Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Did Kurt Cobain and Rod McKuen write songs together?

"I did some writing with Kurt Cobain," Rod McKuen says in the 2006 Dutch documentary Rod McKuen, A Man Alone. (He says it at 3:38 in the video below.)

That portion of the documentary also aired on American television when McKuen appeared on Patti Gribow's PG Show. (The statement in question is at 1:49.)


I was extremely surprised—incredulous, even—when I heard this claim that McKuen and Cobain wrote something together, so I tried to find out more about this very unusual alleged collaboration between 1960s/70s pop poet Rod McKuen and grunge icon Kurt Cobain. 

On his website, McKuen talks a little bit about Cobain but seems to contradict what he says in the video:

I was pleased that Kurt liked my work and the feeling was certainly mutual. He had a way of finding the unusual in every day things and writing about them in a very unique way. We had even kicked around the idea of writing something together. I had spoken with him on the telephone not long before his death so I was really stunned at the news. What a loss. To my way of thinking he was just beginning to find his legs as a songwriter.

The link between McKuen and Cobain is pretty tenuous, but a few examples exist, apart from their aforementioned telephone conversation.

Nirvana once half-assedly performed "Seasons in the Sun," a Jacques Brel song that McKuen adapted into English. The song was recorded by McKuen himself and the Kingston Trio in the 1960s but didn't become a hit until Terry Jacks recorded it in 1973. Cobain told interviewers that the song, which is sung from the perspective of a dying man, made him cry when he was a child, and Songfacts claims that Terry Jacks' version was the first record that the young Cobain ever bought. Nirvana's informal performance of "Seasons in the Sun" was included on the DVD that came with the 2004 Nirvana box set With the Lights Out.

Dave Grohl, in a satirical account of his first encounter with Cobain and Krist Novoselic, said, "Krist walked around with these poetry books by Rod McKuen, and Kurt would do interpretive dances while Krist recited Rod McKuen's poetry."

Charles R. Cross, in his book Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain, quotes a Boston Globe critic who described Nirvana's lyrics as "moronic ramblings by singer-lyricist Cobain, who has an idiotic tendency to sound like the Rod McKuen of hard rock." 

That's the extent of their "collaboration." I hate to question McKuen's veracity, but there's no evidence that he and Cobain ever wrote anything together.

Cobain wasn't the only indie-rock guy to harbor a strange fascination with Rod McKuen. Yours truly has a big collection of McKuen's albums, and I even corresponded with him briefly in the 2000s when I was trying to arrange for Collectors' Choice Music to reissue some of his recordings. (Gordon Anderson from Collectors' Choice later started Real Gone Music, which reissued McKuen's albums Listen to the Warm and Sold Out at Carnegie Hall in 2013.) And Aaron Freeman, AKA Gene Ween, recorded an entire album of Rod McKuen's songs, Marvelous Clouds, in 2012.

I wish that Cobain had stuck around to write some songs with Rod McKuen. Frank Sinatra and Glenn Yarbrough recorded entire albums of McKuen's songs, and Madonna co-wrote a song with McKuen, so Cobain would have been in good company.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Gene Sullivan's "Please Pass the Biscuits" (1958)

Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan

I saw that Acrobat Records in the UK recently released a four-disc box set called The Greatest Country Hits of 1958, and Gene Sullivan's "Please Pass the Biscuits" was the only song on it that I didn't already own. I was familiar with the song from Jimmy Dean's version, but I had never even heard Sullivan's version, even though it was a Top 10 country hit—and even though 1958 might be my favorite year for music. 

Before "Please Pass the Biscuits," Sullivan was half of the country duo Wiley & Gene with Wiley Walker. In 1940-41, the two of them wrote and recorded "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again," which Elvis Presley popularized in 1956. The group's only hit was "Make Room in Your Heart for a Friend," which was a #2 country hit in 1946. The Bronco Buster label in Germany released an anthology of Wiley & Gene's 1940s recordings, but it doesn't include "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again" for some reason. Unlike many acts from that period, Wiley & Gene wrote most of the songs they recorded.

In 1957, about a decade after the heyday of Wiley & Gene, Sullivan recorded a demo of a novelty song he wrote, "Please Pass the Biscuits," for Little Jimmie Dickens, who often recorded similar comedy songs, like "Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait." Columbia liked Sullivan's demo recording enough to release it as a Sullivan record instead of a Little Jimmy Dickens one, so Sullivan's version was released as Columbia 40971. I don't know if Columbia released Sullivan's demo or had Sullivan re-record it. It sounds like it could be a demo.

