Friday, June 19, 2015

G Stands for Go-Betweens: The promotional sampler

To promote the limited-edition Go-Betweens box set G Stands for Go-Betweens: Volume 1, Domino Records issued this promo-only sampler, which is also titled G Stands for Go-Betweens. Even though the box set was a limited edition that has already sold out, this sampler is a manufactured disc, not a CD-R. 

The first 600 people who ordered the box set received books from the late Grant McLennan's library. Music Weird has a list of Grant's books here and a post about some of the box set's still unresolved speed discrepancies here

Today's post is about this promotional sampler, though. Below you'll find the track list as well as scans of the inside of the booklet, the disc, and the back cover. You can listen to the entire sampler on Domino Records' SoundCloud page here

The inside of the booklet says that Robert Forster himself compiled the sampler, so it's interesting to see which songs from the box set he chose to highlight. He included two songs from each of the first three Go-Betweens albums, two songs from the disavowed album Very Quick on the Eye, two songs from non-album singles, a few radio sessions, and a few previously unreleased studio cuts. 

Track list
  1. Cattle and Cane (from Before Hollywood)
  2. Lee Remick (from the Able Label single)
  3. I Need Two Heads (recorded live for Double Jay in 1982; previously unreleased)
  4. Hope (from Very Quick on the Eye)
  5. Bachelor Kisses (from Spring Hill Fair)
  6. 8 Pictures (from Send Me a Lullaby)
  7. Lies (not identified as previously unreleased, but if it was previously released, I don't know where)
  8. Secondhand Furniture (Peel session)
  9. Part Company (from Spring Hill Fair)
  10. Hammer the Hammer (from the Rough Trade single)
  11. The Sound of Rain (from 78 'Til 79: The Lost Album and, before that, from the Japanese 2-CD version of 1978-1990)
  12. One Thing Can Hold Us (recorded live for Double Jay in 1982; previously unreleased)
  13. The Clowns Are in Town (from Very Quick on the Eye)
  14. Hold Your Horses (from Send Me a Lullaby)
  15. As Long as That (from Before Hollywood)
  16. Unkind and Unwise (previously unreleased version)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Victorian-era trade cards: mandolins and lutes

Woolston Spice Company, Toledo, Ohio
Music Weird previously featured Victorian-era trade cards of piano and organ companies. Today we have a gallery of trade cards that picture mandolins and lutes, which seem—from what I've seen—to be the most common stringed instruments to appear on trade cards. 

Many of the companies that used images of mandolins were not music companies. They sold unrelated goods and services and incorporated mandolins into fanciful images that were meant to catch the eye and evoke harmoniousness or nostalgia.

The trade cards themselves were merely printed advertisements, but the colorful artwork was intended to make people notice them and collect them, and perhaps even reward the issuing company with their business. 

Auburn Drug and Chemical Company, Auburn, Maine
Chas Counselman & Company, Chicago, Illinois
Barretts' Dye House, Boston, Massachusetts
Wesp, Lautz Brothers and Company, Buffalo, New York
The Broadway Tailor, Brooklyn, New York
Circa 1890, no advertising
Neptune Umbrella, Buffalo, New York
August Pollman, New York City, New York
A.M. Peel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Kendall Mfg. Co., Providence, Rhode Island

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Rebecca Black's "BFF You Make Me LOL": What happened?

In 2011, The Sun reported that Rebecca Black, the amateur teen singer whose vanity single "Friday" unexpectedly became a Billboard chart hit, was prepping a followup single. 

This followup single was to be called "LOL" and was said to feature the lyrics "BFF you make me LOL." 

The song never materialized. Instead, Black released "My Moment" later that year.

Nevertheless, the news of this alleged "LOL" single created a stir. If it seemed as if the ridiculousness of "Friday" couldn't be topped, the reported lyrics of "LOL" suggested otherwise. 

Listeners who searched the Web for news about this upcoming single were suckered by videos on YouTube that purported to have news about, previews of, or even the full audio of Black's new song. Some of these videos are still on YouTube. 

Following up on The Sun's story, reported that Black's manager said, "There's no truth to any story about a new song from Black." 

“Rebecca does not have a new single titled LOL,” the manager insisted. “Just to be clear, she does not have any new single recorded at this time."

The story in The Sun was picked up by the usually reliable Billboard, and the Billboard article said that Black was working on a full-length album. Like "LOL," this album never materialized.

Rebecca Black at the MTV Music Awards
"Here I am in a studio working on my debut album. I'm going to prove you wrong," Black supposedly said. (Not a very believable quotation.)

