Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Paul Simon, Edie Brickell Arrested: Demand Sound of Silence

At this moment, somewhere in Connecticut, Paul Simon and Edie Brickell are wishing for the sound of silence. So below, they, and YOU, get a rare, bizarrely inept version of the song. It was done by a cheap-o label, featuring anonymous singers. But allow my digression into current events...

They've gotten a lot of static after a minor domestic event made headlines. Apparently, Edie "pushed" Paul and after a while, Paul pushed her back. This is remarkable because Edie hasn't had a hit in years. A push is the best she can get?

You remember Edie. She had that incredibly annoying "What I Am" song, where Miss Hippie Dippie minced around and mindlessly sneered, "I'm not aware of too many things. I know what I know, if you know what I mean." The chorus seemed to maddeningly continue for hours: "What I am is what I am. Are you what you are or what? What I am is what I am . Are you what you are or what?" There was a line, "Choke me in the shallow waters before I get too deep." It's remarkable it's taken so long before anyone's even pushed her.

In court, a puffy faced and pissed off Paul, wearing a kiddie jacket from Sears and an unmatching not-hipster fedora, told the judge that the twosome rarely fought at all. And to nobody's surprise, Edie announced she was not afraid of her husband. No kidding. Even the last surviving munchkin is not afraid of Paul Simon.

Meanwhile, bloggers and Tweeters and Farce-bookers had lots of fun quipping Paul Simon song titles: "There must be 50 Ways to Beat Your Lover," and "She loves me like a rock…in the head," "Where's the radical priest to get them released," "What a peculiar man," and, of course, "Still Crazy After All These Years." All the couple wanted to do was get back home to their kids, 16, 19 and 22 (which are pretty strange names for kids…not that Kanye's daughter North West has anything to be proud of.)

Trying to bridge the troubled water, the judge instantly released Edie on her own recognizance. He handed her a mirror, which helped her a great deal. "Oh…Edie Brickell," she said, staring into the mirror as she was led away. If you haven't kept up on her career, well, neither has she. She did write lyrics for Steve Martin's last album of banjo tunes…which is already a punchline without any need of a set-up.

Simon was making a new plan, Stan. To avoid being that mean individual stranded in a limousine, he went out the back, Jack. Still, one enterprising photographer was standing in front of him, aiming a camera. Paul deftly walked between the guys legs, and escaped, homeward bound.

How did all this start? Well, in Paul's little town, the cops seem to have to file a report any time a husband and wife breathe too heavily. It turns out Paul's mother-in-law called 911 after the shoving match, mostly on Edie's part, seemed to get out of hand. "I am leaving, I am leaving," Paul apparently said after pushing Edie out of the way. But the fighter remained. To be arrested. Along with Edie. Who knows, they may have to wear ankle monitors, and call in once a day to say they're "feeling groovy."

Listen, Paul's been through enough. Would YOU want to constantly be asked, "When are you going to see Garfunkel next?" No. You wouldn't. You wouldn't want solemn people asking, "What does "cross in the ballpark mean," and "How come "You Can Call Me Al" and "Julio in the Schoolyard" were big hits when they made no sense?" And you surely don't want to hear, "Why aren't your new songs anywhere near as good as the old ones?"

Worst of all, Paul has had to suffer some truly abominable cover versions of his songs. Check out the one below. It was on one of those budget "Song Hits" singles…where you'd get 6 "hit" songs sung by 6 "shit" singers. No surprise that most of the time these performers weren't close to "sounding like" the stars…but here, the two guys imitating Simon and Garfunkel seemed to scribble down the lyrics after one listening. So "cobblestone" is "cold as stone" and "fools said I" isn't even close…and is that "sign" or "siren" they're semi-singing?

Sorry for the dull scratches, but as you can imagine, after hearing a single like this, one IS prone to start throwing things. Usually the single. Fortunately, the Connecticut Police weren't around at the time….

