MP3s: 56 of them below the jump, along with pdfs of the CD cover art and booklets for both volumes.
WFMU is happy to be the official host for the final two volumes of CD releases from the American Song Poem Music Archives. Prepared for release back in the late 1990s, for various reasons these two albums have been sitting on curator Phil Milstein's shelf ... until now.
Here are Phil's long-awaited collections, titled, respectively, I Like Yellow Things: MSR Madness Vol. 5 and Rat A Tat Tat, America: MSR Madness Vol. 6. Each album features full-color cover artwork by legendary cartoonists Peter Bagge (vol. 5) and Rick Altergott (vol. 6). Together, these two volumes collect 56 of the best and weirdest song-poems that emerged from America's "send in your lyrics" musical factories. Back in the day, non-musicians mailed in their addled and/or eloquent poetry (often scribbled on sandwich bags or cocktail napkins), and for a small fee, a song was created out their poetic detritus. The concept is nothing new - there have been numerous anthologies of song poems (and even a film about the phenomenon), so many in fact that you have to wonder just how much good material there is. These collections answer that questions - tons of it, especially if you keep an open mind and you're as receptive to the strangeness of the genre as you are to the pained emotion and the historical insight they often provide.
There are some real gems here, including Burmese Land and Octopus Woman, Please Let Me Go, both favorites from Irwin Chusid's and Michelle Boule's Incorrect Music show. My own favorite here is technically not a song poem (because writer and singer are the same person), but it still fits - William Arpaia's magnificent Listen, Mister Hat. Like many song poem collections, there a batch of excellent anti-hippy musical diatribes (Till Death Do Us Part, sung by Heroin herself, Smoke It - The Pot and The Doing Of Our Thing) And several others - My Daddy He Died in 1969, Stay Where You Are, Green Fingernails and Gretchen's New Dish - all testify to the continued richness of the song poem genre. And that's just on Volume Five! So get started downloading, and listen! Special thanks to Phil Milstein, Irwin Chusid and Otis Fodder.
I Like Yellow Things - MSR Madness Volume Five:
01. Bobbi Blake: I Like Yellow Things
Perhaps inspired by Tom T. Hall's "I Love," veteran song-poet Tiel Faulkner contributes our title tune, a sweet number that is the musical equivalent of springtime itself.
02. Jim Lea: The Doing Of Our Thing
Gilbert Prescott's blissful vision of the hippie-led nation of Oilyville, a libertine and libertarian utopia run by a council of gurus. Their only mandate is to make sure "of love each has a share." Where do we sign up?
03. Dick Kent: Times About
And the word is: Tiger! Another deliriously inscrutable entry from the House of Guygax. To attempt to parse the meaning of a Guygax song is to miss its meaning altogether.
04. Roger Bonnette: The Hell With You (home version)
A taut little kiss-off number sung by the unknown Roger Bonnette. This might be an example of a recording sent in by a song-poet and then given the MSR overdub treatment. The other side, the "radio version," sounds as if it uses the same basic tracks, but they seem to have been sped up, and the line "Find somebody else that you can screw" has been bowdlerized to "Find somebody else, do-doobie-do."
05. Shelley Stuart & The Five Stars: Vampire Husband
Sterling was a Boston-based label known primarily for its male vocalists Norm Burns and Gary Roberts. But Shelley Stuart, wife of Sterling's founder Lew Tobin, also checked in with a number of topliners, including this well-written tale of divine love borne of the crypt. That's most likely Tobin himself tinkling the catchy piano line.
06. Cara Stewart: Song Of The Burmese Land
The ultraslinky Cara Stewart, the lone distaff vocalist of Lee Hudson's reverb-laden Northridge, California
hit factory, snakes her warm, inviting larynx around L. (not Lee) Hazlewood's enchanting protest lyric denoucing Burma's excessive afterhour noise. "Doon doon doon, dang dang dang" - I couldn't have
said it better myself.
07. Ron Davis: It's A Mystery Called Love
In the guise of "Ron Davis," Rodd Keith hauls up another bucket from his bottomless well of dazzling popcraft archetypes. This one is short on weirdness and long on what Rodd was best at: structure, melody and harmony singing. The drummer seems to be telegraphing his timing in (perhaps from Burma), but Rodd refuses to be thrown.
08. Gene Marshall: Evelyn Christmas
At long last, a chance to expose the secret of James Wilson, Jr., the Chicago-based rival to Thomas Guygax, Sr. as World's Greatest Song-Poet. Every bit as surreal yet far more prolific, we are thrilled to finally put Wilson on the map with this lovely number about "Pastels from Alaska / Imported as the igloo in review." At last report Wilson was still at it, submitting multipage song-poem manifestos on a weekly basis.
