Friday, 28 June 2013

Shut the Dors

Probably best remembered by anyone under 40 for her cameo as the Fairy Godmother in the Adam and the Ants video Prince Charming, Diana Dors was born Diana Fluck in Swindon in 1931. Once one of the most famous and recognisable women in Britain, at one point Diana was feted as Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn died young and became an icon: unfortunately for Diana her early promise as an actress will forever be overshadowed by lurid tales of abortions, miscarriages, relationships with criminals, battles with her weight, and by her reputation as an orgy-throwing, drunken pill popper.

At 16 she was signed to the Rank Organisation: in her early films her chest was often strapped down, and her hair was its natural shade of brown. She made a bunch of unsuccessful films, but her stage appearances led to her winning Theatre World magazine's Actress of the Year Award.

In 1951 Diana met Dennis Hamilton Gittins (usually known as Dennis Hamilton), marrying him only five weeks later. There was little that the unscrupulous Hamilton would not do to further her career or to increase the income he derived from it. Her appearance became markedly similar to Marilyn's; she took on roles similar to hers and quickly became known as "the English Marilyn Monroe." Hamilton made sure that her name, and stories of her lavish lifestyle, were seldom out of the tabloids. It’s even been suggested that Hamilton would pimp Diana out to influential actors and producers.

Chances to star in several US-made movies were ruined by Hamilton: once when she refused to divorce him and move to the States and later when Hamilton turned down parts without bothering to tell her. The result was that her early promising career was restricted from this point forward to mainly British films. When she did finally make it across the pond Hamilton again ruined her chances by punching out a photographer at a party where celebrities including Doris Day, Eddie Fisher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Liberace, Lana Turner, Ginger Rogers and John Wayne were invited. The following day’s headline in the National Enquirer read Miss Dors Go Home – And Take Mr Dors With You. Despite that, Dors managed to squeeze in an affair with Rod Steiger whilst the pair were filming The Unholy Wife.

She managed to get shot of Hamilton, shortly before his death in 1958 but not after he virtually bankrupted her, forcing her to take on a cabaret tour to pay her bills. After a string of affairs she married comedian Richard ‘Dicky’ Dawson, but the pair divorced in 1966. Two years later, and with her two sons Mark and Gary thousands of miles away in America with their father (who would go on to be a major star on US TV), she met and married the actor Alan Lake. Their relationship was stormy, not helped by Lake’s heavy drinking and stint in prison for his part in a pub brawl, but it lasted right through until her death, from cancer, in 1984. Five months after she died a distraught Lake took his own life in the bedroom of the home they shared.

But back to the music. Diana’s single Where Did They Go was issued as the first release (Nom 1) on manager and producer Simon Napier-Bell’s own Nomis Records. Napier-Bell’s own illustrious career includes managing the Yardbirds, John’s Children (featuring a teenage Mark Feld aka Marc Bolan), Japan, Ultravox and Wham! He’s also co-author of the English lyrics to the Dusty Springfield hit You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me as well as of several books about his long career in showbiz. Diana had made a stab at recording several times: first way back in 1951 with the single I Feel So Mmmm, which she followed with her one and only album, Swinging Dors, in 1960.
This miserable offering was issued in 1982 and it’s shocking: she sounds like a third-rate drag artist looking back over an all-too short life and wishing he’d drunk more booze and shagged more men. It’s little more than a poor Those Were the Days ripoff – albeit 14 years too late - and everyone involved in this should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Knowing that Dors was battling cancer at the time might add a sheen of poignancy but it’s still horrible. The arrangement is poor, the musicianship workmanlike and dull and the disc’s label incorrectly credits co-writer Gloria Sklerov as Sklervo: it’s all a bit ham-fisted. The track was originally performed by Peggy Lee on her 1971 album of the same name, and had previously been covered by Sandie Shaw.

