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 mind 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:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Josephine "Jodi" Ann Bancino, country-pop songwriter of the '50s and '60s

Anita McCune, Betty Sue Perry, and Jodi Bancino

I decided to write about Jodi Bancino after seeing this photo of her in The Tennessean. The caption said that it pictured Anita McCune, Betty Sue Perry, and Jodi Bancino in 1961 preparing for WSM's Country Music Festival. The three songwriters, it added, "became pen pals when each started writing songs for Sure-Fire Music Co. in Nashville." (Betty Sue Perry, incidentally, was the oldest daughter of country star Loretta Lynn.) 

I knew of Bancino from Joe Dowell's song "Little Bo Peep," which she wrote. Dowell briefly mentioned her in his interview with Music Weird. The first of his three-part interview is here.

Sure-Fire Music Co. was owned by the Wilburn Brothers, a country music brother duo that scored a big hit in 1959 with a remake of the murder ballad "Knoxville Girl." Although Teddy and Doyle Wilburn were the brothers who made up the musical duo, their older brothers Leslie and Lester shared ownership in Sure-Fire Music. Doyle and Teddy originally started the company with steel guitarist Don Helms, who was their neighbor at the time, but the Wilburns' other brothers joined when the company got too big for Doyle, Teddy, and Helms to manage alone. Helms and the Wilburns also owned the Wil-Helm Talent Agency in Nashville.

The Wilburn Brothers with Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn was Sure-Fire's biggest star, and the company owned most of the copyrights for her songs. After both of the Wilburn Brothers died, she sued in 2004 to regain ownership of her songs.

The Wilburn Brothers helped Dowell get his contract with Smash Records, so that was how he ended up cutting Bancino's "Little Bo Peep." Bancino wrote numerous songs for the Wilburn Brothers, including "The Land of Heaven" (with Eileen Maultsby), "No One Knows Better than Me" (as Jodie Bancino), "Someone Else's Love," and "Look Down." 

Billboard, May 19, 1962
Although Bancino primarily wrote for Nashville, she placed some songs with pop and rock artists, including the Crickets (the R&B group, not Buddy Holly's group; the song was "Dreams and Wishes" ), Joe Dowell ("Little Bo Peep," video below), Rory-O ("Make a Wish"), and Timi Yuro ("Look Down").

She also wrote "I Don't Hurt as Much," which appeared as the B-side of T. Tommy Cutrer's twist remake of Jim Lowe's "The Green Door." The two Billboard clippings shown here mention her song.

Billboard, May 26, 196

Jodi Bancino died in September 2010 at the age of 92. Her obituary mentioned her songwriting career (my bold):

Bancino, age 92, went home to be with her Lord and Savior on Thursday, September 9, 2010. She was preceded in death by her husband, Carl, sister, Rose Jeluso, brothers, John and Sam Geluso. She will be lovingly remembered by her sons, Andy (Sharon) Bancino [died March 7, 2011] of Grandville, John (Rosetta) Bancino of Bradley, MI; eight grandchildren; 15 great grandchildren; six great great grandchildren; sister, Ann Valentine; brother, Frank (Francis) Geluso; many nieces and nephews. She was very proud of her gifted ability to be able to write songs that were produced and published in Nashville, TN by the Wilburn Bros. of Sure-Fire Music. To this day at 92 years of age she still received royalties for her music played around the world. We would like to thank the staff at Railside Living Center of Byron Center for her excellent care and friendship the past 9 years. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated 10:00 a.m. Saturday, September 11, 2010 at Our Lady of Sorrows, 101 Hall St. SE with Rev. Theodore Kozlowski as celebrant. The family will greet relatives and friends Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Ronan Vanderpool Stegenga Funeral Chapel and one hour prior to the Mass at church. Interment Woodlawn Cemetery. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Jonathan Winters' brief foray into music (1958)

Music Weird previously wrote about Joan Rivers' unusual early-'60s pop single. Comedian Jonathan Winters also made one pop record early in his career. He recorded many comedy albums over the years but didn't record another "song" until 2006, when he cut the recitation "Old Folks."

Our story begins in 1958. Gerry Granahan's group, Dicky Doo & the Don'ts, had a new record out called "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu," which was instrumental except for a nonsense vocal interjection. Granahan had scored two previous hits that year with Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' "Click-Clack" (the first-ever release on Swan Records) and a solo recording, "No Chemise—Please." In a wise promotional move, Granahan's group named themselves after Dick Clark's nickname for his son. Might help them get on American Bandstand, eh?

Billboard, April 28, 1958
Comedian Jonathan Winters at that time had been a disk jockey in Ohio and New York and had appeared on some television shows. He was making a name for himself with his zany humor and ad libs, and increasingly moved into straight comedy. Because of his growing popularity, Coral Records signed him to a "long-term contract," Billboard reported in 1958. 

The contract turned out to be short-lived. His first and only record for Coral was a cover of Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu." Because the nonsense title was like something from outer space, Winters' version was credited to "Jonathan Winters with the Martians."