Cheap "SONG HITS" lame cover of SOUND O' SILENCE


I think the only song in the Broadway musical "Minnie's Boys" that in any way did justice to the Marx Brothers was a fake Groucho number called "You Remind Me Of You." It could've been sung to Thelma Todd or Margaret Dumont in one of their movies. The lines are just impudent enough for the real Groucho. Sadly, the rest of the show's numbers were instantly forgettable, except to vengeful newspaper critics.

In the early Paramount movies, it wasn't uncommon for Groucho to sing a novelty song (such as "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It"). He had his musical spot just as Harpo and Chico did. But apparently as Groucho began to dominate the group, and be the featured brother in the plot lines, it was felt that only Chico and Harpo needed a specialty number for their fans to enjoy. So at MGM, Groucho's numbers were sometimes not filmed, or left on the cutting room floor, including "I'm Dr. Hackenbush" which should've been in "A Day at the Races."

When Groucho and his brothers were rediscovered as anarchist geniuses in the late 60's and early 70's, only Groucho was still around to hear the applause. He was called back to perform one-man shows, and the Marx Brothers story was told in many books and, briefly, the ill-fated musical "Minnie's Boys." Groucho vehemently turned down the very Jewish and quite porcine Totie Fields as his mom Minnie, and ultimately approved the very busty Shelley Winters, who did look far more like Minnie than Totie did, and while Jewish, didn't "look it." It didn't matter if Winters could sing or not. At least, not to Groucho.

The script went through various changes, including a draft by David Steinberg, before Groucho's son, who had co-authored a Broadway hit called "The Impossible Years," came up with something nearly definitive. The show still needed some better jokes, but Groucho couldn't come up with anything great (he was listed in the Playbill as "Production Consultant"). Joseph Stein (of "Fiddler on the Roof") didn't seem to have a Marx Brothers rhythm to his jokes and nobody's sure if any were used. Two unknowns supplied the music and lyrics…Larry Grossman, and the unfortunately-named wordsmith Hal Hackady.

The show disappointed the critics. Clive Barnes in The New York Times wrote, "The idea of a musical on the Marx brothers before they really became the Marx brothers is splendid. What ever happened to it?" The only saving grace was the casting of Lewis J. Stadlen as Groucho. Stadlen was a natural mimic, being the son of cartoon-voice specialist and novelty singer Allen Swift (profiled elsewhere on this blog). Stadlen snagged the highlight comedy song, which helped him get the only good notices when the show premiered in March of 1970. And...14 years later...Tim Curry decided to revive it for his turn in a "Night of 100 Stars" stage event. Look out below for the link. And a note to purists, that IS Groucho's real nose, mustache, glasses and eyebrows Photoshopped onto Mr. Curry.


RITA CHAO : CHAO'D MARY (Proud Mary in Singapore)

Go-go boots, big hair, short skirts…the 60's look and sound had a lot of girls going "yeah, yeah" all over the world. Or, "yeh yeh" or "Yi Yi." While the bigger sellers were obviously from America, England, France and Italy, there were some tuneful chicks from other countries who had some success internationally.

The most endearing one coming from Asia was Rita Chao. That was the name she used on albums exported to oddball music fans around the globe. Back home in Singapore, where she performed in concert, she was better known as Ling Zhu Jun.

I discovered her, under her more famous Chinese name, when I found one of her albums in a Chinatown record store. I was delighted with her cute cover versions of American hits. A few samples were posted a few years ago on the blog. Revisiting lovely Rita, here's her take on the Tina Turner classic, "Proud Mary."

And yes, I've tried very hard to keep from adding corny ethnic jokes to this entry. So all you lacists will have to go elsewhere. Rita's singing career, as for most "yeh yeh" girls...ended when bouffants got deflated, kicky tight bell-bottoms got replaced by distressed blue jeans, and "Wooly Bully" was a nickname for a social disease.

The last I heard about her was that in the late 60's as Ling Zhu Jun, she worked in family-oriented variety shows on stage in Singapore. Like "The Ed Sullivan Show," she'd be on the bill with some dim comedy teams (or is that dim sum comedy teams?) and a few other singers. One of the favorite teams back then was Wang Sa and Yeh Fong, the Wayne & Shuster of the East. Rita/Ling didn't hang around to hit 40 and not have any Top 40 hits…she retired, whereabouts unknown.

