Friday, 12 January 2018

The (Almost) Complete Ellen Marty

Updated and, dare I say, authoritative: the Ellen Marty Story! Some of you will already know the bare bones of this (especially if you've read my first book), but read on anyway... it's worth it!

 One of the most wonderful things about immersing oneself in obscure and odd recordings is that occasionally you’ll rediscover an artist who has been criminally ignored - one whose genius seriously deserves reappraisal. That’s certainly true of the wonderful Ellen Marty, composer and chanteuse who released a series of what can only be described as eccentric 45s in the 1960s and 70s. There’s something wonderfully engaging about Ellen Marty, from her charming, almost naïve voice through to her unusual material and occasional odd choice of rhyming couplet.

Of Scandinavian descent, Ellen Marty's given name was Mary Ellen Mart. She was born in Centerville, South Dakota in 1935, the daughter of local electrical store owners Fred and Lenora Mart (nee Amundson). Fred had established his store, Mart’s Radio and Electrical, in 1928 and the couple married three years later. They named their firstborn after Fred’s sister, a nun: yes, Fred’s sister was Sister Mary Ellen Mart.

Educated at Centerville High School and the University of South Dakota, by 1960 Mary Ellen was in New York studying drama. After winning several acting awards while still in High School, the young Mary Ellen had grand plans to become an actress, and after moving to New York she appeared in at least two movies, Spring Affair in 1960 and House of Women in 1962. Her sojourn in New York didn’t last long, and by 1962 she was living in Hollywood.

Mary Ellen started writing songs at an early age, copyrighting her first five compositions in 1957. Upon moving to Hollywood and discovering how hard it was going to be to make it as an actress she started hawking her songs around various record companies, eventually coming to the attention of Joe Leahy. ‘I was pedalling my music around Hollywood and ran in to Joe’s office,’ she explains. ‘He was kind enough to listen to my tapes.’ A bandleader who was also a talented arranger, writer and producer, Leahy began his recording career in the late 40s and, in set up the Unique Records label in 1955 where he discovered the 14 year-old Canadian singer Priscilla Wright and had a sizeable hit with her debut waxing The Man in the Raincoat. Within a year TV, film and radio company RKO had purchased a 25 percent stake in the company, changing the name of the company to RKO/Unique; under that name the company that would issue Leona Anderson’s collection Music to Suffer By

Leahy left Unique in April 1957 after selling the rest of his shares to RKO and, taking over the old Unique studio on New York’s Broadway, he established a new company, National, with several ex-Unique staffers. Before long he had moved to Felstead and then, in September 1959, to Dot - home, of course, of the doyenne of bad records Pat Boone, although as collector Bengt Wahlstrom says 'I have never actually seen any proof of his connection to Dot other than a rumour in Billboard when he
broke up from Felsted. Instead of Dot he got work, thanks to his friend Le Roy Holmes, at Everest and produced at least four albums: two with Walter Brennan, one with actress Ann Blyth and a fourth
with a faked girl group the Bel-Aire Girls, all in 1960.' Bengt is right; even if Joe did sign to Dot he does not appear to have ended up working on any of their releases. Still, what is known is that he moved to Hollywood where he also set up his own independent company RPC (Record Producers Corporation), with the intention of issuing nostalgia albums by ‘established movie and TV names’.

By now using the stage name Ellen Marty, her meeting with Joe Leahy was fortuitous; by 1963 (according to a report in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader which appeared on August 25, 1963) she had ‘contacted 15 recording companies and made at least eight different recordings’. That figure is easy to believe, as between 1957 and 1963 Ellen copyrighted 25 of her own compositions. ‘He heard a sound in my voice that he liked, and just like a flash we went in to a studio and recorded Man In a Raincoat’. Ellen nailed her vocal on the first take. She established her own publishing company, Lycklig, which had an office at 1216 Cole Ave, Los Angeles. Ellen chose the name Lycklig for her publishing company as it is the Swedish word for 'happy'. 

Joe was looking for his own studio, and he and Ellen recorded in several different places around Hollywood before he finally settled on the right space for him to work. Sadly, although the pair made some fantastic records together, the breakthrough hit eluded them. They established two different record labels, Marty and Rain Coat, but although Joe had an enviable track record and they employed Hollywood’s best pluggers they could not get the radio play that they so desperately needed. In 1965 she released her sole full-length album, Mixing and Making with Marty. Given three stars by Billboard magazine that LP - on which Ellen was backed by a stellar line up of musicians including drummer Hal Blaine and guitarist Bud Coleman - included her cover of The Man in the Raincoat (retitled Man In A Raincoat) which had first appeared as a 45 in 1963 on the Rain Coat label and was later reissued on the Marty imprint (Rain Coat’s offices were originally on Vine Street before moving to Lillian Way – immediately behind the Lycklig office). Ellen recorded two further albums, neither of which were issued: the first included Haciendo and Mesciando, a Spanish-language version of her song Mixing and Making. The unreleased (and untitled) collection was later reworked into a children’s album which including the 1966 recording A Sunbeam and a Dewdrop, and her single Baby Blue Eyes. Sadly this album also remains unreleased.

