Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Retro book review: 'Hollywood Hi-Fi'

This book review/feature was published July 12, 1996 in The Kansas City Kansan.

WHILE ACTORS MAY LOOK GOOD, THEY AREN’T ALWAYS VOCALISTS

By Steve Crum 

Truly bad celebrity vocalizing can be both painful and fascinating to the discriminating listener. Take Burt Reynolds, who warbles Cole Porter with Cybill Shepherd in 1975’s disastrous musical, At Long Last Love. Please take Burt Reynolds! Yet the double soundtrack record album is collectible more so for Reynolds’ strained singing. Figure that out.

Authors George Gimarc and Pat Reeder have not only figured that out, but tapped into a gold mine of bizarre musical gigs with their fascinating soft back book, Hollywood Hi-Fi. Subtitled Over 100 of the Most Outrageous Celebrity Recordings Ever!, the 128-pager chronicles movie and TV stars who should have stuck with what they knew best and left the songs to the singers. Luckily they didn’t. Otherwise posterity and recordings would suffer from not having the likes of Pee-wee Herman singing “Surfin’ Bird,” and Archie and Edith Bunker screeching “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?”

Gimarc and Reeder contend that “laughing yourself limp” while listening to Bette Davis sing the soberest “Mother of the Bride” (on a 45 rpm recording) is far more entertaining than, say, “listening to 45 minutes of C-minor arpeggios from John Tesh.” Good point. The book is also a salute to “a whole genre of records that has been largely ignored by pop culture historians.” It is a fun and fast read, crammed with background information and clever jabs. Original album and 45 covers are featured as well

For TV rerunners there are the recordings of Telly (Kojak) Savalas, the girls from Petticoat Junction, Beverly Hillbillies Buddy Ebsen and Irene Ryan, and Jim (Gomer) Nabors and George (Goober) Lindsey. Of course, Nabors obviously had the majority of Pyle singing talent, being featured in over a dozen Columbia albums. Other TV tuners include Dennis Weaver (Gunsmoke), Joe E. Ross (Car 54, Where Are You?), and Danny (The Partridge Family) Bonaduce. Late of the late night talk show, Arsenio Hall even cut a CD, Chunky A. It puts the wrap on rap.

Robert Mitchum singing? Yep, on an album called Calypso…Is Like So…. If you can take that, then take the commercially recorded songs of Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Lee Marvin, and Rock Hudson.

Dozens more stars have been pressed on vinyl, tape, and CD; and all are documented herein. Eighteen of the tracks, in fact, are available on a co-produced (by the book’s authors) Hollywood Hi-Fi CD. It makes beguiling background noise while reading the companion book. 
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Checking my own truly strange celebrity recordings, I found a wealth of weirdness, some included in Gimarc and Reeder’s book. Those not chronicled, but that I have:
•Cary Grant warbling “Christmas Lullaby,” a mostly talked, string-sappy, tearful earful found on a limited edition Christmas album produced by the now defunct Grant’s store chain. No relation to Cary.
•Tough guy star John Garfield reading “Raymond the White Rabbit” on a children’s album. 
•Ted Knight doing his Ted Baxter voice on a single, “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” At one point, he quips, “Are you as tired of this song as I am?” Oh, yes. 
•Renee Taylor (now the nanny’s mom on The Nanny) singing a 1960’s forgotten tune, “I’m In Love With Jack.” The Jack is John F. Kennedy, and Taylor sings the song a la Jackie’s voice, accompanied by a cha-cha arrangement. (“I really fell in love…cha-cha-cha…on the night of the Great Debate…cha-cha-cha.”) A collector’s showcase.
•Other all-time forgottens include: “The Humphrey Bogart Rhumba,” Red Buttons' “The Ho Ho Song,” Bill Cosby’s “Stand Still For My Lovin’,” and Richard Chamberlain barely modulating “Close To You,” recorded during his Dr. Kildare days. 

Imagine what could have been done with this material had MTV existed back then. Staggering. 
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Authors Gimac and Reeder are featured in this promo for their book in which we get to hear William Frawley aka Fred Mertz sing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDUFw0GA-2E

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