The B-side is no better: It’s You Again is a dull-as-dishwater duet with her son (now a TV producer) Gary Dawson, here billing himself as Gary Dors; his paper-thin voice no match for her weather beaten, booze-and-fags weariness. Worryingly, the pair are singing a love song, but not a song about maternal love…


There’s a statue of Diana outside Swindon’s Shaw Ridge Leisure Complex. Sadly, the end-of-terrace mural of her and other local notables – including all five members of XTC – that once dominated a Swindon street is no longer extant.


Friday, 21 June 2013

Just Like That

One of the few 70s stars not implicated in the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal (well, so far at least) David ‘Diddy’ Hamilton has become a regular face on TV all over again: he’s one of the few presenters of the 1978 editions of Top Of The Pops that the BBC can still broadcast without fear of giving airtime to a paedophile.

Born in Manchester in 1938, Hamilton began his career as a broadcaster in 1959. He appeared with comedian Ken Dodd in the early 60s TV show Doddy’s Music Box: Dodd gave the height-challenged Hamilton the ‘diddy’ nickname, which has stuck ever since. He was one of the earliest DJs on Radio One, joining the station in November 1967, and he stayed with the BBC until 1986. Since then he has had regular shows on independent radio in the UK.

Like a great number of his colleagues – including Savile – David Hamilton had no shame when it came to flexing his tonsils in the recording studio. In 1973 he released this abomination - Just Like That - on the short-lived Dart label, written and produced by Harold Spiro, who had previously worked with Herman’s Hermits, the Yardbirds, Olivia Newton John, Cliff Richard and many others. He also co-wrote the dreadful football anthem Nice One Cyril.

But back to David. This audio turd seems to have been purpose built to be a bad record, with its dreadful, out of tune kiddy choir, stupid lyrics (which give Hamilton plenty of opportunity to showcase his terrible Tommy Cooper impersonation) and an accompaniment built around a f******g banjo and a euphonium! It’s vile. The B-Side, Have You Heard the News is a stupid anti-nuclear song framed as a news report. And its almost as bad: the kids are still there (damn them!) and Hamilton’s plaintive, off-key vocal makes me want to retch. Just the thing to ruin your weekend.


Friday, 14 June 2013

Buzzard's Circling

Today’s coupling comes from the stable of song-poem stalwart Tin Pan Alley, courtesy of the uniquely untalented Madelyn Buzzard: Our Own USA - a fine piece of flag-waving patriotism - and its terrible, tuneless flip What Will Love Do?

But what do we know about Madelyn Buzzard – apart from the fact that she simply cannot sing? There’s absolutely no info out there on the internet, and nothing in the Billboard archives – TPA had long since stopped advertising their wares there.

Her name first appears in the Tin Pan Alley catalogue around June 1968, while the company was still operating from its Broadway offices. During this period, post the passing of TPA founder Jack Covais but before the company moved to Florida, TPA employed a number of sub-standard vocalists, but none quite as inept as our Madelyn. This particular coupling appears to have been one of her final releases: of the half-dozen 45s I’ve been able to track down, all appear to have been issued in the summer of 1968.

An actress by the same name appeared in the cult horror Three on a Meathook (based loosely on the real-life story serial killer Ed Gein), the Blaxploitation drama Combat Cops (as Whore #1) and on stage in a number of plays including Twelfth Night and Here Lies Jeremy Troy – but is she the same person? No doubt someone out there knows.


Friday, 7 June 2013


This week’s post was prompted by regular WWR contributor Ross Hamilton: thanks Ross!

Charles Eugene “Pat” Boone – who has claimed to be the great-great-great-great grandson of the American pioneer Daniel Boone - was born on June 1, 1934 in Florida, but grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, where his family moved to when he was just two years old. He left school in 1952 and less than a year later, shortly before his 19th birthday, married Shirley Lee Foley. The couple are still together today.