After and a handful of great but criminally-ignored singles in 1966/67, including the brilliant Bobby Died Today (which, despite rumours to the contrary, has nothing whatsoever to do with the death of Bobby Kennedy) Ellen changed her stage name yet again, releasing her next five 45s under the name Buttons. Although she recorded several sides as Buttons there appears to be no connection between her and the female vocal act The Buttons who recorded for Dot and Columbia around the same time, nor with the act of the same name who recorded for RCA later in the 1960s. It is odd though that Joe was one of Dot's lead A&R men during The Buttons’ time at the label, and there is a distinct possibility that Ellen may have recorded as Buttons in an effort to emulate some of the success of The Buttons. 

Two of the tracks Ellen recorded (as Buttons) use the same backing tracks that Joe had previously used on a release by the actress Cynthia Pepper at Felstead: First Time Love and Baby Blues. Cynthia starred in the TV sitcom Margie, broadcast on ABC from September 1961 to April 1962, and the two songs, written by Joe, appeared on both sides of a 7” issued in August 1962. Cathy, who had previously appeared in the hit sitcom My Three Sons, would go on to star as Midge Riley in the Elvis Presley film Kissin’ Cousins. Six years later, with new lyrics written by Ellen, Baby Blues became Baby Blue Eyes and First Time Love became Lovetime. Joe also worked with 50s hitmaker Kathy Linden at Felstead and she also recorded for him at RPC, appearing on the Dick Powell album The Wonderful Teens (under the pseudonym Linda Wells) and releasing a one-off solo single in 1961. All three women had similar voices, and with singers using pseudonyms and Joe reusing music beds it’s more than possible that Ellen may have appeared on other releases during her years working with Joe. 

Ellen Marty’s recordings are a delight: her voice is unconventional (to say the least), veering from a kittenish whisper (as on Lovetime) to that of a truculent teenager (vis Bobby Died Today) and she occasionally sounds as if she’s about to slit her wrists. Her lyrics are distinctly odd (The Barn is so Far From the Steeple starts off with the line On a day that was warm I decided to be born), and her sense of scansion and timing is often at odds with what pop record buyers are used to (as in the odd, hiccoughing rhythm of Give Me a Raincheck, Baby for example which, when I first heard it, had me rushing to check that the needle of my tone arm was not skipping across the precious vinyl), but the more of her work I discover the more in love with her I am becoming. 

A Petal a Day/Baby Blue Eyes is a fine example of her slightly off-kilter world. I love the B-side, with its wailing police sirens and jaunty tack piano accompaniment, and the little giggle in Ellen’s voice towards the end is a real winner: it’s a far better record than the Cynthia Pepper original. The more subdued plug side, A Petal a Day, is a miserable little ditty about unrequited love whose lyrics clash ridiculously with the jolly backing track. It’s a suicide note sung to a fast food jingle. Locked Up And Bolted (which originally appeared as Locked Up and Bolded, resulting in some poor soul having to correct the labels on each disc by hand), the flip of the circa 1966 single Raindrops, is one of the most fun recordings you’ll ever hear, reminiscent of the Patrick Macnee/Honor Blackman song Let’s Keep It Friendly. The one thing you can say about Ellen’s material is that it genuinely deserves the epithet extraordinary. The one thing you can say about Ellen’s material is that it genuinely is out of the ordinary. 

Try as she did, the hits did not happen. Things went quiet for a four-year period between 1969 and 1973 before she rocked up again, this time as Elie Marty. She released a single, again on Rain Coat, however this time her mentor Joe Leahy was not available to help out: ‘Joe was having health problems so I went out on my own,’ she says. One 45, Leave Me Like You Found Me/Some Days are Good (Somes Bad) using old music beds recorded by Joe in the 60s, was issued before Leahy passed away in 1974; Leave Me Like You Found Me utilises the same backing track as Such a Sad Face, the flip side of her 1968 release Little Mouse in the House. While back in Centerville to nurse her ailing mother, Elie met her parents’ neighbour Ron Backer, a former film editor and NASA employee who was also a keen painter. ‘He was visiting his Mom after he had lost his wife in a car accident,’ Elie explains. ‘It wasn’t long until I left Hollywood to go South and marry the boy next door!’ 

