Stookey (now firmly using his real first name), and the conversation turned here and there on both Peter Paul & Mary, his solo work and Christmas songs. I mentioned my favorite solo song of his ("Sebastian") and he smiled and told me that when he started to write it, it was about a guitar, not a boy! The full story is on his site: right here.

The song itself is streaming on his website (streaming, not for free download) and you can hear it here.

I mentioned that my favorite PP&M album was "Movin'" which I first got on vinyl, in mono. Later, hearing it in stereo on CD, I was amazed at the vivid harmonies, especially with headphones on. "We tried to work it so that each voice expressed something different," he told me. This was a far different concept from what the Everly Brothers or Simon & Garfunkel did, and when it works, it's astonishing. On "Movin'" the best example is "Flora" (aka "Lily of the West") which I mentioned to Noel was the first song I'd heard from that album (not "Puff the Magic Dragon") and the reason I bought it. In a song about a woman and her two rivals, PP&M vividly take up those roles.

I wrote about Noel some time ago in a national magazine article about the world of Christian rock and pop music, which benefitted from some respected names (Noel, B.J. Thomas, Barry McGuire, Gary Paxton) and began to develop its own roster of talent (including Annie Herring, who you can hear on this blog). It was my idea to cover that subject, because I felt it was newsworthy and something the average rock journalist was "too hip" or (too narrow-minded?) to explore. Glad it was actually published. As Dylan would later prove via "Gotta Serve Somebody," it's possible to write "Christian" and not be corny. And in fact to still be Jewish.

Which brings me to one final point about PP&M. They were one of the first groups to offer both Jewish and Christian music on a record album. "Movin'" which was released over 40 years ago, has powerful songs for both Chanukah ("Man Come Into Egypt") and Christmas ("A 'Soalin'). This was a profoundly "mixed" group, not ignoring religion, but celebrating the different cultures. Peter and Paul were Jewish and Christian, and could successfully sing songs about their cultures, and make them accessible to all. Compare that to Simon & Garfunkel, who actually sang nothing about Judaism and everything about churches burning and "Silent Night."

As we approach Christmas, here's "A Soalin'." With its borrowing from "God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen," it's a song that very much captures the poignance of this time of year, with its reflected joys and sorrows.

Is it possible to find joy in the simple gift of an apple? A pear? A plum? I think you know the answer. If you don't, you're probably asking "why don't I get a full download of that "Movin'" album instead of one live track that Peter & Noel actually have authorized to give away free?" Here, from a concert performance a few years ago, the great Noel Stookey, and his little friend Mr. Yarrow, perform a seasonal favorite…

A' Soalin' - PETER YARROW, NOEL STOOKEY Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait times or money extortion.


Masked and anonymous, nobody knows who sang "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window" and "Positively 4th Street" imitating Bob on budget 45rpm EP's.

The idea back in the late 50's and up to the mid-60's, was that for the price of ONE hit song by the original artist, you could get SIX hit songs by…nobodies. Labels such as Tops, Promenade, Song Hits, etc. prospered. Sometimes the labels gave a credit to the unknown vocalist, probably on the theory that you didn't even know the name of the one-shot wonder who had suddenly scored a Top Ten hit. In other cases, where the six songs were all by very famous original artists, the label simply didn't list the singer, hoping to trick people into believing they were getting the original artist.

The side of Hit Parader #39's 45 rpm (which opened with "Michelle," then "Tell Me Why" and then "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window") simply credited the song to Bob Dylan. Meaning as author, not as singer. Heh heh.
Song Hits #38 opened one side with "Get Off Of My Cloud" then "Positively 4th Street" and "Run Baby Run." Once again, nothing about who was doing the actual singing.

In all cases, only the song composers were listed. "Positively 4th Street" was a logical choice for cheapie exploitation at the time. The follow-up to Bob's "Like a Rolling Stone," it slipped into the Top 10 according to both Billboard and Cash Box. "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window" wasn't nearly as successful, topping out at 58 at both Billboard and Cash Box.

The charts have always been hit and miss with Dylan singles. On Billboard, "I Threw It All Away" languished at 85, "Watching the River Flow" missed the Top 40, "Tangled Up In Blue" missed the Top 30, (as did "Hurricane") and "Gotta Serve Somebody" didn't make the Top 20. However Bob reached #12 for "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and got to #20 for "I Want You," but by then, sophisticated listeners weren't interested in knock-offs and the once-bustling industry for budget labels offering quantity over quality, went bust. However...thanks to "budget" download companies like eMusic, there are now musicians who specialize in knocking off oldies. Kids who have no idea who originally did "Monster Mash" can surf eMusic, listen to 30 seconds of something that sounds like the real thing, and download it over the original. What was that Paul Simon lyric..."The music suffers/The music business thrives."

OBSCURE BOB DYLAN COVER VERSIONS: Positively 4th Street and Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait times or money extortion.

OLD 97 and The Right Way to Steal Bob Dylan

First time I heard Old 97's "Champaign, Illinois" (via their guest spot on "The Tonight Show,") I instantly heard, note for note, Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row." And I thought, "WTF…how did they get away with that??"

It turns out…they asked.

Rhett Miller of Old 97 was looking for inspiration. Many songwriters including Bob Dylan ("Blowing in the Wind") start off with somebody else's melody, craft new lyrics, then go back and adapt the melody. Lennon and McCartney were always saying "Let's write a Buddy Holly song…let's write something like Chuck Berry." Miller decided to use Dylan's "Desolation Row" for inspiration. Miller talking: "I'll take this tune I knew inside and out and come up with new lyrics." Dylan used the same formula. Dylan talking: "What happens is, I'll take a song I know and simply start playing it in my head…At a certain point, some words will change and I'll start writing a song."

The next step is usually to strip off the old melody and use the lyrics to inspire a new one. Or at least "adapt" the melody so its origin isn't so obvious. If you don't do either, you're in for trouble. Everyone from Johnny Cash to John Lennon to George Harrison to Dylan himself has either paid a settlement for intentional or unintentional mis-use or suffered embarrassing whispers about their creativity and integrity.

Miller liked the melody for "Desolation Row" so much he didn't want to mess around and alter it: "I was really happy with it, and I thought, this is a sweet little song, and it kind of exists on its own. And then I sat on it forever for fear of legal repercussion."

Ultimately, he took a chance and sent the song over to Bob Dylan's office. Maybe Bob had been to Champaign, Illinois and considered it pretty close to Desolation Row. Whatever, Miller was granted permission as long as Bob got a co-write for having written the music. (I know…The Mighty Dylan has, more than once, NOT asked permission to use somebody else's words, etc. etc. etc.) The bottom line? We all have different views of morality, and the line we don't cross can be set close, or way in the distance. As for "sharing," this blog ain't gonna steal "Champaign, Illinois" off the group's actual CD. Instead, you get the version you can't buy…the live one from Leno's show. Which is still theft, but more of a petit larceny. To quote Bob Dylan (or did he borrow it from The Bible), "Ain't no man righteous, not one."

DESOLATION ROW turns into CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait times or money extortion.