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You’ve seen the ads in the back of “those” magazines: “Your Poems Made Into Songs.” Before PortaStudios and the DIY ethic let everyone compete with RCA Victor, recording contracts were a blessing bestowed on the very fewgenerally, the talented few. But while actually learning to play an instrument can be an insurmountable obstacle for many people, who hasn’t had a catchy lyric run through the canyons of his or her mind? And the lyricist gets a 50-percent share of the royalties, don’t forget. Ergo, an easy shortcut to fame and fortune may be found in penning the perfect pop hit. Thus, a shady industry developed to offer regular folks the opportunity to become recording artists. Send the poem and the money, and Mr. Postman would deliver a wax platter via return mail. That was probably the moment most of the would-be Ira Gershwins realized that their precious disc would never be heard by anyone outside their immediate family. If that. Thank goodness NRBQ drummer Tom Ardolino kept an open ear. Ardolino began releasing his collection of found “Song-Poem” music on Beat of the Traps (which included the wonderful “Jimmy Carter Says Yes”). Now Don Bolles and Phil Milstein have taken over and are up to Volume 4, with No. 5 promised. This series make me both glad to be alive and frightened to be part of the human race.
Elton John can work miracles with the twaddle that Bernie Taupin turns in. Unfortunately, the confused dreamers of the mid-’60s to mid-’70s who sent in their priceless prose to song-poem outfits didn’t get Elton. They got Rod Rogers. Or Rodd Keith. It was the same fellah singing. “MSR” stands for Makers of Smooth Music, one of the many song-poem labels, but the musicians attempting to translate “Baby, Set Your Date on Time” or “Betsy and Her Goat” into coherence were never more than routinely competent. Heck, they just cranked them out. As a result, these tracks are a sadly perfect match of inspiration and execution. Many of the cuts are wildly misbegotten attempts to cash in on fads (“The Mini Skirt Fad,” “Twist and Turn,” “Disco Midnight,” “Disco Dancer, You’re the Answer,” “Psychedelic Baby,” “Yippee Hippee”)in the case of “I Can’t Decide (If It’s the Beatles, Elvis, or Rick),” fads spanning a decade. Always, however, in the most obvious moon/June/spoon lyrical fashion. But what inspired “I’m a Ginseng Digger”? Answer songs are common, but “More on Ode to Billy Jo” seems to want just to rewrite the original. Its musical distance from Bobby Gentry’s hit only adds to the mystery. Another impulse driving song-poem authors was the incorrect belief that the whole world would respond to their highly individualistic concerns. Like “City’s Hospital Patients” (“Yes, everyone is working oh so hard”). You start to feel sorry for the musicians, forced to listen to themselves playing “How Can a Man Overcome His Heartbroken Pain.” And maybe Bobbi Blake, or one of the other female singers, didn’t show, but there’s no excuse for “Rodd Keith” to sing Mary Clignett’s lament, “I’m Just the Other Woman.” They try to cover the ridiculous falsetto by turning it into a psychedelic mess of backward guitar effects. Unsatisfied, Clignett invoked her contract and demanded a do-over, which is also included. The bastards merely removed the sound effects and sent the same thing back to her.Dave Nuttycombe
For more information, a wonderful
website, the American Song-Poem
Music Archives, is located at http://www.channel1.com/users/fxxm.