The couple moved to Nashville so that Elie could continue recording, swapping her prestigious Hollywood address for a PO box in Music City. The unusual, beguiling voice is the same, but the quality of the songs – a cover of the 1920s standard Do You Ever Think of Me and Bob G Dean’s Paper Planes (later covered by Pat Alexis; Dean was the co-author of Stella Parton’s hit I Want To Hold You In My Dreams Tonight) among them – can’t hope to compare with the best of her 60s work. When that failed to provide her with a hit Ellen/Elie turned her back on her recording career. She did not give up music altogether, writing many news songs inspired by her husband’s depictions of historic events in US history. ‘Ron retired to become a full-time painter and we formed what we called “music around the paintings’. We came back to LA and did our little show to help Ron get more established with his art and it worked!’ 

Ron is an accomplished artist who has exhibited in many galleries across the States, and Elie often appeared at his exhibitions, singing the songs she wrote. Although the couple no longer do their shows they keep busy, and Elie continues to write and record to this day: ‘I still write country and western and the music I guess I’m known for. Part of my kitchen is like a recording studio’, she says. The former Lycklig offices – just a stone’s throw away from Hollywood Boulevard - are now part of an apartment complex.

The following is a list of all of the Ellen Marty/Buttons/Elie Marty releases and copyrighted songs I am currently aware of. Huge thanks to Elie herself for helping me complete this list:

Unrecorded: See Saw Love (© 1957)
Unrecorded: Doodle Lamb Daddy/Tired of Being What I’m Not/Yellow Trees (all © November 1957)
Unrecorded: I Shall Recall/If you Come Back to Me/I’ve Fallen in Love with You/Lonely/Lost Without You/Round the Bend/That Sammy Boy/Think a Little Thought (© Jan-June1958)
Unrecorded: I Still Cry/Sand Clock Love/Why Did you do It (© August 1958)
Unrecorded: Eddie, the Waiter/Worth a Wait (both © 1959)
Unrecorded: Democrats Now Are In Again/Lolita (both © 1960)
Unrecorded: Go Away Little Boy /Moment With the Lord/Moon Behind a Tree/Those Swayin’ Trees (all © 1961)
Unrecorded: One & A Two & A Three-a (© 1962)
Recorded, possibly unreleased: All of These Things You Are to Me (© 1959); Jungle Love (© 1961). Note: Jungle Love was recorded, according to Elie, by Carl Geren (possibly Carl Green?) for an album.
Raincoat 601: Man in the Raincoat/You're Such a Comfort to Me (1963) 
Marty 101: Our First Date/Your Words Were Sweeter (1964)
Marty 102: Xmas Gift/I Wanna (1964) Note: Xmas Gift was copyrighted in 1957 as My Christmas Gift
Marty 103: Haciendo and Mesciando (Mixing and Making in Sparnish)/?
Marty 103: Mixing and Making/Johnny Had (1965)
Marty 601/602: Man in the Raincoat/This Time of Year (1964)
Raincoat 602: This Time of Year/Billy Back
Marty EM 101: Mixing and Making - Man In a Raincoat/You're Such a Comfort to Me/Johnny Had/I Wanna/This Time of Year//Our First Date/Don't Ask Me, Don't Bug Me/Your Words Were Sweeter/I Wish I Knew/Mixing & Making (1965)
Marty 603: Don't Ask Me, Don't Bug Me/This Time of Year (1964)
Raincoat 104: Forgive Me, Johnny/Love Is Fairytales
Marty 105: I Think I’ll Cry (You Lied, Lied, Lied Again)/I Will Come to You Some Night (1965)
Unrecorded: Sittin’ in This Chair/Super-Dooper-Ooper-Pooper (both © 1966)
Recorded, unreleased: A Sunbeam, A Dewdrop (© 1966)
Rain Coat 105: Raindrops/Locked Up and Bolted (label originally read Locked Up and Bolded) (1966)
Rain Coat 109: Bobby Died Today/Give Me a Raincheck, Baby (1966)
Raincoat 700: Cats Have Whiskers/It All Depends on You (1967) (as Buttons)
Rain Coat 701: Big Ben/Rain, Don’t Rain (both © 1967)
Rain Coat 702: A Petal a Day/Baby Blue Eyes (as Buttons) (1968)
Rain Coat 703: The Barn is So Far From the Steeple/Lovetime (as Buttons) (1968)
Rain Coat 704: Little Mouse in the House/Such a Sad Face (as Buttons) (1968)
Unrecorded: Be Still/Carousel/Every Now and Then/’Neath a Tree, Near the Sea/One Teardrop a Day/Railroad Tracks/So Afraid of Me/To Ride (all songs © 1968)
Unrecorded: EFILFOREVOL (Lover of Life)/Posse from my Past (both w Jared Warner, m Elie Marty) (© June 1973)
Rain Coat 705: unreleased
Rain Coat 706: Leave Me Like You Found Me/Some Days are Good (Somes Bad) (as Elie Marty) (1974)
Rain Coat 100: Do You Ever Think of Me/Paper Planes (as Elie Marty) (1977) 
Unrecorded: Jesus Was a Baby Small (w Jared Warner, m Elie Marty) (© August 1977)
Recorded, not released: Motel Mornings (w Jared Warner, m Elie Marty) (© August 1977)
Unrecorded: Empty Saddle & A Stetson Hat (© 1982)

My thanks to Bengt Wahlstrom and to Elie Marty Backer for their help with this article.