09. Buddy Raye: Feeling Beside Myself
Innumerable listens fail to reveal whether this first-person account of schizophrenia was written as an intellectual exercise, or from a more lived-in point of view.
10. Kay Weaver: Woman's Liberation
An ironic matching of material and performer. Kay Weaver, an award-winning feminist filmmaker in her life outside of song-poem music, is here forced to declare, "But one thing I don't understand / Is woman's liberation." It's refreshing to see the song-poem game for once backfiring upon one of its players.
11. Gene Marshall: Shake Your Good Stuff
Gene Marshall delivers a typically authoritative reading of Herman Earl's once-fashionable lyric. This is the flip of "All You Need Is A Fertile Mind," which we visited in a previous installment.
12. Norman Burns: Stay Where You Are
The aforementioned Norm Burns nails a delightfully orthogonal arrangement.
13. Dick Kent: Octopus Woman Please Let Me Go
A tale that turns Humanoids From The Deep on its tentacles. With its flip "The Flying Horse Of Thunder," this discovery of WFMU's Irwin Chusid is another double A-side winner. Both were written by Randle R. Wilson.
14. uncredited: My Daddy He Died In 1969
The overarching sincerity of many song-poem lyrics can sometimes come up and snap you right in the face.
15. Gene Marshall: Green Fingernails
Your guess is as good as mine. This and our other color-themed song, "I Like Yellow Things," are finds of collector Brian Gordon.
16. Wm. H. Arpaia & The Jerrymanders: Listen, Mister Hat
William Howard Arpaia's motivational rant is not technically a song-poem, since writer and performer in this case are the same person. But Arpaia was forever blurring the boundaries between vanity and song-poem anyway, and this one is just too strong to contain any longer.
17. Ralph Lowe: My Silent Thoughts
Ubercrooner Ralph Lowe returns with a meditative number from the pen of first-timer Virginia Bailey.
18. The Downtowners: I Love Lovely Chinese Gal
From Rodd Keith's personal collection of his own records, the same batch that gave rise to Ellery Eskelin's all-Rodd compilation I Died Today. This number is so atmospheric you can practically smell the opium wafting through the den.
19. Betty Bond: Till Death Do Us Part
Taken from the album Betty Bond Sings Pop, which, like "The Doing Of Our Thing," is from Bob Quimby's Tropical label. Not to cast aspersions on the song- poet, but an anonymous correspondent terms this harrowing depiction of heroin use "starkly accurate."
20. Bill Joy: The Messer Round
The year 1979, as represented in all its song-poem glory. The elastic-throated Bill Joy was MSR's resident disco crooner.
21. Dick Kent: Gretchen's New Dish
Chester T. Finley apparently did not approve of the way Dick Kent, in his spirited, German-inflected delivery, got a little too spirited on the final words of the line "Gretchen full of doo-doo." Bobbi Blake was called in for the redo (do), which appears on a previous entry in the MSR Madness series, The Human Breakdown Of Absurdity.
22. uncredited: My Hamburger Baby
The Halmark label rarely bothered to credit their vocalists by name, substituting instead the song-poet's address. Halmark even had trouble spelling the name of their own company, sometimes adding an extra "l" for no apparent reason.
23. Gene Marshall: Prayer For Jamey
Just when you expect Havelyn Sing's lyric to zig, it zags. Based on a true story.
24. Milford Perkins: Jerry The Butcher Man
Only in the song-poem genre could you hear anything so incredible as a poignant song about a meat-cutter. Then again, vocalist Milford Perkins could make the phone book sound poignant. Don't hold me to this, but I'm pretty sure that's George Liberace himself bouncing the bum fiddle note.
25. Dick Kent: The Sailor's Anthem
Both this elegy to Davy Jones's locker and its also-excellent flip, "Elvis The King," were written by Wesley Earl Falterman.
26. Rodd Keith: My Twin And I
I get a sense of something very real in Phyllis Varisco's lyric, which happens far more often in song-poem music than it does with, say, Billy Joel.
27. Bobbi Blake: Good
And the moral? "While pert, to always maintain the balance of dears," of course. Go, Guygax, go.
28. Gene Marshall: Smoke It - The Pot
Wrapping up a song that stretches furiously to make its rhymes, Juanita Norberg stretches to avoid one. A nice find from the collection of Bob Purse.
29. Terry: Something In The Night
Maury S. Rosen - the MSR of MSR Records - hated having to rerecord a song for a dissatisfied customer, but a contract is a contract. There's nothing overtly wrong with the first version of this ghost song, found on MSR LP 206 (Terry & Rodd & The Librettos), but Rodd's remake, three albums later (Something For Everyone), is a triumph. Perhaps he was haunted by the mediocrity of the first version, and redid it of his own initiative.
