Friday, 21 October 2016

Keep It Under Cover

As mad as it may seem, in 1966 a man wearing a ski mask appeared on The Merv Griffin Show (a syndicated talk show started in 1965) on American TV singing a terrible song called The Covered Man. No, it wasn’t Batman or any of his on-screen villains, nor was it the mysterious masked vigilante El Kabong – no, our covered man would go on to become one half of TV detective duo Husky and Starch, and score several international hit singles in the 1970s. Yes, the covered man singing The Covered Man was in fact David Soul (born David Solberg in 1943).

It seems it was Merv’s idea that Soul wear the ski mask, and Merv – as producer/mentor/manager of the young actor – refused to let him rake the damn thing off. The idea seems to have been that people would have been too distracted by Soul’s good looks to take him seriously as a folk singer.


Soul made 25 appearances on the Merv Griffin Show with his balaclava in place. Poor thing. Unmasked he would go on to appear on Flipper, Star Trek and many other TV shows before landing the role that would make him famous, that of Detective Ken ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson on Starsky and Hutch, a role he played from 1975 until 1979.

Now living in London with wife number five (he’s admitted in the past to having beat wife number three – Patti Carnel Sherman who was formerly married to teen idol Bobby Sherman - whilst she was seven months pregnant and while he was dealing with alcoholism), Soul is still acting and occasionally turns up on the West End stage and on TV. He starred as TV talk show host Jerry Springer (a kind of proto Jeremy Kyle for you younger readers) in the stage show Jerry Springer the Opera, which was also broadcast (amid much protest) by the BBC.

The backing band on this single (and, apparently, two more released by Soul on MGM) was the Blues Project, featuring Steve Katz who later went on to form Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Al Kooper, the famed session musician who has played with Bob Dylan (that’s him on organ on Like a Rolling Stone), Gene Pitney, the Rolling Stones The Royal Teens (he plays guitar on Short Shorts), The Who, Alice Cooper and countless others.

Still, here are both sides of David’s outings as The Covered Man: The Covered Man and the Charles Aznavour song I Will Warm Your Heart.


Top image half-inched from

Friday, 14 October 2016

Bel Canto Banshee

As you’ll all be very aware, for the last couple of years my life has been pretty much taken over by Florence Foster Jenkins, feted by many (including me) for the horrible quality of her singing.

But opera is full of bad singers. Some, like Anna Russell, sang badly on purpose and earned quite a decent living from it. Others, like Florence, were completely sincere about her shtick... and it is here that we find the Portuguese diva Natalia de Andrade.

Late in her life Madame Natalia recorded two 33rpm albums of her chronic caterwauling, murderous interpretations of works by composers such as Verdi and Puccini. The covers feature a smiling, elderly woman. Neither album is dated, but the story goes that she spent all of her money on her musical career and even borrowed to pay for her own recorded legacy... she once claimed that ‘It is only through my albums that Portugal can hear me.’ After appearing on TV in the 80s she became so famous in her home country that they would refer to Florence Foster Jenkins as ‘America’s Natalia de Andrade’. She even inspired pianist Carlos Pereira to compose a series of solos entitled Four Meditations on Natalia de Andrade, and she became the subject of a documentary Natalia, the Tragicomic Diva.

Her mother, Maria de Andrade, was a singer and gave piano lessons at home; she seems to have cultivated Natalia’s talent, accompanying her daughter in concerts from the age of 10. Later her parents enrolled her at the National Conservatory of Lisbon for voice and piano lessons. Her father worked for the newspaper O Seculo and moved in musical circles, and in 1940 Natalia appeared in the cast of an opera by composer Ruy Coelho in Lisbon Coliseum. After her father died the two women continued to live together: Natalia never married.

She appears to have been a pretty mediocre student, yet somehow it seems that when she was in her mid-50s (around 1964) she was able to record an album (Colecion De Arias De Operas Portuguesas) for Columbia in Madrid (according to her diary these sessions were also self-funded) and she later recorded for Valentim de Carvalho in Lisbon. Her dairy goes in to details of how Natalia would go hungry and would pawn everything she owned (apart from her beloved piano) to pay for these sessions. Her later albums were recorded some time around 1986, when she was 76.

Natalia died on 19 October 1999, in a home for the elderly, aged 89. Right up to the end she played piano almost daily, and would regale the other residents with stories of how she had once been a star. Several years after her passing my friend Gregor Benko included one of her recordings on his compilation The Muse Surmounted a collection which featured a number of deluded divas including, of course, Florence Foster Jenkins.

Have a listen to her massacring a couple of classical standards and make her what you will.