RITA CHAO Proud Mary

Pete Fountain GOOSES "Louie Louie"

Here's Dixieland clarinet ace Pete Fountain with a literally honky version of the rockin' reggae "Louie Louie." What's not to like?

One of the main problems with the song is to figure out what the hell to sing. It's in a sort of incomprehensible dialect. Pete and the boys get around this by simply walking to the middle of the road, and crooning the song's redundant two-word title. "Just pronounce it like it's written….Looey Looey."

Pete's clarinet, over a slinky beat, gives a few torpid "ahh ooooh" honks, while the muted choir lumbers along, not sure what other lines they're supposed to sing. Pete livens things up with some staccato squeaks…and this goes on just long enough (2:10).

At the time, Fountain was still aiming his licorice stick at the waning "easy listening" record-buying crowd. His albums were either pure pop-jazz Dixie corn, or a more muted mood music assortment. The cut below is from Pete's "I've Got You Under My Skin" album, along with old swing favorites "My Blue Heaven" and "The More I See You." The mix includes hideous Broadway junk (the title track to "Mame") and movie themes ("Born Free" anyone?). "Louie Louie" and everybody's favorite Beatles track ("Yesterday") were concessions to any listener hovering at age 30. His version of "Louie Louie" is not an attempt to pour syrup on The Kingsmen; it was inspired by a slow take from The Sandpipers. Really, what other option did Pete have except to get a bit Acker Bilky? The clarinet isn't exactly a feature of many rock or country bands...and he wasn't going to be in Benny Goodman's shadow with big band jazz, or squawk into be bop jazz territory and expect his followers to stay with him.

Fortunately for Fountain, he had an audience of contemporaries who never left him (a few may have wandered away after having trouble finding the men's room). His Dixie stuff and trad jazz still had some kind of audience even into his 80's. I think he was about 82 when, last year, he turned up to massive applause at a New Orleans jazz festival, and ran through some of his classics, including "Basin Street Blues" and, of course, "When the Saints Come Marchin' In."

Just for some added twistiness, the album was recorded mostly in Nashville (sans weepy violins) by Charles "Bud" Dant, who once produced a novelty music album for rustic comedian Charlie Weaver. On that one he was was billed as Charles "Puddin' Head" Dant.

LOUIE LOUIE Pete Fountain

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Treat: Reverend Alberta Baker, THE HANDLESS ORGANIST

The jewel in most any nerd's "bizarre album cover" collection, Rev. Alberta Baker's "The Handless Organist" requires deep pockets to acquire.

The album cover is vivid (right up there with Merrill Womach), but if someone's born with a deformity or suffers a horrible accident, it's not so surprising that they'd make it a point of pride, rather than something to hide.

They cope by becoming "motivational" performers, believing that God "chose" them for a special mission in life.

This seems to include being the subject of "hipster" jokes on various record-collector blogs…you know, the whole gabba-gabba-hey mentality: "Man, doncha know, I gots me a good 'un here, cats and kitties. Look at THIS awesome cover! Cost me $80 I could've spent on a new pork pie hat, yo! Tell me, would ya rather have no hands, or no organ? Gotcha. Me too! Dig, this chick ain't gonna give ME a handjob…Peace out, brothers!" That kind of shit.

Why religious albums of this type are so amusing to "incredibly strange" record collectors, is just more proof that God works in mysterious ways...giving hard working record sellers some money siphoned from Mr. Outlaw Music Fan With No Job via his mum's purse.

So…the album cover is real kewl, but what about the music?

If you're wondering if the album is worth buying for the MUSIC and not just the cover...listen to the samples below. You've got 3 songs sung by Baker herself (she wrote two of them) and an instrumental. She's a limited but competent amateur vocalist. As to the organ, well, it seems to me that most songs in the Christian hymnal are pretty basic; they were written mindful that not every small church has somebody who can read music well or has educated fingers. Some of our greatest religious tunes ("Silent Night" among them) can be picked out by a 3rd grader on a toy piano, so someone with a bunch of knuckles could find a way of playing chords well enough.