"Just like 'Friday,' 'the new songs are pretty catchy,'" said Black, according to Billboard (via The Sun). The article added that she was recording her album at the Flying Pig Productions studio in Los Angeles.

But her manager told, “We are not working with Flying Pig Productions, they are good people and have wonderful studios—but we have no business arrangement with them.”

After "My Moment" (Black's finest single, in my opinion), she released the so-so "Person of Interest" toward the end of 2011. In 2012, she released "Sing It" and "In Your Words." Both were lackluster songs but showed that she had been working on her singing. In 2013, she released a sequel to "Friday," titled "Saturday," which actually charted slightly higher on the Billboard Hot 100 than "Friday." Black has been quiet ever since.

It appears that The Sun completely fabricated its story about "LOL." In picking up the story, Billboard must not have realized that The Sun is a British tabloid like Weekly World News or The Enquirer. I asked Black's publicist to comment on the whole shebang and clarify whether Black ever recorded an album, but he didn't reply, even though he's probably not very busy these days.

I like to believe that an unreleased Rebecca Black album from 2011 is in the can and will one day be released as a lost classic of early 21st century teen pop. When it is, I'll be the first in line to buy it. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John": Sequels, parodies, and answer songs

Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John" has to be one of the most parodied songs in the history of popular music. It spawned more answer songs and spoofs than any other song I can think of. The song was even made into a movie

The original release of "Big Bad John" concluded with Dean saying, "At the bottom of this pit lies one hell of a man." That kind of salty language didn't sit well with some radio stations, so a second version was released in which Dean says, "At the bottom of this pit lies a big, big man." After it was cleaned up, the single topped the pop chart for over a month in 1961.

Today on Music Weird, we'll look at the many songs that "Big Bad John" spawned. Chart positions are from Billboard unless otherwise noted.

Dottie West - "My Big John" (Starday 574, 1961)

"My Big John" is an anemic early performance by West on an answer song to "Big Bad John" that tells the story from the standpoint of John's Cajun queen. 

Phil McLean "Small Sad Sam" (Versatile 107, 1961) #21 Pop

This parody of "Big Bad John" tells the story of small, sad Sam, a puny weakling who saves himself and leaves everyone else to die in a tragic elevator accident. 

Bob Kayli – "Small Sad Sam" (Tamla 54051, 1961)

This R&B cover of Phil McLean's "Small Sad Sam" was recorded by Motown founder Berry Gordy's brother, Robert Gordy, under the pseudonym Bob Kayli. No video, but you can listen to a sample here.

Don Bowman - "Little Bad Dan" (GNP 170X, 1961)

Another parody, this one tells the story of a football player named Bad Dan. 

Marvin Rainwater – "Tough Top Cat" (Warwick M674, 1962)

In Marvin Rainwater's "Tough Top Cat," Big Bad John is hooligan cat named Big Tom. 

Des O'Connor – "Thin Chow Min" (Piccadilly 7N 35028, 1962)

Des O'Connor is an English comedian and vocalist who charted several singles in England in the late '60s and early '70s, including the #1 hit "I Pretend." His politically incorrect "Big Bad John" parody, "Thin Chow Min," wasn't one of his hits.

Casey Anderson – "Sweet Sidney" (from the album The Bag I'm In, Atco LP 33-149, 1962) 

Anderson's intro to "Sweet Sidney" is very similar to the one later used in "Big Bruce." This was the first of numerous gay parodies of "Big Bad John." The excellent Queer Music Heritage website has a discography of gay-themed "Big Bad John" parodies.

Jimmy Dean - "The Cajun Queen" (Columbia 4-42282, 1962) #22 Pop

Jimmy Dean's first sequel to his own hit shifts the focus to John's Cajun Queen. 

Jimmy Dean - "Little Bitty Big John" (Columbia 4-42483, 1962) #110 Cash Box

Dean's second "Big Bad John" sequel, "Little Bitty Big John," is my favorite in the bunch, although the story has several continuity errors. You can't put Dean's three "Big Bad John" songs together to form a coherent narrative.

Patti Page – "Big Bad John" (from the album Patti Sings Golden Hits of the Boys, Mercury MG 20712, 1962)

This isn't a parody or an answer song—it's just a straight cover. But "Big Bad John" seems like a strange choice of repertoire for a pop diva like Patti Page, so I included it. 

Homer & Jethro - "Big Bad John" (from the album At the Convention, RCA LSP 2494, 1962)

Another gay parody. I couldn't find any audio online. 

The Four Saints - "Big Bad Jane" (from the album The Many Sounds of the Four Saints, Warner Bros. LPM-FSR 6201, 1962)

From the 1962 Four Saints album The Many Sounds of the Four Saints. No audio.

