Wednesday, April 29, 2015

SID TEPPER - Another of those Jews For Elvis

Who wrote more songs for Elvis Presley than anyone else? No, not Leiber and Stoller of "Hound Dog" fame. It was the team of Tepper and Bennett. They were probably the most obscure of the Jewish songwriting teams that shaped rock and roll in the late 50's and early 60's. That list includes: Mann and Weill. Goffin and King. Bacharach and David. Leiber and Stoller. Pomus and Shuman. Greenwich and Barry.

No, we will not see the likes of Sid Tepper (who died a few days ago, age 96) again. A main reason is that lyrics can be computer generated (and who listens to lyrics anyway). Music can be auto-tuned, pitch-corrected, and programmed. Any bunch of moronic rap assholes can "produce" a new album for Madonna to package. The music industry has, of course, changed to the point where there are almost no professional songwriters who have the skills to make hit songs that people would instantly memorize and sing to on the radio.

Back to Sid. It's ironic, that the kids who flipped their lids for Elvis had no idea so many of his songs were written by Yids. Yes, the same tribe that had the shit beaten out of them in schoolyards for not being cool or rockers, were giving the world most of the hippest songs on the radio…most of 'em sung by Southerners like Elvis, or black groups including The Coasters and The Drifters.

Tepper-Bennett adapted to rock and roll and rock (Elvis songs and the rockin' "Glad All Over") but started working together in 1945. They began at a songwriting mill appropriately named Mills Music. Sid had written specialty material for Special Services while in the Army. Now, with his childhood pal Roy Bennett, they learned how to write fast, often, and commercially. I always checked the songwriting credits on the 45's I bought, but didn't buy Elvis. I first noticed Tepper-Bennett on "Just a Simple Melody" by Patti Page. No doubt I got that one rounding out a "10 for a Dollar" pile from Woolworth's bargain bin. At the time, she and Tony Bennett were on Columbia. He had a pop hit with "I Wanna Be Around," and I think Patti probably hit the Top 40 at least, with this easy-aching double-tracked tune, which included sentimental backing from a tacky-keyed piano.

As you'd expect from guys knocking out songs and hoping for the best, the Tepper-Bennett catalog has some pretty strange novelty titles that didn't quite get a singer bringing 'em to #1: "Bagel and Lox," "Bonnie Lassie," "Best Dressed Cowboy," "Cane and a High Starched Collar," "Cha Cha Charlie," "Chicken Picken Hawk," "Christmas Child Loo Loo Loo," "Counterfeit Kisses," "Dreamy Dolls of Dusseldorf," "Egbert the Easter Egg," "Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce," "Gabby the Gobbler," "Googie Woogie," "Hey Mabel," "I Can't Whistle," "I Danced With My Darling," "I Like Christmas," "I'm Not Ashamed," "I've Got a Crush on New York," "I was a Teenage Monster," "In Italy," "Itty Bitty Polka," "Jenny Kissed Me," "Kewpie Doll," "Law is Comin' Fer Ya Paw," "Love is a Serious Business," "Mama Do the Twist," "Mary Smith," "One Blade of Grass," "Rock Around Mother Goose," "Say Something Sweet," "Son of Robin Hood," "Song of the Shrimp," "Ten Little Bluebirds," "Thanks Mister Florist," "There Are Two I's In Dixie," "Twenty Tiny Fingers," "Water Faucet," "Wheels on My Heels" and "Wish I Wuz a Whisker."

Their first big hit was back in 1948. It was the adorable, sentimental "Red Roses for a Blue Lady." The lyric was actually inspired by Sid giving flowers to his wife after they had a tiff. By way of tribute, this is the song you get below…but in the fractured Homer and Jethro version. Why? Well, this is a perverse blog, but you can get the Elvis stuff anywhere, as well as "The Young Ones" by Cliff Richard. As for "Glad All Over" the Dave Clark hit, we mustn't interfere with that charming man by pirating something he (and nobody else in the band) can make a few extra pennies on. And the straight version of "Red Roses" is easy to find on YouTube.

