Friday, 23 January 2015

Star Crust

Stephen F Singer established the song-poem label Star-Crest in the late 50s. Stephen was the son of Mortimer Singer, who founded the Nordyke song-poem factory in 1943. Laughingly referred to as Star-Crust to collectors because of the dated sound of its releases, Star-Crest is best known for its albums. The company had two distinct album series, Music of America – which usually featured a mix of singers (‘with orchestra’; although, as fellow song-poem enthusiast Bob Purse has noted: ‘rarely actually featuring more than four instruments, and often fewer than that’) and the New Favorites of… series, which would feature one singer, such as the risibly awful tenor Robert Ravis or the super-bland Tony Rogers, accompanied by a jaunty pianist. You can find a whole album’s worth of Ravis’s ravings from Bob’s own collection (if you can bear it) at http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2007/02/365_days_59_rob.html I have a couple of Star-Crest albums in my own collection (New Favorites of Tony Rogers, released in June 1961 and one of the many Music of America albums), but frankly life is too short!

They also released several 45s, four of which I present for you today.   

 
It’s often difficult to track down exact information about song-poem companies, but thanks to Singer’s shady practices we can be pretty certain about how long Star-Crest existed for. Adverts for their wares appeared in the back pages of magazines such as Ebony and Popular Science throughout 1959, 1960 and 1961 and then vanish. More than that, because Star-Crest was one of the few song-poem outfits hauled through the courts for their dodgy practices, e can ascertain a pretty firm date for when the company folded.

In late 1960 the Long Beach Independent (Nov 28, 1960) reported (under the headline Composers Bilked, Says FTC) that ‘the Federal Trade Commission charged Stephen F. Singer with using false royalty claims to obtain fees from songwriters for recording their songs’. The FTC complaint said that 'Singer did not pay royalties as advertised to those whose songs were accepted’. Instead, Singer 'paid them a royalty for each record sold, but sales were so limited the artists never were able to recover their investments’.

It wouldn’t take long for Billboard to pick up on the scandal, accusing Singer of using ‘false royalty claims and other deceptions to get fees from songwriters for recording their songs.’ The report continued to reveal that the Federal Trade Commission were taking Singer to court because ‘songwriters never actually collect royalties from Singer, that the recording talent is far from the “outstanding’ type offered in Singer’s ads, and that his “Music of America” albums do not, as claimed, contain current hits.’

Singer was given 30 day in which to file an answer the complaint, which he did, but the FTC won their case. In July 1961 it was reported that the Federal Trade Commission had been granted an order that ‘prohibited Stephen F. Singer of the Star-Crest Recording Co., Los Angeles, from using false royalty claims and other means, to obtain fees from song-writers for recording their songs’.

The chief cause of this litigation was the wording included in the contract Singer gave to his songwriters: ‘Our primary interest is in selling albums and earning money for our writers and ourselves. Writer agrees to pay for the test recording session at a special 50% scale rate of $96.20. We have with us some of the most talented and respected singing stars in Hollywood. Our "Music of America" series will contain well-known singing hits. Successful numbers that have already sold millions of copies and are being bought and played every day’. It was further alleged in the court proceedings that Singer wilfully misled songwriters in to thinking that their material would be recorded by the Chicago-based blues singer Jimmy Rogers, rather than the unknown Tony Rogers. As a result, Singer was issued with a cease and desist order. He could no longer advertise that hit artists would make his recordings, or that royalties would be paid to songwriters. For a few months Singer tried to continue without making these outrageous claims, altering the wording of his ads and removing any promises of royalties.

In March 1961 the company moved offices, from North Highland to Lexington Ave (both still Hollywood); the move happened just as Singer was attempting to move away from song-poems to more legitimate material. The first album issued by the newly legitimate Star-Crest was Curtain Time by impressionist Arthur Blake. According to a short news item in Billboard (March 1961) the company had also signed three other acts, Robert Linn, Freddie Bell and Kenny Miller, but none of them appear to have released any material for Star-Crest.

Star-Crest vanished for good some time in the early 60s. The Star-Crest name and logo would reappear, gracing a brace of singles in 1986 by soul artist El-Roy, but it’s unlikely that the company was in any way connected with the original Star-Crest.

Still, back to the music.

There’s no definitive discography of Star-Crest on the net, but the following is a list of all of the company’s known 45s: The ones that you can listen to today are in bold. So far as I am aware all Star-Crest 45s were issued in a fragile clear red vinyl. Three of the ones I own come in stock picture sleeves like those on this page. 

