Monday, August 3, 2015

Bob and Ray – "I'd Like to Be a Cow in Switzerland" (1949)




Radio comedians Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding weren't singers, but they did some intentionally bad singing on their radio show from time to time. The duo was on the air from 1946 to 1987, and in those 41 years, although they released a number of spoken-word comedy albums, they released only one record of music: "Mule Train" b/w "I'd Like to Be a Cow in Switzerland," both sides of which were performed by Ray Goulding's Mary McGoon character in 1949.


The record came about after Goulding-as-McGoon performed "Mule Train" on the air to poke fun at the flood of cover versions that appeared when Frankie Laine's version became a hit. "Mule Train" was so ubiquitous that even Mary McGoon—the elderly host of a recipe segment on Bob and Ray's show—was singing it. 

David Pollock's book Bob and Ray, Keener Than Most Persons says:
After first performing ["Mule Train"] live on the program, requests poured in for Mary to repeat the number; some even suggested that she put it on record. Finally, Ray recorded it in Mary's voice, joined on the choruses by Elliott as Tex Blaisdell. Bill Green provided the piano accompaniment. On the flip side, Mary sang, "I'd Like to Be a Cow in Switzerland," with music and lyrics by Charles and Nick Kenny. ... With McGrath's* okay—in exchange for a cut—the record was highly promoted on the station. But when the pressed discs arrived shortly before Christmas, there was no shipping operation in place. Finally, Sam Clark, an owner of a small Boston record distributorship with a taste for offbeat labels, let the boys use his basement. Night after night, after their regular WHDH shifts, the two processed all mail-order requests themselves, including packaging and mailing, in Clark's garage. Everyone involved—including McGrath—made out okay.
*William McGrath, general manager of Boston's WHDH.

On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio says that Bob and Ray's recording of "Mule Train" and "I'd Like to Be a Cow in Switzerland"—released on their own Bob and Ray Records label—"quickly sold out its 3,000-copy pressing and was soon a collectors item."




Although "Mule Train" was the A-side of the single, "I'd Like to Be a Cow in Switzerland" seems to be the best remembered of the two Bob and Ray recordings, perhaps because that song hasn't been as widely recorded as "Mule Train."


Bob and Ray
The David Pollock quotation above says that Charles and Nick Kenny wrote the music and lyrics of "I'd Like to Be a Cow," but the song was actually written by the third person whose name appears on the label: Pat Gorman. 

Gorman was a longtime secretary-treasurer of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters' Union (AMCU). In 1947, the AMCU recorded 10 songs by Gorman and pressed them on records to give to the union's members as Christmas gifts. Billboard reported that Gorman, "for 30 years an executive of the union, has never had any formal education, but has written 735 compositions of all types of music since he was 10 years old." (A book about Gorman, Picket and the Pen: The Pat Gorman Story, was published in 1960.) 

Gorman was inspired to write "I'd Like to Be a Cow" when he took a trip to Europe and felt that Switzerland was the only peaceful place on the continent. 


A 1947 ad for Goldmine Music, Inc.
Nick and Charles Kenny of Bob Hope's Goldmine Music publishing company came across the song and began promoting it in conjunction with Paull-Pioneer Music, another music publishing firm. That must have been when they put their name on the song as "co-writers." Afterward, the song allegedly was recorded by Louis Prima for Majestic and by Irving Kaufman, but I haven't seen these records. (No version by Prima appears on discographies of Majestic's releases.) Al Trace and Nate Wexler definitely recorded the song, at least for a radio transcription. Plans were afoot at that time to incorporate the song into an animated short, but I don't know if that ever came to pass.

After Bob and Ray's reasonably successful debut as musical recording artists, they never did it again. The closest they came was on the 1958 RCA-Victor album Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular, which featured songs by various RCA artists interspersed with Bob and Ray skits, which mainly serve to demonstrate stereo effects. Bob and Ray themselves don't sing on the album, but most of the album's content is music.

Bob and Ray's recordings of "Mule Train" and "I'd Like to Be a Cow" can be found on RadioArt's 4-CD set The Best of Bob and Ray: Volume 4.


"I'd Like to Be a Cow in Switzerland"


I'd like to be a cow in Switzerland
Where the grass is always green
Where the hunters hide behind the trees
Shooting holes in good ol' Schweitzer cheese

Where the bulls are all such gentlemen
So gently they go "moo"
I'd like to be a cow in Switzerland
I'll bet that you would too

I'd like to be a cow in Switzerland
Where the skies are always blue
Where the milkmaids yodel all the day
To their sweethearts miles and miles away

Odelayheeho (Odelayheeho)
How are you? (How are you?)
How much is two and two?