You may recall my post (August 29, 2010) about Liu Wei, the armless pianist. He uses his remarkable feet. So the Rev. Alberta Baker's work here, on simple pieces, is not that surprising. It's still pretty inspirational, and she must have been a fascinating sight at the keyboard.

According to my research (I don't just re-write Wikipedia as most bloggers do), she also learned to play the guitar and marimba. She not only performed in her native Upstate New York, but toured the church circuit, drawing curious crowds. I'm a bit surprised she didn't parlay all this into an appearance on "You Asked For It" (which once showed a female swimmer who had no legs). I guess nobody asked.

Alberta was born in New York, December, 1927, and died May, 1998. She's buried in upstate New York (Cattaraugus County) along with her husband Meurice Baker (January, 1911-April, 1981). With some research help from some newspaper editors in that region, I was able to learn she had two sons (James and Timothy) and two daughters, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Also known as Alberta Baker-Barber, she married Floyd W. Barber in El Paso, Texas after Meurice died. He died before she did, but I don't know if they had divorced, or if she simply preferred her final resting spot to be with her first husband Meurice. Going easy on the "Floyd the Barber" jokes, the trail for that guy has gone cold. I don't know the exact date he died or where he's buried. I could probably find out, but one little problem with blogging…especially a blog that doesn't just throw every recent album and every Beach Boys discography out there with something stolen off "All Music," research not only takes time, but money. I'm not retired and this blog doesn't pay the bills. I do have a passion for researching the ill folks I post about...but I can't spend all my time on it. I wanted to get some kind of post on Reverend Baker up for Easter, so I made that the deadline. (Sorry, Floyd W. Barber...if I find out when he died and where he is, I'll revise this!)

I was able to find a 1965 ad from a Charleston, West Virginia newspaper for a 3-night appearance by the duo:

"Rev. Meurice Baker, Speaking on such subjects as "Rocketry" or "The Women Clothed With the Sun," "Flying Saucers," "Proof of the Soon Coming of the Lord," "Atomic Warfare," "Healing of the Soul." Added attraction? Yes, "Featuring Rev. Alberta Baker, "The Handless Organist." Sister Baker is living proof of GOd's Miracle working power." The 3 nights of lectures and music were held at the "House of Prayer," which was run by Rev. Joe West in South Charleston.

The album notes for Alberta's record are pretty vague and brief, but maybe she had more trouble typing than she did playing the organ:

“To begin this story of how God has blessed my life, may I say that God gets all the glory and all the credit, yes and all the praise for what He has done in my life. As I write this myself, none of this is intended as boasting or bragging, although certain facts may bear a resemblance….

  "I began my musical career at the age of five at an old fashioned pipe organ and I remember, I could reach the pumps with one foot. It wasn’t long however, when I discovered I could also play the piano. Even at an early age, I began to play special numbers at revival meetings throughout the area. Later on, when the 1930′s where changing into the 1940′s, I took a deep interest in the piano-accordian but it wasn’t until about 1953 that my interest took action and I really began to play this instrument to any extent. Finally I went to the electric organ. Also about 1954, an evangelist from Florida dubbed me “The Handless Pianist” which has since been changed to the “HANDLESS ORGANIST”!

  Again, may I say that God must be glorified in this, for it is he who has given me the ability that I have."

 REV. BAKER I'm Longing For Jesus/Turn Your Radio On

REV. BAKER Miracles Still Happen Today- What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Turn On to Jesus is Coming - City Boy and Andy Pratt

On casual listen, the lyrics for "Turn On to Jesus" by City Boy are oddly ungodly. On the wrong side of the border, a city boy finds a house full of "ladies of the night." But what thrills are they into? One of them cries out, "HEY MAN! Turn on to JESUS!"

The inspiration? Lol Mason and Steve Broughton, the band's lead vocalists, were touring America and got stuck right in the middle of the country. Broughton:

"Lol and I spent time in a dry area of Kansas. There’s no bars, the only place you can get a drink is one of these ‘religious’ clubs, with topless waitresses with dollar bills stuffed in their G-strings, and out of the jukebox is blaring this ‘Jesus is the Saviour’-music. It was bizarre – I mean, that kind of thing just doesn’t happen in Birmingham."