1: Tony Rogers - Sin Duda/Fickle Baby
14: Linda Collins with Orchestra - I Love Only You (Henderson Fisher)/Tony Rogers with Orchestra - On The Oxmore Trail (Andrew Scruggs)
40: Tony Rogers with Orchestra - Waiting For My Baby (W.L. Tisdale)/Down In The Valley (Millie Lancaster)
43: Tony Rogers with Orchestra – Winds Across the Prairie (Rhea Ball)/Flash! Flash! Flash! (Martin Belle-Isle)
71: Tony Rogers with Orchestra - What a Fool I Was (Mary Mancuso)/Homework (William E Cobb) You can hear this now at bobpurse.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/tony-rogers-does-his-homework.html
88: Linda Collins - Please (Ida Phillips)/Tony Rogers - My One and Only (Janette Sumrall)
90: Tony Rogers - All Yours (Ruby Sanders)/Linda Collins - That Old Man Of Mine (Violet Carter)
96: Tony Rogers with Orchestra – Moonlight and Distant Guitars (Ann C Fautsch)/Won’t You Marry Me? (Ernest Vanilla)

What really intrigues me is massive difference in the quality of Star-Crest’s product. My guess is that those with a full band arrangement would have cost the songwriter considerably more than $96.20 to have had recorded. Several of those songs sound to me like the product of the Globe studio – home to Sammy Marshall/Sonny Marcell and whose own recordings were issued on a slew of different labels over the years – but Globe was based in Nashville, and there’s little chance that a cheapskate like Singer would have paid for Tony Rogers to travel all that way to lay down a few sides. Could Globe have provided Star-Crest with music beds which they would then add their own vocalist to, or did Singer and Rogers travel to Nashville and spend a couple of days recording as many songs as they had time to fit in? If Gene Marshall could record 55 songs in one four-hour session couldn’t Rogers/Star-Crest have done similar? When you consider that the vast majority of Star-Crest tracks last under a minute and a half the duo could easily have beaten Marshall’s song-poem record.


Enjoy!

Friday, 16 January 2015

A Load of Old Cox

The avant-garde is, at best, a peculiar beast.

Today’s selection comes courtesy of WWR regular Ross Hamilton, who found this virtually unlistenable nonsense hidden away as an extra track on the third disc of the otherwise excellent compilation Love Poetry And Revolution: A Journey Through The British Psychedelic And Underground Scenes 1966 To 1972.

Sung virtually acapella by a gaggle of young kids (save for sparse accompaniment from a badly-plated flute and a drunk bashing away at a piano), this atonal version of the Beatles’ classic I am the Walrus originally appeared on the 1971 album Ear of the Beholder, issued by Lol Coxhill via John Peel's Dandelion label.

George Lowen Coxhill, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 79, was a noted figure on the UK underground jazz and rock scene. His saxophone playing appeared on recordings by Kevin Ayers (Coxhill was a member of Ayers’ group The Whole World), Caravan, John Otway and even The Damned. Recorded between July 1970 and January 1971, the Ear of the Beholder was Coxhill’s first solo album, and features contributions from Ayers, Mike Oldfield and David Bedford amongst others. A peculiar grab-bag of an album, it features everything from covers of outdated music hall songs such as That’s Why Darkies Were Born (performed by Coxhill in protest at its ridiculousness), tracks recorded al fresco with children from a Brixton primary school and poorly-recorded, interminable improvisations such as Rasa Moods. Genuinely everything including the kitchen sink.

Although he had been playing professionally for many years, it was Coxhill’s relationship with Peel that brought the free-improvising saxophonist to prominence: he is reputed to have been spotted by Peel while busking outside the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank in 1968. Coxhill forged strong links with the Canterbury scene, playing in jazz-rock groups including Kevin Ayers and The Whole World and Delivery, later working in small groups and intimate duos with the likes of Canterbury pianist Steve Miller. He was well known for his unpredictable solo improvising and for gigging in unconventional locations – such as his infamous 2004 tour of Yorkshire market towns, Lol Coxhill In A Skip.

Called ‘one of the most uncompromising albums of its age’ by Goldmine magazine, the original double album sold very few copies and is now quite hard to find. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your viewpoint) it has been reissued a couple of times in recent years.


Enjoy!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Space (I Believe in)

It’s another Friday, which naturally means more bad music, although I think some of you will actually enjoy today’s choice – an album with a sweet, ethereal charm of its own.

Like the debut albums from Mrs Miller and Madame St Onge, The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits is a bit of a misnomer as titles go: the lady in question has never had a ‘hit’ in the real sense of the word. However she has proved a bit of a hit with the public in her own particular part of the world, and last year embarked on her first ever world tour – even appearing in my home town.

