Bob Johnston – who famously produced Dylan‘s Highway 65 Revisited & Blonde on Blonde and Johnny Cash‘s Folsom Prison, among many other classic albums – left us last August. How startling to discover that Johnston used Nashville’s finest session musicians in 1966 to record a “dazzling anti-masterpiece” (as notes AllMusic’s Mark Deming) that delighted in “punking” the pop radio hits of the day – a Columbia release with the comically bloated title, Moldy Goldies: Colonel Jubilation B. Johnston And His Mystic Knights Band And Street Singers Attack The Hits.
Sean Wilentz, in Bob Dylan in America, would deem it “one of the most obscure rock albums of the 1960s.” Nashville Cream, in a 2012 interview with Johnston, would describe the album as, “superbly demented.”
Check out the vaguely Sgt.Pepper-inspired album cover:
And yet this album was released in 1966 – prior to Pepper!
Listen as Bob and the boys deconstruct Shirley Ellis’s “The Name Game” to hilarious effect (this will require, unfortunately, that you manually drag the “progress bar” all the way to the 25:35 point — very last song on the album). Try not to laugh when Johnston starts to lose it:
Bob Johnston’s entire ‘Moldy goldies/Colonel Jubilation’ album
Leader: Colonel Jubilation B. Johnston Bass: Henry “Big Irish” Strzelecki Drums: Kenneth “Sledgehammer” Buttrey Tambourine: Durl Glin, Kenneth “Sledgehammer” Buttrey Guitar: Charlie “Bugs” McCoy, One-Finger Mac Gayden Upright Piano: Hargus “Pig” Robbins Player Piano: Jerry Smith Harmonica: Charlie “Bugs” McCoy, Henry “Big Irish” Strzelecki Trombone: Wayne “Tailgate” Butler Trumpet: Charlie “Bugs” McCoy*, “Taps” Tidwell Violin: Brenton “Ping-Pong” Banks Vocals: Durl Glin, Princess La Mar Fike, Mortuary Thomasson, Tommy “Mole” Hill Vocals: [Swamp Women] – Incomparable R. Lean, Luscious Norma Jean Owen Producer: Bob Johnston Engineer: Mortuary Thomasson
In 1969 Columbia Special Products teamed up with the United Nations in order to help save the world’s refugee population using the proceeds from sales of star-studded hits collection, World Star Festival. Interestingly, this musical arts venture in humanitarianism predates by nearly two years George Harrison’s groundbreaking benefit concert for the refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in August 1971.
“Although the final results of the sales of the new long-playing record World Star Festival were not yet available since sales were still continuing, it was already clear that this record would yield substantial profits for refugee assistance. In this connexion, the High Commissioner emphasized the importance of Governments waiving taxes and duties on the record. A full report on the subject would be submitted to the Committee at its next session.”
One of the top tunes on World Star Festival, “The Singer Sang His Song,” is a Bee Gees contribution that was part of a ‘double A-side’ – paired with “Jumbo” – that was originally released March 1968 (and available only on vinyl until 1990):
The Singer Sang His Song – Bee Gees
[Pssst: Click the triangle above to play “The Singer Sang His Song” by The Bee Gees.]
Only in the UK,curiously, was this song listed as the A-side — otherwise, in the US, Canada, Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Singapore & Japan, “Jumbo” was the A-side.
Each artist’s recording on World Star Festival (it later became clear to me) was shortened or altered in some way – presumably as a precondition for release in order to help facilitate participation among these top pop artists. This realization really hit home once I had become intimately familiar with the World Star Festival version of “The Singer Sang His Song” – and then happened to hear the song’s original full-length mix on YouTube:
Moral of the story:
World Star Festival‘s short version brilliantly leaves the listener wanting more, while the full-length version with the additional minute of extended coda overstays its welcome, one could argue.
Afterword – from the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme
The Executive Committee,
(1) Noted with satisfaction that considerable progress had been made in the sale of the new long-playing record World Star Festival and that representatives of other United Nations agencies and of non-governmental organizations had contributed to these results;
(2) Expressed appreciation for the fact that a number of Governments had seen fit to waive taxes and import duties on the new record, or had agreed to the remission of such impositions, as recommended by the Committee in its earlier decision on the subject;
(3) Urged Governments which had not yet done so, to consider favourably the remission or refund of duties and taxes collected on the dale of World Star Festival.