The song, which mixed singing and recitation, portrayed a hungry guy who "can't eat without bread" but can't get anyone to pass him the biscuits at suppertime. Despite his constant complaining, the kinfolks at the table eat all the biscuits, and he never gets one.
A Columbia Records ad in September 1957 said that advance copies of Sullivan's record were making noise in Seattle. The song became a national Top 10 country hit on the Billboard chart soon afterward, where it remained well into 1958. In some cities, such as Birmingham, Alabama, it was a Top 5 hit. Sullivan's record also was released in Australia and New Zealand by the CBS Coronet label.

Columbia must have decided to release Sullivan's version before the song ever got to Dickens, because Little Jimmy doesn't seem to have ever recorded it, even though it sounds like a Dickens song and some people misremember it as being his. Bear Family Records in Germany released a box set of Dickens' complete 1950s Columbia recordings—released and unreleased—and "Please Pass the Biscuits" isn't on it.

In early 1958, Andre Williams, the R&B singer, recorded a cover of "Please Pass the Biscuits" for Fortune Records as "Pass the Biscuits Please." Williams even claimed composer credit for it. Sullivan wasn't credited on Williams' single at all. 

Jimmy Dean recorded the song in 1962 as the B-side of his single "Little Black Book." In Dean's version, a vocal chorus sings the singing part and Dean handles the recitation. I'm not a great fan of this song (even though I'm writing a whole blog post about it), but if I had to listen to it, I'd choose Dean's version.

The last recording of "Please Pass the Biscuits" that I know of is Norval & Ivy's 1967 recording for Imperial Records. Norval & Ivy were a duo of Jimmy Bryant and Red Rhodes, who recorded one album, Wingin' It With Norval & Ivy, which contained the group's version of "Please Pass the Biscuits." Their version is pretty similar to Jimmy Dean's.

Surprisingly, even though he scored a Top 10 country hit with "Please Pass the Biscuits," Sullivan never released a follow-up record. After his lone solo hit, he ran a music store in Oklahoma City and occasionally performed with Wiley, until Wiley died in 1966. After that, Sullivan performed occasionally as a solo act until he died in 1984.

Recitations—humorous ones and serious ones—were fixtures on the country music chart into the mid 1970s, but they're rare today. The last big year for recitations in country music was 1976, when both Jimmy Dean's "I.O.U." and Red Sovine's "Teddy Bear" cracked the country Top 10.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ronnie Malone's "Lightning Bug" (1958)

I got interested in Ronnie Malone while listening to the 1994 Buffalo Bop compilation Teenage Doll!, which is an anthology of rockabilly recordings by women. Malone isn't a woman, but his high-pitched voice must have made the compiler of Teenage Doll! mistake him for one. Malone was a 10-year-old boy when he recorded his best-known song, "Lightning Bug," which is the one that is included on the compilation.

"Best known" is relative, in this case, because none of Malone's records charted. But "Lightning Bug" has been included on at least two rockabilly compilations: Teenage Doll! and the 2002 compilation We're Gonna Rock on Collector Records. 

Malone's first single was "My Snow Man" b/w "It Had to Rain," the latter of which was recorded again for the same label in 1962 by the Catalina Six as "It Had to Rain Again." (In the linked video, you can also hear a snippet of Malone's recording of the song). "My Snow Man" was released on Ridgewood, New Jersey's Flagship Records in 1957.

Flagship was owned by Vincent and Julia Sardo and Julia's brother, Howard W. Brady, who also recorded for the label. In 1957, Flagship ran a weird ad in Billboard with a "public service" announcement from Vincent Sardo on cold prevention. Underneath, it advertised records by Lorrie Palmer, Howard W. Brady, and Ronnie Malone. "Watch 'My Snow Man'," it says.

When "My Snow Man" didn't become the seasonal hit everyone expected, Malone recorded a second single for Flagship that was listed but not reviewed or rated in the April 7, 1958, issue of Billboard.

The songwriting credits on both sides of the "Lightning Bug" single went to the Sardos. A group called the Teentones provided background vocals, and the Shipmates Orchestra provided the instrumentation. The arrangements were by Robert Wagschal, who also arranged Flagship's next release, "Ice Cream Baby" b/w "Pretty Little Woman" by Frank Triolo. (As an aside, in the comments of the linked video for "Ice Cream Baby," Clint Moore claims that he wrote the song in 1956 at the age of 12, but Frank Triolo and Robert Wagschal stole it.)

The weird thing about "Lightning Bug" is that Malone recorded it twice: Once for Flagship and a couple of months later for Judd, the label run by Jud Phillips, the brother of Sun Records' Sam Phillips. On the Flagship release, "Lightning Bug" was misspelled as "Lighting Bug," but the typo was corrected on the Judd release. 