I hope Sid liked H&J's parody as much as I do. The original is still charming, but Homer & Jethro add wonderfully insulting remarks: "she's like a rose to me. They smell and so does she." It also has a wonderfully stupid punchline. (Speaking of stupid, yes, Tepper-Bennett wrote "I'm Getting Nuttin' For Christmas").

By the late 50's, Tepper-Bennett were more than willing to keep up with changes in the music world. Like Nudie the tailor learning to make flashy gold suits for Elvis, Tepper-Bennett tailored songs for Elvis movies, including "G.I. Blues" and "Viva Las Vegas." They ended up writing about 52 songs for Elvis…and 21 songs were cut by England's Elvis, that fellow named Cliff Richard. BMG even issued a CD package of Elvis singing Tepper-Bennett.

Back in the 60's, songwriting was not just a business, but a very stressful one. The best guys had to work on deadline, and on the whim of the star. Jimmy Van Heusen recalled the times he was expected to instantly come up with something for Sinatra. Sid had the same experience with Presley, or with Presley's film director, suddenly saying, "Hey, we decided to end a scene with Ann-Margret pushing Elvis into the swimming pool. Re-write the song so the last line can lead her to do it!"

Tepper-Bennett songs were covered by Sinatra. Sid recalled, "My favorite singer was Frank Sinatra, but he wasn't nearly as multifaceted as Elvis. We'd send him the demo and he'd listen to it twice and be ready to go like he'd sung it his whole life." Yes, there were great rewards, financial and artistic, in hearing Elvis and others perform his work, but the business was a business, and it eventually got the best of him.

The pressures on the Brooklyn-born lyricist led to a heart attack and eventually retirement in the early 70's. Although songwriters are rarely well known to the general public, Tepper was a big shot in Florida. In his retirement, he was pointed out to most anyone in his small town of Surfside, and when he hit 90, the citizens (as well as his many children) threw a party for him, and even Lisa Marie Presley turned up for "Sid Tepper Day."

Sid had his family and friends, and also fans…people did send him letters to thank him for songs that meant a lot in their lives, were played at weddings, etc., and he liked hearing about how much his songs were loved. “One thing I’ve learned is you can’t leave love in your will," he said, "you have to give it while you’re living."

Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett's RED ROSES FOR A BLUE LADY via Homer and Jethro

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"PETER GUNN" Obscure Lyrics to Famous Instrumentals

"But...I want to sing along..."

If a song has a catchy melody, SOMEBODY is going to insist on putting words to it. The question is how stupid are the lyrics going to be?

A while ago, the Don Ho version of "Hawaii Five-0" was presented here. And now, an even more criminal act: lyrics to Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn."

Henry Mancini seemed to specialize in melodies so artful, most any lyrics would seem clumsy. A few themes managed to escape without rotten words ("Experiment in Terror," "Pink Panther," "Hatari,") but too many were seriously wounded by Johnny Mercer or by the team of Livingston and Evans. "Days of Wine and Roses" was lame. The waltz theme for the thriller "Charade" get awful lyrics of lost love among stage actors. Mercer imagines:

"Fate seemed to pull the strings. I turned and you were gone. While from the darkened wings the music box played on. Sad little serenade, song of my heart's composing: I hear it still, I always will. Best on the bill. Charade!"

Worse, of course, was the huge hit "Moon River." Mercer called a body of water a "huckleberry friend." Anyone care? Of course not. People don't pay too much attention to lyrics, they just want to hear a voice.

Enter classy Sarah Vaughan, a jazz singer capable of doing the best she can with flaming lyrics that light a torch and burn through one of the best instrumentals ever heard on TV. It should forever STAY an instrumental. But out of morbid curiosity...

"Every night your line is busy. All that buzzin' makes me dizzy. Couldn't count on all my fingers all the dates you had with swingers. Bye bye. Bye baby! I'm gonna give you goodbye and go right through that doorway. So long! I'm leaving! This is the last time we'll meet on the street going your way..."