Now, the good stuff. Not one, not two but 23 tracks by Ellen Marty, Elie Marty and Buttons. Everything I currently own copies of, in one handy zip file. It's all here, and you can download it from my Dropbox account so you should not have any issues with pop up ads or the like, and anyone should be able to download it without having to sign up for an account. If you're having issues just go to the page, click on the three dots in the top right hand corner and download.


Enjoy!



Friday, 5 January 2018

Kinky Reggae Party

Vile.

The multicultural poppets Kids International were, in fact, anything but international, having been put together by BBC TV producer Ernest Maxin for the 19882 series of the Les Dawson Show, as Louis Barfe reveals in his excellent biography The Trials and Triumphs of Les Dawson. The majority of them stepped straight out of a London stage school. Their only experience of culture outside of Britain would have been eating at a branch of KFC.

‘I decided to get a United Nations of children together, between the ages of six and eleven’, Maxin said. ‘I auditioned about a thousand kids of all different races within the Home Counties radius.’ Designed as comic foil for Dawson, as well as providing musical interludes, the act proved so successful that Maxin was ‘getting letters in to my office in dustbin liners. Thousands of them.’ It was at this point that Dawson’s agent decided to drop the little scene-stealers from the show.

Their success lead to the act being signed to Magnet records, and two 45s were issued: You Promised Me/Sing a Song of Love and Reggae Round the World/If I Had a Hammer/Danny Boy. No doubt hoping to cash in on the then-current craze for kiddie reggae (Musical Youth would soon hit Number One in the UK with Pass The Dutchie), the a-sides of both singles feature Kids International performing the kind of pop/reggae hybrid that could not possibly offend anyone but, actually, offends me to the very core.

Reggae Round the World was co-written by Maxin and Ivor Raymonde, who we’ve featured here before. Raymonde also produced both singles. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, Ivor was Whistling Jack Smith, as his son, former Cocteau twin Simon raymonde, revealed to me a few months back. In a long career Ivor arranged Laurie’s wonderful I Love Onions, worked with Joe Meek and Dusty Springfield, arranged and conducted the orchestra on Kinky Boots etc. etc. Simon tells me that he’s working on a 2-LP compilation of his later father’s work, for release via his Bella Union label this year. I’ve no idea what became of the youngsters involved… my guess is that many of them are now appearing in EastEnders or in local rep, desperate to live down their brief brush with pop fame.

Here’s both sides of that second 45: Reggae Round the World the poptastic If I Had a Hammer and a truly vomit-worthy rendition of the old Irish standard Londonderry Air, rendered here under it’s better-known alias Danny Boy.

Enjoy!

Download Reggae HERE



Download Hammer HERE



Download Danny HERE

Friday, 29 December 2017

Liquid Gold, Texas Tea

One of nine children, George Wilbur Husak was born in 1922 to a musical family that lived near the Gulf Coast in Southern Texas.

George played guitar on the local party circuit, and occasionally for local radio. A keen songwriter (one of his earliest composition, Please Surrender, was written in 1946), George set up his own music publishing company, Dwight Music, to handle his songs. At the end of the war he decided to move to San Francisco where he found work as a carpenter and joiner… and it was in that city that he set about recording his compositions.

For George’s Album, our Mr Husak is joined by his older brother Anton (known to the family as Tony), who plays mandolin and handles vocals on a couple of numbers. Both George and Anton were ex-servicemen, with Anton having served in the US Air Force and George having joined the army during WW2. Anton would later write a highly respected book on saltwater fishing. On George’s Album the pair play a mix of original songs and cover versions of hits by Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers and others.

It’s not a good record. George cannot sing or play guitar in tune – as his self-penned Call Me On the Telephone proves. Brother Anton (born in 1919) was actually a pretty decent performer, and his miserable Let's Have A Look At The Bottle is a suicide ballad with a (quite literally) killer ending that is crying out to be covered by Nick Cave. Sadly Anton decided to have his younger brother perform Indianola...

