Sunday, August 19, 2012

Who really was HAPPY PIERRE IN HI-FI?

In 1957 a kind of wacky album of honkytonk'd French music appeared from Liberty Records...the label Spike Jones was on. "Happy Pierre" seemed to order his arrangements "spiked" with too much percussion, vaudeville and the occasional wolf whistle. The silent movie comedy approach he takes turned deadly items like Piaf's "Mon Homme" into something, well, happy. Liberty would also be issuing The Chipmunks via David Seville. Seville was a made-up name. But "Happy Pierre" didn't even have a last name on this debut. Who was this guy?? Spike Jones in another "Hangnails Henessey" disguise??

All seriousness aside, KWFB-AM disc jockey Bill Ballance wrote fake album notes joking that Pierre was "worth his weight in Miltown," and that his album was much better than "Lassie Howls Rodger and Hammerstein and Boris Karloff Presents Music to Exhume Bodies By." Of "Mon Homme," Bill noted it was "First heard as a melody (malade) whistled by Bonaparte (Irving Bonaparte) when he stormed ashore at Elba. It's like getting hit across the chops with a wet moccasin, or as Happy Pierre himself often remarks in Latinn "Nux vobiscum pluribus magnum divisa set." (We're sliding too close to the bandstand)…."

(Parenthetically, it turned out that the album notes writer would become more notorious than the artist. Ballance put out an album (picture disc, and ugly) called "Feminine Forum," and eventually made headlines as the former boyfriend of "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger, the guy who leaked nude pix of her to teach her a "lesson" in morality)

Speaking of morality, in the August 3, 1957 issue of the L.A. Daily Mirror, various KWFB-AM disc jockeys listed their "predicted hit" record of the week. Larry Finley picked a song by Bonnie Guitar. Al Jarvis chose one by Kay Starr. And Bill Ballance picked "Happy Pierre in Hi-Fi" by Mark McIntyre. Not payola from Bill, but he didn't disclose he wrote the album notes.

But wait a minute, "Mark McIntyre?" That name does not appear on the actual album, any more than Jo Stafford's did on her Darlene Edwards or Red Ingle stuff, or that members of Spike Jones' band did on "The Alley Singers," where they were fake-credited as Phil Stern and Al Brennan. And the tradition continued via Winston O'Boogie and beyond.

So finally, in praise of "Happy Pierre" and to answer the question nobody's asking: the man behind the badly retouched French mustache and goatee on the cover, the one un-named on the album itself, indeed is Mark McIntyre. A band leader, arranger and pianist from Texas who worked on many Frank Sinatra recordings in the 40's, he wrote songs with Ross Bagdasarian (who later called himself David Seville). It was Ross who got Liberty to issue a single by Mark's daughters "Patience and Prudence." Yes, at 11 and 14, the precocious girls hit the Top Ten with "Tonight You Belong to Me" in 1956. It was followed by the less successful "We Can't Sing Rhythm and Blues" co-written by their Dad.

When Dad finally got his change, it wasn't under his own name. McIntyre and Bagdasarian were "Alfi and Harry," for a few less than successful singles. And then, the ever-optimistic folks at Liberty released "Happy Pierre in Hi-Fi."

Billboard, appraising Pierre's single ("My Man" backed with "Eleanor") declared: "Not too much here…hurdy-gurdy Nickelodoeon-type tempo has been done often - and better. No commercial threat."

Billboard turned out to be correct. "Happy Pierre" disappeared, while Mark continued to work as an arranger and songwriter. Ross had speeded-up hits with "Witch Doctor, "The Chipmunk Song," and enjoyed the monkeymaking Chipmunks franchise for the rest of his life. Which wasn't all that long. Seville, only 52, died in 1972. Mark McIntyre's lifespan was tragically short as well (born July 20, 1916, died May 13, 1970).

And so, while there's a cult for David Seville, and even for Patience and Prudence, it's up to the Ill Folks blog to cast a few songs out, and say a fond "Merci!" to the Irishman who was "Happy Pierre."

HAPPY? Searching for Titine-My Man

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