Allan Sherman – "Big Bad Jim" (1962)

Sherman wrote an obscene parody of "Big Bad John" that he performed but never recorded. It has been written about a few times. Billboard mentioned it in its Nov. 3, 1962, issue, and devoted an entire post to it and included a snippet of lyrics.

Country Gentlemen - "Big Bruce" (Rebel 263, 1966)

The original version of "Big Bruce" seems to borrow from Casey Anderson's "Sweet Sidney," heard earlier in this post. 

Steve Greenberg - "Big Bruce" (first version) (Trip 3000, 1969)

Steve Greenberg's hit version of "Big Bruce" was issued twice with alterations to the lyric. It barely inched into the Hot 100. 

Steve Greenberg – "Big Bruce" (second version) (Trip 45-3000, 1969) #97 Pop

Ben Colder – "Big Sweet John" (MGM K14111, 1969)

The parody by Ben Colder, AKA Sheb Wooley, is similar to Homer & Jethro's version.

Hudson & Pickett – "Big Bad John" (from the album The Hollyweird Squares, Dore LP 334, 1972)

No audio.

Bill Stith - "Big Bruce" (Jamie 1417, 1973)

A lackluster remake of the Country Gentlemen/Steve Greenberg tune. 

Rod Erickson – "Big Bad Tom" (Damon DDM 102, 1975)

I couldn't find audio of Erickson's 1975 recording, but here's a video of him performing it live in 2009. This parody is about cat, like Marvin Rainwater's "Tough Top Cat," which is quoted toward the end. 

Rod Hart - "Big Fanny" (from the album Breakeroo, Plantation PLP-500, 1976)

Hart, known for his gay trucker hit "C.B. Savage," cut a "Big Bad John" parody for the album Breakeroo, on which "C.B. Savage" appeared. No video. Sample here

Reverend Billy C. Wirtz - "Big Jess" (from the album Pianist Envy, Hightone HCD 8051, 1994)

No audio.


Frank Gallop's "The Ballad of Irving" (1966, #34 Pop) is a parody of Lorne Greene's "Ringo" but references "Big Bad John." Jimmy Dean's "PT 109" (1962, #8 Pop) references "Big Bad John" at the end.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Terre Roche's Blabbermouth, a memoir

I've been obsessed with the Roches lately. I've always been a fan, but a couple of months ago I listened to their 1995 album Can We Go Home Now and got hooked all over again. After I bought the few Roches albums I didn't already own, I listened to their guest appearances on other artists' albums. Still wanting more, I ordered Terre Roche's self-published memoir, Blabbermouth.

This slim book (110 pages) came out in 2013 and is a print-on-demand title that is available only through

The Roches' music defies categorization, as critics like to say. The group was associated with the Greenwich Village folk scene, but they weren't a folk act. They were more closely aligned with the '70s singer-songwriter scene but wrote about offbeat topics, peppered their songs with in-jokes and private references, and weren't afraid of dissonance. They were kind of like the post-punk group the Raincoats combined with a traditional pop vocal sister group like the Lennon Sisters. But the Roches were way weirder than the clean-cut Lennon Sisters and more musicianly than most post-punk groups.  

Within the first several paragraphs of Blabbermouth, I felt like I'd wandered into a room where people were arguing. Before the book was published, Terre shared a draft of Blabbermouth with her mother and sisters. They objected to her airing of the family's secrets and wrote letters asking her to cease and desist. Terre put the letters at the beginning of the book. 

As a result of the book, she was ousted from the group and apparently has had a strained relationship with her sisters ever since.

I didn't like the family-feud aspect of the book. I love the Roches' music and would prefer that they live in happy harmony, but that's not the way life is. The entire first half of the book is riveting, though. It describes Terre and Maggie's ups and downs as they pursued a music career, and I couldn't stop reading. 

The story feels complete up to their 1975 album Seductive Reasoning and subsequent professional meltdown. Afterward, Suzzy joined the group, and the three sisters became the Roches. At that point, the story skips ahead to Terre's post-Roches life, when she's struggling to make a living as a guitar teacher and make sense of it all. 

Reader reviews of the book say that it should be longer, and I agree, because it seems as if the entire middle of the book is missing. I wanted to read about the other Roches' albums, the group's attempts to go mainstream, their television appearances, their journey from major to independent labels, and all of the other professional and artistic struggles that surrounded the peak years of their popularity. The book skips past all of that.