Birmingham, England, not Alabama.

"Turn On to Jesus" was offed by the band's record label, over worries that the song could be interpreted as profane. New lyrics were written. The result was "5-7-0-5," the band's only hit single. God moves in mysterious ways.

In another twist, the lead vocal was not from Lol or Steve, but Roy Ward, who had been brought in by the band's producer Mutt Lange (yes, of later Shania Twain infamy) who wanted a better drummer and perhaps a new sound as well, since the band's harmonizing had been accused of sounding too much like 10CC or Queen.

In the spirit of Christian charity, you can also get an American Jesus song via the download links below.

It's a very strange number from the very strange Andy Pratt. This sensitive soul had a surprise hit with a falsetto sex-change on a Woody Guthrie melody about Pretty Boy Floyd. The song became "Avenging Annie," about a feminist who fucks with guys in apparently every way possible. In the original uncensored version (which was on one side of a Columbia promo featuring Springsteen and "Blinded by the Light" on the other):

"I spend my whole life telling lies, lead you on and fuck you over good. I'll take all you spoiled young hippies running around playing games...I'll blow your head. I'll put you through a change. What you've done to others — I'll do unto you!"

However...after finishing with her work: "I might go back to my Floyd, if I think it's the thing to do. He gave up murder and theft right after I left, and you know I still love him too. Just like your woman loves you. Just like your woman loves you."

That last line is repeated often enough to provoke some uncomfortable paranoia. Is your woman true to you? Or is she just fucking with you like Avenging Annie?

That element of the optimistic and the ominous is very strong in "Jesus is Coming." It's one of the few songs I can think of that is both inspiring and creepy; "Jesus is coming" is sung as both a comfort and a threat. At least, that's my take, and I'm sure I'm wrong. Pratt's catalog is loaded with Jesus references and I doubt any of them are intended as anything but pure tribute. Still, this is one odd minor-key tribute. Closer...and closer...JESUS IS COMING...



Easter with SMILIN' ED MCCONNELL (not Froggy the Gremlin)

When you're lost in the rain, or just stuck in a frog pond, and it's Easter time, too...

You might need to get out your Smilin' Ed McConnell hymn book and pray...

OR...now you can just flip around on your handheld device, and draw some comfort in a pair of tunes from the old smiler, courtesy of the download below.

Religion, like a rifle, can be very useful. Too bad that religion, like a rifle, can be abused, specially by fanatics shooting their mouths off about who is a heathen and who should be blown up in a holy war. But...at this time of year, let's be optimistic and hope that soothing traditions and words of peace don't get as stale as your marshmallow peeps do within a week.

Yeah, brothers and sisters...I believe. I believe! "I Believe" the song as sung by Frankie Laine is damn - er, DARN good. I believe that Turley Richards' "I Heard the Voice of Jesus," is one of the greatest vocal performances of all time. I believe that there is great comfort to be found in hearing "Kol Nidre" or "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." I believe that even a non-believer can find courage, strength or inspiration from religious music. Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Johnny Cash, have written or sung some grand songs that reference God, the Bible, Mother Mary and churches as a place of sanctuary and good will.

Smilin' Ed McConnell…like sinner/singer Johnny Cash, was a guy with two very odd sides to his personality. He wrote and sang gospel music, but his enduring creation is "Froggy the Gremlin," a cheerful little devil. Froggy, precursor to Topo Gigio as a bizarrely manipulated puppet, mocked any figure in authority, and he specialized in hypnotic suggestion. He probably would've enjoyed waterboarding, he would he would. He was always influencing adults to do stupid things against their will, and end up throwing childish tantrums in front of him. This was a pretty bizarre concept for kids to follow on radio and TV. (When the Smiler passed on, Andy Devine took over the TV show as host).