Someone must have thought that "Lightning Bug" was promising enough to warrant re-recording and re-releasing both sides of the single within months of its first release. Unlike the Flagship single, the Judd single doesn't credit the Teentones and the Shipmates Orchestra. Billboard listed the single in its Nov. 10, 1958, issue but again did not review or rate it. The Flagship recording, not the Judd Recording, was included on Teenage Doll! and We're Gonna Rock.

"Lightning Bug" is reminiscent of the Collins Kids, a kiddie act who recorded a similar song in 1955 called "Beetle Bug Bop." The b-side of "Lightning Bug" is titled "Doodles Doo," so the Sardos were definitely plying Malone with juvenile material. 

Flagship Records continued to release records into the 1960s, but Malone didn't record again for Flagship or Judd. I couldn't find any information about his later activities.

Here are both versions of "Lightning Bug":

(Thanks to Frank Clemens for the scans and videos he uploaded, and for his notes on 45cat.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mel Tillis and ammonia Coke

In his 1984 autobiography Stutterin' Boy, Mel Tillis briefly reminisces about his days as a teenage soda jerk, when he served up old-time refreshments like phosphates, fizzes, and... ammonia Cokes?

Drug store soda fountains used to add common ingredients like chocolate syrup and vanilla extract to Coca-Cola to create flavored Coke. Cherry, vanilla, chocolate, lemon, and peppermint were popular Coke flavorings.

The most unusual flavored Coke, by a mile, was ammonia Coke. It was a popular beverage in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly in the American South, and some outlets reportedly continued to offer ammonia Coke into the 1960s. Mel Tillis was a teenager in the 1940s, so that's when he was serving ammonia Coke to the people of Florida. (Mel was born in Dover, Florida.)

Ammonia Coke was regular Coca-Cola served over ice with a dash of aromatic spirit of ammonia. Aromatic spirit of ammonia is something you buy at a drugstore—it's not the ammonia in plastic gallon jugs that you find in the cleaning-supplies section of the grocery store. 

Ammonia Coke was alleged to have medicinal qualities, from relieving anxiety and headaches to jolting college students awake for all-night study sessions. It supposedly worked as an antacid and also counteracted the effects of a hangover. Some people drank it just because they liked the flavor. Even today, ammonia is a common flavoring in European salt licorice, so some portion of the world's population must like the flavor of ammonia.

Ingesting ammonia doesn't normally result in fatal poisoning, but it can cause irritation and burns. Very little ammonia was added to ammonia Coke, and aromatic spirit of ammonia is diluted to begin with, so drinkers were unlikely to suffer any immediate ill effects.

Mel Tillis' autobiography is the only music-related reference to ammonia Coke that I know of, but Coca-Cola was mentioned in popular songs occasionally in the 1940s and 1950s and more frequently thereafter. The most popular early recording that referenced Coke was the Andrews Sisters' 1945 hit "Rum and Coca-Cola." In the 1960s, dozens of popular artists performed Coca-Cola jingles, and many of these recordings were compiled on the anthology Things Go Better with Coke.

Here's Ray Stanley's 1957 recording of "Over a Coke," which features Eddie Cochran on guitar:

And here is the Ventures first record, "Cookies and Coke." It's a vocal tune that was released in 1959: 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

12 Thanksgiving songs: A holiday playlist

Unlike Christmas and Halloween, Thanksgiving doesn't inspire much holiday music, and no attempts at writing a Thanksgiving standard have achieved much commercial success.

When I hosted Rhythm Ranch, a thematic oldies show on WFHB-FM, I would often program special shows for the holidays, but I always struggled to come up with songs for Thanksgiving. For Thanksgiving—unlike many other holidays—I was never able to do more than a set or two of Thanksgiving-related songs. Programming an entire two-hour show of Thanksgiving music was beyond the limits of my knowledge and my record collection. 

Today on Music Weird, I have compiled a short playlist of songs for Thanksgiving. Some of them are straight-up holiday tunes and others are a stretch. Only a few of them are very widely known or well remembered.

1. Gene Autry – "Guffy the Goofy Gobbler" (1950)

Singing cowboy Gene Autry recorded the Christmas classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and struck gold. Afterward, he recorded a lot more holiday music, but none of it matched the success of "Rudolph." Autry's Thanksgiving entry, "Guffy the Goofy Gobbler," is practically "Rudolph" with new lyrics (both were co-written by Johnny Marks). The flip side of the record had another Thanksgiving tune called "Little Johnny Pilgrim." Billboard's review of the record described the latter as a "word-heavy Thanksgiving song [that] tells the historic story vaguely."