Well, it could've been worse, some stuff about a Peter being a gun...

Sing more of Livingston & Evans' words, Sarah:

"Don't look surprised, you know you've buttered your bread.

So now it's fair, you should stare at the back of my head."

Peter Gunn

Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, conjobs about buying a premium account, or having to type in am egomaniac jerk-blogger's last name as a Password.

DON'T FUTZ AROUND! (Laugh-In stars Ruth Buzzi and Arte Johnson)


Are these words to live by?

Not really. What would you be doing right now that beats downloading an obscure, annoying novelty 45? Would you instead, get on a plane and go fight Procol Harum in Nigeria? You could get killed that way.

No, the hapless fact of life is that eventually it ends, and whether you futzed around or devoted yourself to "meaningful" activities, within a generation (if not sooner) your years on the planet will be completely forgotten. A few hundred people are famous a hundred years after they've died, and what good does it do them?

It's sobering to think of how many billions of people on the planet have no idea who Arte Johnson and Ruth Buzzi are. Did they futz around? No, they went into a studio to record "Don't Futz Around!" Not only that, they thought some disk jockeys would play their over-the-top opera-voiced novelty. The flip side was "Very Interesting," keyed to Arte's German soldier catch-phrase. Jackie Kannon also issued a single called "Very Interesting," appropriating Arte's pronunciation and spouting it between instrumental segments. Which is a digression, but could also be considered futzoid.

Ruth Buzzi is 78. Her career credits have shown that she didn't futz around. Or if she did, she was well paid. And almost 40 years after "Laugh-In," she re-united with Arte Johnson for cartoon voices on "Baggy Pants and the Nitwits." Whether you had the time to futz around watching that show or not, is not the question. Neither is whether it's worth watching now.

Not that you can't ask a question in the comments section. But what's the point? Don't futz around!

Arte Johnson is now 86. Actually, he's been 86 since last January. You might think he just futzed around after "Laugh-In," but you'd be forgetting his memorable turn as Renfield in George Hamilton's vampire comedy "Love at First Bite." He managed to out-live his "funny little guy" persona and turn up on daytime soap operas, and seriously record over 80 audio books.

It's somewhat interesting to note (that's what I'm doing at the moment, although it could be futzing around) that nobody in the cast of "Laugh-In" had any great success with 45's. This includes "Sock It To Me Time" from Judy Carne. Lily Tomlin's spoken word comedy albums (using "Laugh-In" characters) did well, but she knew better than to bring musicians into a studio and...futz around.

Is it scholarly to look into the origin of "futz around?" Or is that just futzing around? What's legitimate curiosity and just wasting time? As long as you're still here, let's go with the former. Except, nobody really seems to know the answer. They're just futzing around. Speculation, of course, is that the word is just a German-Jewish variation on "fuck." In act, fuck around with your putz, and you've got "futz."

The other possibility is that "futz" fits as a German-Jewish pronunciation of "farts." Farting around on time-wasting shit is like futzing around.

(Parenthetically, the "Laugh-In" crowd had to be influenced by Steve Allen, who notoriously took "schmuck" and offered a bird-like cry of "smock, smock" getting past the censors. Johnny Carson used to joke about the Fackawi Indians (which was the punchline to the dialect joke, "Where the Fackawi?") The show "F-Troop" resurrected the gag and tamely created the Hekawi Indians). But why go on? It's time to REALLY futz around with your download below. Or not.

DON'T FUTZ AROUND Ruth Buzzi and Arte Johnson

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Songs Cynthia Lennon Sang

You know Cynthia Lennon, who passed on last week at 75. Her son is famous, and here's a happy marriage photo with her husband.

Well, it didn't end in divorce, now, did it? No, it didn't. It ended the way marriages are supposed to end.