The Dicky Doo record didn't have a space theme at all, so Coral must have been trying to out-market it by cashing in on the martian craze with Winters. Some people claim that Robin Williams took his extraterrestrial Mork character's "nanu, nanu" from "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu."

The flip-side of Winters' record was the similarly space-themed cut "Take Me to Your Leader," another song by the writer of "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu," Eddie V. Deane. Deane, who was a comedian too, would go on to write the Mike Douglas hit "The Men in My Little Girl's Life" and the "Big Bad John" parody "Small Sad Sam."

Billboard gave Winters' record a favorable review but noted that Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' version had a head start. The Dicky Doo record was reviewed in Billboard a month earlier, and, predictably, the group appeared on American Bandstand. As a result, Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' version charted nationally, but Winters' version didn't chart even regionally, as far as I can tell. 

Billboard, May 5, 1958

That lone single ended Winters' musical career on Coral Records, and a couple of years later, he started recording comedy albums for Verve. As with Joan Rivers' pop record, Winters' contribution to the musicality of his Coral recordings is negligible; one side is mostly instrumental, and most of the other side is sung by a vocal chorus.

You can listen to both cuts below. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fifties Shades of Grey: An oldies compilation

If Fifty Shades of Grey had been set in the 1950s or '60s, then these pop, country, and R&B classics would have fit right in with the film's themes of bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism, and innocence and experience.

Fifty Shades, if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, is a timeless love story about the billionaire business magnate and helicopter pilot Christian Grey and the naive college student Anastasia. In the story, Christian detects something that he'd sorely like to dominate in the mousy Anastasia and sets about indoctrinating her into his world of BDSM hanky-panky. Yes, it's all pretty ridiculous, but so was Lucy, and I enjoyed that movie. 

The soundtrack album for Fifty Shades (not to mention the film itself) is a massive hit, but I believe that anything can be improved. In that spirit, I offer you the prospective soundtrack to my remake of Fifty Shades that is set in the 1950s. I'm calling it Fifties Shades of Grey. Some of the songs are from the '60s, but that's a mere technicality that viewers will enjoy pointing out as "goofs" on Internet Movie Database when my new version hits the silver screen. 

Brian Hyland – "Let Me Belong to You" (1961)

"Make me your slave," Hyland sings. "Tie me down, make me behave."

Pat Boone – "Anastasia" (1956)

Pat sang this ode to Anastasia, the main character of Fifty Shades of Grey, seven years before the book's author was born. 

Marcie Blane – "Who's Going to Take My Daddy's Place" (1963)

"I need someone to scold me whenever I am bad," sings Marcie Blane, sounding an awful lot like the similarly fatherless Anastasia.

The Crystals – "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" (1962)

"He hit me, and I knew I loved him/he loved me." Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote this dreary song about the experiences of Little Eva ("The Loco-Motion"), who was their babysitter at the time. Phil Spector produced it. 

Dodie Stevens – "No" (1960)

"Don't you know that a girl means 'yes' when she says 'no'?" Anastasia's mixed signals and ambivalent feelings are a constant element of the Fifty Shades story.

Evelyn Knight – "With a 'No' That Sounds Like 'Yes'" (1951)

Ladies "wanna say 'go' but they gotta say 'no' with a 'no' that sounds like 'yes'," Knight sings. This song, like Anastasia's character, exemplifies weak protests and conflicted desires. 

Joanie Sommers – "Johnny Get Angry" (1962)

"Let me know that you're the boss," Sommers sings to her guy, whom she's trying to provoke into becoming a "caveman." This is a notoriously un-PC song, but Frank Zappa recognized its excellence—he borrowed the main riff for the Mothers of Invention's "Any Way the Wind Blows." 

April Stevens – "Teach Me Tiger" (1959)

"Take my lips, they belong to you. But first, teach me what to do." April Stevens' "Teach Me Tiger" (written by her brother, Nino Tempo) captures the cat-and-mouse character of the sexual initiation in Fifty Shades, as the dominating Christian Grey inculcates the innocent Anastasia into his world of exquisite perversions. 

Kris Jensen – "Torture" (1962)

"This torture I'm going through is worth the pain if I have you," Jensen sings. Songwriter John D. Loudermilk intended for the Everly Brothers to record this song, and it sounds like it. The Everlys missed the chance to have a major hit with it but eventually got around to recording it themselves.

Nat "King" Cole – "Don't Hurt the Girl" (1955)

"Why don't you pick on someone your size? Can't you see, she's not your kind?" In my '50s version of Fifty Shades of Grey, this would be the theme song of Anastasia's upstanding male friend, José.  

Hank Penny – "Catch 'Em Young, Treat 'Em Rough, Tell 'Em Nothing" (1951)

"Catch 'em young, treat 'em rough, never tell 'em nothing, 'cause that's what gets results," Hank Penny sings, echoing Christian Grey's personal philosophy on love. 

Ann Cole – "Darling, Don't Hurt Me" (1955)

"When you need me, I'll be there, but do me a favor: darling, don't hurt me. I'm on my knees, begging you, please," Ann Cole sings, voicing the pleas of the submissive.