2. Lawrence Welk & the Lennon Sisters – "Thank the Lord (For This Thanksgiving Day)" (1959)

John Gary also recorded this song in 1959. 

3. Perry Como – "Prayer of Thanksgiving (We Gather Together)" (1952)

Despite the title, this sounds like a Christmas record, mainly because of the choir. 

4. Little Eva – "Let's Turkey Trot" (1963)


This dance song was written by Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller, even though some copies of the 45 credited Carole King instead of Keller. The song incorporates the call of the wild turkey—"gobble"—into its nonsense background vocal chant and became a Top 20 hit. 


5. Chris Rock – "Nike Turkey" (1991)

Chris Rock performed this Thanksgiving parody of "Parents Just Don't Understand" by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince on Saturday Night Live.



6. Ohio Players – "Jive Turkey" (1974)

Not a Thanksgiving song, but it mentions turkey, so it'll do if you're scraping the bottom of the roasting pan to find songs for a Thanksgiving playlist. The song is actually about a jilted lover.


7. Johnny Cash – "Thanksgiving Prayer" (1997)

Johnny Cash performed the song "Thanksgiving Prayer" on an episode of the television show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I would hate to be the actor in a scene like this one who has to awkwardly sit and approvingly look on as someone else sings. Everyone who ever co-starred with Elvis in his movies had to do that on camera a few times.



8. Adam Sandler – "The Thanksgiving Song" (1992)

Another song from Saturday Night Live. This song was released to radio as a promotional single and actually reached #67 on Billboard's Hot 100. Today, Rolling Stone deems it a "Thanksgiving classic," but the bar is pretty low for that title, since the world of Thanksgiving music doesn't have a song like "White Christmas" to compete with.

9. Arlo Guthrie – "Alice's Restaurant" (1968)

This 18-minute long story-song about some goings-on "two Thanksgivings ago" took up the whole first side of Arlo Guthrie's album of the same name. Many people listen to this song every year as part of their Thanksgiving tradition.


10. Cousin Emmy – "Turkey in the Straw" (1965-66)

This traditional song isn't a Thanksgiving song, but it mentions turkeys, at least in the vocal versions. Here's an instrumental rendition by Cousin Emmy in which she performs it with her face. I'm not sure of the exact year that this clip was filmed, but it is from Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest television show, which aired from 1965-1966. Homer & Jethro recorded a version of this song as "Chicken in the Pan." 


11. George Gobel – "Thanksgiving Song" (1955)

George Gobel introduced the song "Thanksgiving Song," written by Farlan Myers and Hal Levy, on television's The George Gobel Show in 1955. (Levy taught at UCLA and co-wrote Gene Vincent's "Blue Jean Bop.") Afterward, Dinah Shore would perform "Thanksgiving Song" regularly around Thanksgiving. I couldn't find a recorded version to link to.

George Gobel

12. The Clickettes – "Jive Time Turkey" (1958)

A story about a wolf who tries to obtain a fat turkey on Thanksgiving. 

Bonus song: Ira D. Sankey & Fanny J. Crosby – "A Hymn of Thanksgiving" (1899)

Gospel singer and songwriter Ira D. Sankey was dubbed "the sweet singer of Methodism." Published in 1899, Sankey's "A Hymn of Thanksgiving" was a collaboration with the blind hymnodist Fanny J. Crosby. No audio.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

What are "auto-generated by YouTube" music videos?

Update (March 22, 2016):

When I wrote this blog post a year and a half ago, no information about YouTube's auto-generated videos existed online. As a result, this post was part research and part speculation. Over time, some new information has come to light, but I never revisited the topic. In brief, YouTube obtains these audio tracks from digital music distribution services like CD Baby. When you sign up for CD Baby and similar sites, you're given the opportunity to choose which streaming sites (or which kinds of streaming sites) your music will be sent to. YouTube is now one of the sites where your music might end up.

When I—any many other people, apparently—signed up for these services years ago, YouTube wasn't considered a "streaming music site" like Spotify, and YouTube also wasn't creating its own videos that incorporated other people's music. So when these videos first appeared, a lot of people were surprised and even upset. To me, a site like Spotify that streams audio tracks seems different from a site that streams videos and might elect to embed your audio within a video. But regardless, YouTube has become one of the most popular sites for music listeners. If you check your CD Baby (or whatever) account, you'll see the revenue from the auto-generated YouTube videos alongside the revenue from Spotify, iTunes, etc.

I was surprised recently when I saw that several of my recordings had appeared as music videos on YouTube. All of the videos look the same: Each one, in addition to the audio of a song, includes an image of the album art and some text that provides the artist name and album title. The bare-bones descriptions that accompany the videos provide composer and copyright information and the statement "auto-generated by YouTube." What are these auto-generated music videos on YouTube, I wondered, and how are they created? 

