Friday, 2 December 2016

Christmas Cavalcade 2017 (Part One)

Hello folks! Yes, it’s that time of the year again – with just 23 days left until Christmas the next few WWR posts will concentrate on obscure, bizarre and just plain awful festive-themed discs, a cornucopia of cacophonous Christmas caterwauling if you will, to soundtrack the season. Oh yes!

We’re kicking off with some seasonal plagiarism: songs that have stolen something from someone or somewhere, and first up today is our old friend the song-poem stalwart Gene Marshall (a.k.a Gene Merlino), with the double sided ‘hit’ Merry Christmas All and Christmas Day. The disc, issued by Preview in the early 70s, is in pretty poor shape, so my apologies for the poor quality, but what interests me is that the tune for the a-side – with lyrics credited to one Alexander Liftee – has clearly been Liftee-d from the much better known Jingle Bell Rock. Flipside Christmas Day, is a mediocre slice of song-poem hokum from the pen of Milton Cobham.

Next we have both sides of the 1959 45 from Kenny and Corky, a pair of singing puppets stealing David Seville’s Chipmunks shtick wholesale. Nuttin’ For Christmas was originally a hit for six-year-old Barry Gordon (and five other acts) in 1955. Many of you will know the flip side, Suzy Snowflake from the vastly superior (!) version recorded by Marcy Tigner, a.k.a Little Marcy. Issued by budget kiddie brand Big Top the disc was a minor hit in the States, which prompted the highly collectable London label to issue the coupling in the UK in November 1959. Barry Gordon went on to find fame as an actor, appearing in everything from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Curb Your Enthusiasm. A noted voice actor, he served as the president of the Screen Actor’s Guild and, in 1998, was the Democratic Party nominee for the United States Congress for Pasadena, California.


Friday, 25 November 2016

Bob's Your Uncle

Bob Monkhouse: does he need an introduction? Game show host, presenter, comedian, comedy scriptwriter and advertising spectre (he appeared, posthumously, in an award-winning ad campaign for Prostate Cancer Awareness four years after his own death from the disease): in a career that spanned more than 50 years he did pretty much everything and became a national institution in the process.

In 1968 CBS in Britain signed Bob, issuing the 45 I Remember Natalie, a minor hit reaching Number 54 in March 1969. A pleasant but unspectacular pop song, the disc is more notable for its B-side – In My Dream World - which was co-written by Mark ‘Excerpt From a Teenage Opera’ Wirtz. Wirtz also arranged and conducted the orchestra on both sides.

CBS followed this with the less-than stellar coupling I present for you today. Produced by Mike Smith, the man who wanted to sign The Beatles to Decca (but who was overruled by his boss Dick Rowe), Another Time, Another Place, Another World is a dull-as-ditchwater ballad which Bob should probably have stayed away from. The flip, When I Found You is slightly less offensive; a slow and undemanding waltz which Bob’s voice can just about manage. Bob co-wrote the B-side, and he and co-conspirator Keith Mansfield came up with something that wouldn’t be too taxing for his limited range. I Remember Natalie had some redeeming features: this does not. It’s typical of so much other TV tie-in fodder: uninspired and utterly disposable. 

Unsurprisingly there was no third single. The next time the public would hear Bob’s singing voice (apart from his own occasional outbursts on his many TV shows) would be when he performed the theme tune to the dire BBC sitcom You Rang M’Lord. He went back to what he did best, presenting game shows including The Golden Shot, Celebrity Squares, Wipeout, Family Fortunes, Opportunity Knocks and countless others. Like many of the old guard – including his friend Frankie Howerd – his comedy career went through a renaissance in the 1980s when he returned to his first love, stand up to excellent reviews.


Friday, 18 November 2016

The Testament According to Albert DeSalvo

As Mick Jagger once asked: ‘Have you heard about the Boston Strangler?’

