Thursday, November 20, 2014

Halmark Before Halmark, Part Two

Here, as the promised follow-up to last Sunday's post, are the other two Chapel Recording Company acetates. You can read more information about these records, and see a truly amazing scam letter that came with one of them here.

The third acetate contains a song called "Hold His Promises to Your Heart". This has considerably better sound on the vocal than did the first two records I shared on Sunday, and the backing track (one I'm not absolutely sure I've heard before) is very clear, compared with the sound of many later Halmark releases.

Finally, there is "Fallow Ground". This one is built on one of my favorite Halmark backing tracks (again, sounding nice and clean here) - a big booming, bombastic opening that gives way to what passes for a soulful arrangement in the Halmark universe. They didn't use this track as often as many of their other records, but I'm always glad to here it. And again, the megaphone from Sunday's tracks seems to have been retired for this track, as well.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Halmark Before Halmark, Part One

Several months ago, I bought a batch of song-poem and related items, all of which have song-poet Enza Cooper as the common thread. These items contained four ten-inch Acetates, which, being a different size than most of the records I buy, ended up in a different spot than virtually everything in my collection, and sat, sort of forgotten, for nearly a year. They are all one sided, and came in record sleeves with the name of the songs on each of them.

I came across them while looking for something else, and they are a revelation. While these four records have long been documented on the AS/PMA website, I don't believe they've ever been shared on line or among collectors.

These four records make up more than half of the documented (on AS/PMA) records on the Chapel Recording Company, one of Ted Rosen's song-poem mills before he settled on the Halmark (AKA Hallmark) label in the late 1960's.

What I find most fascinating about these records is that, already by this point, Rosen was employing the same backing tracks that were used ad nauseam during the Halmark years. And while these records suffer the higher level of noise often heard on acetates, it strikes me that the backing tracks actually sound a little cleaner and clearer than on many Halmark releases. Perhaps he hadn't worn out those tapes at this point, and by 1975, had worn them out enough that they were in poorer condition?

On the other hand, what is with the vocals on these records? They sound like they're being sung through a megaphone, particularly in the second track featured.

First up is the clunky-titled "Please Stuff This Envelope (With Kisses)", with a backing track that any Halmark fan will recognize immediately.

Even more familiar will be the backing track to "Tell me of His Love", with the aforementioned vocal which sounds like it was recorded over a phone receiver. See below the label scan for a fun postscript.

Along with these records came the following letter, sent to the song-poet, from Ted Rosen himself. This letter is quoted in its entirety at the AS/PMA website, but it's fun to see it, anyway. The person I bought these records from called this a "nice" letter, but in reality it's another play for more $$ from the song-poet. He claims to have added, at his own expense, a chorus of ten singers to her recording session. It's up to her to pay the extra $29.50, of course, but he did spring for them.

Only he didn't. The singers were already there, along with the rest of the track that he'd be using over and over again, for full profit and no further cost, for God knows how many more years.

Part two, featuring the other two records, will follow in a few days.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Sleazy Gene


Is there any question about whether Gene Marshall could rise to just about any occasion, and deliver a vocal which matched the subject matter just about perfectly?

Today's lyric, the very directly titled "Girl, What Are You Saving it For?", required a bit of sleaze, particularly on that very title line, and Gene delivers. I must say, as well, that whoever wrote the music and directed the track did a good job of hitting something a bit darker than the typical Preview record, as well. If only they'd skipped those god-awful white-bread backup singers - they ruin the mood.

Do you suppose this song-poet presented his lovely lady with this record, in the hopes that it would be the final piece of the puzzle, in terms of him getting what she was saving?

Upon hearing the opening moments of "Hey! Pretty Girl", one could be forgiven for thinking there's another sexual come-on in this lyric. But that opening guitar gives way to a more standard Preview track, with both the music and vocal sounding like dozens of other Preview discs from this period.

What stands out for me here, actually, is a rare flub from Gene Marshall, between 1:10 and 1:15, where the band modulates up a half-step and Gene holds on to the note he was singing, until well after the chord change is complete. It sticks out both as a moment of bad sounding music and as a truly unusual event in a Gene Marshall performance.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014


While working for the Film City label, Rodd Keith found his work released on myriad secondary labels - vanity labels, smaller song-poem labels related to Film City, and others whose providence I can barely guess at. Typically, he shows up as Rod Rogers, but sometimes has a different name. Most of those tiny labels have names which have something to do with the label's primary songwriter (such as Kondas and Lutone), have a catchy name (Action and Planet Earth, for example) or at least interesting and perhaps thought provoking (Inner-Glo is a favorite of mine). 

But what to make of this label, which I've never seen referred to anywhere, and can't find anything about, and which carries the clunky name "B-Atlas". Were they hoping someone would misread it and think it said "Beatles"? I admit that seems unlikely, but it's the best I can come up with. 

Today's Rod Rogers songs are typical of the Rod Rogers, Film City sound. Neither one stands out to my ears - I'm sharing these at least as much because this label seems to be completely unknown to the song-poem world - but as I'm a fan of his mechanical, Chamberlin driven tracks from that era and label, I find these very enjoyable. 

First up is "My Honey Bee", a mid-tempo, yet peppy and danceable number. I do notice that there are some lines which do not scan well with the music Rod(d) chose, and he clearly finds those lines a challenge to sing effectively.  

From the same general sound style comes the flip side, the awkwardly titled "Lou, I'm in Love With You". Note that a typo on the label leads to an indication that the song is only 75 seconds long - 40 seconds under its actual length.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Brosh-Tastic EP

It's four for the price of two today, here at song-poem central, and what's more, today's EP, on the tiny Brosh label, features four different singers, all but one from the Globe song-poem empire.

