All material copyright 1995-2007 by Pat Reeder & George Gimarc. All rights reserved.
A "song-sayer" in the tradition of William Shatner or Telly
Savalas, Hollywood's favorite all-purpose swarthy foreigner
ruminates on life and love over the swirling strings of the
Harold Spina Orchestra. But this is no simple set of love
song recitations, as you might surmise from the cover shot of
Quinn's pugnacious glower. No, this is a genuine reflection
of Quinn himself, which means the songs are all from the
viewpoint of a crude, middle-aged, Archie Bunkeresque lug
who wants to tell all us whippersnappers what "love" really is.
And what, pray tell, does "love" mean to Zorba the Creep? In one typically romantic track, Quinn shows us
that there's a world of difference between being earthy and just being a clod, as he grunts to his
long-suffering wife, "When I first met you, uh, I don't know that I 'fell in love'...I'm not even sure that I love ya
now...I only know that with you, I'm, uh...I'm comfortable...You're a headache I can put up with...I don't mind
seein' ya in the morning with those whatchamajigs in your hair...I don't even mind at bedtime when you take
off that girdle, and you yawn, and you, uh...scratch yourself...In fact, I, uh...kinda like it!"
As his wife goes to fetch the rolling pin, let us tiptoe quietly away. Still, if your girlfriend gets hot and horny
while watching Tony Soprano argue with his wife, then light some candles, pour some Gallo, and slip this LP
onto the Magnavox. We guarantee you'll be in for some rough lovin' tonight.
The Hollywood Hi-Fi book contains over 120 of our favorite celebrity
records, with full descriptions, histories and photos. They range from the
surprisingly good to the astoundingly, hilariously awful.
We love them all in their own unique ways, just as one can
love a child who is quarterback of the football team while also
being inexplicably fond of one's klutzy, tonedeaf child, who is
nevertheless still good for a few laughs.
Many of the records in the book are obscure surprises
awaiting rediscovery, but there are a handful of celebrity
singers whose recordings live in infamy as veritable
Pearl Harbor Attacks of aural humiliation. Here are
five of the most egregious examples that we place
The Hollywood Hi-Fi
Hall of Fame!
|This album is - shock of shocks! - out of print. But click on the title, and you can
hear a clip from "What Is Love" at Amazon's page for the Hollywood Hi-Fi CD!
By Pat Reeder & George Gimarc
Aristotle “Telly” Savalas was certainly an odd candidate for
a male sex symbol. Born in Garden City, New York, in
1924, he attended Columbia University, received a Purple
Heart as a G.I. in World War II, and became a director for
ABC News. He didn’t start acting until he was almost forty,
and his menacing looks, accentuated by shaving his head
to avoid male pattern baldness, typecast him as a creepy
villain in dozens of movie and TV dramas.
Then, in 1973, he starred as Detective Theo Kojak in the made-for-TV movie The Marcus Nelson Murders,
and the riotous critical and popular acclaim led to a Kojak series. Overnight, a forty-nine-year-old star was
Men enjoyed Kojak’s taut writing, realistic police drama, and heavy doses of violence. But judging by the
torrents of perfumed fan mail, it was apparent that women were watching for an entirely different reason.
They were attracted to Kojak’s macho attitude, softened by his sense of humor and omnipresent lollipop (he
claimed he was trying to quit smoking, but maybe he really had an exciting oral fixation). They admired his
snazzy suits that no real cop could afford. They even found his shaved head sexy, either because it made
him the only man in the 1970s who didn’t have a horrendous hairdo or because it made him look just like a
six-foot penis. But most of all, women swooned over his voice, a deep, gruff growl that could make even
smarmy catchphrases such as “Who loves ya, baby?” sound irresistibly seductive. Enter MCA.
On the back cover of this LP, Telly, Savalas quite honestly admits that “singing is not my bag.” Instead, his
“bag” (as the hip kids say) is to offer “dramatic interpretations” of “how Telly feels about this or that song.”
He says, “I can only make mistakes by pretending to be a great singer.” This is one mistake he does not
make, for on the handful of tracks where he actually takes a stab at singing (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’
Feeling,” the Beatles’ “Something”), it’s the kind of stabbing they used to call on Kojak to investigate.
