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Song-Poem Music Is To Die For

by Don Bolles

Reprinted from the liner notes to the song-poem compilation CD, I'm Just The Other Woman (Carnage Press)

cover art by Justin Green

I hereby state my case, of which I am certain: "song-poem" music is one of the richest motherlodes of pure unfiltered glorious wrongness to be found in any field of human endeavor. I believe in that statement so firmly that I am willing to die for it.

By now most of you are familiar with what this "song-poem" thing is all about. For the benefit of those who are not, I will briefly explain (the rest of you can just skip ahead):

Unwitting "dupes" are solicited, via tiny ads in pulp magazines, to have a poem they've written set to music. Almost everybody in the world has written at least one poem in their life -- check your own kitchen junk drawer, there's probably one or two sitting at the bottom of it right now. So there's clearly a vast market of unpublished poets out there. The advertisers imply there's a realistic chance that your poem, which they will turn into a song (hence the phrase "song-poem"), might actually make it up the pop charts, and you can then settle into a life of ease and plenty. Remember, these song-poets are the same people who habitually play the lottery (in fact, there's a number of song-poems about playing the lottery), so getting rich quick is definitely in their life's plan.

But, needless to say, this song-poem thing is nothing more than a shuck. Although he will turn your poem into music just like he said he would, the advertiser knows full well that to try to actually market the song is a complete waste of time. All they'll do -- in fact, all they ever promised to do, and if you had read the contract carefully you'd know that -- is to take your words, set them to music, and press up a few copies of the finished song. That's it. The awful truth is that your song -- your baby which you've loved and nurtured and which is a part of you -- is ground through a musical production mill so quickly and with such detachment that the workers might as well be screwing caps onto tubes of toothpaste. "Music by the pound," they used to call it, or, more rancorously, "song sharking." In exchange for this modest service, you've paid in the neighborhood of $100 bucks -- sometimes less, sometimes a lot more.

The curious part of this transaction is that, in spite of the prostituted origins of the song-poem recording, a surprising lot of them are quite listenable. Many, in fact, are stupendous! At its best, there is something lousy with possibilities in the anonymous collaboration between an untrained Jane or Joe Lunchpail who writes the words, and the Makers of Smooth Music -- generally quite talented professionals, but forced to work under austere conditions -- who are hired to get those song-poems to resemble something like music. It's an unnatural admixture, and a recipe for either disaster or majesty, or both at the same time. The selections on this album represent some of the grandest examples of the song-poem form.

When I was looking for a place to transfer to tape the songs on I'm Just The Other Woman, a friend suggested I contact History of Recorded Sound, a studio operated by a fellow named Len Horowitz. As it turned out, Mr. Horowitz was more than familiar with the song-poem concept. In fact, almost as soon as I stated my case and told him what "MSR music" was all about, he blurted out, "I did almost all their stuff in the '70s." I was shocked! Before I could even say "Duh," he went on. "I still have some of the old acetates. I didn't keep much of it, though, 'cause, boy, a lot of that stuff was pretty bad. Some of those records were very funny, though."

To make the transfers for this album, Len used some of the same vintage equipment as he did when he worked on the MSR records in the first place: a couple of old Ampex studio tape machines (one stereo and one full-track mono) and a 1948 Scully cutting lathe, which we used to play the records on. Len worked his analog ass off to excise most of the more bothersome ticks and pops from these old records; he just cut the damned things out and re-spliced the tape. The pops were so tiny you won't even notice the missing microsecond of music. One day I sat and watched him do over 60 of these tiny edits, and that was just from one song!

Track list for I'm Just The Other Woman

  1. The MSR Singers: I'm Just The Other Woman (version 1)
  2. The MSR Singers: The Saddest Story
  3. Kay Weaver: Disco Midnight
  4. Wally Burke: I'm A Ginseng Digger
  5. Bill LeBlanc: Static On The Brain
  6. Lee Scott: Tipsy Topsy Turvey
  7. The MSR Singers: Monster Man
  8. John Muir: The Moon Men
  9. Rodd & The Librettos: Psychedelic Baby
  10. Todd Andrews: The Palace Roses
  11. The Sisterhood: Teen Age Regrets
  12. The MSR Singers: The Day Snowflakes Were Born
  13. Ralph Lowe: Loyal Spouse Devotion
  14. Terry & The Librettos: Yippee Hippee
  15. Buddy Raye: No More Liberty
  16. Trendy: Facts About Crack
  17. The MSR Singers: Squeaky Shoes
  18. Ralph Lowe: Disco Dancer, You're The Answer
  19. Buddy Raye: Mean Woman Blues
  20. Bobbi Blake: Betsy And Her Goat
  21. Ralph Lowe: The World Is A Jungle
  22. Cleveland Becker & The MSR Singers: I Take A Fancy To Nancy
  23. John Fluker: My Baby's Gone
  24. Bonnie Graham: He's My Chocolate Baby
  25. Keith Bradford: The Will Of God
  26. Rodd Keith: How Can A Man Overcome His Heartbroken Pain
  27. Rood Keith: Great Fever
  28. The MSR Singers: I'm Just The Other Woman (version 2)

I'm Just The Other Woman is available online from Forced Exposure.

Other song-poem compilations you may enjoy:

Carnage Press
The Human Breakdown Of Absurdity || The Makers Of Smooth Music || The Beat Of The Traps

Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four? || Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood And Brush

I Died Today

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