In the parts that are included, though, Terre doesn't hold back—she writes about some deep, dark, and personal stuff. The naked photo on the cover symbolizes the nakedness within. I've read plenty of biographies but not many memoirs, so this book got me thinking about the ethics of memoir writing. I decided that I'm undecided: I loved Blabbermouth and felt nothing but compassion and affection for the Roches, but I also can understand why Terre's family didn't want some of these stories to be told. Like the book itself, my journey as a reader was filled with tortured introspection. Now I've moved on to a book about psychopathy, and it seems much lighter. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Atrocious fake accents in music

One practice that we should all be thankful has died out is the widespread use of fake accents in music. In pop and folk music, in particular, until the mid 1960s, artists routinely affected Italian, Mexican, Russian, Irish, Chinese, and other accents, often on songs that were filled with cultural cliches and unpleasant stereotypes. 

You can still hear fake accents from time to time in music. Country artists often exaggerate (or fake) their hick and southern accents. Indiepop and indie rock artists, like Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard, sometimes affect fake British accents. Even Britney Spears utilized a fake British accent in the 2012 hit "Scream & Shout." 

Today on Music Weird, we'll stroll down Memory Lane and revisit some of the most atrocious fake accents from the popular music of yesteryear.

Billy Walker – "Viva La Matador"

Country star Billy Walker laid on an awful fake Spanish accent in "Viva La Matador" in 1957. The lyrics (example: "heap big") seem to be a mixture of Spanish-American and Native American stereotypes. 

Mamie Van Doren – "Go, Go Calypso"

"Go, Go Calypso" is Mamie Van Doren's contribution to the calypso craze. I don't think that Van Doren ever recorded a song that I would want to hear more than once.


Rod McKuen – "Bimini"

"Bimini" is a song from Rod McKuen's first album, Songs for a Lazy Afternoon, which was released by Liberty Records in 1956. Most of the recordings were later reissued on a 1970 Sunset LP titled In the Beginning, but the most awful songs for a lazy afternoon—including "Bimini"—were left off. When McKuen sings straight, he's an acquired taste. Add a fake accent? Forget about it.


Wanda Jackson – "Don'a Wan'a"

As a rule, country artists shouldn't attempt foreign accents. 

Rosemary Clooney – "Sailor Boys Have Talk to Me in English"

I can't tell if this is supposed to be a Mexican or Russian accent.

Peggy Lee "Manana"

The talented Peggy Lee gave it her all with a fake Mexican accent in "Mañana," a song that was a #1 hit in 1948. In his book Latinos: A Biography of a People, author Earl Shorris described Lee's singing as "a cruel parody of a Mejicano accent," and wrote, "To the Mexican-American veterans of World War II who were, at the height of the song's popularity, attempting to move into the middle class, 'Mañana' was an almost physical barrier to be overcome in applying for a job or a business development loan. No stereotype could have been more damaging than the slothful simpleton portrayed by Lee." 

The Playmates – "Pretty Woman"

The Playmates' fake calypso tune, "Pretty Woman," is especially bad because the accent is so halfhearted. Come on, guys—either do an accent or don't, but don't give us this weak in-between stuff.

No video, but here's a sample.

Nita, Rita & Ruby – "My Man True to Me"

This country vocal trio, of which a young Anita Carter was a member, couldn't make up their minds whether to do an accent or not on this faux-calypso number from 1957. Their pronunciation of "my man" sounds like "mama," which would give the song an interesting twist if that were the actual lyric. 

Red Sovine "Little Rosa"

This one makes me cringe. Years before Red Sovine became the king of trucker recitations ("Teddy Bear," "Phantom 309," etc.), he recorded for Decca Records without great success, apart from singing harmony on Webb Pierce's hit "Why, Baby, Why." "Little Rosa" is another song that Sovine and Pierce recorded together, and it's particularly awful, because it combines Sovine's terrible, annoying fake accent with a maudlin story about a dead girl.

José Jiménez – "The Astronaut"

José Jiménez was actually gringo Bill Dana. "The Astronaut" was a hit in 1960. 

T. Texas Tyler – "A Colored Child's Funeral"

T. Texas Tyler really lays it on thick with the black dialect in his version of this old recitation, but no audio of it exists online, so I'm including Pat Boone's version instead. Pat recorded it under the title "Steal Away" and is more subtle with his dialect, but it's still there. Even for 1956, this recording seems to be in pretty poor taste with its references to "grotesque" negro countenances, etc. The dialect part of the recitation begins at 1:49. If you want to hear Tyler's yet-more offensive version, you'll have to track down the CD Unadulturated Country Songs on Germany's Cattle Records.