Oh, the Swiss are vegetarians
And Swiss cheese is the rage
I'd like to be a cow in Switzerland
And live to a ripe old age

I'd like to be a cow in Switzerland
Where the mountains kiss the sky
Where the bulls, like Ferdinand, are meek
And so shy they cause the mountains pique

Where the black cows give milk chocolate
And the white cows give ice cream
I'd like to be a cow in Switzerland
Where life is just a dream



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Austria's Honey Twins: "Banjo Boy" (1960)




The Honey Twins were an Austrian pop duo who recorded for the European market in the late 1950s and early 1960s but had only one single that was released in the United States. 

The group consisted of Hedi Prien and Trixie Kühn. The duo's most successful single was a German-language version of the Coasters' "Charlie Brown," titled "Charly Brown."

The Honey Twins split in 1961, and Prien started recording as a solo singer under the name Andrea Horn that same year. She also sang in a folk duo with her husband, Wyn Hoop, until 1978, when they both retired from music.

In 1960, the Honey Twins recorded their only international single. It was an English-language version of "Banjo Boy," which was an international hit for the German duo Jan & Kjeld and was covered by numerous artists. (The Honey Twins also recorded a German-language version of "Banjo Boy" for Europe.) The B-side of the international single was another English-language song called "Send a Picture Post Card."



Decca Records released the single in the United States. As you can see from the X in the label scan below, "Banjo Boy" was the "plug side" that Decca promoted to radio stations. 




Billboard reviewed the single in its May 30, 1960, issue but misidentified the group as German. 



The Honey Twins' version of "Banjo Boy" received some airplay on KFXM in San Bernadino, California, but didn't chart. "Send Me a Picture Post Card" was played on WIBG in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and reached #98 on the station's weekly survey, so the Honey Twins can claim at least one regional hit—albeit a very minor one—in the United States, and it wasn't even the intended A-side.




The Honey Twins' German label, Polydor, promoted the single in England with an ad in NME, but the single didn't chart there. 

Apart from the Honey Twins, a few of the other artists who covered "Banjo Boy" at this time were George Formby for Pye, the Knightsbridge Chorale for Top Rank, Laurie London for Parlophone, Valerie Masters for Fontana, Art Mooney for MGM, the Raindrops for Oriole, and the Dick Wolf Orchestra for London. 

Billboard mentioned the Honey Twins a few times in its German and British "Newsnotes" columns in the early '60s, usually to report that the group had recorded a new German-language version of an American hit. During its existence, the group recorded versions of Neil Sedaka's "Oh, Carol," the Everly Brothers' "'Til I Kissed You" and "Cathy's Clown," the Teddy Bears' "To Know Him Is to Love Him," and Connie Francis' "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own" and "Many Tears Ago." 

Neither of the Honey Twins' two English-language recordings are currently on YouTube, but you can find both of them on the 2000 CD ...nur ein Küsschen ("Just a Kiss") from Germany's Bear Family Records, and I've included 30-second samples of both of them on this page.




Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cristy Lane's first record, "Janie Took My Place" (1966)



Cristy Lane's first record was "Janie Took My Place" b/w "Stop Foolin' with Me," which was released on the K-Ark label in 1966. K-Ark also released records by Onie Wheeler, Weldon Rogers, Benny Martin, and Eddie Noack, including Noack's oddball 1968 single "Psycho." Lane was spelling her name as "Christy" instead of "Cristy" at this point.

K-Ark started as an aspiring Nashville indie label and released records by legitimate artists, but it didn't have much success and later offered its services as a vanity label for amateur artists and as a production house for song poems, which were amateur poems and song lyrics that staff musicians and vocalists set to music for a fee. (Some good anthologies of song poems are available, such as this one.) 
In 1971, K-Ark lost its license to record because of a long list of infractions, many of which involved paying musicians less than union scale and making musicians give some of their session earnings to the label's owner, Johnny Capps.

Cristy Lane's recording debut for K-Ark wasn't a hit, but her 1986 biography, One Day at a Time, says that "Janie Took My Place" went to #1 at a radio station in Muncie, Indiana. As I mentioned in an earlier post about Lane's Capitol/EMI CDs, I'm from Muncie and have never met anyone who remembers this song. I even asked about it on a popular Muncie forum that has a lot of older members, and no one knew anything about it.

