“I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” was a novelty one-hit wonder by a chap who called himself Whistling Jack Smith. Actually it wasn’t one chap, it was two. Trumpeter John O’Neill (who also more famously whistled the melody to Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) actually recorded the song, but it was a fellow named Billy Moeller (stage name Coby Wells) who you saw on the album cover and strutting around like an idiot on the pop shows of the day.
Billy was the brother of Tommy Moeller of Unit 4 + 2 (a one-hit wonder in their own right with a song called “Concrete and Clay”) and a roadie for the band. The songwriters, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway would late pen “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” for The Hollies.
The name Whistling Jack Smith was a take-off of ‘20s era singing sensation Whispering Jack Smith. The song’s original title was “Too Much Birdseed,” which is still good, but not nearly as good as “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman,” eh?
Regarding the video, can you imagine how humiliating a thing like this would be to do for money? Pretending to whistle? (Whistle-syncing?) And he’s not even the one doing the whistling in the first place, making him like the Milli Vanilli of whistle-syncing. Working in a McDonald’s would be a less embarrassing gig!
In a genre unto themselves, one we can all be thankful never took off, the concept of “mime rock” and The Hello People sprang from the mind of longtime manager and record producer Lew Futterman. Futterman, who at one point managed Ted Nugent and produced many of his albums including Cat Scratch Fever, was also managing a group of musicians who had been taught painting by the father of French mime, Étienne Decroux. Decroux was impressed with how quickly these musicians learned to paint and reasoned they could do the same with mime and apply it to music to create an entirely new art form.
Inspired by this notion, Futterman formed The Hello People, who would go on to appear on The Tonight Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, eventually touring with Todd Rundgren during the ‘70s, as well as opening for comedians Richard Pryor and George Carlin. The Hello People released four albums during the ‘60s and ‘70s for Philips and ABC-Dunhill, but their second album, the cult classic Fusion from 1968 is probably their best known, mostly notable for the anti-Vietnam War song “Anthem” which was banned by several radio stations. You can see a clip of the band performing the song, introduced by the Smothers Brothers below, as well as their mime act in full effect during a 1978 appearance with Todd Rundgren performing “Bread” on The Midnight Special.
It’s like the perfect shit storm… bad folk, lead flute(!)... mime!
The Hello People, Todd and pals sharing a post-show smoke sometime in the 70s.
Real Gone Music are making The Hello People’s cult classic Fusion available for the first time ever on CD. After all “Mime is money, money is mime.” Or something like that.
Everyone who has been to more than, say, two, major sporting events, has, of course, heard “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” the ultra catchy 1969-70 smash hit from Steam. But have you ever seen the group who sang it?
Steam were a band formed after the fact to front a throwaway b-side written and recorded by Paul Leka, Gary DeCarlo and Dale Frashuer. Gary DeCarlo described “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” as “an embarrassing record.” When Mercury Records decided to release the number as a single, the songwriter/performers did not wish for their reputations to be sullied by this “insult” as DeCarlo put it, so they made up a fictitious band.
They called this group of Ron Swanson lookalikes, “Steam” and sent them out on the road to promote the record, which hit #1 in the US in December of 1969 for two weeks and went on to sell 6.5 million records.
Click here for the far cuter Bananarama cover version of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” from 1983.
And, YES, it is everything you thought it would be. And by that, I mean it is bad. So very bad. The video is a drawn out spaghetti western narrative, leading into a song that is just the offal of the 1980s.
Before he was a household name, Bill Paxton was one half of the long-forgotten 80s New Wave band, Martini Ranch, along with Andrew Todd Rosenthal. Their Holy Cow album (actually two EPs, later compiled as an album) contained a single called “How Can the Labouring Man Find Time for Self Culture,” which featured Devo’s Alan Myers and Mark Mothersbaugh (the number was also produced and engineered by Devo guitarist Bob Casale). To compound the bafflement, Cindy Wilson of The B-52’s, and actors Judge Reinhold and Bud Cort (“Harold” from Harold and Maude) also appeared on tracks.
The star-studded line-up of such a terrible project only proves what I have always suspected; Bill Paxton is a goddamn charming weirdo.
Below, the “long” version of “Reach” directed by James Cameron:
The even more 80s (as if that is possible) video for “How Can the Labouring Man Find Time for Self Culture,” directed by Rocky Schenck (who took the above PR shot):
Is this the greatest goofiest song ever written? I think it very well might be. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you obscure ‘60s pop-psych combo World of Oz performing their semi-hit “The Muffin Man” on Beat Club in 1968.
I’ve been putting this on mixed tapes and CD for over 25 years. That there is a video for this number warms my heart.
Spanish beat combo Los Bravos were the first (only?) group from Spain to have a top five hit in America. Their instantly recognizable classic, “Black is Black,” with its plaintive, Gene Pitney-esque vocal courtesy of German-born singer Mike Kogel reached #2 in the UK charts and #4 here in 1966.
Los Bravos weren’t technically “one-hit wonders” as they landed a second single in the British charts with “I Don’t Care.”
In the wonderful pop art-inspired clip below, Los Bravos lip-sync their hit in the 1967 film Los Chicos Con Las Chicas.
Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” is one of the great greatest one-hit wonders of the rock era, selling over 2 million copies for Warner-Reprise Recorsds in 1969/1970. Although the song has been used in several TV commercials and Hollywood films—and made its composer quite rich, I’d imagine—most people know the song, but there is little cultural memory of the man who wrote it, sang it and played its proto glam-rock fuzz box-drenched guitar riff.