A few years ago, YouTube introduced auto-generated channels, which are automatically created collections of videos related to specific topics. Google's support pages say that the auto-generated YouTube channels are created by algorithms that "collect trending and popular videos by topic." As with any other user channels, you can subscribe to the auto-generated channels "and stay updated on new videos" within a topic category.

YouTube has had these auto-generating channels since at least 2011, because WebProNews reported in 2012 that the channels had been around for over a year.

Auto-generated videos take the auto-generated channel concept a step further: Instead of simply compiling existing user-uploaded content by topic, YouTube is now creating the videos themselves—automatically. So far, YouTube has auto-generated videos for four of my recordings, all of which are taken from the 2014 February Records EP Way Last June.

How does YouTube select the content for these auto-generated videos?


The Google support pages say that that the auto-generated channels are "created when YouTube algorithmically identifies a topic to have a significant presence on the site." Presumably, the algorithm for creating the auto-generated videos also might be based on search terms and web traffic patterns, but not necessarily. It appears that all of the music for the auto-generated videos has been taken from Google Play, iTunes, and Amazon. 

The channel in which these music videos appear is blandly named "Various Artists – Topic," which doesn't seem like a topic that many viewers would subscribe to, but almost 500 people have subscribed to one of the two auto-generated YouTube channels that has this name. The second, identically named channel has about 50 subscribers as of this writing. The "about" section of the second channel even provides a helpful definition of the term "various artists," in case someone doesn't know what that means. 

Although a "subscribe" button appears below the name of the channel (which appears below the video), it didn't work for me. When I clicked on it, I got a message that said, "This channel is not available." I had to perform a Google search to find the landing page for the channel. It's pretty boring. It looks like something that was automatically generated.

There are now approximately a gazillion of these auto-generated videos on YouTube, many of which have received no views. The prospect of an endless proliferation of automically generated videos reminds me of the Jeff Carlson novel Plague Year, in which self-replicating, flesh-eating nanobots spread inexorably and nearly wipe out humankind. Just like these videos might do! If content is king, as Bill Gates said, then the king has become a mindless automaton.

Is it okay for YouTube to do this? 


I don't really mind that these videos of my recordings exist, but not everyone will feel the way I do. Artists could have a number of legitimate objections to the videos. For example, if artists had created or intended to create videos of their own, these auto-generated videos would compete with the official videos. Artists might also object to the design aesthetic of the videos or the song selection.

But the biggest potential issues are copyright and compensation. Artists receive no royalties from these videos, and YouTube posts the videos without permission from the copyright owners. It's strange that YouTube—which suspends users' accounts and deletes videos if it detects copyright infringement or receives complaints from copyright holders—now trawls the internet for music and posts it without permission on an increasingly massive scale. Class-action suit, anyone?

To its credit, YouTube has a program called Content ID that reportedly has paid out $1 billion to copyright holders. The Content ID program requires copyright holders to locate infringing content and then file claims in order to delete it or monetize it. It's hard to imagine that people would accept a rights-management model like this one in other areas, such as the publishing industry. What if you could reprint authors' books with impunity until they noticed it and said something?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

New release documents the birth of orchestral rock

On November 18, the Complete 60s label will release Rock & Roll Symphony No. 1: A 1959 Stereo Concert, the first (and likely to be the only) anthology to document the brief fad for setting orchestral instrumentals to rock rhythms.

The rock rhythm we're talking about here, to be specific, is the rock and roll triplet, which originated in R&B but then became a ubiquitous feature of pop and rock recordings. Bandleaders had two goals in pairing orchestral instrumentals with rock rhythms: The first was to sell orchestral music to teenagers, and the second, more activist goal was to uplift the youth by providing them with "better," more sophisticated music than the brainless rock and roll that kids otherwise listened to (in the bandleaders' view—not mine). Enoch Light, in the liner notes he wrote for his album With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming, makes this point very explicitly: “Rock and roll must be applied to better melodies than it usually is.” And 101 Strings’ David L. Miller, in the liner notes of Back Beat Symphony, said, "Too often, teenagers “must be satisfied with badly written songs with borderline obscene lyrics.”

I wrote the liner notes for this CD and was excited to work on the project, because I've been a fan of this music for a long time. The album contains the complete 101 Strings album Back Beat Symphony, which appears on CD for the first time here. This album and its single, "Back Beat Symphony," were more successful than the charts suggest. Billboard reported that after Dick Clark played "Back Beat Symphony" on American Bandstand, the single sold 400,000 copies. It made the Top 40 in Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh but didn't register on the national charts. (Music Weird previously wrote about 101 Strings' unusual discography here.)