I've uploaded 30-second samples of the two sides of Lane's K-Ark single on this page.


Some discographies list "I'm Saving My Kisses b/w "Heart in the Sand" (Little Cowboy Records LC-3001) as Lane's first single, but that record appeared in the July 8, 1967 issue of Billboard in the chart spotlight column as a new record that was predicted to become a country hit. (It didn't.) "Janie Took My Place," from 1966, preceded it by over a year.
Little Cowboy, incidentally, was a subsidiary of Little Darlin' Records, where Johnny Paycheck first came to fame. In April 1967, Billboard ran a short item on Little Cowboy and said that its first artists would be Cris [sic] Lane and Linwood Pryce.

None of Lane's 1960s recordings has been reissued except for the song "Find Out What You Want" from a 1969 single that she cut for the Spar label. It's included on the 2010 CD Beehives & Bumper Bullets: Country Girls of the 1960s and is mastered from vinyl.



Cristy Lane's 1960s discography


  • "Janie Took My Place" b/w "Stop Foolin' with Me" (K-Ark 686, 1966)
  • "Let's Pretend" b/w "Subtract His Love" (K-Ark 717, 1967)
  • "I'm Saving My Kisses" b/w "Heart in the Sand" (Little Cowboy LC-3001, 1967)
  • "Find Out What You Want" b/w "Promise Me Anything" (Spar 30007, 1969)


Cristy on tour in Vietnam, 1969

Friday, July 24, 2015

Joe Dowell's 1970s radio jingle, "Jim Mittan the Carpet Man"




In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Joe Dowell—the former teen idol who scored a #1 hit in 1961 with his cover of Elvis Presley's "Wooden Heart"—was recording commercial jingles for restaurants, banks, the Boy Scouts of America, charities, and any other paying customers he could find. (Music Weird previously posted a complete discography of Dowell's recordings as well as a three-part interview.)


1968 Carpet Line ad
His most popular commercial jingle in the 1970s was probably "Jim Mittan the Carpet Man," which Dowell wrote and recorded for Jim Mittan's carpet business, the Carpet Line, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This jingle is fondly remembered by all who remember it, but no audio exists of it online, so I'm putting it here for everyone to enjoy.

Jim (James) Mittan's obituary said that he died at the age of 76 on July 27, 2004, at Mercy Hallmar in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after a brief illness. One person wrote in his memorial guestbook, "Everyone remembers Jim Mittan, the Carpet Man. I do, not only as a customer, but as a friend."


In 1966, the Carpet Line appeared in Life magazine
in a list of Iowa flooring businesses



More info at:http://s.comfibook.com/n/Jim+Mittan


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sammy Davis Jr., Britney Spears, and other slot machines


Altovise Davis, Sammy Davis Jr.'s widow, is second from left

The photo above appeared in Jet in 2002 with the caption "Keeping Sammy's Legacy Alive." Sammy Davis Jr.'s legacy was being kept alive at that time by gaming companies that licensed Sammy's image and name for a line of slot machines. These machines can now be found in casinos across the country and maybe around the world.

Sammy Davis Jr. kind of makes sense as a slot machine character, since he was part of the Rat Pack, which was associated with Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world. But a number of other musical figures have also appeared on slot machines, like Queen and Britney Spears, and some of them don't seem to fit into the casino scene quite as well. 

These slot machines are not a new phenomenon. Musicians have served as thematic fodder for mechanical and electronic games for years, like the Kiss pinball machine in 1978 and the Journey arcade game in 1983. Now we have these crazy slot machines.


Sammy Davis Jr.

Here's one of the Sammy Davis Jr. machines:



Dean Martin

The name and cartoon likeness of Rat Packer Dean Martin also appear on slot machines. The estate of his buddy Frank Sinatra doesn't seem to have sold Frank out to the game companies yet, but we're waiting. A Joey Bishop slot machine would be welcome too.



Rolling Stones

The only explanation I can think of for why a Rolling Stones slot machine exists is that the Rolling Stones are famous and were willing to cash in. 



Queen

The Queen slot machine also seems weird to me, but I'm not part of the target audience for slot machines.



Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley is an obvious candidate for being turned into a slot machine, because of Viva Las Vegas. The game lets you choose your era of Elvis: Memphis, Hollywood, or Vegas.



