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April 18, 2005

Music to make your ears bleed. Bette Davis! William Shatner!

I just polished off this book:


It's called Hollywood Hi-Fi and describes "over 100 of the most outrageous celebrity recordings ever." There is a sad trend in Hollywood that makes film stars suddenly go nuts and think they can sing. What we have in Hollywood Hi-Fi is a collection of stars who were at the height of their popularity (and arrogance, no doubt) and looked to cash in by cutting an album, completely ignoring the important fact that they had no actual singing skills.

I should have suspected something when the book was given to me by a Professor of Church History.

This collection of truly regrettable recordings includes descriptions of albums cut by Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Sylvester Stallone, Telly Savalas, Buddy Hackett (yes!), Boris Karloff, Clint Eastwood, President John F. Kennedy, Fabio and Hugh Downs.

The authors, however, save their most blistering reviews for two stars of horrific sound recording: William Shatner and Bette Davis.

Long-time Popping Culture readers will remember a contest held here once where points were awarded for sitting through the video of Shatner reading/singing/performing/defacing Elton John's "Rocket Man." Sadly, the link no longer works and I can only find audio links. The mind-scrambling effect is lost if you can SEE Shatner split into three Shatners and demolish the timeless classic in stereo.

The beauty of Hollywood Hi-Fi is in it's descriptions of bad singing, so let me treat you to the high points from the chapters on Shatner and Davis:

On Shatner's "The Transformed Man":

"'The Transformed Man' is an ego trip of intergalactic dimensions."

"'MR. TAMBOURINE MAAAAAAN!!!' he bellows, in the identical line reading he used for his famous riposte from Star Trek II: 'KHAAAAAAN!!!'"

"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."

"We must give our coveted Hubris Award to the duo '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."

As bad as all that sounds, the authors take a special delight in the musical mis-stylings of Bette Davis. I hesitate to even try and imagine what her singing voice must sound like on "Two's Company," the album that garners the most abuse, but it must be truly horrific because the critics just wipe the floor with Davis over three full pages, more than any other "singer" earns.

Some excerpts from their review of Bette Davis as a songstress:

"Bette Davis was a glorious combination of everything we look for in an artist: a famous name in a field completely unrelated to music, an astonishingly awful singing voice, a weakness for tackling the most outlandishly inappropriate material, and the type of elephantine Hollywood ego that made her truly believe she could do anything and woe to any peon who told her otherwise."

"It's called 'Life Is A Lonely Thing' and you will be, too, if you play it for your friends."

"She declared, 'They haven't had a hit in a long time, and if they could have done "Charlotte" with me, it would have been the biggest hit IN THE WORLD!' Bette Davis always insisted that her bizarre singles would be massive hits, although none ever were. To find out why, pick up the compilation LP 'Bette Davis Sings.' It is highly recommended for Davis fans, drag queens, or anyone who is seeking a nonchemical way to peel paint."

"Ignoring her many advisors' warnings, Bette agreed to do it because she hoped to show the world she had talents beyond being the grande dame of cinematic bitchery: 'The New Bette Davis! She yodels! She jumps about to music!'"

"Vernon Duke later said of his beloved ingenue, 'Bette had four notes to her voice, all of them bad,' and he wasn't kidding."

"One critic claimed that Bette in her Sadie getup reminded him of a female impersonator."

"Critic Walter Kerr assessed Bette's musical debut quite succinctly when he wrote, 'It's a lot like listening to Beethoven's Fifth played on a pocket comb. You marvel that it can be done at all. And five minutes is about enough of it.'"

"According to biographer James Spada, during one rehearsal, her understudy tried to compliment her by saying that she had done a song 'just like Rex Harrison,' and Bette snapped, 'Don't be silly! Rex Harrison can't sing!' She also couldn't remember her lines or lyrics, at one performance turning to the orchestra leader in mid-song and demanding, 'Where the hell am I?'"

Pure gold. And I've only been able to give you the very tip of the iceberg.

My only complaint about this collection/coffee table book/discussion starter (may God have mercy on your soul if you use it as a reference book), is that I can't actually HEAR some of these dismal tunes. They paint such an ugly picture that it's a shame not to be able to actually listen along.

Posted by Dan at April 18, 2005 09:04 AM

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Ever heard "She's got Bette Davis eyes"? Can't remember who sang that but it's in my pantheon of horrific songs. They must have been attempting to capture that Davis mystique.

In regards to Hollywood meets music, who could forget Frank Zappa and the Monkees in that blockbuster musical/cinematic blockbuster they made? It made "Help" look lame. Oh wait, "Help" was lame.

It bears repeating, the worst song known to man is "McAuthurs Park". A Harrison of some sort recorded that.

Posted by: Ralph at April 18, 2005 11:03 AM

Beethoven's Fifth on a pocket comb!


Posted by: Ara at April 19, 2005 07:03 AM

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