Since last month, the grim reaper (as opposed to Kanye, the Grim Rapper) cut down a variety of celebrities. A little over a month ago, one of the victims was the poet, singer-songwriter and weird creator of novelty songs, Rod McKuen.
Obviously, it's his latter, neglected oevre that interests this blog. While a lot has been written about Rod McKuen (April 29, 1933 – January 29, 2015), much of it snarky, he was pretty hip in the novelty category for a while. So when Diane Keaton mewls "McKuen!" in Woody Allen's "Sleeper," let's think she meant "The Mummy," and not his greeting card poetry.
"The Mummy" credited to "Bob McFadden and Dor" was such a novelty hit, there was even a quickie copycat cover (by "Bubi & Bob") trying to snag away some sales. Not quite in the same league with "Monster Mash" or even "Purple People Eater," McKuen did create a cute, cartoonish single. McFadden (who supplied narration for a horror theme song album produced by Dick Jacobs, and would later voice Richard Nixon for a novelty album) was the nerdish mummy. Like Casper the Friendly Ghost, this spook didn't mean to frighten people. But did. The punchline comes via his encounter with a beatnik (Rod, alias Dor).
At the time, McKuen was doing hip readings in the same venues as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. As a folk singer (another huge fad at the time) the poet was making tentative steps toward a music career. Weirdly enough, his biggest success at the time was with novelty numbers, including the lesser known "Oliver Twist." "The Mummy" sparked the need and greed for a quickie album, featuring more horror comedy. The liner notes explained who Bob McFadden was, but there was only a nominal mention that Rod McKuen was Dor. After all, who was McKuen? Dor was barely a sidekick or secondary voice on a few tracks.
The McFadden and Dor album did include "Son of the Mummy," and other facile horror-comedy tracks, including "I Dig You Baby," with McFadden doing Karloff as a vampire, narrating a poetry-in-jazz number. The track includes the monster "in a jar" joke, which Spike Jones also used in a Paul Frees Frankenstein narration on his "In Stereo" album.
A more generic item, Rod's "Beverly Hills Phone Directory," gets its yocks by simply naming obscure performers. It might be the origin of the cruel "Sonny TUFTS?" line. In the goofy "Noisy Village" McKuen replicates odd and menacing noises in a sound cartoon mocking Martin Denny's exotica hit, "Quiet Village." "The Beat Generation" explored, and put down the more pretentious qualities of that era's hipsters. You get that one below, in stereo. It's one of the four tracks (including "The Mummy") actually written by McKuen alone.
Happily for Rod, he soon won infamy and fortune for his mainstream poetry books, and by buttering American lyrics onto some Jacques Brel tunes, notably "Seasons in the Sun." Rod's particular brand of bathos even impressed the "Chairman of the Broads," Frank Sinatra, who ended up doing an entire album of McKuen. Koo-koo, baby. Rod was savvy enough to own his own record label, Stanyon. The name was based on a street in Rod's beloved San Francisco.
The oddest thing about Stanyon was that it licensed a Kenneth Williams "Rambling Syd Rumpo" record for American release. Almost nobody in America had any idea who "Rambling Syd Rumpo" was, and barely knew or cared that Williams was the effeminate guy in "Carry On" film comedies. Call it a gay favor, or Rod never losing his oddball novelty interest. It was probably the least successful Stanyon release.
And so we say goodbye to the corporeal Rod McKuen, but, "listen to the warm," and you just might absorb some molecules that could be him, ladies and gays. Among the spiritually gooned, he's immortal for a few novelty 45's and for bringing the Marty Feldman-penned "Rumpo" songs (many originally done by Williams for radio's "Around the Horne" show) for Americans to ignore. Your download is below, and don't let Dor kick you in the ass on your way to it.
Bob McFadden and Dor Beat Generation