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Thursday, December 1, 2016

THE WORST RECORD ALBUM EVER SOLD

It was around two decades ago.  I was in Naha, Okinawa.  I strolled into a music store and asked if they sold a CD of old Okinawa songs.  I was particularly interested in the period soon after World War II, for I already had quite a collection, featuring original 78s (rotations/minute) of Misora Hibari (left) when she was young and the like.  (Listen to the final song Hibari recorded in 1989, who passed away soon after the release of Kawa No Nagare No You Ni, said to be the most popular song of all time in Japan.)

With high expectation, for I had paid $48 for two CDs, when I came home I played one of them.  When you're in a foreign country and don't speak the language, things can go wrong.  Somehow, the shop person thought I wanted music of prehistoric Okinawa.  The part about post World War II did not register.  I bought two CDs of almost constant wailing, with what sounded like a drum beat every so often.  $48!!!   These might qualify as the worst record album ever sold.

However, where I'm leading to is that incomparable musical couple, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards.  One of my Stanford roommates had an album of them, and when you listen to Cocktails for Two, or, It's Magic, surely, you say, these must be the worst ever.

Camply, it all began when Paul Weston, noted conductor and arranger, in the mid-50's entertained guests at Hollywood parties playing a piano off-key now and then to balance the prevailing supercilious attitudes.  In 1956 at a sales convention, Weston provided his rendition of Stardust.  Columbia executives encouraged him to record an album of similar melodies.  George Avakian, inspired by pianist Roger Williams sharing a name with a theologian, suggested Weston take on the name of Jonathan Edwards, a Calvinist preacher from the 1700s.  He agreed, but worried that he might not have enough material, so invited his wife, Jo Stafford, to help.  

They worked together in the 1930s, and when she was with The Pied Pipers (eight singers, including John Huddleston, her first husband) in the 40's backed with Weston's orchestra.  The Pied Pipers (then down to four) toured with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and Frank Sinatra, providing back-vocals for his I'll Never Smile Again and There Are Such Things.  In those days she was overweight.  Capitol Records formed in 1942 with Weston as music director and Stafford as their first soloist.  He convinced her to lose weight.  They finally got married in 1952.  

She had already recorded a few comedy songs under the name of Cinderella G. Stump.  Born in 1917,    she was the second cousin of World War I hero Sergeant Alvin York.  Stafford trained in classic opera, but gravitated into pop.  Her 1952 song You Belong to Me topped the charts in the country.  She went on to record a series of hits:  Jambalaya, Shrimp Boats, Make Love to Me and You Belong to Me.  The latter in 1952 became the first song to hit #1 in the United Kingdom, and remained #1 in the U.S. for 24 weeks.

With all the above as background, The Piano Artistry of Jonathan Artistry was released in 1957, claiming the couple to be a New Jersey lounge act.  The primary speculation was that the Harry and Margaret Truman were the performers.  A TIME article revealed the truth, and the worst record in history gained an audience.  Jonathan and Darlene Edwards in Paris came out in 1960, winning a GRAMMY for Best Comedy Album, Stafford's only major award.

They had a renaissance in 1977, releasing Stayin' Alive and I Am Women, with The New Carioca as the closing theme to The Kentucky Fried Movie.  Tomorrow, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO...

It's getting repetitious, but the Dow Jones Industrial Average again broke its all-time high, up 68 to 19,192.



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