Archive for the 'Novelty Record' Category

19
Apr
19

Allan Sherman “My Son, the Folk Singer”

I never heard of Allan Sherman before playing this 1962 record, but apparently he went through a period of widespread success and popularity, which is why this record exists and I was able to pick up a copy for nothing. According to the internet, his popularity declined after the JFK assassination 1963—is that true? Did the masses lose their taste for frivolous humor after that time, and if so, does that partly explain why I grew up only occasionally cracking a smile—I wonder. Anyway this is essentially a comedy record comprised of goofy folk songs with lyrics that are sometimes pretty obvious and sometimes rather obscure. Kind of typical of me, I find myself annoyed by the stuff I understand, and intrigued by the stuff I don’t. I supposed if I understood the stuff I don’t understand I’d be annoyed by that too. The overall tone is that kind of humor that says “this is humor”—but I actually really like the singing style of Allan Sherman, I guess because he sounds like an urban Jewish guy to me, like the kind of co-worker who cracks you up daily. Let’s see, where is he from? Chicago, moved around a lot. I guess a lot of these songs are parodies, where you have to know the thing it’s parodying to make sense—but again, I’m wondering if I personally like stuff that doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, it’s a live album, and the audience is finding it all hilarious—from the individual, tittering laugh, to bursts of uncontrolled laughter, to the full on roar. For me it’s pretty much torture to hear people laugh like that. Now that I think of it, I don’t much care for live recordings, in general, but live comedy is the worst. I mean, if you’re there, then it’s live, and when it’s a recording of something live, it’s not live anymore, is it—it’s just annoying. I don’t like recordings of live “specials” either, or podcasts that are recorded in front of a live audience—I can’t listen to them. The audience on this album is recorded really loudly, too, it’s just unbearable—I mean, just torture me, okay? The cover, though, is great—well, not that great, but there is a woman in a black dress holding a dead chicken, and a bagel lying on the floor, it’s goofy, and, yeah, it’s almost a good album cover.

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06
Apr
19

Julie London “Calendar Girl”

This is one of the best theme records of 1956, if not ever, as each song represents a month of the year. Naturally, some months have more than one song written about them, while others needed an obscure song dug up, or a new one composed for this record, I’m guessing—so a lot of work had to be done and hard decisions had to be made. Like, it starts out with “June in January”—representing the first month of the year. The other aspect of this theme thing is that the album cover, both the front and back, are each decorated with six calendar style pinup photos of Julie London in skimpy costumes. Older people reading this might have an indelible image of Julie London in a nurse’s uniform, from the TV show, Emergency! in which she convincingly played a nurse, and about which I have no nostalgia. Her husband, Bobby Troup, played a doctor, but in real life he wrote “Route 66” as well as some of the songs on this album.

The best way to approach this record, then, is song by song, with visual accompaniment of the cheesecake photos—and to make matters richer, there are liner notes by Richard Breen (screenwriter of Tony Rome 1967), a man who needs no introduction, as I’m not going to paraphrase any, busy as I am writing my own. “June in January” is a song I’m well-acquainted with, and JL’s calendar photo is with balloons and a noisemaker, presumably after hours of the New Year’s party. February is a valentine, naturally, a big heart and a bear-skin rug, but a sad song, “February Brings the Rain.” “Melancholy March” is another sad one, the bear rug again, a see-through nightie, a feather duster, and green telephone (reminding me of how sad it is that cell phones will never be cool or beautiful objects). “I’ll Remember April” (especially this one) and she’s donning a polka-dot bikini and a parasol. “People Who are Born in May” is a goofy song that I’m not going to try to make sense of. JL is wearing a gingham bikini and is posing with basket of flowers. “Memphis in June” has some really nice imagery, and the pic is of her wearing a wedding dress, but one that wouldn’t be appropriate at a first wedding, a church wedding, or really any wedding, outside of the Playboy Mansion.