One of George’s compositions included on the album, I’m Surfing, was also issued as a 45, presumably to try and cash in on the surf craze. This means that the album must have been issued after June 1965, the month in which I’m Surfing was copyrighted (George also copyrighted another song in June ’65, And Then I’ll Know. I assume that this was the b-side). The single version is a different – and even worse - recording: you can find a version on YouTube that is clipped from a thanksgiving edition of the Dr Dement Show (hence the turkey noises that pop up half way through!). The good Doctor once cited this as the worst record ever made, and I’ve included a link to the clip to allow you to judge for yourselves. It's fellow blogger Bob Purse and the late, lamented Beware of the Blog at Wfmu we have to thank for preserving these audio files (You can download the whole album here).

Married twice (he married Sylvia and became stepfather to four children after the death of his first wife, Louise; sadly George and Louise had two children who both died in infancy), in later life George moved back to Texas and it was there, in September 2007, he passed away - having outlived his brother by 30 years.

Enjoy!


Download Telephone here



Download Bottle here


Download Indianola here


Friday, 22 December 2017

Christmas Cavalcade 2017 Part Three

So, this is Christmas…

Just a few days to go until the big day; just enough time to squeeze in a few more Holiday Howlers for you.

Noting says Christmas like atonal brats asking for something they cannot possibly have, and to that end here’s Little Cindy with her very special Christmas prayer, Happy Birthday Jesus, bless her! This creepy carol was originally issued in 1958 on the tiny Salem label and was then picked up by the mighty Columbia Records, but will be better known to many from its’ inclusion on the essential madcap Xmas compilation A John Waters Christmas. Later covered by Patti Page (also for Columbia) the song’s author, George Donald McGraw, is best known for being the composer of the Rock-a-teens huge hit Woo-Hoo. He also wrote the spectacularly awful I'd Hate To Be The Man (Who Drove The Nails In Jesus' Hands), recorded by Louisiana state governor Jimmie Davis, who I have been meaning to featured on this very blog for a while now. Maybe in the New Year! The crucifixion seems to have been a rather important event for McGraw: he also wrote a few flop follow ups for Little Cindy, including It Must Have Been the Easter Bunny and The Miracle of Easter.

By the way, if you think you've heard Happy Birthday Jesus here before, you're right! Last December I featured a recording of the same song by Little Christopher Darling, although his version segues in to a recording of Silent Night.

Another song that features on that John Waters compilation is Roger Christian’s Little Mary Christmas. Christian was a radio DJ, and the disc was issued in time for Christmas 1962. Although this particular record was a flop, he hot the big time shortly afterwards when he co-wrote Shut Down with Brian Wilson, an enormous hit for the Beach Boys. Wilson and Christian would go on to pen a number of hits, including Little Deuce Coupe and Don’t Worry Baby. He also wrote for jan and Dean, the Four Seasons, Annette and many, many more, as well as enjoying a sporadic solo career.

Now, I realise that we don’t normally feature novelty discs here at the World’s Worst Records, but I am going to make an exception here, for this week I received a copy of the following record in the post from my good friend The Squire.

So for him, and for music masochists everywhere, here are both sides of the late ventriloquist Keith Harris and his revolting green duck Orville’s White Christmas/That’s What I Wish For Christmas, a Top 40 hit in the UK in January 1986.

Merry Christmas... and enjoy!




Download BIRTHDAY here



Download MARY here



Download WHITE here


Download WISH here

Friday, 15 December 2017

Christmas Cavalcade 2017 Part Two

And here we go again... four more awful Christmas-themed audio car crashes for you to endure.

First up is/are both sides of the 1986 45 from Culturcide, Santa Claus was My Lover backed with Depressed Christmas. Unsurprisingly this particular disc is somewhat of a rarity, no doubt having to battle with the estate of the late Michael Jackson and that of Irving Berlin would have made distribution difficult - although you can pick up copies on Discogs right now for around $10. The single was issued in the same year as the band released their most famous album, Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutionary America, which – like the single - featured the band's satirical lyrics overdubbed onto popular songs by the original artists. These backing tracks were used without permission and the band soon faced legal threats from some of the original copyright holders.

Founded in 1980 in Houston, Texas, Culturcide are still active today.

Now, last week I promised you some Elvis-themed tackiness and, not wanting to disappoint, here it is!

Elvis Won’t be Here for Christmas was issued by Great Northwest Records in 1977, just a couple of months after the King met his demise. Performed by Linda Hughes, it follows on from the Culturcide single by having her intone the dumb lyric over the top of another tune, this time Silent Night. Linda Hughes had at least a brush with the song poem world: she recorded songs by William Howard Arpaia for the latter’s Vandalia Records the same year as she recorded Elvis Won’t be Here for Christmas.

We’re going to close today’s selection with another Elvis-related Christmas song, this time the 45 from Marlene Paula. A fun, infectious little ditty, I Want to Spend Christmas With Elvis was co-written by Bobby Darin and Don ‘Monkees’ Kirshner and issued by Regent Records in 1956.