He began recording in 1954 – managing to fit in a burgeoning career around his college studies (he finally graduated college in 1958). Boone became a huge (and I mean enormous, second only to Elvis in record sales during the 50s) star: his safe, wholesome image won him a long-term advertising contract with General Motors and the company  sponsored his hit TV show The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, which ran for three years and 115 episodes.  At the time Boone was the youngest host of a prime-time TV variety show and would remain so until Donny and Marie Osmond launched their show in 1976.

Early on in his career he made the decision to concentrate on covering R&B and rock ‘n roll songs by black artists, toning them down for the white American market. In 1955 his version of Fats Domino's Ain't That a Shame was U.S number one hit, and his covers – although bland and sappy, stripped of sex appeal and with the lyrics bleached clean – did much to help sneak black artists into the back door of middle America’s homes. Hearing these songs covered by a good, Christian white college boy encouraged others to follow suit: Doris Day and Frank Sinatra have both covered Boone’s covers (if you see what I mean). Some of the accompaniments are rather fine: he certainly had a powerful and accomplished studio band, but his vocal performances are Ned Flanders’ nice, with no energy, vigour or danger. His insipid album of Elvis covers – Pat Boone sings…Guess Who? is simply embarrassing. This is rock n’ roll for people who don’t like rock ‘n roll.

He also hit it big on the silver screen, with roles in a dozen movies; however his conservative Christian beliefs made him (or his management) back away from songs or roles which they felt would harm his career. A complete Renaissance man, in the early 1960s he began writing a series of self-help books for adolescents, including the bestselling Twixt Twelve and Twenty, and his likeness was licensed to DC Comics, who gave him his own (short lived) series which began in 1959.

During his career he has sold over 45 million albums and has enjoyed 38 Top 40 hits in the U.S, but by the time he hit 30 it was all over. His cover of Rolf Harris’s Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport failed to set the charts alight and the British Invasion in 1964 all but ended Boone's career as a hit maker, thankfully. Unable to compete on the charts with the likes of The Beatles and – apparently – starting to turn to the bottle he switched instead to gospel and country music, no doubt influenced by the fact that Boone’s father-in-law was country great Red Foley. The Boone family toured as gospel singers and made gospel albums; Boone founded the Christian record label Lamb & Lion Records and made plans to open a centre exclusively for Christian musicians.

And that was that. Or rather that would have been that if it hadn’t been for his bizarre decision, in 1997, to release In a Metal Mood: No More Mr Nice Guy, a collection of heavy metal covers. He’s since followed that with an album of classic R&B covers. Boone’s version of the Ozzy Osbourne classic Crazy Train became (in a cover-of-a-cover version) the theme to MTV’s hit series The Osbournes, and the two families were next door neighbours for three years. Not everyone thought this peculiar move was funny: an appearance at the American Music Awards dressed in black leather and a priest’s dog collar caused him to be dismissed from Gospel America, a TV show which he had presented for several years…although a grovelling apology in which he declared that his aim was to parody his own squeaky-clean image caused Trinity Broadcasting to reinstate him.

In recent years Mr Boone has turned his hand to political punditry, whose particular stock in trade is repeating the oft-cited claims that Barak Obama is an African-born Muslim and a Marxist bent on destroying American society. In 2010 it was announced that the Pat Boone Family Theatre would open in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina the following year, featuring a 600 seat auditorium and a Pat Boone Museum. As of today the theatre has still to open.

So, on to the music. And today I’m bookending Pat’s career with a couple of his earliest attempts at rocking out and one of the most recent: his whiter-than-white version of Little Richard’s blisteringly brilliant Tutti Frutti (which appeared on the charts in 1956 at the same time as the original and, to the world’s shame, was a bigger hit). As an interesting side note, it is said that one of the reasons Little Richard co-wrote Long Tall Sally was that he wanted to produce a record that was so fast that Pat Boone could not possibly cover it…although, unsurprisingly, he did and, in doing so, created what must be one of the worst cover versions of all time! Hear it now in all of its toe-curling glory.

Finally here’s his 1997 version of Dio’s Holy Diver, featuring no less than Ronnie James Dio himself on backing vocals.


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