Kiss

In the tradition of the 1978 Kiss pinball machine is the Kiss slot machine: 


Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's estate licensed his name and image for a couple of different slot machines after Michael died. CNN ran an article about it in 2011. I doubt that Michael would have been cool with this when he was around.


Britney Spears 

Britney headlined in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, and now she's a slot machine.



Antonio Vivaldi

Even classical music is fair game (so to speak) for slot machines. "The Four Seasons" by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi provided the theme for this machine. 



Liberace

This old-fashioned mechanical slot machine is a replica of Liberace's personal slot machine. The Retrologist has a number of photos of, and information about, the Liberace exhibit at the Time Warner Center in New York, where this photo was taken. Unlike the slot machines above, this model was never commercially available.


Monday, July 20, 2015

"Color Cartoons": The only record by Gary, Indiana's Goldenrods (1958)


The Goldenrods: Charles Colquitt, Crosby Harris, Jesse Rodgers,
Hiawatha Burnett. Not pictured: Cleve Denham

Novelty songs that listed television and movie characters were common in the late '50s and early '60s. The Olympics' "Western Movies" was a Top 10 hit in 1960, and Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" was a #1 hit in 1962. Another song in this vein, "Color Cartoons," was the only record by the Goldenrods, a doo-wop group from Gary, Indiana.

A stock copy of "Color Cartoons" 
The record was released in 1958 and immediately disappeared. It wasn't a national or even a regional hit, it wasn't reviewed in Billboard, and today it's one of the rarest of all releases on the Vee-Jay label. 

The group consisted of Crosby Harris (lead vocals), Hiawatha Burnett (tenor), Cleve Denham (tenor), Jesse Rodgers (baritone), and Charles Colquitt (bass). The group formed in 1955 in emulation of the Spaniels, a popular R&B group from Gary that recorded for Vee-Jay and is remembered for the 1954 hit "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight." The Goldenrods' took their name from the Goldenrod-brand composition notebooks that were still available as late as the mid 1970s.

The Goldenrods got their deal with Vee-Jay Records by pestering Vivian Carter, one of the co-owners of the label, in her Gary record shop. They managed to capture her interest, so Vee-Jay recorded a four-song session with the group in 1958. Only two of the songs were released: "Color Cartoons" and "Wish I Was Back in School." The label must not have sent a review copy to Billboard, because the record wasn't reviewed, even though the other earlier and later Vee-Jay releases were. Vee-Jay did press promotional copies, though—an image of the promo appears below. 



The two other songs from the session—"Work, You Lazy Bones, Work" and "At the Football Game"—weren't released, but "At the Football Game" ended up on YouTube

An unusual aspect of these songs is that all of them were composed by the group's tenor, Hiawatha Burnett, who sang lead on "Color Cartoons" and "At the Football Game." Not many pop and R&B acts wrote their own material back then. Marv Goldberg interviewed Burnett about the Goldenrods several years ago, and Burnett said that someone told him that novelty songs were the thing then, so he started writing them. 

As a result of its obscurity, "Color Cartoons" has become a valuable record. The 2009 Goldmine Price Guide to 45 RPM Records values it at $250, but a copy in VG condition sold in 2014 for nearly $400.
The B-side of the white-label promo
The band split up in 1959 and most of the members quit the music business. Bass singer Charles Colquitt (spelled Kolquitt in some books) joined the revered Spaniels.

"Color Cartoons" is included on a couple of compilation CDs: It's on the (allegedly) South Korean anthology Forever Doo-Wop Volume 1 (KFDW 001, 1991) and the bootleg Heavy on Doo-Wop Vol. 1 (Champ #101, 2000). If the version on Forever Doo-Wop Volume 1 isn't mastered from tape, then it's a very clean disc dub.

I've transcribed the lyrics below. I wonder if the song refers to the 1953 Bugs Bunny cartoon "Robot Rabbit"? That cartoon features a carrot field, a farmer (played by Elmer Fudd), and a robot that chases Bugs all over tarnation.

"Color Cartoons" is mostly just a list of cartoon characters and situations, but the lyrics have a slapdash quality. The rhyme scheme is vague, "field" is rhymed with "field," "Woody Woodpecker" is abbreviated as "Woodypecker," and the part about Bugs Bunny is half-formed in the middle. But the group's harmonies are tighter than you'll find on many independent-label doo-wop records, and the subject of cartoons makes for an entertaining novelty record. The song even squeezes in a reference to hula hoops, which was the biggest craze going in 1958.

