Wednesday, December 25, 2019

10 songs about fat Santa

We get it—Santa is fat. Here are ten songs that belabor the point.

1. Gene Autry – "He's a Chubby Little Fellow" (1949)

This good-natured song about Santa is a welcome relief from some of the mean-spirited tunes that follow.

2. Jimmy Boyd – "Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney" (1953)

When Santa gets stuck in the chimney, he has to threaten the children with loss of toys to get them to come to his rescue.

3. Sunshine Ruby – "Too Fat for the Chimney" (1953)

"Too Fat for the Chimney," for whatever reason, is the most widely recorded fat Santa song of them all. Country music kid singer Sunshine Ruby recorded it in 1953, and Teresa Brewer and Jerry Colonna recorded it that same year for the pop field. Gisele MacKenzie revived it in 1957. The song expresses doubt that Santa will be able to perform his occupational duties on account of his excessive girth.

4. Bill Darnell & The Smith Brothers – "Too Fat to Be Santa Claus" (1954)

This faux-Calypso tune describes the anguish of a man who would like to dress up as Santa for Christmas but is too fat to portray a character who—these other songs assert—is already too fat.

5. Leslie Uggams – "The Fat Fat Man (With the White White Beard)" (1954)

Leslie Uggams recorded this pretty annoying song when she was about 11 years old. The song has an upbeat message but emphasizes Santa's morbid obesity with its repetition of the word "fat."

6. The Pixies with Thurl Ravenscroft – "Santa's Too Fat for the Hula Hoop" (1958)

An entry in the hula-hoop song craze of 1958-59 (which The Music Weird previously covered in depth here), this novelty features the late, great Thurl Ravenscroft, commonly known as the voice of the Grinch and Tony the Tiger. The song describes Santa's inability to use a hula hoop, and—bringing to mind the proverbial phrase about the glass being half full or half empty—concludes that the problem isn't a too-small hula hoop but a too-fat Santa. 

7. Rudolph & the Gang – "Here Comes Fatty Clause" [sic] (1984)

This crude novelty was included on the 2004 compilation A John Waters Christmas, which corrected the misspelling in the song title that can be seen below on the original single's label. The B-side, "Comink Zee Clauski Fattnik," offers more of the same.

8. Insane Clown Posse – "Santa's a Fat Bitch" (1997)

I had a hard time following exactly what this dystopian Christmas song is about, but whatever it is, it's not pretty.

9. The Producers – "Too Fat to Fit" (2003) 

Taken from the album Broadway's Greatest Gifts: Carols for a Cure, Volume V. In this song, a group of helpful men offer Santa dietary advice. The song's most alarming disclosure is that Santa has eaten an elf.

10. Rodney Crowell – "When the Fat Guy Tries the Chimney on for Size" (2018)

Songs about Santa's fatness never go out of style, as shown by this recent recording by Rodney Crowell. Despite the song's bluesy tone and irreverence in referring to Santa as "the fat guy," the song has an upbeat message about the spirit of giving.

Bonus track: The Four Aces – "Ol' Fatso" (1958)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Actor Greg Morris's short "singing" career

Actor Greg Morris's short-lived recording career is probably an illustration of the power of networking. Morris started showing up at music events in 1968 and suddenly had a recording contract with Dot Records, even though he wasn't a singer or musician.

How do you record a vocal album when you're not a vocalist? It's simple: Don't sing. 

On his lone album, Morris doesn't sing a single note—he just recites the lyrics of every song over instrumental backing à la William Shatner, whose debut album, The Transformed Man, was released by Decca Records later in 1968.

Could Dot Records' experiment with releasing an album of recitations by an actor from a television action/adventure/crime series (Greg Morris) have influenced Decca Records' decision to release a similar album of recitations by an actor from a television action/adventure/sci-fi series (William Shatner)? It makes you wonder.

Morris was a Cleveland-born actor who began appearing in television shows in the early 1960s and then landed a plum role in 1966 on Mission: Impossible, in which he played Barney Collier, the gadgeteer and technical whiz of the Mission Impossible Force. Despite his extensive television credits, this role came to define him, and he reprised the role on The Jeffersons in the early '80s and in the reboot of the Mission: Impossible TV series in the late '80s.

But 1968 is the year of interest to us, because that was the year in which Morris's entire discography as a vocalist was released.

In March 1968, Morris was a Grammy award presenter at the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) dinner in Hollywood. I'm guessing that this is when Morris made the connections that led to his record deal.

In May, Jet reported that Dot Records threw a reception for Morris at Toots Shor's Restaurant in Manhattan. Also in May, Billboard reported that: 
Erwin Barg, Midwest promotion chief for Dot Records, and Dot Record Distributing branch manager Morry Goldman were co-hosts at an April 19 party introducing Greg Morris. The star of TV's "Mission: Impossible" has a new Dot album.
This must have been an album release party or a pre-release party, because the album wasn't listed as a new release in Billboard until April 27, and it wasn't reviewed until August. William Shatner's debut album, The Transformed Man, didn't appear in Billboard until November of 1968.