Side Two: “Sleigh Ride in July” is a nice compliment to the first song on the record, and the Preston Sturges movie, maybe, but it’s a weird song—the expression “I’ll take you on a sleigh ride in July” sounds at best too aggressive, and possibly felonious. In the picture she’s holding a firecracker big enough to destroy a house. Also, what this reminds me of is when, in grade school, I mixed up the spelling of the month of July and the name Julie (who I had a crush on), and I never got over being mortified. “Time for August” is a sultry song, and the pic is JL in a very small bikini sitting on some tangled fish nets, holding some kind of a large ball which I have no idea what that is! “September in the Rain” is about springtime, which for some reason feels like September? Another fishing theme, and this time she looks like Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. “This October” is another Bobby Troup song, and she’s wearing probably the most sexy Devil Halloween costume ever attempted, and of course there’s a pumpkin. “November Twilight” is a beautiful, melancholy song, and JL is wearing tasteful black lingerie and sitting on satin draped over something, maybe a large compost bin? Finally, she’s a scantily dressed Santa Claus with wrapped presents, and tells us that she’ll keep us warm in “Warm December.” Wait, but there’s one more, “The Thirteenth Month,” the “month of remember”—a very sad tune—perhaps she’s a ghost—but the picture—(this one full-size, on the inside as the cover opens, facing the liner notes) is flesh and blood—but especially flesh, as there is no costume to speak of, this time, just some tastefully draped ermine.

25
Feb
19

Alec Templeton “Alec Templeton and his Music Boxes”

“If I were king, it would be a must that everybody have a hobby…” starts Alec Templeton’s intro, the first track of this record. And I agree, though I’d add, “but drinking and looking at pornography don’t count.” He then goes on to talk about his love for, and obsession with, collecting music boxes. I kind of like this thing of the first track being a spoken intro—kind of like an audio version of liner notes. Though you might get powerful tired of it if it’s a record you have “on repeat” (as the kids say). Though, maybe there is little danger of that here, as the remainder of this record consists of recordings of various music boxes—there are 45 tunes from 24 different ones, some of them quite grand, of course, and large, elaborate, ornate, and expensive. They all sound like music boxes. There are a few faded black and white photos of some of the boxes, but they don’t really do them justice. And some informative (written) liner notes that start out: “For the next 44 minutes, Mr. Templeton would like to take you away from the cares and tensions of today and transport you back to the gay, quiet era of not so long ago—the era of the music box…” There’s a signpost up ahead!

I could imagine (actually, I couldn’t) having a roommate who, this was his favorite record, and played it every day right after dinner. I’m afraid you’d have to kill him. I mean, this is an enjoyable record to listen to once or twice. I guess you could try to see how many tunes you can name. I have to say, that song, “A Bicycle Built for Two,” has just been forever altered for me after hearing HAL sing it while perishing in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (Kubrick did that to a lot of music, actually—thanks, Stanley!) Talking about movies, if you are a filmmaker, this record might work really well into your resources—there could very likely be some scene in anyone’s movie where one of these music box songs is just the thing. The sound, the feeling of them, is far from neutral. I wonder why it is that we associate this music box music with some kind of ironic vision of the underlying tragedy inherent in our existence? Is it something leftover from past lives? Or just from other movies?

24
Feb
19

Kay Starr “Rockin’ Chair / Stroll Me”