Froggy grinned and destroyed all instructors and teachers, and literally drove them to tears. Guest: "To bake a cake, you first take the flour…" Froggy: "And dump it on your head." Guest: "And dump it on your head, like so…NO! NO! Look what you made me do!" A 30 second little sample on You Tube: Gremlin kinescope link . The Smiler and his weird rubber gremlin remain cult heroes to this day, and an entire graphic novel was written about them: "The Search for Smilin' Ed" by underground comics legend Kim Deitch. Kim discusses Ed and Froggy and his new book. YouTube link.

Smilin' Ed made a few 78's, some were novelties with Froggy the Gremlin, or pleasant kiddie fodder, and an early one had him in black dialect as a comical preacher. Some of his recordings were religious. McConnell hosted many religious programs on radio, some local some syndicated. One was called "Hymn Time." For a while he had a five minute series sponsored by Aladdin (a company that, yes, made lamps). The format was: a commercial, a non-sectarian song, and a closing hymn. That's what you get below, sans commercials. Ed sings "Wishing Will Make it So," and then his own composition loaded with Bible references, which may have been called "A Radio Station in Heaven" or "My Mother's Prayer." He doesn't seem to have recorded it for any label, and it's not in McConnell's "New Radio Hymn Book," (I don't have the original 1933 "Radio Hymn Book" - it might be in that one)

Call it an Easter offering. Or, pass over it….


Wednesday, April 09, 2014



Legend has it that Johnny Russell's "Obscene Phone Call" single got stalled just inside the Top 100 because…a lot of radio station managers found it obscene. Sad…because while this IS a very creepy single, it does have a typical twist C&W ending. But how many disc jockeys would dare play it, with people turning off their radios and making angry phone calls after the first minute?

In a way, the fate of "The Obscene Phone Call" was typical of Johnny Russell's career...his best stuff either didn't chart, or became a hit for somebody else. Or...he was handed a song that he thought had hit potential...and somebody else's cover became the chartbuster.

Mississippi-born, California-bred John Russell (perhaps "Johnny" was a way to avoid any confusion with "The Lawman" actor John Russell) had his first taste of success in 1960. Only 20 years old (January 23, 1940 – July 3, 2001) his song "In a Mansion Stands My Love" was the B-side to Jim Reeves country smash, "He'll Have to Go." A few years later, and a Russell song did go to the top of the charts: "Act Naturally." Some know it via Ringo (1965) others via Buck (1963). Russell's song "Let's Fall to Pieces Together" was a hit for George Strait.

On his own as a singer, Johnny Russell, like most everyone it seems, was signed to RCA by the legendary Chet Atkins. But Chet couldn't make him a star, not with "Mr. and Mrs. Untrue" or "What a Price," although both received some good radio play. Johnny eventually had a few Top 20 singles: Catfish John" (1972), "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer" (1973), and "Hello I Love You" (1975). He made the Top 30 in 1978 via "You'll Be Back (Every Night In My Dreams)." That song was more of a hit via the Statler Brothers. In 1980, he was the first to record "He Stopped Loving Her Today," but it was the revised version, sung by the great George Jones, that became one of the all-time classics.

To some inane drones, "did not chart" means failure. Not so. The rotund Mr. Russell had loyal fans who bought his albums, and record labels that saw his potential and kept him on even if a single "did not chart." Aside from selling thousands and thousands of records, Russell was a great favorite in live concert, and was a regular at the Grand Ole Opry. He dabbled in comedy and teamed with Little David Wilkins in 1987 for the single "Butterbeans." The old-timer often worked as an MC at the Opry. One of his favorite gigs was an annual performance at the MS Delta Community College Coliseum, in Moorhead, Mississippi. He played there from 1987 to an unlucky 13th performance in 2000.

