VARIOUS ARTISTS – “MSR MADNESS” song-poem compilations
The concept of the “song poem” is kinda hard to explain, internist so — Wikipedia sez:
“Song poem usually refers to song lyrics that have been set to music for a fee. This practice, which has long been disparaged in the music industry, was also known as song sharking and was conducted by several businesses throughout the 20th century in North America.
The business of recording song poems was promoted through small display ads in popular magazines, comic books, tabloids, men’s adventure journals and similar publications with a headline reading (essentially) Send in Your Poems – Songwriters Make Thousands of Dollars – Free Evaluation. The term lyrics was avoided because it was assumed potential customers would not understand what the term meant. Those who sent their poetry to one of the production companies usually received notice by mail that their work was worthy of recording by professional musicians, along with a proposal to do so in exchange for a fee. The early 20th century versions of this business involved setting the words to music and printing up sheet music from inexpensively engraved plates.
In producing the recordings, the melodies were either improvised or recycled and musicians often recorded dozens of songs per recording session using minimal resources, often in one take. Some of the companies recorded new vocals over pre-recorded music backing tracks, using the same music tracks hundred of times. The recordings were then duplicated on 45 RPM vinyl singles or on individual cassette tapes, or they were released on compilation LPs with dozens of other songs by amateur lyric writers. Copies were sent to the customer. Promises that they would also be sent to radio stations or music industry executives were rarely if ever kept, partly because the recordings would not have been taken seriously by professionals. The practice played off the desire of unsophisticated people, who often lived in remote areas, for fame and fortune.
During the 1990s, some surviving recordings of song poems (especially from the 1950s and 1960s) attracted the interest of record collectors, who were then seeking old phonograph records. For some listeners, unusual, amateur lyrics in recordings made by rushed or at least marginally professional musicians almost half a century earlier offer a unique, discordant sound heard nowhere else. The intensity and naivety of the lyrics combined with the workaday listlessness of the musical performances creates a tension that fuels whatever artistic merit may be found in these relics. Many of the lyrics involve subject matter relating to the passing fads of the day, and thus provide a window into a past pop culture.”
The above description does very little to describe what the best of these tracks actually sound like. Picture the average pleasant jazz arrangement you’d find on “The Lawrence Welk Show”, or perhaps later in the ’80s and 90s the sort of backing you’d hear on a Casio keyboard demo preset — laid on top of lyrics firmly planted in the world of the inane, the insane, the banal and bacchanale all rolled into one. The best song poems are more than diamonds in the rough or happy accidents — they are a window into the deepest recesses of our scared, fragile souls. Or unlistenable purile crap. Either way, they are unlike anything else you’ve heard. MSR was the most “well-known” purveyor of song poem albums, and the compilations below are cherrypicked from the MSR library.
Two of these three volumes have already been posted on the WFMU blog ages ago, and you can read detailed descriptions of their track listings here. But this shit is so good, I thought I should propagate it a little further!