I cannot imagine why anyone would let this album go, but someone obviously did, and five dollars later, we became family:
The album’s subtitle is a bit of a hoot: “country & western supper music and singing rice-ipes” (as in recipes for rice). Would you be surprised to learn that this album is yet another “Columbia Special Product” – in this case, CBS Records teaming up with the fine folks at Riviana’s Brands to market rice more effectively to American women and help counter public perception among down-home Americans that rice is “difficult to cook”?
According to the press release that came with my particular copy of Nashville Chowdown: “The singing rice-ipe was first used a year ago (1969) in radio spots in the New York Metropolitan area for Carolina Rice … In collaboration with Riviana’s home economist, Mrs. Judy Youngblood, the agency submitted musical ideas for ‘singing rice-ipes’: bossa nova for a Latin American rice dish; Caribbean, Hawaiian, Hindu and Country & Western for their special dishes. Mrs. Youngblood then developed a recipe, copywriter Mike Hale wrote lyrics, and Arnold Brown, director of recording, supervised the appropriate musical arrangements.” As of February 1970, the Carolina rice campaign was still running with singer, Blossom Dearie, the voice on all these spots – chosen “because of her versatility in different styles and her exceptional annunciation.”
Back when this musical ad campaign took place, $1.50 and proof-of-purchase from any Riviana rice product got you this “doubly unusual” musical package: one 10-song LP of hits from many of the biggest country artists in the Columbia stable (Lefty Frizzell, Flatt & Scruggs, Ray Price, Marty Robbins, Jimmy Dickens, Jimmy Dean); one 7″ flexi-disc record that contains 7 singing rice-ipes (including such dishes as Houston Hash, Hopping John, and Blue Ridge Flap-Jacks); plus one double-sided document listing the actual recipes for each of the 7 flexi-disc selections on one side with song lyrics to the singing rice-ipes on the the other (“Houston Hash,” as it turns out, is a truck driving song). And, if you’re lucky like I was, you might also end up with a 4-page strategy document put together by Biderman Associates on behalf of Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, who “conceived, produced and designed” this “full-scale record promotion … a real first in the industry”:
One song on the “supper music” LP does seem to steal the show – The Carter Family‘s upbeat and fresh arrangement of The Man in Black’s “I Walk the Line,” first released as a single in 1966:
“I Walk the Line” The Carter Family 1966
Also for your enjoyment is the singing rice-ipe for “Houston Hash” from the flexi-disc — keep in mind that you will need to add 1 tsp. of chili powder plus salt & pepper when you add the can of tomatoes and 1 cup of rice to your green pepper, onion and ground beef saute:
Houston Hash – Riviana All-Stars
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play “Houston Hash” by The Riviana All-Stars]
Bonus recipe for Hopping John:
1 cup dried black-eyed peas; 1/4 lb. (4 slices) smoked bacon; 1 medium onion (chopped); 3/4 cup chopped celery; 1 small bay leaf; 2-3 cups of water; 1/4 tsp. pepper; 1/2 tsp. salt; 1 cup uncooked rice.
In saucepan, combine all ingredients except rice. Simmer until peas are tender (1-2 hours). Meanwhile, cook rice as package directs. Combine cooked peas, cooked rice, and some of the liquid from peas. Simmer several minutes to blend flavors. Makes 6-8 servings.
I picked up a flexi-disc at the local thrift store, just like the ones kids used to cut out of the back of cereal boxes back when “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies was burning up the charts (click here for a discography of “cereal box records” by those tireless scholars at Bubblegum University). Except this flexi-disc came pre-cut. And it likely was among the first pop recordings to be included as part of the packaging of a baby doll – in this case, Mattel’s head-swiveling life of the party, Swingy [TV ad].
Not a bad tune for bubblegum, I have to admit, and it features some nifty 12-string fingerpicking in the bridge. But for some unfathomable reason, the song nearly clocks in at 5 minutes – twice the length it should have been. Fortunately, I have mixed a 2:15 version of this recording that better suits the attention span of the desired demographic for this product:
Swingy – The Mattel All-Stars
[Note: Click on the triangle above to play the “Swingy” flexi-disc recording.]
But wait – there’s more to the story. “Swingy,” the song, as one astute YouTube observer points out, is a faithful remake of Paul Revere & the Raiders’ “Mr. Sun Mr. Moon” (#18 pop hit in March 1969) on Columbia – albeit with a new lyrical concept. No wonder the flexi-disc says “Columbia Special Products” on the label: CBS Records creatively leveraging its musical assets to tap new markets – i.e., preschool rockers.