Cover Art, Tray Art, and CD Booklet for Volume Five (pdf document)
Producer: PHIL MILSTEIN | Cover art: PETER BAGGE | Rerecording engineer: ERIK LINDGREN | Digital mastering: ALAN LOWE ARCHIVING | THANKS TO: Tom Ardolino, Peter Bagge, Dave Brown, Irwin Chusid, Dan Clowes, Byron Coley, Michael Cudahy, Nicholas Cudahy, Esther Curry, Lili Dwight, Ellery Eskelin, Brian Gordon, David Greenberger, Erik Lindgren, Bob Purse, Wayne Rogers and Jim Shaw.
Rat a Tat Tat, America: MSR Madness Volume Six:
(Right-click on the song title to download the MP3s)
01. Sammy Marshall & The Party Crashers: Rock And Roll Boogie Beat
Like its flipside "Twist And Turn," which led off The Human Breakdown Of Absurdity (MSR Madness, volume 3), this upbeat party-styler from 1961 is practically begging to jump-start our little hoedown. Silver Records was the vanity label of Cleveland song-poet John Koproski, Jr., who sent his hot-rockin' and always-fine little babies off to be birthed at the Globe Recording Studio in Nashville.
02. Rodd Rogers: Dreams Of Love
Nothing cute or weird going on here, just a perfect soul-pop ballad delivered with majestic grace and power. Rodd's slide upward into the final falsetto note is particularly sublime. This is song-poet Phil Carroll's fourth time out on MSR Madness. He previously checked in with "Watch Johnny Carson," "Yippee Hippee" and "I Take A Fancy To Nancy," and there are plenty more P.C. gems still to go
03. Stan Beard & The Swinging Strings: Snobows
Stan Beard is believed to be a nom de song-poem of Sandy Stanton, the founder of the Film City studio and label and one of the true characters of the song-poem game. The "hook" to this lovely number about the aurora borealis is when the rhythm of the Chamberlin's human manipulator inadvertently runs counter to the instrument's built-in beat box.
04. Rodd Keith: Let's Go Savage, You And I
Gauguin went native in Tahiti. Rodd Keith goes native in the American West.
05. Bill Joy: Bored Can't Cope Want Out
An excellent period piece, although evidence that Rodd, who was several years' dead by the time this one was cut, was song-poem music's one true keyboard genius.
06. Kay Weaver: Astrouniverse
James Wilson, Jr., Thomas Guygax's only rival as Song-Poet King, often comes up with words that sound like words yet aren't words. We find him here in the midst of his physics phase, an especially fertile era. Despite a slight fissure in the line about the Qualbyzmatrons, this is one of Kay Weaver's best vocal performances.
07. uncredited: Pinch Me
Halmark's sound is cheap even by song-poem standards. They didn't even made their own recordings, instead simply adding new vocals to recycled music beds. It doesn't take long for the Halmark fan to become familiar with all their tracks, but the fun is in the surprise, as each new lyric careens headlong into the same old music.
08. Dick Kent: One Soul Love
One of the things song-poem music does best is freeze-frame a trendy moment in pop culture history. Dick Kent, one of the most reliably enthusiastic of the studio singers, is a perfect choice to take on a lyric of this sort.
09. Norm Burns & Singers: Wow We Wow
The flip to "Human Breakdown Of Absurdity." Love that Sterling Records guitar sound! Their reverb is nothing to sneeze at, either.
10. Rodd Keith: My Pipe Yellow Dream
Once again we find Rodd working within the confines of conventional pop structure, yet not contenting himself with a mere readymade. It's a cryin' shame he was never given a crack at the actual record charts - in a just popworld, he would've burned 'em up.
11. The Real Pros: It's You, Cherokee Lou
Every record on L.A.'s Cinema label was credited to The Real Pros. Although Cinema and its cousin Command Performance were separate entities from Preview and MSR, all drew from the same talent pool. The lead Real Pro on this outing is unmistakably Dick Kent.
12. Rick Kershaw: Flying Information
The title is a clever pun on "flying in formation"; the lyric a rare example of a song-poem that was written
with tongue knowingly in cheek. Robert J. Bales, Jr., is another in a long line of top-notch song-poets from the Chicago area.
13. Randy Rudolph: Ho, I Got To Find You Baby
I don't know who Randy Rudolph is, but he sure was one soul love.