Morris's album, for you..., was a weird album and wasn't a big seller, although Dot promoted "Come Rain or Come Shine" as a single. 

In Argentina, Spanish-language versions of two songs from Morris's album—"El Reflejo del Amor (The Look of Love") and "Cuanto Mas te Vea ("The More I See You")—were released on a single. 

Because of the commercial failure of these records, Dot dropped him, and he returned to acting and continued to rack up television credits until his death from cancer in 1996. 

Morris had no commercial recordings after 1968 but appeared on a couple noncommercial albums of PSAs. One was the 1970 antidrug album If You Turn On, and another was an album that promoted the US government's Office of Economic Opportunity Vista program, which also featured PSAs by Pat Boone and Leonard Nimoy. 

Click here to listen to Greg Morris's "The Look of Love."

And here for Greg Morris's rendition of "The Twelfth of Never."

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Carol Channing's inexplicable country music phase

In my mind, the only person less likely to attempt a country music career than Carol Channing was Phyllis Diller, who wasn't really a singer but nevertheless recorded an album of songs that included an oddly compelling rendition of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction."

Channing, on the other hand, was not only a singer but a gold-selling, Grammy award-winning one. She was most identified with the songs "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" and "Hello Dolly," both of which occupy the same position on the country-music spectrum as the music of Liberace.

Nevertheless, Billboard reported in early 1972 that Nashville's Mega Records had signed Carol Channing and that she would "seek to incorporate the Nashville sound" into her recordings for the label. The article also said that Channing would use some of this new countrified material in her one-woman show.

Buck Owens had recorded a successful album in Las Vegas a few years earlier (The Buck Owens Show: Big in Vegas), so maybe the diamond-encrusted audience for Vegas and Broadway glitz and glamour was hungry for a hint of ersatz barnyard flavor.

Mega's roster was a mixture of contemporary country artists (Sammi Smith, Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan) and veteran performers like Benny Goodman and Fred Waring, and Channing fit in more with the latter category than the former.

Despite some initial publicity, Mega's interest in developing Channing as a country warbler was short-lived, because only one single resulted: A remake of Mickey Newbury's "How I Love Them Old Songs," which had been a Top 20 country hit for honky-tonker Carl Smith just two years earlier.

Channing's country record received positive reviews but didn't chart, so Mega dropped her. 
C&W (1977)

Plantation Records saw some potential in Channing's rustic transformation, because a few years later, Channing was back in a Nashville studio, recording duets with old-timers of 1950s and 1960s country music for the label that had scored a #1 hit on both the pop and country charts with Jeannie C. Riley's "Harper Valley PTA."

Channing's first Plantation release was the 1977 platter C&W, an entire album of duets with honky-tonk superstar Webb Pierce, whose highly distinctive voice blended with Channing's highly distinctive voice like oil and water. 

In a clever touch, the album cover reversed Channing and Pierce's images by showing her in western wear and him in a tux, and the title could stand for both "Carol and Webb" and "country and western."

Plantation released a single from the album, "Got You On My Mind," which didn't chart.

Original Country Cast (1978)
Plantation must have been pleased with its first experiment with Channing, because in 1978, the label released another album, which paired Channing with a whole raft of country artists. That album, Carol Channing and Her Country Friends: Original Country Cast, featured Channing and guests—Jimmy C. Newman, Hank Locklin, Rita Remington, Rufus Thibodeaux, and Gordon Terry—on a mixed bag of old and new songs that included a remake of Channing's signature tune "Hello Dolly," a remake of Locklin's hit "We're Gonna Go Fishin'," and a group vocal performance of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."

The album is identified as a cast recording, but it appears to only mimic a stage show; the recordings are all studio recordings, and I haven't seen any evidence that the group took this "show" on the road. Still, it's a fairly lavish production for Plantation, who gave it some extra flair by pressing the album on green vinyl.

One of Channing's duets with Jimmy C. Newman, "Louisiana Cajun Rock Band," was released as a single, and although it's a step up in listenability from her single with Webb Pierce, it still didn't chart.

To promote the album, Channing appeared on Marty Robbins' television show Spotlight and sang a couple numbers with him. 

That appearance bookended Channing's 1970s stint as a sort-of country artist. Her foray into country music must not have amounted to much in her own assessment of her career, because she doesn't even mention it in her 2002 memoir Just Lucky I Guess.

Even though Channing was an old-timer herself when she recorded these duets with veteran country artists in the 1970s, she still had over 40 years of life left in her. When she died earlier this year (2019), she was a couple weeks shy of her 98th birthday!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Tommy Scott & Scotty Lee – "The Exorcism" (1975)

Without a doubt, one of the weirdest country records ever released is Tommy Scott and Scotty Lee's "The Exorcism" from 1975. 

This retelling of the 1973 film The Exorcist includes not only a Latin incantation from a Catholic exorcism ritual but also a bizarre recitation that seems to have wandered in from a totally unrelated fundamentalist Christian country-gospel record.

Even though the song on the whole is pretty ridiculous, the piercing steel guitar, demonic laughter, and creepy woman's voice create a spooky effect at times.