“Spirit in the Sky” has been used in “Rock Band 2” and in films like Forrest Gump, Evan Almighty, Saving Grace, Contact, Apollo 13, Remember the Titans, Oliver Stone’s W, Wayne’s World 2, The Longest Yard, Knocked Up and many others. On TV we’ve heard it in Big Love, House, Law & Order and My Name Is Earl and in ads for Gatorade, Nike and American Express. [Although the song will undoubtedly still be listened to (and licensed by Hollywood soundtrack supervisors) until the end of time, “Spirit in the Sky” was inexplicably put on the list of “questionable” songs after 9/11. (Huh?)]
Still, I have to confess, after loving that song for years and always feeling happy whenever I hear it, I had no idea what the guy who made it looked like or much about him. The mental image the song called up for me was of the Doctor and the Medics music video, so I searched online and found basically one music video that was made for the song, and it’s pretty cool, so then I read up on how this classic came about.
Greenbaum, who was, and is, a practicing Jew, was inspired to write his version of a gospel song by Porter Wagoner, although Greenbaum’s song was meant to be more about a gunslinger wanting to die with his boots on than the reference to a having “a friend in Jesus” might indicate
Greenbaum used a Fender Telecaster with a fuzz box built into the body to achieve the song’s unique guitar sound, but it was a guy named Russell DaShiell who was the lead guitarist for the session. DaShiell explained how he got that “beep beep beep” sound to Spirit Guitar:
“I actually played the lead guitar parts on Spirit, using a 61-62 SG Les Paul, a 68 Marshall Plexi 100w half stack and a home-made overdrive box in front of the Marshall. Regarding the ‘beep beeps’ as I call them, when the producer asked me to play some fills in between the verses, as a joke I said how about something spacey like this and I did the pickup switch/string bending thing. I saw him stand up in the control booth and he said “that’s it! let’s record that!” so we did. (There was no slide involved, just my fingers, and I used the bridge humbucker and the pickup switch). The fuzz part is Norman with a built-in overdrive circuit built into his Tele pickguard.”
“I’ve been asked a lot over the years how I did the ‘beep beep’ guitar parts on Spirit, so for any guitar players out there who would like to learn how, try the following: Using a 2-pickup Gibson, set the neck pickup volume to zero, bridge pickup volume to max, with the pickup switch in the middle position (with Gibson wiring this gives you silence in the middle position). Do a string bend, picking the B & E strings together with one hit, just ahead of the beat, then use the pickup switch to kick in the bridge pickup in triplets (6 per bar) as you let the B string bend down two frets.”
“I mainly used two positions on Spirit, which is in the key of A. For the low position, fret a stationary C note (8th fret) on the E string while bending the B string up to an A note for your starting-position, then pick the two strings together once while the guitar is silent and work the pickup switch as you let the A note bend downwards to a G. For the high position, do the same thing at the 15th fret holding a stationary high G note on the E string while bending down from E to D on the B string.”
“I must give credit to Jimi Hendrix as my inspiration for this technique (as well as for the double-string riffs I did at the beginning of the Spirit solo tail section). I saw him perform live in a small club in Madison, Wisconsin and loved the way he used his Strat pickup switch to create staccato feedback on songs like Voodoo Child. The difference is, on a Gibson you can start from silence and create the on/off effect, which worked well with the downward string bending thing I did on Spirit.”
Greenbaum’s psychedelic gospel music was finished with booming drums, hand claps and gospel singing trio the Stovall Sisters (who did their own version) layered atop it. “Spirit in the Sky” became the blueprint for the glam rock sound, especially the music of Gary Glitter and Alvin Stardust (who ripped it off shamelessly for “My Coo CaChoo” in 1974).
Norman Greenbaum is thought of as a one-hit wonder, but he actually had an earlier song of some notoriety to Dr. Demento fans: As a member of Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band, Greenbaum composed the alien invasion novelty record, “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago” in 1967. Now 69, you can still see Greenbaum from time to time on Vh1. His website is Spirit in the Sky.
Below, the one and only music video I could find on YouTube for the original version of “Spirit in the Sky.” The quality is slightly ropey, but it’s still totally watchable and the sound is great.
After the jump, a bonus clip of Pan’s People dancing to “Spirit in the Sky” on Top of the Pops in 1973
Dutch pop duo Mouth & MacNeal had a million-selling hit in 1972 with “How Do You Do” If you are of a certain age, or even if you have only heard this insanely catchy song once, muffled and through a brick wall, you will no doubt remember it, instantly. How long can it be before “How Do You Do” is used in a TV commercial? (They’ve used up everything else!)
But if you were able recall the song and were quizzed, “So who sang it?” would you have known? I’d have to confess, I’m not in that camp m’self, but from the moment I hit play on this video when I saw it over at the mighty PCL Linkdump, I most certainly recalled the song itself. Why is this not on EVERY compilation of cheesy 70s AM radio hits???
In any case, don’t say I didn’t warn you about the $#&@!# catchiness of this tune. You’ll be grinding your teeth to it tonight in your dreams!
Jonathan Frid died of natural causes in Ontario, Canada, the home of his birth, on Friday the 13th. The news of his death was reported yesterday evening. He was 87.
Frid played Barnabas Collins on the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971. The show has a fervent cult following to this day. So much so that a Tim Burton-directed big screen adaption starring Johnny Depp is scheduled to be released next month.
Dark Shadows, along with Hammer movies, were obsessions for proto-goth kids in training. For many of us who felt like outsiders, the vampire was the perfect fantasy figure for our anti-social yearnings. Vampires didn’t take shit from anybody and they liked to stay out late and sleep-in. I could relate.
The clip that follows features Frid seductively intoning “I Barnabas” from the album The Original Music from Dark Shadows which was released in 1969.