Friday, October 2, 2020

Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story: OST

(Burger/Magic Key/Complex) Amid all the badness and misery and terrible decisions and extra burden of 2020, one of my best moves (terribleness related) was ordering this LP before the Burger Records empire imploded. Close to twenty years after the documentary that told the story of the Song-Poem industry, this perfectly curated soundtrack emerges. Song-Poems were an industry/scam/blessing that involved advertising that artists/dreamers/rubes that they can "set their poems to music," and get fame and fortune. The marks send in lyrics and money and the company has a studio band knock out quickee songs while a singer croons words that he may be reading for the first time, and then the writer gets a compilation LP featuring a bunch of other similar strivers on it. Usually these albums are very hard to listen to, but occasionally the band and especially the singer (Rod Rogers most notably) elevate the weirdness to create songs like nothing you've heard. The earnestness of the writer's expressions (of religious devotion, loyalty to the President, the joys of every day life) are not akin to, and are often more moving than, the polished lyrics of pro songwriters. And when the amateur writers tried to replicate professional songwriting and create a rock, pop, country, or psychedleic hit, it gets even more fascinating. The writer is key, but the disconnected, but professional, music production is what makes these work (or not:one of my friends was susceptible to these siren calls in this back in the 70s and 80s and sent his soul dance song off -- he was a local Soul Train dancer -- and they made it into a country song...about urban boogie-ing). The amazing compilations that came out in the last Century on Carnage Press, Bar/None records, and Tzadik, with the help of Tom (from NRBQ), Dan Clowes, Ellery Eskelin, and the great Phil X. Milstein (song poem archivist extraordinaire) are STELLAR, but this comp has the advantage of stepping outside of orthodoxy and includes the famed song-poem prank song, "A Blind Man's Penis" (John Trubee's attempt to see if they would record anything, which they almost would, though they changed it from "Steve Wonder's Penis") and the eccentric Gary Forney, who represents the dreamers of S-P land, but is more of a weirdo outsider musician than a true song-poemer. But it also has the all time hits, including the undeniable pop ditty "Little Rug Bug," the jarring "Jimmy Carter Says Yes," and the confounding"I'm A Ginseng Digger." I'm a song-poem digger! Not sure how you can get this now because of...stuff. But try.

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