"The Exorcism" provides a pretty accurate plot summary of the film The Exorcist but gets a couple details wrong: The words that appear on the stomach of the possessed child (Regan, played by Linda Blair) are "help me," not "exorcise me," and the letters are merely raised in the skin, not bleeding or red.

The inclusion of the Latin wording from the exorcism ritual suggests that the composers did some research, because those Latin phrases do not appear in the film. (Merriam-Webster has an article about the Latin and French words that do appear in the film.) 

If you're unfamiliar with the primary artist, Tommy Scott, then he might be the most prolific country artist you've never heard of. Also known as Ramblin' Tommy Scott of "America's last real old-time medicine show," he was born in 1917 and had a recording career that spanned the 1930s to the late 1980s. He played with Bill Monroe's brother Charlie, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, recorded some rockabilly sides that are sometimes included on anthologies, and wrote an autobiography. Katona Records, the label that released "The Exorcism," was Scott's label on which he had been releasing his own records since the 1950s.

Tommy Scott's collaborator on "The Exorcism," Scotty Lee, was a member of Scott's group in the '70s and '80s, appearing on albums such as Great Scotts Good Country and Girls We Met at the Medicine Show.

Lee's real name was Scotty Blevins, and he was the son of Gaines "Old Bleb" Blevins, a country humorist who also played in Scott's band and was a fellow veteran of the medicine show circuit.

Lee and Scott wrote "The Exorcism" together and copyrighted it in 1974 under the title "Ballad of Exorcism."

I could find no contemporary reviews or mentions of "The Exorcism" in trade magazines, and it doesn't seem to have charted anywhere, so I'm guessing that it was simply too weird to gain any traction.

"The Exorcism" vs. The Exorcist

A blow-by-blow comparison of the lyrics of "The Exorcism" and the plot of the film The Exorcist.

“The Exorcism” lyrics
The Exorcist plot
Exorcizo te, omnis spiritus immunde
In nomine Dei Patris omnipotentis
This Latin excerpt from a Catholic exorcism ritual does not appear in The Exorcist.
The girl was playing with a ouija board
And got herself in a little too deep
An evil power who was the Devil himself
Took possession one night in her sleep
The girl, Regan (played by Linda Blair), plays with a Ouija board and gradually exhibits increasingly evident signs of possession over a period of days or weeks. The entity that possesses her identifies itself as the Devil, not a demon.
Nobody knew what was wrong with her
The specialist thought it was nerves
But when she became fully possessed
She had no reserves

The doctors diagnose Regan as having a nervous condition, possibly caused by a lesion or a temporal lobe disorder. After an army of doctors are unable to help her, one suggests an exorcism.
Her skin had changed to a ghostly white
And her eyes had an evil green glow
Her strength was that of an immortal power
And her voice was harsh and low

Regan’s appearance becomes cadaveric, her eyes turn green, she gains super strength, and she talks in a raspy demonic voice.
But inside of this devil was the soul of a child
And on her stomach was written a plea
In blood-red letters from the inside out
Were the bleeding words "Exorcise me"

As previously mentioned, the letters on her stomach are merely raised skin and not bleeding or red, and they spell out “Help me,” not “Exorcise me.”
Exorcizo te, omnis spiritus immunde
In nomine Dei Patris omnipotentis

Lord God almighty help the exorcist
To exercise an exorcism
This line is not taken from the film.
Could the death of Luther King and JFK
Be a part of a Devil's show?
Could it be that God's on vacation
And the whole world is on death row? 

Could it be that mighty Lucifer
Who was cast from an angel band
Be a-takin' over God's kingdom
And a-makin' it a Devil's land?

Could God be a-workin' on another world
And is that where all the dinosaurs have gone? 
Suppose the Pope or Billy Graham
Were seduced to Satan's throne?

Would you puke at the smell of burning human flesh
As blood is sucked from man?
Could you endure the fury of Hell
With Satan in command?

[Evil laughter] 
None of this has anything to do with The Exorcist.
Lord God almighty help the exorcist
To exercise an exorcism

Exorcizo te, omnis spiritus immunde
In nomine Dei Patris omnipotentis

It's over now and the house showed the signs
Of this power that can't be explained
The ceiling and the walls were gone [?]
From the spirit that could not be contained
In a climactic moment during the exorcism, large cracks appear in the ceiling and door of the house.
[Woman's voice]
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
This common children's bedtime prayer overlaps the previous lines and is not heard in the film.
They exorcised a spirit from her
But the Devil got the soul of the priest
And rather than be a child of Satan
He is deceased, deceased, deceased
The priest exorcises the spirit from Regan by inviting it into his own body and then jumps out of a window to his death, either intentionally (as the song suggests) or because the Devil compelled him to.
The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
This excerpt from Psalm 23 is not in the film.
Although the song ends with the death of the priest, the film goes on to show Regan and her mother moving out of their house, with Regan having fully recovered from the possession.

Here's the audio of "The Exorcism":

And here's some vintage video footage of Scott and Lee: