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I Was A Teenage Song-Poet

Despite advertising regularly in comic books, song-poem companies never really marketed their product to children. But, as with any adult endeavor, the occasional precocious teen inevitably slipped past security and managed to get inside the song-poem mill. The AS/PMA recently discovered two such teens -- well, former teens -- who were still enduring their awkward years at the time of their respective song-poem experiences. By coincidence, both contacted us within weeks of one another to offer their testimonies.

Randy Johnson
Nearly 35 years ago, when I was about 15, I saw an ad in a teen magazine soliciting song-poems. I penciled some lyrics and sent them to a company in Hollywood, hoping to get rich. A few weeks later I received a promising letter informing me that if I sent them a few hundred bucks they could get some big star -- who they didn't name -- who "moonlights" with them to record my song. After paying the money, however, all I received was a box of cheaply pressed 45s (with some other poor sucker's song on the flip side), sung by what sounded like a soft-spoken 70-year-old man standing five feet away from the mic, with only a console piano for accompaniment. I was embarrassed to let anyone else hear it, and I think I wound up throwing all the copies away.

It was while searching the Internet in hopes of finding a copy of a record named "First Heartbreak," made by his cousin Billy Jack Hale for Decca in 1957, that Randy inadvertently stumbled upon our MP3 of his own song-poem, coincidentally named "I'm Having My First Heartbreak." But, by some still-unexplained twist of events, the MP3 version, recorded by The Real Pros on the Cinema label, is a completely different recording from the one he'd been sent in 1969.

You can imagine my shock and surprise when, after all these years, I spotted my song on MP3! This version is much better than the one I originally got, and makes it worth the money I spent back then. I guess the biggest surprise is that these guys really did publish it after all!

Despite some serious brainstorming, neither Randy nor the AS/PMA could determine how this alternate version, which seems to date from around 1972, might have come into being. Someone must have subsidized the rerecording, but this was the first Johnson had heard of it, and he has no idea who might have done it, why they did it, and why they didn't tell him about it.

His teenage song-poem experience notwithstanding, Randy eventually embarked on a career in music, as a DJ who currently works in the classic rock market. After some prodding from us, he recalled another quirk of his song-poem experience.

I had also submitted the song to Five Star Music Masters in Boston, run by a guy named Lew Tobin. I decided not to use them because their price was too high, but when I wrote Tobin to tell him of my decision he sent me a series of letters threatening me with a lawsuit. [Besides a song shark Tobin was also an attorney.] Fortunately, however, nothing more ever came of it.

Detecting a healthy sense of fun, we sent Randy a copy of our I'm Just The Other Woman compilation. Hearing it helped put his own song-poem in perspective.

I received the CD over the weekend. Thanks! It's really a work of art. My favorite so far is "The Saddest Story," with "The Day Snowflakes Were Born" and "He's My Chocolate Baby" close behind. After hearing what the others sound like, I don't feel so embarrassed about my own song-poem!

I'm Having My First Heartbreak 2.1mb

Suzanne Baumann
My interest in song-poems goes back to 1988, when I was a discontented ninth grader who amused herself by answering ads in the backs of magazines. Fond of writing but unable to play a note of music myself, I was excited to see an offer (in Rolling Stone, if memory serves) to have my work set to music. During a single study hall period, I composed five song-poems, which I promptly submitted to Broadway Music Productions. Four were accepted. [Titles: "Fun When I Die"; "Insomniac Man"; "The Asphalt"; "Aunt Alice."] I'm assuming that the fifth, the dream-inspired "Dog Head," was rejected mainly because their contract only listed four spaces.

Unfortunately, I never did follow through with the offer, and so never got any of my song-poems recorded. I was only 14 at the time, and when I asked my dad to help me get the money out of my bank account, he gave me a lecture instead about the harsh realities of the recording industry.

Your site gives me new insight on this mysterious episode from my past. I still have copies of all my submissions, and recently read them, with great amusement, for the first time in years, certainly for the first time since immersing myself in the MP3s on your site. If I do say so myself, they would have made fine song-poem records, if perhaps a bit awkward and surreal. I'll admit, part of me hoped for a hit song, but mostly I just wanted a funny record to play for friends. Sorta wish I'd been able to go for it.

Never let it be said that the AS/PMA could resist the plaint of a steadfast song-poet stilted by her father's stinginess. Upon hearing of Suzanne's teenage bank account blues and the song-poem frustration they caused her, we passed the hat and came up with just enough coin to commission a low-budget rendition of one of her lyrics, "Insomniac Man." As luck would have it, Jeff Stone, Broadway Music's resident recording artist at the time of her thwarted attempt, is still at the song-poem game, now running his own company, Empire Music. Jeff accepted our offer to give "Insomniac Man" the best 1988-styled treatment $75 could buy, thus helping right an ancient wrong.

Hearing her song-poem finally reach fruition 14 years after first submitting it, Suzanne was delighted.

I heard "Insomniac Man" for the first time less than a couple hours ago. Gee, the song seemed a whole lot shorter on paper.

I love it, though, because it's mine. Got a big smile on my face right now. I'm like a teenager all over again here: simultaneously excited and embarrassed by the whole thing.

Insomniac Man 2.6mb

And so ends another happy teenage song-poem experience. Suzanne, too, has remained in the arts, and is today one of the country's top young cartoonists. Her Fridge Magnet Concoctions is highly recommended as a site for sore minds.

For other stories on teenage song-poem experiences, see Swell Music, Inc. and the Piece label intro note.

Many thanks for their generous and always-gracious involvement with this project to Suzanne Baumann, Randy Johnson, and Jeff Stone.

All design and uncredited content of this website ©2004 Phil Milstein