The anthology also contains the stereo debut of Frank Pourcel's French Fiddles' five-million-selling orchestral arrangement of the Platters' "Only You (And You Alone)," which was so successful that it even reached the R&B Top 20 in 1959. Despite the title, the anthology isn't confined to recordings from 1959. A few other later recordings in the same vein are also included: Percy Faith's "'The Theme from 'A Summer Place'"—the biggest hit of 1960—and Raymond Lefèvre's hard-to-find hit "Soul Coaxing (Ame Caline)" from 1968.

All of the recordings were carefully remastered in wide stereo by a team of engineers and stereophiles. Here are some particulars on some of the other contributors to the brief fad for orchestral rock, some of which are featured on Rock & Roll Symphony No. 1: A 1959 Stereo Concert.

Enoch Light  and the Light Brigade

Light's album With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming contained the 1959 hit of the same name and other orchestral rock tracks in a similar vein. It was Light's only orchestral rock album; he otherwise recorded ultra-high-fidelity stereo showcase albums like the Persuasive Percussion series. 

The Knightsbridge Strings

The Knightsbridge Strings were a studio ensemble of London musicians. Their arrangements were penned by Reg Owen, who had a big hit under his own name with “Manhattan Spiritual,” and Malcolm Lockyer. The Knightsbridge Strings had orchestral rock hits with instrumental renditions of "Wheel of Fortune" and "Cry," both of which were included on their album The Strings Swing.

Ray MartinThe Rockin' Strings of Ray Martin

Features orchestral arrangements of pop standards, like "Who's Sorry Now?" and "Blueberry Hill," with rock rhythms. 

Raymond Scott – Raymond Scott Presents the Rock 'n Roll Symphony

This anomalous 1958 album by Raymond Scott is similar to Ray Martin's: It contains orchestral rock renditions of oldies like "Stardust" and "How High the Moon." A poorly mastered reissue is available on Amazon.


The Back-Beat Philharmonic

The Back-Beat Philharmonic, which released only one single, was actually the Islanders—the duo of Frank Metis and Randy Starr—who wrote and produced the 1959 hit "The Enchanted Sea." In 1961, Metis and Starr recorded this rock version of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as "Rock and Roll Symphony" under the name Back-Beat Philharmonic. The recording, poorly mastered from vinyl, is included on the anthology Axes, Saxes, Skins & Ivories: 25 Instrumental Rareities [sic] Volume 2.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The waltz was the twerking of the 1800s

Music Weird previously wrote about the doomed effort to revive the waltz among teenagers in the 1950s. Back then, the waltz seemed genteel and old fashioned in comparison to rock and roll, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, the waltz was once the "dirty dancing" of the 1800s, like twerking is today.

You could even argue that the waltz was worse than twerking, because twerking is likely to be a passing fad, but the waltz hung around for ages to torment moral authorities.

The waltz is rooted in gliding dances of the 16th century in which dancers held each other close, which the was the largest part of the controversy surrounding the dance. By the mid 17th century, a dance called the waltzer was being danced in Germany and Austria. By the early 18th century, the dance had spread to Britain.

Today, Music Weird compiles over 100 years' worth (!) of grousing about the moral blight that was the waltz.


In the German novel Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim by Sophie von La Roche, one of the characters described the waltz as follows:
But when he put his arm around her, pressed her to his breast, cavorted with her in the shameless, indecent whirling-dance of the Germans and engaged in a familiarity that broke all the bounds of good breeding—then my silent misery turned into burning rage.


The book Mozart: A Cultural Biography reports that the Queen of Prussia "averted her eyes when she beheld the waltz at its introduction to the court in 1794," and that Montaigne "stared in astonishment at couples turning away as they danced in close embrace" in Augsburg, Germany.


The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure reported on an English duel that resulted from a disagreement over the waltz:
A dispute arose, whether the Waltz was an indecent dance ; and till this attempt at murder, we did not imagine that a single Englishman would stand up in its defence. To settle this dispute the parties took to their pistols, and we are glad to say returned unhurt ; but had the vindicator of the Waltz murdered his antagonist, we should not have been the more reconciled to this indecent exhibition from Germany.


When English dancers danced the waltz at the Prince Regent’s Grand Ball in 1816, The Times of London wrote:
We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last…. [I]t is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressor on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.

The New World ran a piece that appealed to readers' patriotism in hoping that "with the feminine dignity and simplicity that so well becomes the daughters of a Republic like our own, they will discard the waltz as a dance revolting to modesty, and unfavorable to virtue...."