Friday, 7 October 2016

Sing An Alexander Silver Song

A quick one today (no, I’m not having a go at the Who), but a goodie no less and a timely follow up to last week’s post I Want a Lovely, Lovely Sausage and Come to Robertson’s by Silver’s People.

Today I bring you the only other known recording on the Alexander Silver label, the David Kaye Sound’s Lorelei backed with Sing An Alexander Silver Song, both written by our friend Alexander Silver.

What becomes obvious as soon as A-side starts is that my earlier assumption, that the lead vocalist of Silver’s People was Alex Silver himself, was wrong. Clearly the vocalist on all four tracks is one and the same, leading me to the inevitable conclusion that he is (or was) in fact David Kaye. Not that that information helps us in any way: there’s no information anywhere on who David Kaye was nor why he thought he was suited to a career in music.

As with the earlier release, there is no clue as to when the disc was issued or indeed no information about the other members of the David Kaye Sound – a woefully inept female backing singer who cannot pronounce the simple phrase ‘higgledy-piggledy’ (instead constantly rendering it ‘higgledy-picklety’), plus a guitarist, bassist and drummer. Each one of them sounds about as competent as the useless musicians employed by song-poem label Tin Pan Alley in the 1970s (although, god love him, the drummer does attempt to exhibit some prowess by trying a solo on the flip side). The matrix gives nothing away either. As usual, if you have any info please do tell! 


Friday, 30 September 2016

Lovely Sausages

Happy anniversary everybody! Yes, I started this very blog nine years ago this week, and to celebrate this auspicious occasion we have another disc that was suggested by a long-time WWR follower.

Donated to our aural cabinet of curiosities by Steve Simms-Luddington, information on the utterly bizarre promo record I Want a Lovely, Lovely Sausage has been hard to come by, but I have managed to piece together a few facts about it and its creator, Alexander Silver.

Written to promote a prize-winning British butcher, rather than the more famous jam manufacturer, I Want a Lovely, Lovely Sausage and the equally peculiar flip side, Come to Robertson’s was issued some time in the early 70s on the custom Alexander Silver Promotional Records label, written by the same Alexander Silver and performed by Silver’s People – presumably Alex on vocals and the horrendously out of tune guitar, plus two unwilling and under-rehearsed friends on bass and drums.

Alex Silver was a jobbing songwriter who had previously written the England Football Song in 1965, issued as a single-sided single by the small Jackson Recording Company, a custom recording company who also put out the occasional 45 or LP and that was based in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. Issued primarily to help bolster England’s chances in the 1966 World Cup (well, it certainly worked!), the song was a hit with Sir Alf Ramsay, was played at the World Cup opening ceremony and at several matches during the competition, and could be heard on television and on radio prior to and during the tournament. Our Alex also wrote an alternative version of the official World Cup Willie theme, but this seems not to have been recorded.

Buoyed by the success of this, Mr. Silver set up his own company. As well as I Want a Lovely, Lovely Sausage his Alexander Silver label issued at least one more 45, the David Kaye Sound’s Lorelei backed with Sing An Alexander Silver Song… both songs, naturally, written by Alexander Silver.

There have been a number of British butchers trading under the name Robertson over the years, and there’s no clue on the label or in the lyrics as to which particular company the disc was cut for. The names of some of the staff are mentioned in the lyrics of the b-side… time for someone to do some detective work.


Saturday, 24 September 2016

What the Eff?

Happy Saturday, my friends!

My recent shout-out for recordings that I have not previously written about turned up this little nugget. Fellow Blogger Bob at Dead Wax brought this to my attention; unfortunately I’ve only been able to find one side of the disc so far (and the B-side at that), but goodness – what a find!

Released on the tiny Lorida label, this disc was custom pressed by RCA in 1958 – just about the same time that they were pressing discs for Grace Pauline Chew’s Musicart label. Lorida isn’t a spelling mistake: it’s the name of a small, unincorporated community in eastern Highlands County, Florida. Originally named Istokpoga (a Seminole Indian word meaning ‘drowned man’), the name was changed to Lorida (pronounced lo-reed-a) by then-postmistress Mary Stokes 1937 by simply lopping the ‘f’ off Florida.

