(MP3s: 17 of them beyond the jump)
I started collecting spoken word political records when I picked up the 45 rpm version of "The Altered Nixon Speech" at Sam Goodies in 1973. Since then, I've collected everything from Barry Goldwater campaign songs to the Mandarin version of Mao's Little Red Book. But the one genre of political record I hold dearest is the hyper-patriotic spoken word single. There hasn't been one of these on the charts since the Fall of 2001, when Byron Macgregor's 1974 hit Americans re-charted in the aftermath of 9/11. And therein lies the problem - when a distressed America needed to take comfort in self-righteous platitudes set to rousing patriotic music, it had to reach back 27 years to Americans, set amidst the gas lines and recession of 1973. (I played all these suckers on my Oh By Jingoism radio special a few years back, and I've also included lots of these in previous blog posts here and here.)
The Hyper-Patriotic Rap single, the Letter Song, the Great American Conspiracy single - whatever you want to call it - has all but disappeared from the musical and political landscape. And it's not like the raw materials aren't out there - tons of public domain patriotic music is available, as are rants and ruminations on every topic under the sun.
I've collected some examples of these records in this post, and I'll be adding more in coming days and weeks. Do a remix of these, record your own, or submit any other ones I've missed and I'll post
them here as well. You can e-mail any submissions for this post to me at ken at wfmu dot org.)
It's hard to tell where this genre really started, but the spate of such records from the late 60's to the early 80's seems to have been inspired by the success of two records - Byron MacGregor's Americans and Victor Lundberg's An Open Letter To My Teenage Son (which charted seven years before Americans, hitting number ten in December 1967). Not only did Victor Lundberg inspire several uninspired covers and an answer song, but the "Open Letter" genre gave birth to dozens of singles, only a few of which I've included beyond the jump. I found most of these at the WFMU Record Fair, by the way. Let's get started:
Victor Lundberg - An Open Letter To My Teenage Son (mp3)
Robert Tamlin - A Teenager's Open Letter To His Father (mp3)
The grand-daddy of them all, and the pathetic answer song it inspired. Lundberg was briefly the spokesman of the American Libertarian Party in the Sixties. The success of this single inspired Lundberg to record an entire album of such material, but no track came close to that majestic moment when Victor declares to his son "When you burn your draft card, burn your birth certificate too, because from that moment on, I have no son." Now that's the way this genre is done!
In fact, that outro is so perfect, that you can consider a model for wrapping up any homemade versions of hyper-patriotic records that you make yourself. If you need some spoken word material to use for your own single, here is an editorial from Keith Olberman in which he employs a vocal style reminiscent of Byron Macgregor from his October 18th Countdown show: download mp3.
All Keith needs is five or six minutes edited out, and a better intro and outro. I'd suggest an intro of "The constitution took another beating today..." and an outro of "But if you burn your bill of rights, burn my passport too, because from that moment on, I have no country." Throw in a rousing version of Glory Glory Hallelujah or The Battle Hymn of The Republic, and you're all set.
The success of Lundberg's Open Letter inspired rafts of imitation records. Here are a few of them. (The Letter to Khrushchev obviously pre-dates Victor Lundberg.)
Dick Clark - An Open Letter To The Older Generation (mp3)
Released in 1967, and it sounds as though America's perpetual teenager is standing up for the kids and addressing Victor Lundberg's contemporaneous hit single, although I don't have the exact release dates of either single.
Shelly Looney - Thank You, Canada (mp3)
Jeannie Hodges - A Letter From Jeannie (mp3)
Two examples of a sub-genre of the Hyper- Patriotic Hit Single, the Little Kid Patriotic Hit Single. Both of these came out during the Jimmy Carter era, with Shelly Looney thanking Canada for helping several American hostages escape from Iran in 1979, and Jeannie Hodges expressing the religious community's exasperation with Carter. Shelley Looney grew up and joined the US Women's Olympic Hockey team, scoring a goal against Canada in the 1998 Olympics as Team USA won a gold. Take that, Canada!
Don Meehan - An Open Letter To Mr. Khrushchev (mp3)
A cold war example of The Letter Song, from the incredible Atomic Platters collection. This track was apparently inspired by the earlier "Letter to Ivan" by Jimmy Dean, and an answer song Dear Jimmie by Ivan Kavanovich. (Send 'em if you got 'em! - ken at wfmu dot org). This track starts off with the voice of an actual Russian defector - Viktor Jaanimets - who fled Khrushchev's ocean liner for American asylum and then parlayed his notoriety into this single.
Max D Barnes - Dear Mr. President (mp3)
Roy C - Open Letter To The President (mp3)
An American Who Loves His Country - Dear Mr. President (mp3)
Three more examples of the Open Letter to The President, with Max D. Barnes turning on Jimmy Carter (you can hear the birth of a Reagan Democrat in the 180 seconds), Roy C with a soulful plea to Nixon and a joyful love ode to Ronald Reagan by "An American Who Loves His Country."
Byron MacGregor - Americans (mp3)
Harry D. Cup - Sick American (mp3)
Byron MacGregor's hit version of The Americans was actually a musical cover version of a TV commentary by Toronto newscaster Gordon Sinclair. MacGregor was an announcer at radio powerhouse CKLW, and the popularity of Macgregor's version took everybody by surprise. The song charted all over again in the aftermath of 9/11. Here is the story of this amazing single taken from the great documentary about CKLW, Radio Revolution, The Rise and Fall of The Big Eight: Download mpg video, 17 megs.
Harry D. Cup drags us gloriously into the dark side, and I haven't been able to find out anything about him.
Buddy Starcher - History Repeats Itself (mp3)
Homer and Jethro - Great Men Repeat Themselves (mp3)
The country singer Buddy Starcher recorded one of the classic conspiracy singles of all time with History Repeats Itself, and Homer and Jethro in turn recorded one of the great parodies of all time.
Johnny Sea - Day For Decision (mp3)
Bill Anderson - Where Have All The Heroes Gone? (mp3)
Sean Landers - The Man Within (mp3)
Bill Anderson snarls with authority at Abbie Hoffman and The Yippies, while Johnny Sea takes the Letter Song into new territory (for length and musical variety) with the title track of his LP, Day for Decision. Sean Landers applies this concept to the art world, from Kenny G's recent post.
So let's go audio artists - record your own letter, remix the ones here, and send them to me at ken at wfmu dot org - I'll post them here, and together we'll keep this great genre alive.
Since I've been mis-using the term "rap" throughout this post, here's a bonafide hip-hop political announcement, for California's Proposition 89: download mp3
Illustration at top of post by Peter Kuper.