14. Teri & The MSR Singers: I've Found My True Love
Teri Summers' taut, driving vocal presents a perfect complement to Del Casher's stinging guitar style. Song-poet John Kelly, also responsible for "City Hospital's Patients," "The Saddest Story" and "Cloud Nine," is one of the best. This is the sixth song compiled from MSR 210, Variety Songs For '69, clearly the greatest original song-poem album of 'em all.
15. Milford Perkins: The Duck Egg Walk
This one goes out to all those who thought "Betsy And Her Goat" was the most ludicrous song they ever heard.
16. William LeBlanc: A Hall Of Fame Award
I'm too lazy to look up whether John J. Turk really did return his Ohio University Hall of Fame Award or not, but his explanation set to a hip-hop beat sure sounds believable.
17. uncredited: This World Is In A Hell Of A Fix
Halmark favored an overwrought brand of light opera, which when contrasted with the relatively prosaic
lyrics they usually handled could lead to some interesting effects.
18. The Real Pros: Rain On The Roof
The Real Pro this time is Bobbi Blake, with Rodd Keith on answer vocals. Rodd's sympathetic arrangement perfectly captures the atmosphere of Georgiana Vunk's delicate words.
19. Dick Kent: Rat A Tat Tat, America
I seem to recall another song that used woodpeckers as a metaphor for America's Bicentennial. Oh, no - the song I'm thinking of used robins, and they were a metaphor for love. Never mind.
20. Stich Stampfel & The Singing Strings: If I Could Only See Your Face
Gottscherisch is an obscure Germanic dialect spoken in the southeastern Slovenia district of Gottschee. Although this song is in English all the way, some of Hermann "Stich" Stampfel's other lyrics were originally written in Gottscherisch, then translated to English before being dumped into the song-poem gristmill. Stich recorded his own vocal for "If I Could Only See Your Face," then sent the tape to Sandy Stanton, who applied his patented "Singing Strings" overdub ("O.D.") treatment.
21. Nita Craig: I Have A Number
If you think you detect the uncredited hand of Rodd here, you are not mistaken. Nita Craig was his girlfriend and musical protege.
22. Rave-Ons: A Mellow Sweet Sixteen
The Rave-Ons were the house band on Columbine's earliest few albums, but were soon canned due to customer complaints. It's hard to imagine what fault anyone could find with them, though. Who wouldn't thrill to have his or her song performed by a group that makes the first rehearsal of a junior-high garage band sound harmonious by comparison, sung by a laryngitic vocalist who laughs in the middle of it?
23. The Real Pros: Teenage Queen
This Cinema release harkens back to an early '60s sound, making its abrupt reference to pot that much more jarring.
24. Milford Perkins: Amtrack Eagle
With I Like Yellow Things, the predecessor to the present volume, we introduced to the song-poem-loving public both the writing of James Wilson, Jr, and the singing of Milford Perkins. "Amtrack Eagle" is where these talented fellas meet each other, resulting in a song that wraps several of its smooth, slippery tentacles around you while others give you a nice, relaxing massage.
25. Gary Roberts & The Five Stars: Minni-Ha-Cha
You might think we put this on here only to show off Gary Roberts's funny mispronunciation of "Kawliga." But if you did, you'd be wrong É dead wrong. The flip to this is entitled "Oh Dear Daddy, Take My Hand And Hold It Tight."
26. Teri Summers & The Librettos: Season's Greetings
The only known song-poem recorded in three different versions, all found on various MSR albums. MSR guaranteed customer satisfaction, and song-poet Raymond Moberly was apparently one hard-to-satisfy customer. For my money it's the sleigh bells that best draw out the song's latent virtues, and thus would have guessed that the version heard here, the only one on which they appear, would have been the one he finally approved of. In fact, though, it was the earliest of the three.
27. Teri & The Librettos: The Evening Is Approaching
We end with our second consecutive vocal by the great Teri Summers. This mournful song always reminds me of Bobby Marchan's version of "There's Something On Your Mind (Pt. 2)," although in this one nobody dies. A discovery of the brilliant dream-artist Jim Shaw.
Cover Art, Tray Art, and CD Booklet for Volume Six (pdf document)
Producer: PHIL MILSTEIN | Cover art: RICK ALTERGOTT | Rerecording engineer: ERIK LINDGREN | Digital mastering: ALAN LOWE ARCHIVING | THANKS TO: Barry Alfonso, Rick Altergott, Tom Ardolino, Don Bolles, Byron Coley, Nicholas Cudahy, Lili Dwight, Ellery Eskelin, Richard Franke, Aram Heller, Reed Lappin, Erik Lindgren, Ethel Milstein, Bob Purse, Jim Shaw and Gregg Turkington.