Credited to Leona Bass and The Lost Guitars, the amazingly inept I Want to Marry an Egghead appeared as the b-side to Ralph Tullo and The Lost Guitars’ My Heart's With You on Trial. The lyrics to both sides were written by Martin Manders, with René Bruneau providing the music (if you can call it that) to I Want to Marry an Egghead, and Phoebe Cole composing the music for My Heart's With You on Trial. Both songs were published by Fighter Music Publishing Limited in June 1958. Bruneau was an old hand (literally: he was born in 1900), and wrote the music to dozens of copyrighted songs, many of them with lyrics written by one Ed Kukkee (full name Edwin Waldemar Kukkee), including What Happens When a Bug Goes Bugs, Papa Stork is Paying Us a Visit and The Wiggle Wiggle Rag (I wonder if Bob Dylan was aware of that one?). Cole too had form, previously composing the music to the songs Kiss me, Sweet and Kiss me All the Time (both 1957). My assumption is that Mr Manders sent his lyrics in to song poem-esque services to have them set to music: this is borne out by the fact that all of Cole’s and Bruneau’s co-writers retained copyright in their respective compositions.

Other people associated with Lorida also had connections with the song-poem world: Earl Luton (of Lutone fame) composed at least one side for Lorida, and Harold Crosby - who also issued a 45 on Top Fifty - issued a brace of 45s on Lorida. Mike Sarlo, who performed with a band called the Footstompers on another Lorida release, was a programme director for a Pennsylvania radio station who also dabbled occasionally in songwriting and recording. 

It appears that Manders (1906-1978) was from Allouez village, Green Bay, Wisconsin – quite a way from Florida. It appears too that Lorida issued at least a half dozen 45s during the life of the company, and that this particular coupling was the first. Quite how it came about is a mystery: I assume either Leona or her dad paid for the recording and pressing themselves, or that the Bass family were friends of Martin Manders and he stumped up the $50 or so to have the record cut and pressed.

Perhaps one of you can help fill in the story... and find the flip side?


Friday, 16 September 2016

More sides from Mrs Slydes

Most of you will already be acquainted with Leona Anderson: I’ve written about her a couple of times before but it’s always nice to revisit old friends, especially if you have something new to share.

And boy, do I. Today I present for you the missing Leona Anderson 45, her second for Columbia and her third release at that point, Limburger Lover/Yo-Ho the Crow.

Let’s have a quick recap of her story (if you want more, there’s a chapter on Leona’s career in my first book: most of what follows is culled from there).

Born Leona Aronson on April 3, 1885, Leona was the younger sister of early cowboy movie star Gilbert ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. She began her showbiz career at fifteen and seriously thought about a career as an operatic singer (I’ve read that her brother paid for her to travel to London to study) before appearing in a number of films - thankfully all silent – including Mud and Sand (which starred Stan Laurel as Rhubarb Vaseline) and In the Park which starred Charlie Chaplin. Unsurprisingly she also appeared in several movies directed by and starring her brother. Many years later (in 1959 to be exact) she appeared in the Vincent Price horror film The House on Haunted Hill as the demonic Mrs Slydes.

By the mid-1950s Leona had developed her unique singing style and made many cabaret appearances sending up opera singers: she once said she chose this career because ‘Opera singers just can't kid themselves properly; they never can let their voices go’, which is not a criticism that you could ever level at her. Throughout her career she would wilfully let her voice go just about anywhere it damn well pleased.

Described by Billboard as ‘a gal with cultivated, and broken, pipes’, Leona (erroneously credited as Leonna Anderson) issued her first waxing, Fish, on both 78 and on clear red vinyl 7”, in 1953. Fish was released by Horrible Records (motto: if it’s really a Horrible Record it’s bound to be a hit) and put out as the B-side to the Dr Demento favourite There's A New Sound (The Sound Of Worms Eating Your Brain) by Tony Burrello. Fish was co-written by Burrello, who also played calliope on the track; Bill Baird (a puppeteer who would become better known a decade later for the Lonely Goatherd marionette scene in The Sound of Music) played tuba. 500 copies were originally pressed but within two weeks Horrible Records had received orders for a further 100,000 copies. TV comic Ernie Kovacs heard it and invited her on his show. Aided by Burrello and Murray Leona put together a nightclub act, which she called Songs to Forget; the success of the act, coupled with Kovacs championing her cause led to her recording a cover of the Pattie Page hit The Mama Doll Song (backed with I’m A Fool To Care) for Columbia (featured on this blog before) – of which Billboard wrote ‘her cracked tones, sadly out of tune (have) the same macabre appeal as the miserable chirping of Florence Foster Jenkins’.

Issued in March 1955, more than 18 months before her seminal album Music to Suffer By, her second (and last) 45 for Columbia – and the one I present for you today - featured Limburger Lover and Yo-Ho the Crow. Both songs also appeared, in re-recorded form, on the album. Catalogue info exists for 78 rpm versions of both Columbia singles although, as is often the case with these things, there appear to be more promotional copies of the 45 in circulation that retail copies. A fourth single, Indian Love Call/Habanera, was also issued, in March 1956 as both a 78 and 45 by Unique (it was also issued, with the sides flipped, in Australia: I’m lucky enough to have picked up a copy recently for my own collection). She also recorded a theme tune, of sorts, for the Bob and Ray radio show in March 1956.

