COURTESY of the much-missed radio and TV presenter Kenny Everett, this week’s column is dedicated to dross – some of the most cringeworthy music ever consigned to disc. In 1978 Everett released an album on ‘puke-coloured vinyl’, The World’s Worst Record Show, based on his Capital Radio programmes and including twenty stinkers notable for tastelessness, downright incompetence, mawkish sentimentality and wallowing in the macabre. So, sickbags at the ready, here we go.
Track one is I Want My Baby Back by Jimmy Cross. A 1965 spoof of teenage tragedy songs such as Leader of the Pack, this was written with the express hope of being banned on the radio to raise sales. The narrator is out driving with his girlfriend when they crash into a motorcyclist. When Jimmy comes round he sees the body of the biker ‘and over there was my baby, and over there was my baby, and way over there was my baby’. The bad-tastefest ends with him digging up her grave and climbing into the coffin with her.
Next up is the Swedish nightingale Zarah Leander with 1951’s Wunderbar, a truly terrible piece of singing.
And if you think that’s bad try Paralysed, by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. This 1968 Texan collection of whoops, snarls and unintelligible growls with inept accompaniment was often played in record shops when they wanted everyone to go home.
First pious offering is The Deal, by the Irishman Pat Campbell. In this spoken-word epic, Campbell is at a hospital where his wife has just given birth and the doctor tells him there are ‘complications’. Mother or child can be saved but not both – he must decide which. Our Pat stumbles to a chapel where he offers his own life if the pair can be allowed to survive. Merciful God strikes him down in the corridor and as he lies dying he hears the doctor say that mum and infant will be OK. Aaah. This reached No 31 in the UK charts in 1969.
Track 5 is Transfusion, by Nervous Norvus. This 1956 clunker involves serial car crashes with the reckless driver praying for blood – ‘Shoot the juice to me, Bruce’ and ‘Put a gallon in me, Alan.’ The song was banned in many states and duly became a US Top 20 hit.
Britain’s Jess Conrad wins the dubious distinction of three appearances in the Terrible Twenty. First up is This Pullover, a dire 1961 ditty in praise of a jumper gift from his sweetheart. Note the stress on ‘over’ rather than ‘pull’.
Next comes a 1970 reggae cover version of Spinning Wheel by Mel and Dave, remarkable for its total amateurishness. Surprisingly, it was produced by the legendary Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. He, the musicians and the singers must all have been off their heads that day.
Back to 1965 for Dickie Lee’s Laurie (Strange Things Happen), again involving a sweater and again ending up in the graveyard. ‘You’re wrong, son, you weren’t with my daughter. How can you be so cruel to come to me this way? My Laurie left this world on her birthday. She died a year ago today.’
Lightening the mood somewhat is Mrs Miller’s A Lover’s Concerto from 1966. Elva Ruby Miller, from Joplin, Missouri, became popular in a strictly ironic way for her untrained, shrill, off-key performances of well-known pop standards. She claimed that several versions of each tune were recorded, with the worst being chosen for release.
The Drunken Driver, by country singer Ferlin Husky, was released in 1954 and describes the mowing down of a pair of innocent youngsters by an intoxicated motorist. ‘As these two little children walked arm in arm, how sad their hearts did feel; when around the kerb came a speeding car with a drunk man at the wheel.’
Jess Conrad returns with Why Am I Living? from 1961, the B-side of This Pullover. Certainly a classic double-B-side single. It prompts the inevitable question: Why Am I Listening To This Drivel? This clip is from the film Rag Doll. A B-movie, of course.
Surfin’ Bird by the Trashmen, released in 1963, is a bit of a harsh choice for World’s Worst Records as I think it’s fun. Here it is anyway.
Steve Bent is an actor from the Isle of Man who appeared on Crossroads and Emmerdale. His other crimes include the self-written 1976 song I’m Going to Spain, which was panned mostly because of its lyrics – ‘The factory presented me with some tapes of Elton John. They packed me up some sandwiches. And I hate them, yes I hate the cheese and pickle.’ In 1993 The Fall did a cover version on their album The Infotainment Scan.
A Canadian DJ named Duncan Johnson took it upon himself in 1968 to release The Big Architect, which intersperses his sermons on Creation with girlie vocals of this ilk: ‘The Big Architect in the Sky, designed everything for you and I; all the birds and the bees, and the flowers and the trees.’ This clip includes an introduction by Everett from his radio programme. If only Big Dunc had stuck to playing other people’s records.
Jess Conrad completes his hat-trick with 1960’s Cherry Pie. He would go on to enjoy a successful acting career, including an appearance in Are You Being Served as Mr Walpole, head of sporting equipment, and is still with us at the age of 84. He was made an OBE in 2017, presumably not for services to music.
Now for a real shocker. In 1956 Eamonn Andrews, the avuncular future presenter of This Is Your Life and the children’s TV show Crackerjack (CRACKERJACK!!!!!), recorded a stentorian monologue called The Shifting Whispering Sands backed by the Ron Goodwin Orchestra and produced by George Martin. Quite why anyone would want to listen to it even once is beyond me, but it became a Top Twenty hit.
Tub Thumper’s Kick Out The Jams, from 1974, seems another strange choice by our Ken. OK it’s pretty bad, but I can think of many worse.
Not so My Feet Start Tapping, by Adolph Babel. This combines some pretty ropey singing with a bizarre attempt to provide tap-dancing side-effects. I can’t discover when this abomination was first released; probably someone has taken careful steps to cover their tracks.
The only YouTube version I can find of Skip Jackson’s shocking Elvis tribute from 1977, The Greatest Star of All, was taken from a warped disc, which makes it even wonkier.
And that just leaves a final treat, the Spanish crooner Raphael’s overwrought 1970 version of Going Out of My Head, here sandwiched between Light My Fire and Something. As I’ve said before, Raphael’s English accent is even worse than my Spanish.
What a legacy of aural garbage from the great Kenny, who died in 1995 aged 50. As a reminder of how funny he was, here’s a profile from the series Heroes of Comedy. Enjoy.
PS: I’m sure you’ll have your own favourite musical disasters. Send them to me and we might come up with our own World’s Worst Record Show.