"Loco Man" from A Mighty Wind

The fad for awful fake accents in '60s folk music was parodied in the Christopher Guest film A Mighty Wind

Friday, April 3, 2015

Shmoo songs of 1948-49

The merchandizing blitz around the shmoo character from Al Capp's comic strip L'il Abner was so excessive in the late 1940s that Capp quipped, "I think they even had shmoo toilet seats." Shmoo appeared on the cover of Time, and a headline in Life announced "The U.S. Becomes Shmoo-Struck." In addition to all of the shmoo toys and novelties in 1948-49, a number of shmoo recordings hit the racks.

The shmoo character was a social satire for which Capp was labeled a radical, because some people thought that shmoos were socialists or were anti-capitalist. Shmoos were happy, whimsical creatures that "willingly, gleefully sacrificed themselves for the good of humanity," as Rodger Brown wrote in Southern ChangesThey were delicious to eat, and every part of their blobby bodies could be used to make useful items such as leather, buttons, and toothpicks.

The shmoo craze had mostly run its course by 1950. In 1949, the U.S. Treasury Department officially designated the shmoo as its mascot for a security bond drive. Ads for shmoo novelties continued to appear in trade publications in 1950 but tapered off soon thereafter. In 1950, Atlantic Records acquired the rights to Capp's L'il Abner characters, including the shmoo, for a series of children's records that were to be composed by Leo Israel. Two years later, Atlantic was still saying that the records were forthcoming. As far as I can tell, the songs were never released.

Songs of the Shmoo – no artist (Music You Enjoy, 1948)

  • The Snuggable, Huggable Shmoo b/w The Shmoo Doesn't Cost a Cent (SS-100, 1948)
  • The Shmoo Club b/w The Shmoo Is Clean, The Shmoo Is Neat (SS-105, 1948)
  • Shmoo Lesson b/w A Shmoo Can Do Most Anything (SS-110, 1948)
These were the first three shmoo records, which were issued individually on 7-inch, 78-RPM records that featured Capp's artwork on the picture sleeves (shown at the top of this page). The songs were written by Gerald Marks, the composer of the pop and jazz standard "All of Me," and the orchestrations were directed by Justin Stone, who led the Justin Stone Orchestra. Here's a snippet of lyrics from "A Shmoo Can Do Most Anything":
A shmoo can do most anything because he is a shmoo 
A shmoo can be most anything that you want him to 
If he's in trouble he won't cry 
He knows just how to multiply
Four of these songs appeared again the following year on a 10-inch LP that was released by Allegro Records.

The Shmoo Sings – Earl Rogers (Allegro, 1949)

  • The Broken Down Town of Dogpatch/A Shmoo Can Do Most Anything/The Snuggable, Huggable Shmoo//The Shmoo Doesn't Cost a Cent/The Shmoo Is Clean, The Shmoo Is Neat/Shmoo Music
Billboard, March 12, 1949
In 1949, Allegro Records obtained exclusive rights to re-record the songs from Music You Enjoy, and the new recordings were performed by vocalist Earl Rogers. Rogers was a tenor who recorded classical and children's music for Allegro and later served as the president of the New York Singing Teachers' Association from 1960-62.

Rogers' versions featured backing by the anonymous "Shmoo Band," directed by Daniel Mendelsohn, who also led the Daniel Mendelsohn Orchestra. The two new cuts, "The Broken Down Town of Dogpatch" and "Shmoo Music," were instrumentals.

The record received a lukewarm review in Billboard, in which it was given a rating of 82 out of 100:
An especially attractive cover by cartoonist Al Capp, and the popularity of the L'il Abner strip, in which the Shmoo appears, should sell a lot of these sets. Most of the tunes are undistinctive, and the rendition is mediocre, altho the toy-size rural orking is very cute. One tune, 'The Shmoo Is Clean' is catchier than the rest, and drives home a good point.

"The Shmoo Song" – John Jacob Loeb and Jule Styne (1948)

A song called "The Shmoo Song" was published as sheet music in 1948, but it doesn't appear to have been recorded. It was cowritten by Jule Styne, who wrote the winter classic "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" "The Shmoo Song" includes the following lyrics:
The shmoo is the power of jet propulsion 
The laugh convulsion of Bob Hope or Shmilton Berle 
The rich, foamy lather in your shampoo 
Was caused by Mr. Shmoo 

"The Kigmy Song" – Joe Rosenfeld and Fay Tishman (1949)

A lesser craze for Capp's shmoo-like kigmy creatures followed the shmoo craze, and at least one song about them was published. The kigmy ("kick me") was kind of like a shmoo that liked to be kicked in the butt.

In 1979-80, the shmoo was revived in the animated children's series The New Shmoo. Hanna-Barbera packaged together The New Shmoo and The Flinstones as Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo. Here's the theme: