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Various Artists

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."

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John La Briola

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