Ten For the Ages

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The Phoenixes
The Phoenixes Rise Again
(PRM -- 1955)

Singing politicians are rarer than honest politicians. There's Sonny Bono, of course, and Shirley Temple was some kind of U.N. ambassador -- not exactly a politician, but then again, she wasn't exactly a singer. Right? OK. Hold that thought, and travel back in time to the mid-'50s, where the pre-Elvis lull in popular music allowed several doo-wop and vocal groups to prosper, including the Phoenixes, a Virginia foursome that scored minor hits with white-bread versions of such black-vocal-group standards as "It's Too Soon to Know" and "Crying in the Chapel." Between 1954 and 1957, the Phoenixes released a string of records. According to the liner of the group's 1955 release The Phoenixes Rise Again, "lead Jack Francis supplies soaring melody lines that are complemented by bass Matthew Randall and baritone Kevin Henson. Echoing Francis with deceptively delicate vocals is tenor Patrick Buchanan, the youngest member of the group." That's right: It's the same Patrick Buchanan who now hawks quasi-racist cant in his hunt for the White House. Despite the odd historical footnoting, the Phoenixes' second album is one of the masterpieces of mid-period white doo-wop; their version of the Scarlets' "Dear One" outshines even the sublime original. A few years after Rise Again, Buchanan left the group to attend Georgetown. The remaining Phoenixes went on to become a folk-inflected trio, writing songs about social injustice that would no doubt render their former bandmate apoplectic.

MC B-L-T
For the Bread
(In the Ruff Records -- 1991)

In the annals of rock history, there are very few records that are good solely as a result of their tragic incompetence. It happens more in movies, where Mystery Science Theater 3000has helped reclaim worthless pieces of crap by formalizing their camp value. But if you're looking for the best bad record of all time, look no further than For the Bread, a 1991 "rap" "record" "performed" by MC B-L-T, a talking sandwich complete with olive-and-pimento eyes. Hipped to all the necessary street slang, B-L-T delivers a dozen hapless slices of hip-hop, ranging from the excruciating "You're Toast, Bro" to the merely abysmal "The Dish Busted a Cap in the Spoon." With a sadistic surrealism, the characters in the songs oscillate senselessly between actual people and personified foodstuffs: A villain dubbed Frankie Mayonnaise encounters "that bitch from uptown, Leona Helmsley." It would be impossible, not to mention pointless, to invent lyrics as bad as the ones perpetrated by this heartless (but nutritious) MC: "Your teeth are gold/ Your crust has mold/I'm coming like thunder/You're dumber than Wonder." Oh, and one more thing: The obviously white rapper delivers his lines in a cartoonish accent that is the aural equivalent of blackface. Not bad meaning good, but bad meaning bad.

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