Kay Starr (no relation to Ringo—he was a Starkey and she was a Starks) was, according to Internet, born in Oklahoma, part Native American, and used to serenade the family’s chickens in their coops, which led to recording some 200 plus records, mostly in the Fifties and Sixties, but spanning half a century. I was familiar with her, have a song here and there on cassette, but I never heard these two songs on this 1958 single, which was in my box of random 45s. It’s in that category of early rock’n’roll, I guess, when pop orchestras were trying to cash in—at least that’s my impression—with shrill horns (“Rockin’ Chair”) and kind of bizarre electric guitar (“Stroll Me”) and hip lyrics about the radio, dancing, the sock hop, etc. “Rockin’ Chair” is about “Gramps” not being a square, diggin’ the new music, and is hopelessly corny. Though there could be hidden meaning—I mean, there has to be right? But I can’t listen again. “Stroll Me” is more interesting because of the guitar, and the weird way it sounds like someone keeps manually slowing down the record. Also, it’s supposedly about a dance, but everyone knows it’s about fucking. In a way, I can’t figure out if I’d rather hear people use these really obvious metaphors or just come out and say it straight—I guess there’s good and bad either way, right? The other interesting thing is that the orchestra is Hugo Winterhalter’s, who was probably quite prominent, but who I’ve never made a note of until now. I love that name, Winterhalter—I’ve never heard that one before—and I bet it’s especially poignant to people on a day like this when the temperature is going to drop 30 degrees and the wind is going to make everyone act like they’re back in the days of hopelessly insufficient overcoats.

07
Feb
19

Easy Williams “Easy Does It”

I never heard of “Easy Williams” but I saw this record in a thrift store and no way I was not going to buy it, based on the cover alone, which is a highly arranged portrait, set up in a studio, I guess (there’s no background). A woman (we’ll presume Easy Williams) is stretched out on her stomach on couch pillows, and just behind her, a young boy wearing what looks like a jockey uniform is fanning her with a huge fan made out of some kind of giant bird feathers. The whole setup is a reference to something, I guess, but I don’t know it, so I’m not getting it, I suppose. It’s possible it could all be highly offensive. But at face value, it’s just plain weird. And on the other hand, not really weird at all. She’s taking it easy, and a servant of some kind is fanning her. My favorite thing, though, are all the details in the set-up. The cushions she’s lying on are yellow, red, and blue—cleverly, the same colors as the letters on the “Dot” record label (one of my favorite labels)—though the blue might be green—but there is a blue one, too—these random, brightly colored cushions. She’s dressed casually, jeans, no shoes, though her jewelry might weigh several pounds. She’s sipping some champagne and looking off somewhere to the left. Theres’s also a bowl of fruit, and a lit cigarette in a long, long holder, resting across an opened box of chocolates. The red pillow is actually more of a queasy orange (unless the cover is faded) which matches pretty much the shimmering, satiny pants of the boy with the fan. Now that I look more closely, maybe it isn’t a boy after all, but perhaps a “little person”—possibly of some difficult to determine ethnicity. Maybe it is offensive, after all, but I’m sure it’s all in good fun. Though we’ve heard that before.

The record sounds a lot like you’d expect from the cover—12 vocal numbers with minimal jazz arrangements, some with guitar and vibes and flute. I know some of the songs, like the first one, “Easy Street,” which sounds like Julie London’s version, but even more sultry. “Mean To Me” is another of my favorites. “Easy Come, Easy Go” is also a killer, here, as well as “A Woman Needs So Little.” They’re all good—I prefer the slowest and the quietest ones. Her voice is great—they didn’t really need to drown you in reverb, but I guess that’s part of the “Easy Does It” feeling they’re going for. Looking quickly on the internet I don’t see anything about Easy Williams, so I’ll have to go with what’s here. The brief liner notes mention that it’s her debut. Where she went from here, I have no idea. It occurs to me that maybe there is no “Easy Williams”—I mean, there’s a fine singer here, singing, but not credited, and of another name. After all, would a woman in 1957 call herself “Easy” Williams? It’d be like, if you were a guy, going by something like “Martin Everhard.” Maybe this is one of those records made to exploit the young people with hi-fi lifestyles, like those mood music, “Music for…” records—(you know, “Music for Dining,” “Music for Cleaning,” etc.) I could see this going on the turntable at make-out time—just maybe keep that album cover hidden! Still, I want to believe there’s an Easy Williams out there somewhere—maybe someone will let me know.