Belgravia magazine printed the following commentary on the waltz:
We who go forth of nights and see without the slightest discomposure our sister and our wife seized on by a strange man and subjected to violent embraces and canterings round a small-sized apartment—the only apparent excuse for such treatment being that is done to the sound of music—can scarcely realize the horror which greeted the introduction of this wicked dance. 

William Rulofson, under the pseudonym William Henry, published the book The Dance of Death in 1877 to show society "what a loathsome ulcer festers in its midst." He described the male waltz dancer as one whose "eyes, gleaming with a fierce intolerable lust, gloat[s] satyr-like over" his female dancing partner.

In an 1878 review of the book, Scientific Farmer said:
We thought, on reading the title, that we were to be treated to a dance by the author, as the title indicates ; but we soon found that the author was not writing his own dance-music, but finding fault with the dancing of others. It is probable that dancers will not be converted into non-dancers by reading this book, but those who have not yet learned the art may receive consolation from its pages. We agree, however, with the author, in his continuation and conclusion, that the modern waltz may be the instrument of evil. The book is finely gotten up, and is creditable to its publishers. It is strongly and fearlessly written, with an intensity of expression that is almost startling.


The Lutheran Witness ran a piece on dancing in which numerous moral authorities expressed their views. 

Rev. B.M. Palmer of New Orleans said:
Promiscuous dancing between the sexes is essentially voluptuous and demoralizing. The waltz—a species of dance I do not hesitate thus publicly to denounce as undisguisedly licentious.

Howard Crosby said:
The foundation for the vast amount of domestic misery and domestic crime which startles us often in its public outcroppings was laid when parents allowed the sacredness of their daughters' persons and the purity of their maiden instincts to be rudely shocked in the waltz.

Bishop Cleveland Coxe said:
The gross, debasing waltz would not be tolerated another year if Christian mothers in our communion would only set their faces against it and remove their daughters from its contaminations and their songs from that contempt of womanhood and womanly modesty which it begets.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

1974's hot streak of streaking songs

1974 was the year of "The Streak." Streaking as an activity—that is, running naked through public places—had been around for centuries, but 1973 saw an outbreak of streaking incidents that received national media coverage and led to an outbreak of streaking songs in 1974.  

The streaking craze started at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. The university had so many streaking incidents in 1973 that the president tried to contain the epidemic by designating a sanctioned streaking day in the spring of 1974. Streaking couldn't be contained, though, and it spread internationally to concerts, sporting events, and any other public happening that presented an opportunity and a crowd of spectators. 

Country star Ray Stevens was quick to act. His song "The Streak" was released in March of 1974 and sold 5 million copies. A flood of copycat streaking songs followed, but none was as successful as Stevens' record. By the end of the year, the streaking craze in music had died out; I know of only one streaking record that was released in 1975. As with the hula-hoop songs of 1958-59, a number of artists took a gamble on this seemingly lucrative opportunity that turned out to be not all that much of an opportunity. 

Today on Music Weird, we'll look at 1974's parade of streaking songs. I'm sure that I haven't listed all of them. 

The expression of streaking in music wasn't confined to songs, by the way. That year, Billboard reported that Canadian country star Ray Griff streaked across the stage at a Cal Smith concert and that disc jockey Peter C. Cavenaugh of WTAC-AM sent a picture of himself streaking to Claude Hall, Billboard's "Vox Jox" columnist. Streaking was everywhere, in the air, in print, on television, and on the airwaves.

Ray Stevens – "The Streak"  (Barnaby, 1974)

"If there's an audience to be found, he'll be streaking around," Stevens sings in the most successful streaking song of them all. It's halfway between a song and a skit, with its fake newscast segments and canned laughter. Stevens' album that contained this song, Boogity Boogity, pictured Stevens streaking on the cover. James Elliott released a competing cover version of "The Streak" in Australia.

Larry Black – "One, Two, Streaking" (RCA, 1974)

Country music, funk, and break-in comedy records were the musical genres that most ardently embraced the streaking craze. Larry Black's "One, Two, Streaking" is a mostly one-chord funk tune with group vocals. The flip side was another streaking song, "Streaking."

Flesh Gordon & the Nude Hollywood Argyles – "Superstreaker" (Paramount, 1974)

The B-side of the stock 45 was a tune called "Naked."

D'Jurann Jurrann – "Streakin'" (Dawn, 1974)

Paul King, the composer and producer of this British streakin' single, had been a member of Mungo Jerry in the early '70s. No audio. 

Four Guys – "Streakin' With My Baby" (Cinnamon, 1974)

A dryly humorous country song about streaking as a couples activity. The song's composer, Richard Garratt, was a radio personality who passed away last year.

