Saturday, May 19, 2012


Sir George Martin produced Beatles albums everyone has listened to thousands of times…and the one side probably nobody listened to twice. Yes, there's the "Yellow Submarine" soundtrack album….one side full of Beatles songs, the other...George's incidental music for the movie.

Naturally, this blog goes a step further into the obscure, and not only promotes George the soundtrack composer, but offers material from a movie so obscure it's never been released on DVD in America.

"Calculated Risk" (1962) is a tedious "caper" movie. An aging loser gets out of jail and gets up a gang to dig into a bank vault. The 70 minutes (which seem more like 90) involve gathering the gang, arguing a lot, and digging in the tunnel. These stupid movies have only two endings (they get away with it, or they don't) so the interest has to be in character conflict, fascinating technique in executing the plan, and breathtaking suspense. The film fails on all three counts, and only comes to life when Dilys Watling is around…which isn't often enough.

At the time of this film, George Martin already had a reputation in the music field. In 1960 and 1961 he produced albums for Peter Sellers, Flanders & Swann, and the "Beyond the Fringe" comedy group. He also knocked off "Time Beat," an electronic single he released under the name "Ray Cathode." In 1962 he produced Charlie Drake's hit single"My Boomerang Won't Come Back" and in 1963, Rolf Harris' "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport."He was so busy he either had no time for a full soundtrack, or the producers had no money for it. George contributes music for the opening and the climactic ending and closing credits, and that's what you get here, peeled by Ill Folks from the actual film.

Through the 60's, Martin produced music for not only The Beatles, but also Billy J. Kramer, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Shirley Bassey and Cilla Black. His biggest soundtrack credit is the score for the James Bond film "Live and Let Die" (theme song written by Paul McCartney). Today, trying to make money in the music business is a "Calculated Risk." Just ask the musicians paying just to play in a local club, or giving the music away on low-royalty sites like Spotty Pie and eekMusic and FoolTube. Pssst…giving away the music, letting people steal it on the Internet, and selling t-shirts at your gigs instead…DOES NOT WORK!

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Tony Randall passed away 8 years ago (May 17, 2004). He's remembered by friends and fans as vital almost to the end (he became a father at an age when most are grandfathers!). He was a great man, a great actor, and a pretty good singer, too.

Randall's first album (on Imperial) was issued back when he was an eccentric supporting actor in film comedies and sitcoms. The disc was sophisticated, odd, and even bizarre (a version of Nat "King" Cole's classic "Nature Boy" done with an Indian accent.) Years later (1967-68), now best known for talk and game show appearances (as the album notes on one of them states), he put out two discs of old nostalgia music for Mercury. At the time, "Winchester Cathedral" was a hit. He covered it, and such annoying tunes as "Boo Hoo" "You Oughta Be in Pictures"and "Lucky Lindy," along with "Stumbling" (which turned up in an "Odd Couple" episode sung by Monty Hall).

Mercury released a single to spike airplay for Tony. They chose the only contemporary tune on Tony's second album, Randy Newman's "Debutante's Ball." On the flip side: "We Only Kill Each Other" by veteran songwriter Jeff Barry (who'd had hits for The Crystals, Ike & Tina Turner and The Shangri-Las with wife Ellie Greenwich). Easily the oddest item in the Randall jukebox, "We Only Kill Each Other" can only be found on that obscure single…and here.

Remember, this thing was issued two years before the premiere of "The Odd Couple." (And five years before "The Odd Couple Sings" album in which Randall and Jack Klugman offered the fascinating and horrifying duet "You're So Vain" and Tony padded things out with nostalgia tunes including "When Banana Skins are Falling, I'll Come Sliding Back To You," which he also sang in 1968 for Mercury).

Here, sounding a bit like a very weary and depressed Felix Ungar, the 48 year-old Randall attempts to reach kid-oriented Top 20 AM radio by sighing about the problems of the day: "Narcotics and usury, gambling and vice, there ain't no big money in sugar and spice."

Then comes the hand-wringing chorus: "We only kill each other, why don't they leave us alone? We only kill each other, we only extinguish our own." Following this, the former Leonard Rosenberg sings a stanza about the late Ben Siegelbaum, aka "Bugsy" Siegel. The gangster was the subject of the 1967 book by Dean Jennings titled "We Only Kill Each Other."

But good songs never die….

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HENDRA AND ULLETT mash Hamlet and Sonny & Cher

Tony Hendra's already on this blog; he impersonated John Lennon on "Magical Misery Tour," the musical parody based on Lennon's shockingly frank Rolling Stone interviews done at the time of his primal scream therapy and first album.

