Death and Disaster, Tommy Dee Style

A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to the delights of Tommy Dee, the stentorial DJ who cut more than a dozen ridiculous records for various labels during his career, several of which dealt with the deaths of musicians. Well, thanks to popular demand, we’re revisiting Tommy today, specifically to have a look at another of his specialities, the patriotic pop song.

There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere/The Hobo and the Puppy (Challenge 612) was issued on 1960, just a year after Tommy’s only hit, Three Stars. There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere tells the story of Francis Gary Powers – usually referred to as Gary Powers –an American pilot who was shot down while flying a U-2 spy plane for the CIA in Soviet Union airspace. The former USAF U-2 was equipped with a state-of-the-art camera designed to take high-resolution photos from the edge of the stratosphere over hostile countries, including the Soviet Union; Power’s mission was to photograph military installations and other important sites.

He was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Sverdlovsk. Powers was captured and taken to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow. When the U.S. government learned of Powers' disappearance they issued a cover statement claiming a ‘weather plane’ had strayed off course after its pilot had ‘difficulties with his oxygen equipment’. CIA officials did not know that the plane crashed almost fully intact, and the Soviets recovered its equipment. Powers was interrogated extensively by the KGB for months before he made a confession and a public apology for his part in espionage. His trial began on August 17 1960, before the military division of the Supreme Court of the USSR. Members of his family were present, as were attorneys provided by the CIA. Two days later Powers was convicted of espionage and sentenced to ten years confinement, three in prison, the remainder in a labour camp. On February 10 1962, Powers was exchanged, along with American student Frederic Pryor, in a well-publicised spy swap at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. The exchange was for Soviet KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher, known as Rudolf Abel, who had been caught by the FBI and tried and jailed for espionage.

Powers died in August 1977. He had been working as a helicopter traffic pilot reporter for KNBC News Channel 4 when he was forced to make an emergency landing as the helicopter was running out of fuel. As he descended he noticed children playing in the area, and directed the helicopter elsewhere to avoid landing on them. If not for the last-second deviation he might have landed safely. The ‘copter crashed and Powers died instantly.

Our next disc was released by Tommy in February 1967. Roger, Ed And Gus (America's Astronaut Heroes) is a tribute to the astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who had been killed during testing for the Apollo 1 mission at Cape Kennedy, Florida. The men died after fire swept through the spacecraft, designed for a manned flight to the Moon. It was thought an electrical spark started in the area holding oxygen supplies and other support systems which quickly spread in the oxygen-filled atmosphere of the capsule, killing the crew within seconds.

The autopsy report confirmed that the primary cause of death for all three astronauts was cardiac arrest caused by high concentrations of carbon monoxide. The third degree burns suffered by the crew were not believed to be major factors, and it was concluded that most of those had occurred postmortem. Asphyxiation happened after the fire melted the astronauts' suits and oxygen tubes, exposing them to the lethal atmosphere of the cabin. An Apollo 1 mission patch was left on the Moon's surface by Apollo 11 crew members Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and the Apollo 15 mission left a tiny memorial statue, Fallen Astronaut, on the surface of the Moon along with a plaque containing the names of the Apollo 1 astronauts.

Blimey, our Tommy sure knew how to pick ‘em!

I have also included the B-side, School For Fools, a rarity in as much as (instead of simply narrating) Tommy attempts to sing, affecting a not unpleasant Johnny Cash-like lilt.


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