First up is frequently used Globe female vocalist Kris Arden, with a song not written by Smokey Robinson, nor sung by Mary Wells, yet still titled "My Guy". The backing track is Globe 101 - if not for the lyrics, I'm sure Sammy Marshall would have been singing this. But just listen to these lyrics - her guy sounds like a dreamboat; he's swell.

Speaking of Sammy Marshall, he's up next, with a number titled "Just a Few". This is also paint-by-numbers Globe stuff, and Sammy sounds (to me, anyway) pretty darned wistful, as if he believes the songwriter doesn't expect to win the girl. The ache in his voice here doesn't match the promise of the lyrics.

By the way, I'm going to make another file of this record tonight and see if it gets rid of some of the harshness of the sax portions (I didn't notice at the time of making this file that there was so much distortion, and the other tracks seem to be fine, so it might just be the track).

Best of the batch by a wide margin is "Makes My Heart Start Flopping Around", sung by everyone's favorite, The Mystery Girl. Here we have a swingin' little track, with a winning vocal, a nice band sound, and a lyric that, with a few improvements, could have sounded like someone's attempt at a hit record, at least during the late '50's (although I'm pretty sure this record is not from the late '50's). I could do without the honking sax, but that's a minor complaint - this is a fun song and record.

The final track, on the other hand, is as vapid as they come. It's called "I Love 'Em So", and it does NOT sound like it comes from the Globe world (so to speak). The lyrics here are literally as stupid as I've ever heard on a song-poem 45, and there are so few of them that some sections have to be repeated three times (almost everything is sung at least twice) in the 110 seconds it takes for the record to mercifully end. The bridge is especially inspired:

Nothing but girls
Lots of girls
Nothing but girls
I'm in a whirl

I don't believe I've come across the song stylings of Ronnie May before, and I'm not sure what casa-de-song-poems put this masterpiece together, but I'm sort of interested in hearing more.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Music of Crusty America

Although I've never featured it on this site before, the Star-Crest song-poem label holds a special fascination for me. Their albums (and it's almost always an album - I've only ever heard of four 45's on the label, and have only ever seen one of those) are unlike the products of any other label, except for perhaps Film-Tone, a label which they are reported to have had some sort of connection to.

Star- Crest releases are extra chintzy, often described on the label as featuring an orchestra, although rarely actually featuring more than four instruments, and often fewer than that. Their singers are either hopelessly incompetent, or at best are not very good at sight-reading - it certainly sounds to me like these singers have never seen the material before. That was rarely a problem for the likes of Gene Marshall, but the Star-Crest vocalists seem to trip over the melodies quite a bit more than was the average for song-poem vocalists.

The songs are also over in a flash. This album contains 22 songs in barely 40 minutes, many of them under 100 seconds long. Like many Star-Crest albums, it also contains a genuine hit song from the past, in this case WAY past (hello, public domain), "Columbia, Gem of the Ocean".

Then there is the material that Star-Crest received, or at least those lyrics they accepted. Much of their clientele seems to have been stuck in that period of the '30's where exceptionally corny novelties and sickly sweet sentimental clap-trap ruled the day. Those writers whose lyrics were in some way more contemporary (again, see the second track, below) were simply out of luck. Because to nearly all of these lyrics were paired arrangements that simply exist out of time entirely. There is no period in American music that I'm aware of when hit music (or potential hit music) was released which featured vocalists paired with piano, guitar and clarinet (or sax). True demo records are not typically this elaborate - and actual releases on real record labels not anywhere near this sparse.

The first example today is the song "The Little Grey Rabbit", as sung by Mary Martell. Here's a lyric which is clearly leading up to a moral, and when it arrives, it's more sudden and perhaps a bit harsher than one might have expected.

From the other end of the spectrum comes a hapless attempt at Rock and Roll, sung by label stalwart Tony Rogers, titled "Rock N' Roll Rocker". This contains one of the weirdest couplets I have heard in a song-poem (or any song) in quite some time:

"Grandma may be dead and weak,
but her get her in her rocker and she's a freak."

Dead and weak?

That's the "best" line, but the whole thing is amazing, in a car-crash sort of way.

Finally, as an example of what some of the other material on the album sounds like - the stuff that isn't hit-over-the-head moralistic or hopelessly misguided, here's an attempt at whimsy, titled "Just a Little Tugboat", sung again by Mary Martell.

A full Star-Crest album which I posted several years ago to WFMU can be found here.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Love Me, Love Me, Love Me, Love Me, Love Me!!!

Well, it seems like every time I get a head of steam lately, something else delays me. My plan was to speed up the posts until I was back on an every Monday or Tuesday schedule, but various issues keep interfering. This week it was a minor emergency involving a family member, now largely resolved.

The good news is that I've figured out the sound problem with my turntable, and have uploaded improved sound files to last week's post (the Bob Storm record). That post, with improved sound, can be found here. I'll continue to fix the previous three or four posts as soon as I have time.

And now....

The same family issue mentioned above has left me with little time to offer comments on today's record, "Love Me, Love Me, Love", by Norm Burns and the Satellites. I will say that I rather enjoy the sound of this record, due to the efforts of the spare backing band (dig one of the simplest guitar solos in history) and Norm's unique stylings, but the lyrics are about as basic, repetitive and uninspired as they come. 

I can say nothing good about the flip side, "Oh! The Precious Blood". I'm not automatically opposed to religious records, but the words here are stultifying and the music is awful. I hope the sound file here worked correctly - I couldn't bring myself to listen to all four and a half minutes of this tedium a second time.