Friday, 26 September 2014

Who Loves Ya, Baby?

I’m sure that the vast majority of you can recall that jaw-dropping moment when you first heard Telly ‘Kojak’ Savalas open up his maw to destroy the David Gates song If; his flat, emotionless ‘sing-speak’ performance inexplicably catapulting the TV cop to Number One in the UK charts in 1975.

What you may not know is that Telly released a string of awful albums and singles during a decade-long personal vendetta against decency and good taste. And here are a couple of prime examples from his 1974 album Telly  - You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling (issued in several countries as the follow-up single to If) and his cover of the Peter Skellern hit You’re a Lady, plus the A-side of his obscure 1975 UK single Who Loves Ya Baby.

Greek-American actor Aristotelis "Telly" Savalas (January 21, 1922 – January 22, 1994) enjoyed a career which spanned four decades. The second of five children, he was best known for playing the title role in the 1970s crime drama Kojak, which ran for five years and built on Telly’s success in the TV movie The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1972). Savalas’s other credits include parts in the movies The Young Savages (1961), Pilate in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), the Battle of the Bulge (1965) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). He played supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). A fine actor he may have been: a world-class poker player he may have been as well – but a singer he certainly wasn’ these three tracks amply prove.

Telly's recording career kicked off in 1972, pre-Kojak, with the album This Is Telly Savalas (featuring covers of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash songs) for DJM. However it was only after he gained worldwide fame as the lollipop-sucking detective that he struck pop gold. Over the next 10 years he released a further half-dozen albums in the US and Europe. He was surprisingly popular in Switzerland, where he somehow managed to record and release two different songs – Some Broken Hearts Never Mend (which unbelievably topped the Swiss charts in 1981) and Lovin’ Understanding Man (recorded the same year) - utilising almost exactly the same backing track!

As an aside his brother George - who appeared in Kojak as the inept sidekick Sergeant Stavros -  also recorded, although his album of traditional Greek melodies - Hellas, You're Beautiful, I Love You - is actually quite good.


Saturday, 20 September 2014

Life in Hell

I find something deeply offensive about this kind of music: it actually sickens me to the core. It's not because I hate classical music or classical performers - far from it. I just cannot fathom why anyone would attempt a crossover as ridiculous as this. I hate the recent glut of pseudo-classical vocal acts knocking out pop standards (come the glorious day I'd gladly put people like Il Divo and those awful Welsh brothers who won the X Factor in front of a firing squad). Pavarotti's attempts at pop were beyond embarrassing, and don't get me started on Freddie Mercury's ridiculous diva act.

But before anyone had heard any of Russell Watson's godawful 'pop' output a half dozen posh boys from King's College, Cambridge began their now 45-year career bastardising the great pop songs of the day. This 'band' The King's Singers, are responsible for some of the most reprehensible recordings ever made, including the one I present for you today - their unfathomably bad version of David Bowie's classic Life on Mars.

The King's Singers are a British a cappella vocal ensemble founded in 1968, but whose roots reach back as far as 1965. Named after King's College in Cambridge (where the group was formed), prior to the establishment of the six-piece, male-only group several of the parts were taken by other singers.

Although the line up has changed over the years (none of the original members are still in the group and at one pint they even – shock, horror – had three female singers) the six man Singers gave the first concert on May 1, 1968 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London and they are still an inexplicably popular draw today: the ensemble travels worldwide, appearing in around 125 concerts annually in Europe, the U.S, the Far East and the People's Republic of China. These concerts are typically divided into five distinct groups of pieces, with madrigals, folk songs and so on from the acts ‘serious’ material, followed by a selection of ‘lighter fare’, including songs by The Beatles, Billy Joel and Queen. And, it would seem, David Bowie.

The King’s Singers have released around 50 albums so far. Given an average running time of 40 minutes, that’s over 33 hours of this nonsense. And that doesn’t include the endless list of compilations. Two of the founding members – Alistair Hume and Simon Carrington – managed 28 years with the group (1965-1993): David Hurley is the act’s current longest-serving member, having joined in 1989 and still performing today. 

Anyway, here are the King's Singers and their horrid version of Life on Mars, from their 1982 album For Your Pleasure. As a bonus, I've also included their murderous version of American Pie from their 1991 collection Good Vibrations.



Friday, 12 September 2014

Om Pom Push

A very quick post today, as I'm about to take a much-needed week off - heading with a bunch of friends to Welsh Wales to make the most of the dying days of summer. 

Today's horror seems to be the only 45 released by the late comedian Frank Carson, the genial Irishman whose catchphrase 'It's the way I tell 'em' had them rolling in the aisles in the 70s thanks to the popularity of such TV shows as The Comedians. Another regular on that show - Mike Reid - had a fair bit of success with his recordings and so had many other comedians. So why not our Frank.

Well, probably because the chosen song is a pile of crap.

Based on a playground clapping game rhyme (eeney-meeny-macca-racca...) which I can still recall from my now-distant childhood, Ip Dip Chibberdy Dip is an awful, awful record. So awful in fact that when Decca issued the single in Holland the company couldn't even be bothered to check on who the artist was - pasting a picture of fellow comedian Freddie Starr on the sleeve instead! 

A year later the same song was issued on a 45 in Europe by the female trio Cool Breeze, credited to the same arrangement and production team of Solomon and Blackwell . I've not been able to track that version down (yet!) but I'll bet it's exactly the same recording with Frank's vocals erased and Cool Breeze's slathered over the top.

Anyway, for now enjoy both sides of Frank Carson's 1973 non-hit Ip Dip Chibberdy Dip and Try It, You'll Like It.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Boy Wonder

Today’s disc – I’ll Fly Away and be at Rest – comes from the man who is now serving as Mayor of Riviera Beach, Florida, one Thomas Masters.

Mayor Thomas A Masters is currently in his fourth term as mayor of the City of Riviera Beach. But back in the 1960s he was better known as The Reverend Thomas H Masters (no, I don’t know why H then and A now, although I believe the H stood for Harrison) the Wonder Boy Preacher.

I’ll Fly Away and be at Rest, listed on the label as a ‘sermonette’, was issued by Rhoda Records when Masters was just nine years old. A precocious bugger, a year earlier he released another 45 – again on Rhoda Records – a recording of a sermon entitled A Fool on a Mule (in the Middle of the Road). Split over two sides of a 7”, this was credited to ‘8 year old Wonder Boy Preacher Thomas H Masters’, sans the Reverend. Confusingly the boy became ‘licensed’ as a preacher sometime between his eighth and ninth birthdays but wasn’t ordained until he was 12. By 16 he had issued four albums – What is Your Destiny in a Sinful and Dying World, The Midnight Cry, The Storm is Passing Over and Sometimes I Dream of Things and Say Why? Credited this time to Rev Thomas Masters the Wonder Boy, according to the liner notes on the last of these albums the Reverend Masters preached his first sermon at the tender age of three ‘before most children have acquired the knack of raiding the cookie jar’!

Now a Bishop as well as a Mayor, I feel a bit of a fraud for posting this. Bishop Masters seems to be a genuinely lovely man, very well-respected and clearly doing grand things in his community. He’s also been photographed with Barack and Michelle – a lot! But this is horrible and so deserves to be archived here – along with its’ B-Side The High Cost of Low Living - at the World’s Worst Records for all to hear. Master Masters has that ridiculous habit of gurning like a loon at the end of each line ‘I’m going to fly away–uhhhrgh/Lord Jesus I’m going to a land that will never go-uhhhrgh’… you get the idea. It’s not a truly awful record, in fact the backing chorus and accompanists are rather endearing, but the prepubescent caterwauling leaves a lot to be desired. he sounds as if he's trying to shift a particularly stubborn bowel movement.

