The Wild World of Song Poems

On June 26th 2015

When it comes to record collecting, It seems that the deeper you go in the practice, the stronger the desire to obtain rare, obscure, and bizarre recordings becomes.

It starts with Sabbath, The Stones, and Zeppelin, and inevitably progresses toMoondog, The Shaggs, and Michael Angelo.

This natural “vinylution” process if you will, is further encouraged by the handful of LP compilations put out annually by reissue labels, which cast a spotlight on long-forgotten, under-appreciated, or even undiscovered musical stylings of yesteryear.

Of these overlooked stylings, Outsider Music is by far one of the most collectible and sought after genres right now.

In the 1950’s and 60’s it wasn’t too difficult to have a record pressed. Small, independent labels - mostly issuing 45’s - were popping up all across America, and this led to an influx of amateur talent being able to record and distribute their discs at a surprisingly low cost.

First Wave British Invasion bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, and Herman’s Hermits seemed to inspire everybody under the age of 20 to pick up an instrument and form a band.

From this phenomenon, outsider or “real people” music began to take shape.

No longer was it just professional musicians in mega studios making records, now your normal, everyday person could commit their voice to tape and have something to show for it.

And speaking of normal everyday people, it doesn’t get much more normal and everyday than the unintentionally wild world of Song-Poems.

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Although not technically 100% outsider, these recordings have gained notoriety with collectors, in large part, due to the often-bizarre lyrical content and early crowd-sourced model of production.

Also referred to as “song sharking,” the song-poem racket was conceived to make money off of unsuspecting industry outsiders, promising fame and riches to anyone who could put pen to paper, and form (for the most part) a cohesive thought.

Starting in the 1950’s, and continuing on viably into the 80’s, song-poem record labels such as Preview and MSR ran advertisements in magazines, comic books, and newspapers urging readers to send in original poems to be evaluated for possible distribution.

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These labels would claim that if your poem was “good enough,” it would then be recorded by “professional musicians” for a fee, and that your now “song” would be pressed to vinyl, sent out to important industry executives and radio stations, and have a chance to hit the big time.

Of course, no one but the song-poem labels profited from this hustle.

Poor, everyday people like T.R. Wingate, Sylvia Catania, and Rudolph Bastian were left with only souvenir pressings of the LP their song made it on, and dreams of what might have been.

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Two pristine examples of song-poem lunacy turned up last week at a thrift store in our neighborhood.

Released in 1981 on Hollywood, California’s MSR label; the LP’s “Country Music" and “Songs Of Christmas” both deliver the goods when it comes to the bizarre end of the musical spectrum.

Compositions such as “The Deer With The Golden Antlers,” and “We Are Going To Roller Skate” written by someone who could be your grandmother or great uncle serve to remind us that beauty is truly always in the eye of the beholder.

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Jeffrey David Harvey is a former NPR music producer and on-air personality for affiliate KCUR 89.3 FM in Kansas City, MIssouri. He’s a musician, music historian and lifelong record collector. He currently lives in Los Angeles where the crate diggins’ are slim but the weather is great.

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