Kendra Steiner Editions

March 14, 2014

OUT OF THE DARKNESS I AM BEGINNING TO SEE: SONG POEMS SELECTED BY BELLYBONGO (private cdr released circa 2004)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 6:30 pm

If you are an aficionado of that uniquely American creation, the song-poem record, you have to keep your eyes out for vintage song-poem gems appearing online and elsewhere. The days of over-the-top vintage song-poem compilations coming out every year are long gone, and the American Song Poem Music Archive website has been dormant for a decade or so, though you can still read many of the articles and discographies  (many of the links are now dead, of course). However, quality releases are STILL out there—Roaratorio Records has done a few collections of Rodd Keith’s work, and the newest one, BLACK PHOENIX BLUES, is a mind-blowing compilation and one of my best releases of 2014 (you can order that album direct from the label at this link: http://roaratorio.com/31.html ). Also, Bob Purse’s fantastic blog THE WONDERFUL AND THE OBSCURE serves up vintage song-poem morsels almost every week, and Bob knows the genre inside out, so he’s always able to put the songs in context historically and provide the backstory of the various labels and singers/musicians involved. You can find Bob’s blog here: http://bobpurse.blogspot.com/ . And I would be remiss if I did not give a plug to the hour-long internet radio show by Sammy Reed, MUSIC FROM THE WORLD OF THE STRANGE AND THE BIZARRE, which devotes a good chunk of each program to song-poem material (in fact, Sammy’s most recent show was an entire hour devoted to the songbird of song poems, BOBBI BLAKE). Here’s a link to over a dozen Sammy Reed shows you can enjoy: http://sammyreed.com/strange/past.htm .

The reason for this post, however, is to document a privately released song-poem CDR  I picked up circa 2004. It was announced in the news section of the American Song Poem Music Archive, but other than that announcement (which is still up, by the way), there is no reference to it anywhere online, and the BELLYBONGO website has lapsed. I pull it out from time to time, so I want there to be SOME online documentation of it…

I ordered my copy directly from BELLYBONGO in Sweden, and it’s a 28-track homemade CDR (kind of like one of our KSE releases, actually) with both sides of 14 song-poem 45’s on such well-loved labels as MSR, Preview, and Tin Pan Alley. The 28 tracks lean toward MOR territory, though a few have a country flavor and others a twist of exotica. Because few of the songs here are as weird as the better-known song-poem tracks that have been compiled and have become classics of the genre, one could put this album on and if people were not really listening, they would not necessarily stop in their tracks. It could be B-sides of album filler from some vanity record or something on a local label from the 1970’s. Only when one starts to listen to the lyrics, and then notices how thin the instrumentation is on most tracks, with a cheesy 70’s electronic keyboard attempting to fill the space, does the album kick in. The arrangements have a one-take feel, but the pros who made these recordings  could “fake” it well, and vocalists such as Rodd Keith or Bobbi Blake have the professionalism of people working in the commercial jingle field or people who are part of the entertainment at theme parks. Although these terms “DIY” and “MOR”  would seem to be contradictory, what the song-poem usually produced was a kind of DIY middle-of-the-road musical product. After all, the folks who paid good money to have their lyrics set to music and recorded did NOT want their song recorded by someone who was an “outsider.” They would have made their own “real people” recording had they wanted to fully execute their “vision” in that manner. No, they wanted their lyrics set to music by professionals, and despite the “song sharking” nature of this business, that IS what they wound up getting. The handful of copies of each release went to family and friends of the lyricist, and some were sent out to radio stations but promptly thrown out. Others leaked into the junk-store/flea market circuit, where they still appear today. That’s where I first saw a few of these in the early 1970’s, although I did not think of it as any kind of a “genre” at that time. I guess I just considered it an extension of the vanity record with someone else doing the singing.

On those days when the world seems absurd, and everything seems phony and standardized in a grotesque way as if one’s on a bad acid trip, song-poem recordings can provide a welcome sense of REALNESS, of sweet-and-sour awkwardness, that somehow makes everything tolerable again….yes, Virginia, there ARE real people out there, the ones who sent in the lyrics to these songs and the session players who awkwardly recorded them…not everyone is a pod person and not everything is scripted and airbrushed. I have also included the occasional song-poem on some of the Virtual Thrift Store CDR’s of recent vintage…

The CDR is a temporary storage medium. I’d say about half of the Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley boots I traded for in the 1990’s  on CDR  have come down with CDR rot, and the last track on THIS album is skipping, leading me to wonder if now this CDR too has got the start of the rot. I did manage to make a copy of the CDR (on which track 28 is defective), so maybe that will buy me a few more years….in any event, someone needed to document this fascinating album, and I just have.

I hope someone thought to make an MP3 copy of this and upload it somewhere….

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1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for the plug for my show! I would like to announce that I’m planning a new episode this Saturday, Mar. 29, called the “No Top Teeth Episode” because, well, I don’t have top teeth right now. There’ll be a few new additions to my collection that I plan on playing on the show, including my first New Image record! (Put “New Image” in the search box in the upper left-hand corner of Bob Purse’s blog to experience that group. “What the…”, indeed.)

    Comment by Sammy Reed — March 25, 2014 @ 9:11 pm | Reply


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