Most Beatle fans at least own a copy of "A Twist of Lennon" (a reference to two of Cyn's other hubbies). Just why the slightly limp-wristed group The Sinceros bothered to name-check it with anemic venom, I have no idea. It wasn't a bad book, or much of a cash-in. It was just her story if you wanted it. A blonde marries, too young, because of child on the way, and it didn't last. So far it might make for the McCartney soundtrack to a mediocre working class movie. Only, Cynthia was in the family way with John Lennon, so his subsequent treks around the world, and his discovery of Yoko Ono after he'd been with dozens of groupies...well, it didn't make "A Twist of Lennon" (or her subsequent tomes) too successful, did they?

Aside from feuding with Yoko a bit and getting married a few more times, she was out of the spotlight.

This included 1995, when she was persuaded to issue a single, which quickly disappeared the way of Fred Lennon's single. And most of Julian's, come to think of it. And all of Sean's.

By all accounts, Cyn was a nice lady, and late in life she even reconciled, at least for a public photograph, with the dreaded Yoko.

Anyone who has some first hand experience with Cynthia is welcome to comment below. What survives, besides the books and photos, is the curiosity of a few songs Cynthia Lennon sang.

The three examples of her recorded work reflect three fairly different directions her musical career could've gone.

"Those Were The Days" is an unfortunate if obvious choice. Recorded in 1995, out of nowhere (somebody apparently asked and she agreed), it doesn't erase the memory of Mary Hopkin's icky schoolgirl version. Cyn doesn't quite give the producer what he probably wanted, which was some kind of pathos-ridden mope about the past. Marianne Faithful she isn't, and the tempo really doesn't let Cynthia do much besides gallop by the mythical tavern (er, "Cavern") and shrug that life goes on.

Not an actress (neither a Marianne nor an Honor Blackman), Cyn ends up with a fairly enigmatic reading of her ex-husband's "In My Life." At times she sounds like she's under contractual obligation, but towards the end, when she actually sings the final chorus or two, she seems to have more than come to terms with her place in rock history, and in John's past. No, she doesn't read it badly, but it's an uncomfortable idea, for a lot of reasons.

Which is why ultimately the best direction Cynthia could've chosen was to leave the more overt, obvious Beatlemania stuff alone, and do something that simply reflected her current artistic mood. "Walking in the Rain" isn't bad at all, a distant cousin to Yoko's "Walking on Thin Ice." Who knows, with more of a poofter butt-thump beat, she could've joined Yoko on the disco charts.

Imagine...Cynthia being another Yoko, and instead of a few singles, literally dozens of expensive albums you need "for the collection." Now you're appreciating Cynthia on a whole different level, aren't you. "Thanks, Cyn, for not being Yoko...Ringo...Sean..." Go ahead, add those Paul albums you never play, and "Wonderwall" and probably John's rock and roll album and the Black Dyke Mills Band and...and...

One thing about the mp3 era is that you don't have to embarrass yourself by having shelves loaded up with Beatles-related music that points out how deeply into Pepperland you still are. A lot of fans aren't sure whether to feel proud or pathetic owning Fred Lennon's single, or all the albums by Beatles cash-in groups (with Liverpool or insect names). How about the stacks of 45's including stuff like "My Boyfriend Got a Beatle Haircut?"

After a while, as Ringo began knocking out all those albums and singles (whoops, there's a new one just come out) was really beginning to be a case of "I'm spending a lot of money on stuff that I never listen to...JUST because it's Beatles related."

Now, you can own the stuff, and proudly point to that 2TB drive "FULL of BEATLES AUDIO MEMORABILIA" and it doesn't take up much space. To which, you now have three additions, via married-a-Beatle Cyn.

To quote a more obscure Beatles song, "It's All too Much." Sean stuff. Julian stuff. Even John and Yoko stuff (how ofte have you flashed the nude "Two Virgins" cover out of "pride of ownership" or some more nefarious reason?) "It's All Too Much."

In a way, Cynthia Lennon's left us wanting more. These three will probably have you listening more than a few times, and reflecting on that special era. Imagine there's a heaven...and she's there with the husband of her choice now. Or, imagine there's one hell of a heaven...and she's there with more than just one of 'em.

Cynthia Lennon Walking in the Rain

Cynthia Lennon In My Life

Cynthia Lennon Those Were the Days