Actually, Tony began satirizing the rock world much earlier. After working with John Cleese and Graham Chapman in the "Cambridge University Footlights Revue," the pudgy blond teamed with dark-haired straight man Nick Ullett. They recorded "To Be Or Not To Be, Babe" a spitting satire on the pretentiousness of the folk-rock movement. Hamlet's soliloquy got jangled by music that tweaked The Byrds, Dylan and Sonny & Cher.

Thanks to the popularity of "The British Invasion," Hendra and Ullett turned up on "The Ed Sullivan Show," though not on any show The Beatles were on. Their routine on American baseball was very funny and they managed to get an album released in America (ok, on the London Records label). The liner notes were credited to (if not actually written by) Jackie Mason: "…It's an amazing thing how all the [British] Entertainers are taking over in this country: The Beatles, Anthony Newley, Tessie O'Shea, and now Hendra and Ullett. We used to send Bundles to Britain. Now they're coming over here and making their own bundles!"

The album includes "To Be Or Not To Be, 1964" recorded live. You get this as well as the original "To Be Or Not To Be Babe" single. Neither the single nor the album made bundles for Hendra and Ullett. Hendra worked at both the National Lampoon and Spy magazine, wrote a history of edgy comedy ("Going Too Far') and ghosted George Carlin's autobiography.

Nick found success working at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency, but returned to acting in the 80's. In 1986 he married Jenny O'Hara. At the time of Hendra & Ullett's recording career, Jenny was a young actress hoping for a hit in Allan Sherman's Broadway musical "The Fig Leaves are Falling." She later co-starred on "My Sister Sam" with Pam Dawber. O'Hara and Ullett have appeared together on the soap opera "As The World Turns," and last year on stage in Los Angeles, in the play "Bakersfield Mist."

To Be Or Not To Be, Babe

To Be Or Not To Be, 1964

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The ill-fated Whiskeyhill Singers did not do well for either Judy Henske or her replacement, Liz Seneff. Most folkies know that the almost unanimously disliked Dave Guard left The Kingston Trio to boss his new creation, the Whiskeyhill Singers. They cut one album, notable only for Judy Henske's lead vocal on "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." That song was proof that Henske was better off as a solo artist.

The Whiskeyhill Singers tried to replace her with Liz Seneff, and even made it to the Hollywood Bowl for a concert appearance. You can hear a sample live performance from that gig elsewhere on this blog. Tracks for a second album also featured Liz, but that album was never completed and the Whiskeyhillers went down the drain. Like Judy, Liz tried to establish herself as a solo artist.

Elizabeth Seneff (February 28, 1935-August 23, 1993) was born in Pittsburgh and from local clubs moved on to venues in Chicago, Miami and the West Coast. Joining the Whiskeyhill Singers, the group played The Ballad and Banjo in Massachusetts, The Shadows in Washington D.C. and eventually, to nobody nowhere. Liz came back home to work with the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Company and the Pittsburgh Playhouse. In June of 1963 she married Dr. Robert Corrigan, who was the head of the Carnegie Tech Drama Department (which would explain why some references to the Whiskeyhill Singers call her "Liz Corrigan" not "Liz Seneff")

After the Whiskeyhill debacle, she recorded her 1964 solo album "Listen to Liz" (aka: "Liz Sineff Sings Folk Songs, Ballads and Blues") for Pittsburgh's Gateway Records label. It features a pretty wide variety of tracks, from the exotic staple "Carnival (Manha De Carnaval)" to a fairly neutral version (compared to Henske) of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" to the wistfully mysterious show tune "They Call the Wind Mariah." The album also features "Bloomin' Heather," a track she performed on an episode of TV's "Hootenanny" show. Your sample tracks below are the wicked "Sinner Man," and the almost required cover of a Dylan tune ("Tomorrow is a Long Time").

It seemed that domestic life and academia would be Liz Seneff's fate, and that she would never record again, but she and her husband divorced, and in the late 60's she made a comeback to the folk world, living in Coral Gables, Florida and performing at The Flick. The vinyl trail runs cold with the psych-tinged 1968 album "You Can't Go," (Dot Records) which Liz made as part of the group Split Level.

Her tenure with The Whiskeyhill Singers and Split Level didn't last long, but she does make a lasting impression with her one solo album…an item that belongs in any folkie's library of rare and precious vinyl.