Ohio Players – "Streakin' Cheek to Cheek" (Mercury, 1974)

Dayton's Ohio Players topped the charts with "Fire" and "Love Rollercoaster" but not with "Streakin' Cheek to Cheek," a funk workout with sparse vocals.

The Streakers – "Streakin', Part 2" (ABC, 1974)

This single by country music songwriter and producer Glenn Sutton charted in Kansas City. No audio.

Shorr's Streakers – "Streakin' '74"  (Virgil, 1974)

A break-in comedy record like those of Buchanan & Goodman, but less funny.

Harold Hardsell – "Speaking of Streaking" (ABC/Dunhill, 1974)

Another break-in comedy record as well as another streaking record from ABC/Dunhill, which also released the Streakers' "Streakin'," that Glenn Sutton record I was just talking about a couple of songs ago. The flip side of "Speaking of Streaking" was also a streaking song: "Streak Easy" by the Soul Streakers. 

Country J.T. – "My Fellow Streakers" (Johnny Dollar, 1974)

Yet another break-in comedy record. Country J.T. was John Telich Jr., the Cleveland sportscaster, and the record was produced by Johnny Dollar and released on his label with a Johnny Dollar song on the flip side.

Rick Springfield & Springfield Mass – "Streakin' Across the USA" (or UK/Australia) (Columbia, 1974)

It's incredible that Rick Springfield recorded a streaking song. This little-known record is the second greatest song of the whole streaking craze, after Ray Stevens' "The Streak." The song featured the vocal group Springfield Mass, who also contributed the flip side, "Music to Streak By." As part of an international marketing blitz, versions of the record were released for the U.S., Australia, and the U.K., with country-specific place names listed at the end, like in Tommy Facenda's 1959 hit "High School USA," which was released in different versions for different major U.S. cities (as well as in a generic "national version"). The video below has the Australian version of Springfield's record. You can listen to the U.S. version and the Springfield Mass b-side here. The song is a great call-to-action anthem that makes all listeners want to immediately start streaking.

High Voltage – "Streakin'" b/w "Here Comes the Streaker" (Drive, 1974)

I don't know anything about High Voltage, but their two streaking songs were co-written by former teen idol Steve Alaimo!

Randy Newman "The Naked Man" (Reprise, 1974)

A song about a purse-snatching streaker, from Newman's 1974 album Good Old Boys.

The Streaks – "Streakin' and Freakin'" (20th Century, 1974)

With a name like "The Streaks," you knew they'd be a fly-by-night act. In fact, they lasted for all of one single. "Streakin' and Freakin'" was co-written by the team that wrote Helen Reddy's "Keep On Singing" and Mark Lindsay's "California." No audio.

Matrix – "Streakin' Down the Avenue" (Motown, 1974)

Motown's entry into the streaking sweepstakes. Matrix had previously released a self-titled album on Motown's Rare Earth subsidiary in 1972. No audio. 

Jimmy Ward – "Midnight Streaker'" b/w "Streakin'" (Briarmeade, 1974)

I know nothing about this record. 

The Honey Drippers – "Streakin'" (Alaga, 1974)

A streaking instrumental. The band Campus Security also released an instrumental that was titled "Streakin'," and Greenfield Express released one called "The Streak."

Mike Foley & the New Streakers – "The International Streaker" (Pumpkin, 1974)

A novelty record from Australia. 

Dash Flasher and the Sreakers – "They Call It Streaking" (Ace, 1974)

I know nothing about this. 

New Village Streakers – "Streakin' USA" (Streak, 1974)

A streaking version of "Surfin' USA."

Happy Streakers – "Pa-Pa-Pa" b/w "Yellow Primrose" (Elektra, 1974)

The Happy Streakers' band name and cover art celebrated the streaker's art. 

Jean-Claude Pelletier – Streaking! (Disques Vogue, 1974)

An entire streaking album! It's instrumental, though—a funk effort from the French jazz pianist and composer Jean-Claude Pelletier.


Harry Hepcat & The Boogie Woogie Band – "Streakin' U.S.A." (Graffiti, 1974)

Here's an excerpt of Hepcat's "Streakin' U.S.A.," a remake of "Surfin' U.S.A." with lyrics about streaking. 

Red Simpson – "Streakin' the Opryland Park" (Portland Ltd., 1975)

Truckin' country star Red Simpson turned to streakin' country with this single, which name checks a number of other county artists. 

Jerry Clower talks about streaking (1978)

Cornball country comic Jerry Clower, who was always on top of current events, talks here in 1978 about the "new fad" of streaking. I attended a Jerry Clower show once. Zzzz.