06
Feb
19

The Jonah Jones Quartet “Swingin’ at the Cinema”

This is a thrift store record if ever there was one—well, actually, I don’t see it as often as “Jumpin’ with Jonah” (from the same year)—but this must have been next to a few hi-fis in the late 50s and early 60s. This particular copy is in really good shape considering it’s over 60 years old—how do these things survive? Jonah Jones plays trumpet, and he put out a lot of records of popular songs for wide audiences. The theme here is songs that were featured in or made popular by particular movies—though I couldn’t tell you, for sure, looking at the list of 12 songs, which movies. I could look it up, but I’m not going to. The liner notes on back are anonymously written, and in two paragraphs use a variation of the word “swing” about nine times. It also describes the record as “perky”—and Jonah as the “jaunty man at the helm.” That’s a pretty fitting description of the musical approach here, and anyone who knows me is aware that “jaunty” is a word I like to use to describe things I find jaunty—and it’s not for me. Perky is worse, but I don’t even use that word. If that’s your preference, I think no less of you. My favorite two songs are the two that Jonah Jones sings on—maybe he’s not a great singer, but that’s where perkiness has its charm. The cover is a pretty great full color photo of two jaunty women in a beautiful movie theater lobby sharing a seemingly candid laugh. One is holding a box of popcorn. I thought of that movie theater scene, with Micky Rourke, in the movie, Diner (1982), then felt ashamed of myself.

25
Jan
18

Lard “The Last Temptation of Reid”

After listening to The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, when I looked for the next record and came across this one I knew I had to check it out because the cover is also a drawing of a young woman vs. a robot—though, actually, the robot might be a standard steam shovel, but very sinister—not like the one in the Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel children’s book. The woman looks like she’s based on some kind of iconic 1950s image I should know, blond and wearing a nurses outfit—and she’s holding a baby in a pink blanket. On the back there’s a guy I don’t recognize—he’s got a scraggly beard and sunglasses—standing behind a table containing what looks like zines, possibly, or paste-up, news headline heavy collage art. This record is from 1990, which still feels like yesterday to me, but to most of you probably sounds like a previous century. It’s on Alternative Tentacles, a punk label from the 1980s, that, if I remember correctly, was the home of the Dead Kennedys—interesting because the singer sounds just like Jello Biafra—though the music doesn’t sound all that much like them. Finally, looking at the band lineup, I see the singer is named Jello Biafra (how many could there be?) So, it seems I’ve gone 27 years without ever hearing about Jello’s other band.

They’re pretty good, too, well, not really my cup of tea these days, but I still appreciate it. I’ll leave you to look up the other band members (though one called Alien Jourgensen has got my attention, because I recall a friend of mine having a cat named Al, named after a musician called Al Jourgensen, who is in a band I’m not familiar with). Leave it to cats to help me connect the dots, anyway! (Did I mention I’m cat-sitting here at the cabin?) I’ll also leave you to look up the fate of this band, Lard, and whether there is lard in your favorite refried beans, rendering them not vegetarian, albeit delicious. I’ll also leave you to look up who this “Reid” is, as a seasonal snowstorm has knocked out the internet (thankfully not the electricity or heat)! I’m going to make a wild guess that it’s about singer Terry Reid (and not basketball player J.R. Reid) who famously was asked to be the singer of Led Zeppelin, before Robert Plant, but turned down the gig, saying, I think that band will go over like a “Led Zeppelin.” Don’t quote me on that before I can do proper research—I might have that all wrong. What it all means, I have no idea.

Let me add, if you’re a Dead Kennedys fan and somehow don’t have this record, you might want to check it out. The last song I know well, it’s “They’re Coming to Take Me Away”—though I don’t know who it was by, though I’m thinking it could have been Kim Fowley (at least I’m pretty sure he recorded it). It’s credited to a N. Bonaparte, though that’s highly unlikely, as I believe he was French, and lived before the term “funny farm” was in common use. This was a song I heard constantly growing up, because it was one of those novelty records played by late night movie hosts in their comic bits between commercials. Though why anyone would want to cover this song, God knows.




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