Her peculiar. echo drenched covers of pop classics (Ballroom Blitz, Shakin’ All Over, Born to be Wild), show tunes (Puttin’ on the Ritz) and frankly bizarre originals won’t be to everyone’s taste but I quite like her. There’s a minimalist,  Flying Lizards quality to what she’s doing, and the whole album is well worth checking out (You can listen to if for free on Spotify or if you go to Mr Weird andWacky (one of my favourite blogs) you can pick up the whole album.

According to a short piece I found in The Guardian, the Space Lady - also known as Suzy Soundz but more correctly Susan Dietrich Schneider - was a regular sight on the streets and subways of Boston in the early 80s. Playing an accordion her husband had found in a junkshop – which she couldn’t play at first but, as she says: “(On) my first time out, I made both decent music and decent money.” Unfortunately an encounter with a drunk on the subway left the accordion in pieces and her hopes of a career as a ‘street level superstar’ in tatters.

Joel encouraged Susan to continue, using a mic, amp and battery-powered reverb to sing acapella. As it was close to Christmas Susan sang carols and the money came in: on Christmas Eve she made $200 busking, enough to purchase the cheap Casio keyboard she uses on her only album (to date anyway). Back on the streets and in the subways of Boston, she mixed songs written by her husband with a perverse selection of covers, many of which appear on The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits.

Joel, The Guardian reports: ‘had played with a string of 60s rock bands and knew all about making an impression, so they plugged the Casio into a phase-shifter, ran Susan's voice through a full-on echo unit and created a light show by pimping her tip box with a pile of twinkling lights. A winged helmet topped with a blinking red ball was placed on Susan's head and off she'd go’. Although still only busking, Susan was able to earn enough to support her family. In early 1990 Susan recorded some of the songs she had been singing on the streets for her album.

Championed by Irwin Chusid (who featured her cover of the Electric Prunes’ I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night on the second of his Songs In The Key Of Z collections) sadly Joel died in 2000 and Susan abandoned music and moved back home to Colorado. However her story doesn't end there: in 2014, seemingly out of the blue, she embarked on a huge world tour, playing art house cafés and small venues around the US and Europe. She’s on Facebook: go say hello.

Here are a couple of brilliantly odd tracks from The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits for you: Born to be Wild and Radar Love. You know what to do if you want to hear more.

Enjoy!

Friday, 2 January 2015

Apologies

Happy New Year everybody! Welcome to 2015, and to the ninth year of the World’s Worst Records. My, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?

To kick off this year I bring you Apology at Bedtime - the 1963 45 from one Dick Whittinghill, US singer, radio DJ, actor and voiceover artist - in all its winsome, sickly niceness. The sad tale of a father’s regrets, Apology at Bedtime is a maudlin little ditty, intoned over a deathly instrumental backing in which Whittinghill lists the many, many occasions on which he lost his temper and humiliated his young son - usually without reason. I know that not everyone will agree with me, but I think that it’s a nasty record: a feeble act of contrition from a bully of a father masquerading as a sweet tale of paternal love and forgiveness.

It wasn’t that I didn’t love you
It was that I was expecting too much of youth
I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own age
And son, I am sorry

Blech!

Born in Montana in 1913, Whittinghill’s early music career included being a member of The Pied Pipers, a vocal group which sang with Tommy Dorsey's big band. For three decades, beginning in 1950, Whittinghill was the popular morning disc jockey at KMPC in Los Angeles. Among the features of his program were the "story records," sent in by listeners, in which a short anecdote was completed with a line from a song. For example, the spider told Little Miss Muffet, "You can keep the curds but give me all the whey. Whitinghill would then play Frank Sinatra's song All the Way.

In 1965 he issued the album The Square, which included Apology at Bedtime as well as the 45s B-side Musings of a Father, the saccharine saga of life in a typical 60s American home. The title track was also issued as a single and scraped in to the Record World top 200 charts at number 144. The actor Jackie Gleason had previously recorded a version of Apology at Bedtime (and issued it as a killer twofer, backed with To A Sleeping Princess) on Capitol. Whittinghill’s discs were issued by Dot, home – of course – of our old friend Pat Boone.

Whittinghill, who appeared in several Hollywood movies (including Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter) would go on to have a successful TV career, appearing in several episodes of Perry Mason and Dragnet as well as in Lassie, Bonanza and many, many others. He passed away, aged 87, in January 2001.

Enjoy!


Friday, 19 December 2014

Christmas Cavalcade 2014 (Part Three)

There’s less than a week to go to the big day and, as we’re speeding towards Christmas, I thought I’d better give you a few more nativity nasties to listen to.