‘I sing songs which cannot be ruined,” she once said. “I don’t sing very off-key… just enough. I decided that if I couldn’t be the best I’d be the worst.’

She died, on Christmas Day 1973, in a retirement home in Fremont, Alameda County, California at the age of 88. She may be gone, but she left us with a legacy for which we should be forever grateful.

A copy of this 45 recently turned up on Ebay: I was bidding for it but dropped out at $30. I’ll console myself with the MP3s until the next one turns up.


Friday, 9 September 2016

Help, Man!

On September 28 this blog will celebrate its ninth anniversary: yes, I’ve been writing about bad music for that long. To celebrate, I asked readers (via our Facebook page) to nominate a favourite bad record that I had not written about, and over the next few weeks I’m going to share some of those suggestions with you. You can suggest your own via the comments section at the end of this post.

Born in 1909, Sir Robert Helpmann was an Australian dancer who became an international ballet star and choreographer as well as a noted actor and director. Openly gay (he lived with his partner for 36 years) and with a flamboyant sense of theatricality, Robert had been on stage since the age of eight. ‘When he was a little chap’, his mother, Mattie Helpman, once revealed, ‘he used to take away my stockings and use them for tights. He would tie feathers round his head, too, and go roaming round the streets until I’m sure people thought I had a lunatic in the family.’

Knighted in 1968, during the 30s and 40s Sir Robert was one of British ballet's premier male dancers. Noted as ‘a dancer who could act and an actor who could dance’, his personality and talent played a vital part in building the fledgling British ballet.

After studying briefly with Anna Pavlova in Melbourne (which had been arranged by his rather dour father), Robert went to London in 1933 to study and perform with the Sadler's Wells Ballet, now known as the Royal Ballet. He was the leading male star with that company from 1934 until his resignation in 1950, frequently appearing with his longtime partner Dame Margot. In the 1937-38 season, he beat Laurence Olivier for the part of Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Old Vic, playing opposite Vivien Leigh. He later repeated that role opposite Moira Shearer at the Metropolitan Opera House and on a US tour in 1954.

During his years with Sadler's Wells, Sir Robert took occasional leaves of absence to act, most notably in the classic Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film The Red Shoes, a stylish, highly influential movie about backstage life in the ballet. Years later, when an interviewer asked him whether the high-pitched portrayal of the events and lives of the dancers were exaggerated, he replied, ‘Oh, no, dear boy, it was quite understated’. Other film credits included multiple roles in the Tales of Hoffmann, the Bishop of Ely in Olivier’s Henry V and the terrifying Child Catcher in the classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 1995 Marylin Manson paid tribute, of sorts, via the album Smells Like Children, with Manson dressed as the Child Catcher on the sleeve.

During his career he Puccini's La Boheme and Rimsky-Korsakov's Coq d'Or for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral for the Old Vic and directed the musical Camelot on stage. In 1955 he co-starred with Katharine Hepburn, touing in three Shakespearean plays in Australia, and from 1965 to 1975 he was co-director of the Australian Ballet.

But here’s one thing you’ll struggle to find a mention of in his official biography. In 1963 Helpmann recorded four surf-themed tracks for HMV in Australia. Seriously. Someone at HMV thought the gay, 54 year-old Helpmann could pass as a teen idol and ride on the coat tails of the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean and the like in to the charts. Two cuts from the session were issued as a 45 the following year (the same year he was appointed CBE) - Surfer Doll and I Still Could Care (HMV EA-4620) - with the second pair - Surf Dance and Let-A-Go Your Heart - issued the following year (EA-4665). All four tracks were collected on the Raven EP Sir Robert Helpmann Goes Surfing in 1982, dubbed from vinyl copies as the master tapes could not be located. There’s a hysterical film clip of Helpmann performing Surfer Doll on YouTube if you care to look for it and, apparently, sheet music featuring Robert on the cover in a peroxide blond wig. The first 45 was also issued in the US, on Blue Pacific Records.

Helpmann died in Sydney – appropriately for this anniversary post on September 28 – in 1986 after a long battle with emphysema, caused it seems by a lifetime of heavy smoking. He was 77 years old.

With enormous thanks to Graham Graham for bringing these tracks to my attention, here are all four sides cut by Sir Robert for HMV Australia.


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