Bishop Thomas is the youngest of the six children of the late Isabell Masters – an amazing woman who was a five-time third-party candidate for President of the United States. Her five presidential campaigns (on behalf of the Looking Back Party) are the most for any woman in U.S. history. Bishop Thomas’s father Alfred became the first African American to enlist in the United States Marines when he was sworn in on June 1, 1942. The marriage disintegrated after thy ear, leaving Isabell to raise six children alone. Despite that, she obtained her master's degree in higher education from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and later earned a doctorate from the University of Oklahoma during her late 60s. Bishop Thomas himself achieved a degree of notoriety when he protested efforts of George W. Bush’s legal team to stop the Florida election recount following the controversial 2000 United States presidential election.

She also helped Bishop Thomas start his preaching career. “Mother was supportive, but I really think she thought I would grow out of it,” he told the Palm Beach Post. “At the time I had a speech impediment and she was uncertain (but) she decided that if it was from God, I would preach.”

I feel even more of a heel now. Or should I say that I did until I discovered that the man who served more than 20 years as a community activist in California before relocating to Florida in 1987 to serve as pastor of the New Macedonia Baptist Church has also been prosecuted for rape against a disabled man with the mind of a seven-year-old. According to a 2003 story in the Palm Beach Post, Masters, his church and deacon ‘reached a $600,000 settlement with a mentally disabled man who accused the minister of rape.’

The report states that Masters and the church’s insurers negotiated the settlement with the man, who had accused Masters of coercing him to smoke crack cocaine and then raping him twice on church property over Thanksgiving weekend in 1991. Police investigated, but no charges were filed.

‘In 1998 a jury awarded the man more than $2 million after finding against Masters, and against his church and Deacon Joseph Lawrence for failing to investigate the allegations. But the 4th District Court of Appeal threw out that verdict in June, citing procedural errors during the first trial and noting that the mentally disabled man had repeatedly changed his story.

The parties opted to negotiate a settlement instead of going to trial again.’

Whatever the truth of the matter may be Mayor Bishop Masters - as he likes to be referred to - has testified before the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva and has led marches against drug dealing, drive-by shootings, the Ku Klux Klan and the 2000 presidential election results. He also challenged state and national laws that allow minors to be sentenced to death and to be sent to adult prisons.

But this record is still horrible.


Sunday, 31 August 2014

Extra Ellen

An extra post for you all this lovely, late summer Sunday.

It's not a 'bad' record at all, but if you've enjoyed the previous WWR posts about the fabulous Ellen Marty, I'd suggest you get yourselves over to our Facebook page, where you can download both sides of her 1965 45 This Time of Year/Billy Back.

Do it! It's ace!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Poor Old Red

Another horror from Red Sovine – one of the first artists I featured on this blog all those years ago and one whose name keeps cropping up. This came from a pile of discs I purchased recently from fellow blogger and song-poem collector Bob Purse.

The Father of Judy Ann was issued as the flip of Ol’ Red’s 1968 single Between Closing Time and Dawn (both titles also feature on the 1969 album Closing Time ‘Til Dawn). It’s easily one of the most miserable recordings it has ever been my misfortune to own.

The Father of Judy Ann is the tale of a teenage girl who takes her life by drowning herself (shades of Dickey Lee’s Patches there), after falling in love with a married man and becoming pregnant by him.

I'm the father of Judy Ann, the girl you led astray
You're the reason my Judy Ann took her life today
I didn't come here just to scare you; I came here to use this gun
And you're gonna pay with your life for what you've done

It is, of course, utter rubbish; another ridiculous outing from a totally ridiculous artist. I know that I’ll get letters about this: every time I take a pot-shot at Country Western someone crawls out of the woodwork to call me out. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the Red Sovine canon is the best possible argument for banning Country Western music forever. At least Red sings this time, rather than employing his patented narrator voice – the style he used to such great effect on previous WWR posts Teddy Bear and Billy’s Christmas Wish.

The flipside is nowhere near as awful, although it still plumbs the usual Country music depths of booze, loneliness and despair.  Thankfully it’s rather short.

Born in 1918, Woodrow Wilson “Red” Sovine was a minor star with a solid fan base both in the UK and the US. He’s known for perfecting the truck-and-trailer tragedy ballad, but he started out as a syrupy ballad singer who got his biggest break when Hank Williams, who managed to secure some regular radio work for the aspiring singer, championed him. Scoring 31 Country Chart hits during his long career, Red died from a heart attack at the wheel of his van in April 1980.

Anyway, enough misery: here’s both sides of Red’s 45 The Father of Judy Ann and Between Closing Time and Dawn.


Friday, 22 August 2014

My Aunt's Pen

Here’s a little horror I picked up in a charity shop recently; a ‘hit’ on both sides of the Atlantic from way back in 1959.

Hugo & Luigi was the professional name of American songwriters and producers Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti. As well as sharing an office in New York's Brill Building, the pair were also cousins. They enjoyed a three-decade career as hit producers, they co-owned Roulette Records with Morris Levy and later took over the Avco/Embassy label (I remember seeing the Hugo and Luigi logo on Stylistics records back in the 70s: yes, I am that old!)

Peretti began his professional career as a teenage trumpet player before moving on to playing in the pits in many a Broadway orchestra; Creatore’s father had been the leader of a small orchestra in Italy and his siblings were also musicians. Although he came from a musical family, Luigi himself was a writer rather than a performer.

Hugo's wife was a children's book author. Peretti asked his cousin to help his wife develop some stories. The collaboration was not purely based on their familial relationship: after the war Luigi had written short stories and a novel and had been a speechwriter at the United Nations. They began working together for the children’s record company Peter Pan Records, before moving to Mercury and producing their first pop hit, The Little Shoemaker by the Italian-American vocal trio The Gaylords, which made Number 2 in 1954. Soon the cousins were securing hits for Sarah Vaughan, Georgia Gibbs, Jimmie Rodgers and others. The pair would often write together under the pseudonym Mark Markwell. When not composing together the boys would often produce anemic white versions of some of the great black R&B artists of the day including Etta James and LaVern Baker – which is exactly what was happening with Pat Boone over at Dot.

The duo were not averse to working with black artists – far from it: they were behind the Isley Brothers' raw, uproarious, Beatles and Lulu-covered Shout, which went on to sell over 1 million copies. They took on Sam Cooke and together produced hits including Chain Gang and Twistin' the Night Away. For the more mainstream white audience of the day they produced The Tokens, Perry Como and co-wrote Can't Help Falling In Love for Elvis Presley. They also recorded, under their own names, a series of saccharine albums as The Cascading Voices of the Hugo and Luigi Chorus. Under their own names they recorded the hit Rockabilly Party (the intro of which was ‘borrowed’ by Ian Hunter for the Mott the Hoople hit Roll Away the Stone). And then, in 1959, they made this.

La Plume de ma Tante, based on a phrase recognisable to anyone whose school was too cheap to shell out for new French text books, is a horrible slice of sub-Disney whimsy, and it cannot be a coincidence that Frank Sinatra scored a hit with another kid-led piece of kitsch, High Hopes, the very same year. According to Billboard magazine La Plume de ma Tante is ‘an attractive novelty sung in bright fashion by a children’s chorus. It’s cute and has possibilities’. No it isn’t: it’s vile. It’s beyond me how this travesty made the UK Top 30! It spent 10 weeks on the Cashbox charts, reaching Number 33, but barely registered at Billboard where, in a five-week run, it rose no higher than Number 86 before disappearing altogether. The B-side, Honolulu Lu, recorded a couple of years before H&L would re-visit Hawaii with Elvis, is dull and depressing: it sounds like the soundtrack to a particularly miserable travelogue - and therefore would have fitted quite nicely into an Elvis movie project. Neither side does justice to the careers of these two immensely talented men.

In the '70s, the duo bought Avco/Embassy Records, scoring international hits with the Stylistics and produced what is widely accepted as the first Number 1 of the disco era, Van McCoy's The Hustle. The cousins retired from the record business at the end of the 70s. Hugo Peretti died in 1986; Creatore’s play An Error of the Moon, which explores the relationship between actor Edwin Booth and his brother John Wilkes Booth, was stages in New York in 2010. He’s still alive today, aged 92. 


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