By that time, the hefty performer's health had deteriorated thanks to his diet of artery-clogging food, and a benefit concert had to be held for him, headlined by Garth Brooks and Vince Gill. The following year, Russell's legs were amputated due to diabetes. He died less than four months after the operation. As obscene as Southern cooking can be, and it's been lethal to many besides Johnny Russell…he lives on in his recorded legacy, and even in this "obscene" but memorable novelty tune…

Johnny Russell Obscene Phone Call

- - -


In the 50's the biggest slab of record buyers were affluent middle-of-the-roaders who bought "easy listening" Mantovani and Gleason albums. Some were stereophiles, some were bored…so Les Baxter, Esquivel and "stereo demonstration" albums began doing well. Melachrino offered albums to play for "relaxation," "reading" and "dining." Mood music for "romance" was plentiful, including sexy album covers and some with overt titles, including "How to Make Love to a Blonde." Unfortunately, that one was nothing but bland music.

The opposite of bland was what I call "uneasy listening" albums…with corny music played on unusual instruments (Spike Jones, obviously, but also discs by Don Elliot and Jack Fascinato) and "off key" items from Morris Garner (not Errol; deliberately bad piano playing) or Edward and Darlene Edwards (not Paul Weston and Jo Stafford; deliberately bad singing).

In that genre was the minor fad for anti-mood music with titles including "How to Break a Lease." As if Spike Jones wasn't good enough? This novelty album was a surprise hit. The perps, Sid Feller and Don Costa, didn't even put their names on the thing…except way down in small print in the bottom corner of the back sleeve. You can imagine record store owners happily putting the album in the window, with its zany cover and promise of hi-fi hi-jinks. The sequel, "How to Break a Sub-Lease," had the credit "Don Costa's Free Loaders" proudly and prominently on the front and back cover.

So…how lousy is the music here? Very. Both albums (and "More Music to Break a Lease") are collections of shitty 1920's music, sung by a bunch of middle-aged jackasses. The "Sub Lease" album ups the ante a bit by having an undercurrent of party noises in the background. That's how to break a lease: the neighbors begin complaining that YOU are having swingin' parties every night. Haw haw.

Among the many competing albums: "Music to Break Any Mood," which LOOKS like it might be a clever satire of mood music albums in general (the same way Irving Taylor's albums satirized pop music of the day). But…no, not really. The point of most of this was to fool an idiot into paying $4.98 on cover alone. No chance to audition the record first, and no returns accepted.

"Music to Break Any Mood" had the potential to at least be a decent rival to some of those "persuasive percussion" albums…ones featuring a lot of vibraphones, woodblocks, timpani and a maraca or two (at least two). No such luck. As you'll hear, it's just your generic middle-of-the-road stuff. Why don't we do it in the middle-of-the-road? Because it stinks like a dead skunk.

The downloads are just to confirm what you already suspected…that when you buy an album based on the cover alone, you might as well put a hole in the middle of the cover and play the cardboard.

Hail Hail - Roll Out the Barrel Breaking a Lease

Margie - Who's Sorry Now Breaking a Sub Lease

Breaking Your Mood with South Rampart Street Parade/Walkin' My Baby Back Home Breaking Your Mood

John Lennon, the Top 40 and (R.I.P.) EDDIE LAWRENCE


The headline hints of two fairly obscure facts about Eddie Lawrence; he had a Top 40 single "The Old Philosopher," and he voiced the radio commercial for "Pussy Cats," the Harry Nilsson album produced by John Lennon. The radio spot had Eddie in his familiar persona as the wheedling and then bombastic pitchman:

“Hiya, Pussycat,. You say you opened up a bicycle wash and the first six customers drowned? And they picked you up in the wax museum for trying to score with Marie Antoinette? Is that what’s got you down, Pussycat? Well, RISE UP! Get yourself Harry Nilsson’s new album, ‘Pussy Cats,’ produced by John Lennon…."

I interviewed Eddie, and visited him informally several more times. He was a kindly, gentle man. But…as with most comedians, he wasn't exactly fond of the human race; he was a realist. His most famous character, "The Old Philosopher," is a cartoonish but cynical satire of life's miseries and the blind optimism in dealing with it all. Had he chosen to use an evangelist's voice…a Bishop Sheen or Norman Vincent Peale…Eddie could've been classed as another Lenny Bruce. But he would've also been banned from the airwaves! Instead, his Jeckyl and Hyde comedy had him morph from wan sad sack to a manic "motivational speaker" shouting insane pep talks ending with a platitude: "never give up…the ship!"