Enjoy!

Download SANTA here



Download DEPRESSED here



Download WON'T here


Download WANT here

Friday, 8 December 2017

Christmas Cavalcade 2017 Part One

Yes, it’s that time of year again, just three weeks to go until some fat bloke tries to break in to your house and creep around while your kids are asleep. And that means another selection of terrible Christmas records for you to enjoy (or endure!)

First up is our old friend Red Sovine. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a huge dollop of misery courtesy of Ol’ Red, and Here It Is Christmas is no exception, the story of an ageing drunk whose wife has left him after 27 years of marriage. Listen to him as he cries in to his ‘flat martini’ (I wasn’t aware that martinis were supposed to effervesce…) 

Such unbridled wretchedness. A peach.

The second song this week is a bit of a rarity – a mostly spoken word performance from the great Cary Grant. Issued in 1967, the year after Cary retired from the big screen and the year in which his daughter Jennifer was born, Christmas Lullaby is sickeningly schmaltzy but you really can’t blame the guy for recording what is essentially a love song to t his beloved daughter. The song, incidentally, was co-authored by none other than Peggy Lee.

I’ll close today’s selection with a couple of Beatle-related Christmas howlers from 1964 – which seems appropriate as today is the 37th anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon. Neither I Want a Beatle For Christmas by Becky Lee Beck nor Bring Me A Beatle For Christmas by the terribly-named Cindy Rella are truly terrible, but neither do they have the charm of Dora Byran’s brilliant All I Want For Christmas is a Beatle. They're essentially the same song, with a squeaky teenage girl opining that she wants a Beatle - any Beatle - under her tree on December 25th. She's not fussy... 

I'll leave the Elvis-related horrors until next week.

Enjoy!

Download Red Here



Download Cary Here



Download Becky Here



Download Cindy Here




Friday, 1 December 2017

Hopeless Sings the Blues

Yes, I know it's December 1 - and yes, I'm fully aware that usually means the start of a month of calamitous Christmas crud, but bear with... there's plenty of time for that!

I first became aware of the existence of this week’s disc some six and a half years ago, shortly after my very first WWR post about Grace Pauline Chew… an anonymous tipster mentioned it and had a stab at recounting the lyrics. But that was it. Then, on a Saturday evening a couple of weeks ago, whilst thumbing through old copies of Cash Box magazine I came across the following advertisement.

How exciting was that? Now I had names for the performers, info on the label and an approximate release date. A short trawl around Discogs and Ebay and voila! An actual copy of the actual record for sale. And boy, did it live up to its reputation! Described by my original correspondent as ‘sung to the accompaniment of what sounded to me like a solo pump organ, very wheezy. The tune… was about as downbeat and lugubrious as you could imagine’, Steve Carr’s performance of Chickasaw Blues is simply atonal rubbish. Grace’s usual solovox, piano and bass drum accompaniment dragging the slightly jokey vocal down in to an abyss from which it will never escape. The flip, the disc’s A-side proper, Up Along The Mohawk Valley, is slightly better – at least Bob Colla can sing – but the playing is as woefully inept as ever, and the point where Bob first sings that he wishes he ‘could sing to the girls’ and the keyboard player fluffs their part had me in stitches the first time I heard it.

Of course, as is so often the way, one path leads you down another and I soon discovered that Bob Colla had released at least one further 45 on Bingo, namely Oh What A Night For Love backed with Sally Conboy singing Hi Diddle Diddle Do… and so off I went in search of that disc too. And I found one! And I bought it! And here it is! Oh What A Night For Love is another classic GPC dirge, with the performance credited to Bob Colla and the Girls. It’s impossible to know exactly who ‘the girls’ were, but to my ears one of the two voices belongs to Sally Conboy... and I can’t help but hope that the other belonged to Our Gracie herself. But the flip - Hi Diddle Diddle Do – is ridiculous. Poor Sally tries to inject some fun in to her performance, but the funereal piano and solovox drag her into a hole she stands no chance of ever escaping. Both songs are absurdly gloomy. This is music to slit your wrists to.

For those of you who don’t know Grace Pauline Chew’s story, here’s a brief synopsis. You can read more about her in my first book, The World’s Worst Records Volume One.

Grace Pauline Chew reigns supreme as the World’s Worst Songwriter. Born on September 9, 1898 in Camden, New Jersey, Grace was a voice teacher, soprano, and erstwhile song composer. She came from good musical stock: her father, James Buchanan, was a concert and operatic tenor, so it must have been a massive disappointment to him to discover that his daughter was unable to follow in his footsteps and tread the boards of America’s great concert halls. Educated at the Palmer Institute in California and at the Clark Conservatory of Music in Philadelphia, It seems that Grace learned her true vocation whilst studying in New York under Frank LaForge, a pianist, composer and arranger who had played on the first American recordings by Enrico Caruso and also accompanied the great coloratura soprano Lily Pons.

Grace Buchanan married Walter C. Chew in January 1917 and the pair set up home in New Jersey; the union produced one son, Walter Chew Junior, who was born that same year but who tragically died before his 25th birthday in 1942. It seems that Grace’s way of dealing with her grief was to throw herself into her career. She made a number of concert and radio appearances during the 40s and published her first compositions, I’m Counting on You and the magnificently-titled Put on Your Roller Skates and Roll, Roll, Roll in 1946. Shortly after this she and Walter left New Jersey and relocated to Philadelphia, where Grace set up a company called Art Service Music and established no less than three record labels to issue her art-song compositions: Musicart, Silver-Song and Bingo Records. How this woman managed to finance a company that ran three record labels each of which simply existed as an outlet for her own vanity is beyond me. I’ve yet to find any releases in Silver-Song, and before too long that label disappears from the Art Service canon, leaving Grace to concentrate on Musicart and Bingo.

My own introduction to Grace Pauline Chew came when trawling eBay for bad records. After a couple of hours of searching I found a copy of a 45, You’re The Only One For Me backed with You Don’t Remember Any More, listed on the auction site as a contender for the worst record the seller had ever heard. How could I resist? When the disc arrived I was immediately blown away by it. Mamie Watson performs the funereal You Don’t Remember Any More with the ‘Musicart Ensemble’ – an out-of-tune piano and a kind of reed instrument that, at the time, I was unable to pinpoint. I’ve since discovered that this is/was a Solovox. You Don’t Remember Any More is an absolute dirge; Mamie does her best but is badly let down by both the distinctly untalented Musicart Ensemble and by Grace’s wretched lyrics. It’s turgid, with a strange otherworldly quality: it sounds as if it were written in the 1920s - an odd thing when you consider that the disc was released at the height of the rock ‘n roll era in 1957. I was soon to discover that all of Grace’s material sounds as if it was written either in or for a bygone age: every single song I’ve so far unearthed sounds as though it was composed for Rudolf Valentino’s funeral. If you enjoy the distinct oddness embodied by the Halmark song-poem factory, you’ll adore the work of Grace Pauline Chew.

As for Hank and Jimmy, the performers of You’re The Only One For Me, their accompanists (listed as Rhythm Duo on the disc), appear to be one person playing an out-of tune village hall piano while a second clicks his fingers, kicks at the studio floor in an attempt to keep time with all the elegance and rhythm of a drunken mule, and then provides a spectacularly ham-fisted hand clap solo. It truly is an awesome coupling.

To really get a handle on how spectacularly shocking Grace Pauline Chew’s song writing skills were you need to listen to the hysterically awful coupling of Could You Would You and Moon Crazy, released on Bingo Records in 1957. The Planets, the act credited with this dreadful, positively atonal performance, are clearly Hank and Jimmy again, too embarrassed to have their real names connected with the gloriously useless Grace a second time. Both sides are perfectly dreadful. On Could You Would You, The Planets are listed as being accompanied by 'Cha Cha, Solovox and piano'. Whatever the 'Cha Cha' (their capitals, not mine) was, it appears to be mercifully silent; the Solovox was a primitive, three-octave monophonic keyboard which employed vibrating metal reeds and an oscillator to create a vibrato effect. I love the fact that, although the unnamed Solovox player makes several mistakes during this recording, no-one bothered to put him straight and demand a second take. Maybe Mr Chew’s largesse had finally been reined in. Given the quality of the sound coming out of the piano it has to be the same, discordant instrument employed on nearly every other one of Grace Pauline Chew's masterpieces. You have to wonder if the great lady herself sat at this omnipresent instrument during these obviously chaotic recording sessions.

The B-side, Moon Crazy is, without doubt, the prize: woeful, out of tune vocals from a pair of male vocalists occasionally singing completely different words to each other; someone kicking a bass drum out of time; what sounds like a pair of castanets (possibly the missing Cha Cha from side one?) being thrown about with gleeful abandon and, to cap it all, a whistling solo so tuneless and clumsy that it would make Mrs Miller turn in her grave. God, I love it: this is bad music gold.

Every single disc issued by Musicart and/or Bingo is wretched; spectacularly awful. Maybe none so much though as The Space Ship Blues, copyrighted in 1955, issued by Musicart the following year and performed by ancient vaudeville act The Romany Sisters (accompanied by the grandly-named ‘Instrumental Quartette’). Grace had the temerity to announce, via the pages of Cash Box, that this particular horror was ‘the first space song’. Actually she may have been right: most of the classic 50s space novelties came after the Russians launched Sputnik in October 1957. If so then she deserves a place in the Hall of Fame for that alone.

Around 1961/62 our Grace moved to Florida… the 1962 Cash Box and 1963 Billboard directories have her living at 113 North East First Court, a small bungalow in Dania Beach. She was still running both Musicart and Bingo from her home address, although I have yet to find any releases by the company after 1959. My assumption is that she moved there to retire, possibly after Walter Senior had passed on, although she did continue to write songs and copyright them until at least 1962.

So far I’m aware of more than 60 songs written (occasionally co-written with or credited entirely to Kerry Brooke, which was a pseudonym Grace employed from time to time) and published by Grace Pauline Chew, and I’ve made it my life’s work to track them all down. She regularly contributed to the periodical Musical Chit Chat and also wrote and published a ten-page pamphlet entitled Know How: A Brochure of Information for the Singer Who Wants to Become Professional, in 1953, which contains lists of TV and stage production companies, record labels, opera companies and some words of advice and encouragement from the great lady herself.

As she writes: ‘This is based on years of research…as a voice teacher and musical director of a recording company (I have) had first-hand acquaintance with singers and their problems.’ You have to admire the woman’s cheek.

The complete GPC:

Musicart 101/102: Melody Mac Music In the Sky/Still In Love With You (1949)
Musicart 103/104: Jeanne Heard Music In the Sky/Starlight and Roses (1950)
Musicart 103/106: Jeanne Heard Music In the Sky/Leonard Maclain (Melody Mac) Heaven Sent Me An Angel (1950)
Musicart 105/106: Alfred Federici Another Called You Sweetheart, Why Can’t I?/Leonard Maclain (Melody Mac) Heaven Sent Me An Angel (1950)
Musicart 107/108: Melody Mac It Could Be Forever/? (1951)
Musicart 312/313: Bud Brees with Art Smith It’s Just Because I Love You/Art Smith Will You (1952)
Musicart 314/315: Phil Sheridan I Have No Wealth, I Have No Gold/? (1952)
Musicart 316/317: Don Valino with the Celebrity Singers and the Magictones There’s A Fire In My Heart/Phyllis Moore with the Celebrity Singers and the Magictones Damisela (1954) (78 & 45)
Musicart 318-45/319-45: Phyllis Moore and the Magictones I Don’t Know Where I Stand With You/ Richard Rossiter and the Nightingales Helpless (1955)
Musicart 320-45/321-45: Richard Rossiter and the Nightingales Why Can’t It Be Only Me/ The Romany Sisters The Space Ship Blues (1956)
Musicart 324/325: Hank and Jimmy You’re The Only One For Me/Mamie Watson You Don’t Remember Any More (1956)

Bingo 326/327: Bob Colla Up Along the Mohawk Valley/Steve Carr Chickasaw Blues (1957)
Bingo 328/329: Bob Colla and the Girls Oh What A Night For Love/Sally Conboy Hi Diddle Diddle Do (1958)
Bingo 330/331: The Planets Could You Would You/Moon Crazy (1957)

Grace also copyrighted the following songs: no doubt some of them were recorded and issued on the missing Musicart (108, 322-323) numbers. 

1946: I’m Counting on You; Put on Your Roller Skates and Roll, Roll, Roll
1948: I’m A Fool to Believe It’s Love; I’m Gonna Live to be a Hundred and it Ain’t No Lie
1949: Bob-Bob-Bobbin’ and Hob Nob-Nobbin’ With You; How Can I Tell?; It’s a New Love
1951: Gone From Me; If I Could Ask You; Let’s Join the Easter Parade, You’re My Girl; Take My Love, My Darling
1952: Christmas Serenade; Dance With Me; Somewhere the Sun Must Be Shining; Willie Had a Love Affair
1953: Nothing Can Take Me From You; Santa’s Going to Get Married; Somebody Painted My Bunny’s Tail Blue
1954: China Doll; Give Me Your Shoulder to Cry On; Santa Ain’t Comin’ Down the Chimney Tonight; Shut Your Great Big Mouth; You Gotta Get Happy
1955: The Jungle Rhapsody; What Do they Like About Me; You Believed in Me
1956: Give Me the Right to Fall In Love With You; So Long Joe; The Magic of the Island; Wham, Bang; Who’s That Knocking at My Heart?; You’ll Have to Do It Yourself
1957: Near Me; Part-Time Sweetheart; Sweet and Easy; The Wedding in the Sky
1958: Go Slow; I Fell For You; Let Me Down Easy
1959: Don’t Ever Leave Me; I Gave You My Love (I Gave You My Heart); the Little Lost Sheep; Sunset on the Prairie
1961: I Love You, My Darling
1962: I’m Still In Love With Josie

Enjoy!

Download Mohawk HERE



Download Chickasaw HERE



Download Love HERE



Download Diddle HERE

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