The Cookies – "Chains" (1962)

"My baby's got me locked up in chains," the Cookies sing. In one of Anastasia's first encounters with Christian, he's buying cable ties, not chains, but same difference. The Cookies were the background singers for Little Eva, who was previously mentioned in the part about the Crystals' "He Hit Me."

Sandy Posey – "Born a Woman" (1966)

"A woman's place in this old world is under some man's thumb. And if you're born a woman, you're born to be hurt."

Sandy Posey – "What a Woman in Love Won't Do" (1967)

Another Sandy Posey song. "What makes me keep on putting up with this?" Posey sings. "What keeps me kneeling underneath my master's kiss?"

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Betty Smith's "Hand Jive": The hit that never was


The hand jive was supposed to sweep the nation in 1958. The clapping game, which originated in England and was later depicted in the film Grease, was "destined to become the biggest teenage fad in the history of the record business."

So said London Records, the label that released the original version of "Hand Jive" by the Betty Smith Group. Billboard reported that Smith's "Hand Jive" was the hottest selling record in Denver at one point, and London's ads said that one spin of "Hand Jive" in New York had elicited over 1,000 inquiries from listeners.

London promoted the record heavily, taking out full-page ads in the trade magazines to offer DJs free records and free instructions on how to do the hand jive. The clapping game was said to be a great alternative to dancing in spaces where "the dance floor is too crowded" or "where dancing is not allowed." The label issued an entire hand-jive album by Betty Smith, Music For Hand-Jiving, which was accurately billed as the "first hand jive LP."
Smith sang the lead vocal on "Hand Jive," but—despite all of these promotional efforts on behalf of the hand jive—American DJs flipped her record and played the instrumental B-side instead. The B-side was a smoky saxophone version of the song "Bewitched," a tune from the 1940 film Pal Joey that was originally known by its full title, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." The song had been a hit for several artists in 1950, including Doris Day and Gordon Jenkins. Somewhat surprisingly, Smith herself was the saxophone soloist on her group's rendition of "Bewitched." The record reached #51 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A competing hand-jive song, "(Six-Five) Hand Jive," was released in two versions: one by Don Lang & His Frantic Five and one by the Show Brothers. Both groups were British. Neither of these records were hits either.

It would take an American act, Johnny Otis, to break through with a hand-jive song. That song, "Willie and the Hand Jive," was a Top 10 hit on the pop and R&B charts in 1958. Eric Clapton put the song in the Top 40 again with his 1974 remake.

Betty Smith playing her saxophone
As for Betty Smith, she released a few more singles on London, but none were hits in England or the United States. Malcolm Lockyer was the musical director on Smith's early recordings, and she continued to work with him into the 1970s. In 1974, they released an album titled I'm Old Fashioned on the British label Contour Records, which specialized in easy listening and budget recordings.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

G Stands for Go-Betweens: Speed problems

G Stands for Go-Betweens is a lavish—and expensive—four-LP and four-CD box set from Domino Records that compiles the first five Go-Betweens singles, the first three Go-Betweens albums, a live set from 1982, three discs of rarities, and a thick booklet that Robert Forster wrote. (The first 600 copies included books from the library of the late Grant McLennan, and Music Weird is compiling a list of those titles here.) Despite the deluxe presentation, a number of listeners have noted speed problems on some of the tracks. This post will provide details on the tracks that need speed correction.

Archie Moore's review on Sound It Out from January 25 noted the speed problems: 
All of the non-single material from the 1999 release 78 ‘Til 79: The Lost Album appears here, but it’s significantly slower than on that CD, sounding slightly sluggish and tuned-down (i.e. it seems that the slower speed is incorrect and accidental, a tape transfer error, not a correction). It is possible that this has been addressed and/or fixed since I got the digital review copy.
This problem hasn't been addressed, because my standard release copy has the same problems.

The songs from The Lost Album aren't the only ones that sound slow, though. Here's the breakdown:

Life as Sweet as Lemonade  
Tracks 3-22 are slow

Skeletons That Cry  
Tracks 7-11 are slow

I haven't heard from Domino Records yet about whether these CDs will be remastered to correct the speed problems. At the very least, the downloads for purchasers should be corrected, but the best possible outcome would be for the affected discs and LPs to be remastered and replaced. Considering the price of the set and the attention to detail that otherwise went into it, these problems are surprising and upsetting.

If you have additional comments about the speed issues on G Stands for Go-Betweens or run across additional reviews that mention them, please let me know and I'll add them to this page.

Update (March 19, 2015):

Another review has noted the speed issue. This is from Boston Hassle:

Previously heard selections appear here at significantly slower speeds, which begs the question as to whether the Lost Album contained sped-up mixes to make the band sound more sprightly, or if this box set contains slowed-down mixes. Because there can be no logical reason for the latter, we must conclude that we are now hearing the Go-Betweens’ earliest demos at their original speed, and it’s not a flattering discovery.