The first track today continues the World’s Worst Records’ proud history of bringing you Christmassy novelties by convicted sex criminals to whit the second, highly obscure, single by Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks, aka Radio One DJ Paul Burnett and the sexual predator who once rejoiced in the nickname of the Hairy Monster, Dave Lee Travis.

In September Travis was given a suspended sentence of three months for indecently assaulting a woman in 1995. The 69-year-old had been found guilty of attacking a researcher who was working on BBC TV's Mrs Merton Show. He had already been cleared of 14 other charges. The former Top of the Pops presenter cornered the woman in the corridor of a television studio where she was smoking, commenting on her “poor little lungs” before squeezing her breasts. Delightful.

Live at the Blue Boar, the follow-up to Laurie Lingo’s huge hit Convoy GB, was originally backed by an instrumental disco version of Good King Wenceslas (which is not included here – it’s fairly pointless). It failed to chart.

Next up is the horrid Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas) by the late John Denver. Please Daddy… is the tale of a seven-year-old boy who pleads with his father to try his best not to pass out under the Christmas Tree. Denver, better known for Annie's Song, recorded Please Daddy… in 1975 for his album Rocky Mountain Christmas. There can’t be many festive songs that feature the lyrics

You came home at a quarter past eleven
Fell down underneath our Christmas tree
Please Daddy, don't get drunk this Christmas
I don't wanna see my Momma cry

In a deliciously ironic twist, Denver himself was charged with driving under the influence in 1994. He slammed his Porsche into a tree after “tossing back Scotch like lemonade,” as one witness put it. As it was his second alcohol-related smash in the Porsche in 12 months he could have gone to jail, but the judge let him off with a suspended sentence and community service. Denver died three years later when the plane he was piloting crashed into Monterey Bay, California. He should not have been flying: although he had only recently purchased the plane Denver's medical certificate had been revoked in 1996 as he had failed to abstain from alcohol after his drink-drive arrests, effectively banning him from the cockpit.

Today’s third and fourth tracks - the appalling Christmas Conga and the risqué Minnie and Santa - come from Cyndi Lauper. Yes: honestly. These pieces of garbage are taken from her album Merry Christmas, Have a Nice Life! – an unmitigated flop which reportedly only sold 26,000 copies. With lyrics like this:

Come on and hold my hips a little longer
As we do the Christmas conga
Bonga, bonga, bonga! Do the Christmas conga!

…is that any surprise? Story has it that much of the album was recorded in a closet in Cyndi’s home. If the quality of the music track on Minnie and Santa is anything to judge by it may as well have been recorded in a dustbin.

Today’s final song is the wonderfully curmudgeonly The Man That Slits the Turkeys’ Throats at Christmas by Scottish folk-singer and songwriter Robin Laing. It is taken from the ‘alternative’ Christmas collection Bah Humbug, issued in 2002 by Greentrax, Scotland’s leading traditional music label. Laing began his recording career in 1989 with the album Edinburgh Skyline: he has also authored several books on whisky.

Ho, ho, ho...who'd be a turkey at Christmas? Enjoy!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Metal Knight

For the last three years Christopher Lee – yes, that Christopher Lee – has been issuing an annual, heavy metal Christmas single. His latest – Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing (a death metal take on Hark, the Herald Angels Sing) was released earlier this week and is available now from all of the usual download sites. He’s also issued a brace of metal albums Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, which was arranged by Richie Faulkner, the lead guitarist of Judas Priest, Charlemagne: The Omens of Death – and mini-album Metal Knight.   

Actor Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE, CStJ, (May 27, 1922) became best known for his role as Count Dracula in a string of Hammer Horror films; other notable roles include Lord Summerisle in the British horror film The Wicker Man (1973), Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogies, and Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. He was knighted for services to drama and charity in 2009, received the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011 and the BFI Fellowship in 2013. He was honoured with the Spirit of Metal award in the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden God awards ceremony.

To be honest the most recent single, and last year’s Heavy Metal Christmas Too aren’t that bad. However the first release (Heavy Metal Christmas) is diabolically awful, and I feel fully justified in bringing you this huge Christmas turkey today.

The two songs – Little Drummer Boy and Silent Night ­– are staggeringly bad: Lee, 90 at the time of recording, sings the carols in a fairly straight, if bombastic, manner but the musical accompaniment slathered over the top is ridiculous and more often than not completely out of time. It makes for painful listening.

More to come; but for now, enjoy!



Tuesday, 9 December 2014

(Non) Christmas Greetings from Canada

It’s never happened before but I guess it was inevitable that, one day, someone would approach me and ask for their record to be included on The World’s Worst Records blog.

Such an occurrence took place last week and I was, quite naturally, intrigued. I had intended to post nothing but Christmas-themed records during December but I think that The Last Few Days, the debut album by a young Canadian artist by the name of Cody Robertson, deserves your attention – hence this extra post. Oh, and he’s crowdfunding his next project and you’ve only got until December 23 if you want to get involved.

I’ll let Cody tell you his story himself: “I finished The Last Few Days in 2008, when I was just starting high school. Some of the songs are about experiences, dreams or jokes that I found interesting at the time. Some of the songs are not about any real events at all because, as a young person without a wide selection of life experiences to sing about, sometimes I would just sing silly songs or sing more ‘serious’ songs about experiences that I hadn't really had.”

Cody is a prime example of what Irwin Chusid would call an ‘outsider’ musician: he’s a young man with limited musical experience but who has something he wants to express. There’s lots to enjoy in the world of outsider music – and I’d certainly include acts like The Shaggs in that list – but there’s also a lot that troubles me. Many so-called outsider musicians are people who have serious mental health issues (Wildman Fischer and Jerry Solomon, for example), and there is a dichotomy at the heart of what many accept as outsider music. Clearly it’s perfectly alright to enjoy music by people whose creativity stems from their own experience (however uncomfortable those experiences are for the average listener), but it’s not acceptable to laugh at a ‘funny’ record that has been produced by someone who has health issues. Unless they intended that record to be humorous, of course.

Anyway, back to Cody: “I enjoy some of the work I did on the album, but a lot of the production, timing and singing makes me cringe. Almost every song I made got a place on the album, whereas many talented artists will make a lot of music and then choose only the best for their albums. Any album I complete represents quite an accomplishment for me because I am prone to procrastination and have a love of dreaming up and planning projects, but not finishing them.” I really like Cody’s honesty: as a teenager I would often dream up ideas for songs and I write a whole bunch of awful tunes which embarrass me to this day. Luckily very few people have heard them. 

“In the six years since I released The Last Few Days I feel that I've grown as a person and as a musician,” Cody tells me, admitting candidly that being a musician “is certainly not my full time job. I think my next album shows a marked improvement over it. The songs are more genuine and I took more care when producing them. If I get around to it, I hope my next album after that will be better yet.”

I like Cody, and I genuinely like The Last Few Days. True, in places it is pretty cheesy, but he was just a teenager when he put this out, and I’d rather the naïve honesty and joy of a song like Brittany than any of the detestable output of a million other little teenage snots. Seriously: wouldn’t you rather listen to Cody’s Happy Song – which contains the brilliant line ‘I would tell the truth but it’s not really true’ and could easily be a They Might Be Giants outtake than the hateful Video Games by the Black Out Band? The album’s failings are also its charms: his voice is off key and the instrumentation on a couple of tracks is out of sync, but some of the songs are really creative – this is far from awful. Yes, the keyboard part to Untitled is almost a direct steal from Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, but if you’re going to plagiarise something you could do a lot worse - and I suspect it’s purely co-incidental (incidentally, I originally misread this as Untitled: pleasingly the song is called Untilted because Cody himself once misread the same word!) Yes, it sounds exactly like it was recorded in a bedroom – but so was Your Woman by White Town, and that was a massive hit. I laughed out loud at several points when listening to Hookfoot: I think you will too. ‘Your foot is a hook and you always fall down/And it’s funny’. It is.

If you go to http://codyrobertson.bandcamp.com/album/the-last-few-days you can download the whole album. Chuck him a couple of dollars while you’re there: he deserves it. He tells me that he’s only sold a bout 20 physical copies of the CD, and most of those were to family and friends. I hope those 20 people appreciate it.

Cody’s next album, Midsized Eras, is out in early 2015. He’s releasing it under the name Optional because he wants to distance himself from his older music, which I understand but I think it’s a shame. “I am trying to get it into the hands of people who are interested in it by doing a crowdfunding campaign,” he explains. “The main focus is selling 100 CDs for $1 each with free shipping.” You can find out more about Midsized Eras – and hear three songs from the project – at http://optionalsongs.bandcamp.com and preorder your CD there (you can, if you choose, pay more than a dollar).

“Making music is a hobby for me,” Cody tells me. “It's something that I love doing, but I would be more encouraged to keep making it if I knew that a few other people actually enjoyed it. I can always make it available for free download and hope someone finds it, but getting some CDs in to people's hands means more to me. I hope the campaign will generate enough interest to connect my music with those who find it interesting. We shall see!”

Good luck Cody: I’ve already ordered my copy. Why not have a listen to a couple of tracks, then go to http://codyrobertson.bandcamp.com/album/the-last-few-days and grab the whole album?

Enjoy!



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