Between 1962 and 1964 the city of Boston was terrorised by an ultra-violent serial killer, originally dubbed The Mad Strangler, but more popularly known (thanks to a series of press articles in 1963) as the Boston Strangler. In all 13 single women between the ages of 19 and 85 were murdered: most were sexually assaulted and strangled in their apartments by what was assumed to be one man.

In late 1964, in addition to the Strangler murders, the police were also trying to solve a series of rapes committed by a man who had been dubbed the Green Man. After a stranger entered a young woman's home in East Cambridge, tied her to a bed and sexually assaulted her, he left, saying ‘I'm sorry’. Her description led police to identify the assailant as Albert Henry DeSalvo, former naval petty officer and long-time petty criminal. When his photo was published, many women identified him as the man who had assaulted them. DeSalvo was not originally connected with the murders, but he gave a detailed confession to a cellmate George Nassar and, under hypnosis, to Doctor William Joseph Bryan, Jr., after he was charged with rape. However, there was no physical evidence to substantiate his confession and, because of this, he was tried for earlier, unrelated crimes of robbery and sexual offences.

After DeSalvo was apprehended, news reporter and author Dick Levitan (who worked for Boston’s talk radio station WEEI), was one of the very few reporters allowed to interview him. In a very creepy twist, Levitan was paid an undisclosed sum by Astor Records to record himself narrating DeSalvo’s words (rumour has it that the company also paid DeSalvo $50), putting him together with the local Beatles-influenced beat group The Bugs to produce Strangler in the Night. The Bugs also provided the b-side, Albert, Albert, about DeSalvo’s crime spree. The sleeve for the single reads: “...These are my thoughts, feelings and emotions.” Albert H. DeSalvo. These days it sells (well, people advertise copies for sale) for anything from $20 to $200.

The true identity of the murderer of the 13 women has been the cause of much debate over the years. Although DeSalvo copped for the crimes he was never tried for them and consequently never found guilty. He was found stabbed to death in the infirmary of Walpole State prison in 1973. 40 years later Boston law enforcement officials announced that DNA evidence had linked DeSalvo to 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, the last of the Boston Strangler’s victims. DeSalvo's remains were exhumed, and further DNA tests proved that the seminal fluid recovered at the scene of Mary Sullivan's 1964 murder was, in fact, DeSalvo’s.

Here are both sides of this infamous recording.


Friday, 4 November 2016

Arcesi's Baby

Born John Anthony Arcesi (pronounced 'RCC') in Sayre, Pennsylvania in February 1917 of Italian immigrant parents, John Arcesi turned professional after winning a talent contest organised by Blackstone the Magician (Harry Blackstone, Sr.) when he was just 10 years old. Singing locally wherever he could get a gig in 1933, after a fire almost destroyed the family home, he decided to travel to NYC in the hope of becoming a band vocalist like his idols Bing Crosby and Russ Columbo.

In 1934 he made his first professional recordings for the Columbia label as singer for Lud Gluskin and his Orchestra, before moving to Bluebird as singer for Louis 'King' Garcia in 1936. John took a job at the Mills Music Publishing Company, based in the famous Brill Building, as a song demonstrator and office assistant during the day, singing in clubs around New York at night. When  it was suggested to him that the name Arcesi sounded too ethnic he changed it, recording as Don Darcy from 1935–45, and Johnny Darcy from 1946-1950.

For several years Darcy sang with Joe Venuti's Orchestra and he recorded with  a number of different acts on an equal number of different labels until, in 1952, he was signed as a featured singer by Capitol Records. Reverting to his original birth name, he garnered several column inches when, while performing the song Lost In Your Love in Las Vegas he put a young woman by the name of Ariel Edmunson in to an hypnotic trance which supposedly lasted some 39 hours. It was a publicity stunt, of course, but it worked. 