Telly’s singing voice is just flat enough, just monotonous and undynamic enough, so that it doesn’t quite
reach the level of “mediocre,” yet it isn’t horrible enough to be truly entertaining. Still, none of that mattered:
Women bought this record for Telly’s romantic recitations, such as the hit single “If” (the old Bread tune), on
which he simply reads the lyrics in his trademarked growl, to orchestral accompaniment. That, and for the
cover photo, showing Telly striking a seductive pose in an open disco shirt and gold chains, his Armani
jacket draped over his shoulders like Don Juan’s cape.
Snicker if you will, but this album turned the lollipop-licking Lothario into a “singing” star, sold boatloads of
copies, brought Telly a $100,000-a-week contract as a Las Vegas headliner, and led to a series of popular
albums, including the inevitable Who Loves Ya, Baby? (1976). It also helped pave the way for a whole new
generation of follicularly challenged male sex symbols, from Patrick Stewart to Bruce Willis.
|"Telly" is out of print, but click on the title to see if any old LPs are available.
The most notorious poster boy for fall-down-funny celebrity singing
is William Shatner. As we wrote this book, everyone we interviewed
asked the same question: “Oooh, is Shatner in it?!” His over-the-top
vocals were the highlights of Rhino’s Golden Throats series and
became running gags during his many talk show appearances. The
astounding thing about his towering reputation in the singing field is
that for 30 years, it rested entirely on one obscure album, The
Transformed Man, which contains a scant four songs...but each
one hits with the impact of a phaser set on “Stun.”
The Transformed Man is an ego trip of intergalactic dimensions, a pompous “concept album” containing
Shatner’s “dramatic readings” of song lyrics and passages from poems and classic plays, all set to bombastic
music. Cuts are sequenced in pairs, to reflect opposite perspectives on the same subject (and to demonstrate
Shatner’s dazzling thespian range). The passage from “Cyrano” illustrating self-reliance is paired with Bob
Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” interpreted by Shatner as an anguished plea to his guru not to abandon him
(“MR. TAMBOURINE MAAAAAAN!!!” he bellows, in the identical line reading he used for his famous riposte
from Star Trek II: “KHAAAAAAN!!!”). Romeo’s declaration of innocent young love is tied to “How Insensitive,” in
which our Space Cowboy feels a twinge of guilt upon dumping his latest lover (knowing Captain Kirk, he’ll
rebound quickly). The depressing “Spleen” is followed by the “super elation” of Shatner’s infamous
evisceration of “Lucy!...IN!…The Sky!...WITH DIAMOOOONDS!!!!” He sounds like Regis Philbin on LSD.
For all of Shatner’s self-proclaimed versatility, every cut follows the same pattern: he begins in a groggy,
halting delivery, as if he’d just swallowed a whole bottle of Nytol...then gradually works up a head of steam,
until at last, he’s howling his lines at a volume that could raise an echo on the moon.
While “Tambourine Man” and “Lucy” are unarguably two of the looniest records ever unleashed, we must give
our coveted Hubris Award to “Hamlet/It Was A Very Good Year,” in which Shatner pummels both the greatest
soliloquy in the English language (Shakespeare’s “To....be...Or! Not!...TO BEEEE!”) and a signature song of
the greatest pop singer of the twentieth century, Frank Sinatra. Even Jack Benny couldn’t put this much Ham
into Hamlet. As for Sinatra, Shatner did Ol’ Blue Eyes no permanent damage, but he might cause the listener
to bust a gut. It’s a shame he didn’t also read Macbeth, since it would provide the perfect review of this album:
“A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage. A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Thanks to this album's immeasurable Cheese Quotient and his Priceline.com commercials (for which he was
reportedly paid in pre-Internet bubble burst stock, thus earning more money as a bad singer than he ever
had as a bad actor), Shatner has recently enjoyed a major second career as a "singer" with quotation marks
around the term. His 2004 album Has Been with Ben Folds actually earned critical acclaim (click to hear
samples) . But nothing will ever replace The Transformed Man in the hearts and damaged ears of celebrity
record fans across the galaxy. Despite the occasional whiff of #2, it shall forever remain #1.