Born Lawrence Eisler, his first love was painting, and that was the name he used on his canvases, which showed the influence of his esteemed teacher, Fernand Leger. I remember a party at his studio that was a very strange mix of art-types and show biz bananas including veteran comic actors Jack Weston and Lou Jacobi. The walls were covered with his paintings, and as great as the guests were...those images kept me veering away from the celebs and studying the oils.

Wisely realizing that a painting career might have the "starving artist" affect, Eddie worked in vaudeville and on radio. He had a subtle, cerebral style, but also enjoyed offbeat and off-the-wall comedy…and recalled with fondness his days as part of the comedy team "Lawrence and Marley," who were compared to Bob and Ray. John Marley went on to a straight film career, often in menacing, gangster roles. You remember him in "The Godfather," sharing a bed with a horse's head.

It was in 1956 that Eddie's novelty recording "The Old Philosopher" hit the Top 40. It was such a hit, there was even a cover version by Peter Marshall, straight man in the comedy team of Noonan and Marshall. (OK, you know him better as "master of the Hollywood Squares.") Eddie recorded dozens of "Philosopher" routines, but his albums also included other types of audio sketches, using many voices, which were sort of audio versions of Mad Magazine or "Firesign Theater" before there was such a thing.

Eddie "The Old Philosopher" turned up on Steve Allen's show, Carson's "Tonight Show," and many other programs. The gimmick of a sad-sack with a Jolson-esque quaver, and sad strains of "Beautiful Dreamer" playing…seguing into insane march music and violently enthusiastic hyperbole…seemed to fascinate Madison Avenue types. Eddie had a very lucrative career using his Philosopher persona to sell all kinds of products, from huckstering folks into visiting the Claridge Hotel/Casino to promoting the Des Moines Rug Cleaning company. While all this was going on, the Renaissance Philosopher was also painting, writing, and acting on stage. His best known Broadway acting was in "Bells are Ringing." In 1965, he left local New York TV station WPIX (where he was hosting Three Stooges shorts) to write the lyrics for a Broadway show called "Kelly." The show was not, obviously, a hit, but one song from it, "I'll Never Go There Anymore," was covered by a lot of singers. Stephen Sondheim considered it so good, it was on his list of songs he wished he'd written.

The last time I saw Eddie, which was about two year ago, he was looking good (more like 73 than 93, and he even did one of his "Old Philosopher" bits for the gathered guests. He was of course in the company of his radiant wife, who has a wonderful Greer Garson-type British accent that you could listen to all day. Below, the original "The Old Philosopher." I'll save Peter Marshall's version for another day. Or month. As Eddie once told me, its origin was when he and another actor began griping about bad breaks…how everything went wrong…and both ended up laughing. It's the little things in life that can drive you to the brink…the broken shoelace, the cut while shaving…little exasperations that sap your will to live. Add to that, bizarre Eddie-twists of hip imagery and edgy oddness. All you can do when confronted by hum drum or utterly insane problems is fight back with equal insanity, like a raging cry of "never give up….THAT SHIP!"

Also, you'll be downloading a cut from "The Jazzy Old Philosopher" a CD he made in the late 80's. The cut is "Stay Away," and it's a list of "People to Avoid." It's an example of hipster misanthropy, with some lines wacko and others just angry, some of it you might find resembling Ken Nordine or George Carlin. It wobbles along (with a bass line behind it) listing irksome idiots. Avoid "anyone who'd powder his sideburns to get a senior citizen discount…anyone who'd order a fox sandwich…anyone who'd frame a Christmas card from a bank…guys from the midwest who say "Who's by you?" There were two "Stay Away" sequels on the CD, and there could've been a dozen more…but he had to include plenty of jazz variations on "The Old Philosopher." And other bizarre items.

It's not too difficult to find much in life that's dismal, or to find that one's fellow man is one irritating bastard…the trick, which Eddie knew, was how to make it funny. Eddie Lawrence (March 2, 1919-March 25, 2014).


THE OLD PHILOSOPHER A List of People... to STAY AWAY from