Banking on the dreams of would-be lyricists who'd answer want ads from "hit-makers" in the back pages of tabloid-style magazines, several low-budget song factories (based mostly in Nashville and Hollywood) once offered fame and fortune to any red-blooded Yankee willing to submit unwashed verse for "professional" studio consideration. "No special training needed," a typical pitch would read. "Write the words as you feel them."
A long-player at 28 tracks, The American Song-Poem Anthology cherry-picks the most unusual of these musical one-night stands. Amid grocery lists for the color-elite ("I Like Yellow Things") and crooning odes to the space program ("The Moon Men," credited to naturalist John Muir) are sonic oddities beyond comprehension: cautionary tales about the evils of masturbation ("All You Need Is a Fertile Mind") and rambling, long-winded soul-cosmology ("Human Breakdown of Absurdity"). Then there's bipartisan baloney: "Richard Nixon" dares to assert that Watergate's sacrificial lamb deserves honorary distinction, proclaiming "God in his infinite wisdom put Richard Nixon on this earth/To bring to us his heritage/One of priceless worth." And on "Jimmy Carter Says 'Yes,'" vocalist Gene Marshall turns the former peanut farmer into a streetwise hepcat from the blaxploitation era. Are you down with the 39th prez?
Rodd Keith, credited with scoring "Run Spook Run" (either a campfire singalong or the musings of a Klansman idiot), is widely regarded as the king of the song-poem's newly documented subculture. On the bluesy "I'm Just the Other Woman," Keith affects female anguish in a lonely falsetto. On the disturbing "Gretchen's Dish," an über-creep with an exaggerated Lawrence Welk accent celebrates a 6-year-old's birthday with nursery rhymes that would make Sigmund Freud shudder. And the country-flavored "Blind Man's Penis (Peace and Love)," penned by prankster John Trubee, a New Jerseyite who mailed in the most ridiculous lyrics he could dream up, tests the limits: "Warts love my nipples/Because they are pink/Vomit on me, baby/Yeah, yeah, yeah/Ramona's titties died in hell/And I just want to kill everyone."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.