SENEFF sings to the SINNER MAN


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Perhaps, as you stared at the cover of "Farewell Aldebaran" while grooving to the psych-folk rock power of "Snowblind" or the morbidly eerie death ballad about old Mrs. Connor ("One More Time"), you wondered, "whatever became of Henske and Yester's baby daughter Kate??"

The answer is, nothing much. She's dabbled in the world of music, but at this point, is happy to have a day job and smart enough not to quit it. As the daughter of two well known folkies, Kate of course learned to play piano and guitar, and write songs. Her first major credit was on Graham Nash's album "Innocent Eyes." She hit the coffee house circuit in Seattle, appearing on the compilation album "Souls of The Sound" with other budding young local talents. Meanwhile, she studied for her degree in library science.

Today Kate DeLaPointe is employed by the Scottsdale Public Library in Arizona. She performs at local events and fans can hunt up the album "Rare Delights," which she made as part of a duo called "Wayward Maggie." The other half of the combo is Jess Hawk Oakenstar. Rare indeed, it was issued in 2008 and is primarily available through the CDBaby website. Cuts include "Hole in the Bucket," "My Love Is Black and White" and "Sunshine on Leith." Kate also appears singing backing vocals on Judy Henske's most recent CD, "She Sang California."

Not yet available commercially is Wayward Maggie's cover of Judy's song "Dropped Like a Dime," a track Judy recorded on her comeback solo album "Loose in the World." If you can get past the opening woops, you'll find it to be an odd piece of hillbilly folk music, pickled by Judy's life's-a-tilted-carnival lyrics. On this blog, eccentricity is to be applauded, and so it's your sample in answering the question, "What about that baby on the Farewell Aldebaran album cover? Did she grow up to be a singer, too?"

True! And for more on Kate, you can visit her family website,

Woop Woop, you Geeks: Dropped Like a Dime

Best & Worst Singers. SILVER DOLLAR - Judy Henske, Teresa Brewer

Having referenced Judy Henske in the two entries above (on her daughter Kate, and Liz Seneff, her replacement on the ill-fated Whiskeyhill Singers), it seemed only right to once again salute Big Judy herself (and remind you her 2 CD best-of is well worth buying).

Judy Henske belongs on most any list of Great American Singers. She's sung R&B, folk, pop standards, ballads and originals in a style that is not only faithful to the material, but stamped with her own unique personality. Whatever she does grabs your attention, sauces your cauliflowers, balms your brain, and even purges your libido. She is one of the BEST.

The other side of the coin: there are the WORST. Exempting the hapless indie-label amateurs that some cruel and stupid bloggers laugh at as "so bad they're good," and also exempting intentionally bad singers such as Mrs. Miller, let's confine WORST to actual respected money-making performers who YOU CAN'T STAND TO HEAR FOR EVEN ONE SONG. Who do you rate as the opposite of Henske…someone who can give you tinnitis with her tonsils? Maybe the braying Stevie Nicks? The overblown Celine Dion? The car-alarm Whitney Houston? The grandly enunciating Kate Smith?

The nominee here as THE WORST, is the grating, irritating and infuriating Teresa Brewer. Stevie Nicks is a cutie. It's a bit un-American to claim not to be able to sit through Kate Smith's "God Bless America." Celine and Whitney you might be able to tolerate the first time you hear them lambast a big ballad with their lung power. But Teresa Brewer? Anything she sings she ruins, and it happens within 20 seconds.

Her adenoidal voice almost perpetually fires loudly in a range that would frighten chipmunks. She sings lyrics as if she was calling out Bingo numbers, and matches her lack of emotion with an overbearing amount of glee. To quote Ed Asner as Lou Grant: "You have spunk…I HATE SPUNK." Even a song that suits her perfectly, is perfectly horrifying. Ten seconds of "Put another nickel in, in that nickelodeon…" and you want to pay a hit man to kick her out the door.

If you care to nominate someone else, do leave an acidic comment. Bear in mind that your choice should not simply be guilty of having an untrained voice (Patti Smith), or having a supposedly good voice but absolutely no clue to interpreting lyrics (Miss Toni Fisher and "The Big Hurt" for example). Nor should you vilify a singer if she has the redeeming quality of giant boobs (Dolly Parton's voice is not all that pleasant to my ears, but she sang "9 to 5" well, and her rendition of her self-penned "Jolene" is actually good). The woman you nominate should have the infected trifecta of an irritating voice, clueless technique and poor taste in song choices.

Here, as an example of the right and wrong way to sing a song, is Judy Henske and Teresa Brewer both covering "Silver Dollar."


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