"Color Cartoons"

Color cartoons, now, at the show
Twelve cents admission, so I had to go
And dig those silly, silly villains
I saw robots getting caught out on a limb
I laughed so until I almost cried
I laughed so until I almost died 
In a cartoon, in a cartoon

You know Bugs Bunny was out in the carrot field
Eating up the farmer's field
And out popped the farmer, out on the hill
And, ooh, Bugs knew that the farmer will
He grabbed a handful of the carrot stalk
Took off a-hoppin' saying, "What's up, doc?"
In a cartoon, in a cartoon

Elmer Fudd
And Woodypecker too
Sylvester the Cat was doing the hootchy-koo
And Donald Duck and Porky Pig
Mickey Mouse was doing that rock and roll jig
Ha ha ha ha ha ha

Casper the Ghost was a real cool host
Doing the hula hoop that was really the most
In a cartoon, in a cartoon

Cinderella almost didn't make it in time
Her driver was [indecipherable] at a traffic sign
Mighty Mouse came in the nick of time
He got her right home before the midnight chime

Friday, July 10, 2015

Patty Surbey: Canada's wild rocker chick of the '60s


Patty Surbey (right) with the Canadian V.I.P.'s

Patty Surbey was a remarkable Canadian rocker of the mid '60s who released two awesome singles and then dropped out of music. 

Those two singles, "(I Want) A Beatle for Christmas" (1964) and "Hey, Boy" (1965) weren't hits, but both are excellent cuts that feature Surbey's distinctive yelp, which sounds kind of like a female version of Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon. For sheer verve, "Hey, Boy" could be put in a category with the Tammys' "Egyptian Shumba" and the recordings of teen drama queen Cathy Carroll

"(I Want) A Beatle for Christmas" could have become a hit, but a shipping delay prevented the single from being available until early December of 1964. The song was listed as a "pick hit" on the Dec. 12 survey at CFUN-AM in Vancouver but didn't actually chart. 




Surbey was from Burnaby, British Columbia, and appeared as a vocalist on Vancouver's Let's Go television show, which was similar to Your Hit Parade in that it featured regular vocalists performing hits of the day. 

Vancouver's Aragon Records signed Surbey and paired her with a Vancouver band called the Canadian V.I.P.'s. In keeping with their name, the Canadian V.I.P.'s would wear tuxedos and ride to their shows in limousines. The original four members were Dave Trainor (guitar), Louis Pitre (piano, later a member of the Centaurs), Norm Hanson (bass), and Pat Trainor (drums). Before they backed Surbey, they recorded a single for Aragon that contained a vocal version of Chuck Berry's "Lucille" and an instrumental, "Monsoon." 

Surbey's first single, "(I Want) A Beatle for Christmas," is one of the few Beatles-related novelty records that is worth listening to. Several records with this title were released around this time, but Surbey's is a different song. Released as Aragon #402, it featured another Christmas tune on the flip side. That song, "Christmas All Year 'Round," is a mid-tempo number that says we can make Christmas come every day by being nice. Aragon allegedly leased the master to Los Angeles' World Pacific Records for release in the United States, but I haven't found any evidence of a World Pacific pressing. 

Her next single, "Hey, Boy!," backed with "Everyone I Know," was released by London, Ontario's Sparton Records, which had released Paul Anka's records in Canada in the '50s. For a regional record that never saw any chart action, "Hey, Boy!" has been anthologized a lot. And for good reason: It's great. The teen boy's final words are a bit puzzling, but Surbey's vocal performance is delightful. "Everyone I Know" is a slower song punctuated with somewhat intrusive dialog and laughter.




In 1966, Surbey performed Petula Clark's "A Sign of the Times" (a Top 10 hit in Canada) on The Ken Colman Show on CBC. A video of her performance can be seen here. She sings it straight without her characteristic yelps, but a bit of her unruly personality shows through when she sticks out her tongue (at 0:34). 
Surbey and the Canadian V.I.P.'s

After leaving Let's Go, Surbey became a born-again Christian, moved to Ontario, and retired from the music business. If she had continued to make records, and if she hadn't had to compete with the British Invasion, and if her singles had gotten more exposure, she might have become a major star. Her brash vocals and signature yelp made her one of the most distinctive female teen singers of her time and place.

You can find all four of Surbey's songs as well as the two sides by the Canadian V.I.P.'s on Bear Family Records' 2003 compilation Real Gone Aragon: Roots, Rockers & Rockabillies. Some of the details about Surbey in this Music Weird blog post are adapted from Wayne Russell's liner notes.