Thursday, August 28, 2014

When TV Stars Sing, Part Two

Welcome back, culture lovers, to Comfort TV’s tribute to (and occasional roasting of) classic TV stars that tried to be singers. As with the previous installment we’ll dig out some long-hidden diamonds, and dig up a few other relics to mock them without mercy. If you’re late to the party, you can read Part One here.

Hogan’s Heroes
I would surmise that most of you will expect Hogan’s Heroes Sing the Best of World War II to be classified in the “what were they thinking?” file. I’d have guessed that too until I first listened to it back in 1995. But once you get past the group rendition of the series’ theme, which is not improved by a lyric (“We’re all heroes, up to our ear-oes”) this is a marvelous album, with impressive solo turns by Ivan Dixon, Robert Clary and Larry Hovis.

Dixon’s jazzy cover of “Shoo-Shoo Baby” merits stylistic comparisons to Joe Williams and Johnny Hartman. Clary puts a jubilant, Mel Torme spin on “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” and Hovis shows off an unexpectedly rich baritone on “Lili Marlene.” Richard Dawson opted for a dramatic reading, entitled “This is Worth Fighting For.” Only drawback – no Werner Klemperer-John Banner duet on “Der Fuehrer’s Face.” 

Star Trek
Here’s where it gets scary. Three original crewmembers of the Starship Enterprise boldly went into a recording studio, and two of them should have been beamed out immediately. No form of Romulan torture could be worse than The Transformed Man, a now-legendary trainwreck of a concept album recorded by William Shatner in 1968. Not content with a simple cash-in-on-Kirk record, Shatner unleashes an astonishingly pretentious treatise on man’s place in the universe, with stops along the way for bizarre covers of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” among others. Once heard, they are never forgotten.

At least Shatner learned his lesson after one attempt. Leonard Nimoy made the highly illogical decision to record five albums of his Vulcan vocalese, rarely with the same label twice, which should have told him something. His covers of “Proud Mary” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” from The New World of Leonard Nimoy, sound like 45 rpm recordings played at 33 1/3. And yet, I must admit a perverse desire to hear his single “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” added to Peter Jackson’s bloated Hobbit trilogy, if only to wake up the audience. 

Nichelle Nichols is the only Star Trek alumnus (until Brent Spiner from Next Generation) with any legitimate right to sing into a microphone. She shared a stage with Duke Ellington at the age of 16, and made numerous nightclub appearances before, during and after her time as Lt. Uhura.

Get Smart
The Get Smart soundtrack album, like those released for Mr. Ed, Flipper, Dennis the Menace and several other shows, consisted primarily of dialog snippets from the series and instrumental music. That would not merit inclusion here, were it not for Barbara Feldon’s performance of “99” and “Max.” Her speaking voice is deep and very sexy. But when she sings, it sounds like an off-key Mae West impersonator at a Vegas lounge show where they’ll waive the two-drink minimum if you promise not to leave early. 

The Odd Couple
The Odd Couple Sings, released in 1968, featured Tony Randall and Jack Klugman backed by, believe it or not, the London Festival Orchestra and Chorus. Randall’s turn-of-the-century music hall style has a certain goofball charm, but the same cannot be said of Klugman’s take on Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” “Ya prob’ly tink dis sawng is about ya,” growls Oscar to Felix, while the London Festival Orchestra and Chorus suppress a collective chuckle.

Medical Center
Apparently, the law compelling any hunky young star of a medical show to cut a record (see Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare) had not expired by the 1970s. Chad Everett took time out from making patients swoon on Medical Center to record two albums, one of which features his wooden take on the Bee Gees’ “Nights on Broadway.” Nurse, AutoTune, stat! 

The Brady Bunch
There were four Brady Bunch albums that achieved moderate sales before landing in the cut-out bin. But the series’ evolution into a cultural touchstone for the baby boomer generation prompted a “Best of” CD compilation that sold in the hundreds of thousands. Yes, I bought one. Performances range from competent (“Merry Go Round,” “Time to Change”) to dreadful (“American Pie”), but the songs that were featured in the show, especially “It’s a Sunshine Day,” will always make me smile. 

Starsky and Hutch
David Soul’s #1 hit “Don’t Give Up on Us” is one of my favorite ’70s songs. It was his only US hit, though Hutch was big business in England, where he landed 4 more songs in the top 20 including a second #1 with “Silver Lady.” Previously, he had been an unheralded opening act for bands like The Doors and The Byrds, and made several appearances on The Merv Griffin Show as “The Covered Man,” singing with a ski mask over his head to hide his identity. The gimmick didn’t get him a recording contract, but it got him a meeting with the casting director who launched his TV career on Here Come the Brides

Wonder Woman
“Toto I get the feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…”
Sound familiar? It does if you were watching TV in the ‘70s. Lynda Carter did everything she could to make her first single, “Toto (Don’t it Feel Like Paradise)” a hit. She performed it on the third season Wonder Woman episode “Amazon Hot Wax,” on her 1978 television special, and on every talk show that would have her. It didn’t work. But Carter can sing – you can see her live this October at Lincoln Center. 

The Waltons
I had never listened to (or even known about) Walton Christmas – Together Again until a few years ago, when a friend bought it on eBay. His high bid was one penny. The album was released in 1999, 18 years after the end of the series, and reunited most of the cast members and Waltons creator Earl Hamner, who once again provides a gentle voiceover introduction. Jon Walmsley (Jason) was always the most musical of the cast, and is prominently featured, but you’ll also hear songs and stories from the rest of the brood and their parents (Michael Learned and Ralph Waite). Even those with a high tolerance for corny sentiment might find it all a bit much, but during the holiday season I have caught myself humming the chorus to “Snowman Land.”

The Dukes of Hazzard
Released in 1982, the Dukes of Hazzard album has Boss Hogg (Sorrell Booke) narrating a song cycle that chronicles events surrounding a Hazzard road race. John Schneider, already in the midst of a successful country music career, performed “In the Driver’s Seat,” and Tom Wopat covered The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek.” Both of the Duke boys were and are first-rate singers – I’ve seen them both on Broadway, Schneider in Grand Hotel and Wopat in Annie Get Your Gun. Catherine Bach’s version of “Downhome American Girl” isn’t quite as polished, though our men in uniform didn’t have any complaints when she performed the song on USO tours.

Laverne & Shirley
This was just not a good idea. Laverne & Shirley Sing (1976) was the album title, and truth in advertising would have demanded a question mark at the end of that phrase. Appropriately, series stars Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams cover 1950s and ‘60s pop hits like “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “I’m Walkin’.” The first single was “Sixteen Reasons,” which pales next to the Connie Stevens version (and that’s not exactly setting the bar high). Promos proclaimed that “this is the album that 50,00,000 fans have been waiting for.” Sales, however, were so disappointing that it’s unlikely even the Big Ragu bought one. 

Charlie’s Angels
After singing on the Josie and the Pussycats record, Cheryl Ladd parlayed her Charlie’s Angels fame into a brief recording career that was bigger in Japan than it was here. “Think it Over” from her first album barely scratched the top 40 (it peaked at #34 in 1978). But just look at that album cover. 

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