John's first single release with Capitol was Wild Honey/Moonlight Brings Memories. Capitol ran several full pages ads in Billboard magazine promoting the disc and even sent deejays jars of honey in the hope of gaining a few spins. Reviews were not fooled though: Billboard’s Bill Smith wrote that he used ‘a lot of artificial poses that are glaringly apparent and studied. His singing style is very slow and very deliberate. In fact he comes to a dead stop at the end of each line in such a manner that time and again it looked like he blew the lyrics.’ When he tried to pull yet another silly stunt to promote his latest record Smith dismissed it as so ‘corny that it had plant written all over it. Based on voice quality alone Arcesi might make it, but the build-ups, stunts and tricky arrangements dreamed up for him are not going to help very much. The dough could be used to better advantage teaching him how to sell’.

Despite all that Capitol continued to have faith: in March 1953 Arcesi recorded four sides with Nelson Riddle, three written by Arcesi himself, and he was voted third most promising 'new singer' by Billboard, following Al Martino and Steve Lawrence. Sadly fame was not to be found, and in spite of further name changes (including Tony Conti and Chick Johnson) Arcesi’s fifteen minutes were already up. By the beginning of the 60s he had all-but retired.

Then, in 1972, an album entitled Reachin' Arcesia was released by the tiny Alpha Records. Just 300 copies of the album were pressed (the same company also issued a 45 by John Arcesi, It's All According/Love is Like A Mountain sometime around 1968), although it has been widely pirated since. A further 45  Reaching/Pictures In My Window was released in 1979 by the Honolulu-based Orpheus-Alephia label (Arcesi moved to the island in 1974). Confusingly Reaching and Love is Like A Mountain are the same song: even more confusing is that the album bears absolutely no relation to anything Arcesi recorded during his big band or ballad singer years.

The eleven songs on Reachin' Arcesia are almost beyond description; ridiculous and overblown, kind of psychedelic but with garage-punk production values, it’s as if Jim Morrison had never died. It is, frankly, utterly bizarre and utterly beguiling. Having made his masterwork, John Arcesi would never record again, instead he spent the last years of his life painting and dealing in art.

John died in Palm Springs, California on April 12, 1983 at the age of 66.

Here is a brace of cuts from the awesome, jaw-dropping Reachin' Arcesia: The Leaf and the preposterous Mechanical Doll.


Friday, 28 October 2016

Groovin' With God

One of the oddest albums you’re likely to hear contains the psychedelic sermons of Pastor John V. Rydgren.

Born February 14, 1932 Rydgren – also known as Brother John - was the head of the TV, Radio and Film Department of the American Lutheran Church. He came to prominence in the mid 60s when his syndicated radio show, a half hour of rock ‘n’ roll and religion called Silhouettes, could be heard broadcast across the U.S.

An attempt to make the church seem relevant to teenagers of the day, American Armed Forces Radio picked up Silhouettes and broadcast it daily to troops in Vietnam until at least 1970. Positioning himself as a hip and trendy preacher, Rydgren wrote, announced and programmed Silhouette, taking his musical and cultural cues from the emerging psychedelic rock scene and the summer of love. Rydgren delivered his sonorous sermons over the top of current pop hits (such as Music To Watch Girls By) and treated listeners to his thoughts on spirituality and the changing times in his deep baritone voice. The American Lutheran Church released several LPs of his thoughts and musings – featuring a mishmash of fuzz guitars, Hammond organ, choirs, sitars and more – including Silhouette Segments (1968).

As the church saw it, Rydgren was an obvious choice as host: ‘I like music,’ he told Billboard magazine’s Claude Hall in 1967. ‘I worked my way through part of seminary at the turntables of a rock station in Columbus, Ohio. (We’re) following Christ’s pattern. He went where the action was… where the people were’. 

Married twice with two sons and a daughter, Brother John suffered a stroke whilst on air in 1982 and, sadly, died from a heart attack on December 26, 1988, at the age of just 56. DJ Food, who has sampled Brother John, is an avid collector and you can read more about John Rydgren and his work here.

Omni Records reissued remastered versions of Rydgren's three LPs, along with bonus tracks and an additional LP, They Say, in a two-disc set in 2012.

Rydgren's Silhouette segments are simply stunning, and you can find 19 of them (if you really want to) here.


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.


WWR Most Popular Posts