Pipes of Peace

What can we say about Liberace that has not been said before? Not much, to be honest. The saccharine-sweet ivory tinkler is a bit much for me, fascinating though he is/was. But he's one of those artists that keep on popping up on my radar, and yet in the more than 11 years that I've been writing this blog I've yet to 'do' him, as it were.

So, allow me to make amends with his hateful 1959 B-side Let There Be Peace On Earth And Let It Begin With Me.

Issued in Britain as the flip to his instrumental version of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic You'll Never Walk Alone, the release followed a turbulent few years for Wladziu Valentino Liberace (known to his family and friends as Lee), who made his first recordings in 1946.

Revered as one of the world’s greatest entertainers, his enormous success relied on his position as America’s non-threatening, asexual ‘mama’s boy’, and his low-brow popularisation of high-brow music would never have happened if his audience – including the 35 million that regularly tuned in to watch him on TV - had seen him as anything other than sexless. 

In 1956 an article in the British newspaper The Daily Mirror (by columnist William Connor, writing under the pen name Cassandra) described Liberace as ‘the summit of sex - the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Everything that he, she, and it can ever want… a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love’. Liberace, at the time the highest paid entertainer in the world, sent a tongue-in-cheek telegram to the Daily Mirror that read: ‘what you said hurt me very much. I cried all the way to the bank’, although he would later sue the newspaper for libel, testifying in a London court that he was not homosexual and that he had never taken part in homosexual acts. 

Lee testified that, at a performance in Sheffield, ‘there were cries from the audience of “queer” and such things as “go home, queer”,’ which upset him ‘very much, and it upset the audience too.’ He won the suit, perjuring himself in the process, and the £8,000 damages he received led Liberace to repeat his new ‘I cried all the way to the bank’ catchphrase to reporters.

The Daily Mirror was not the only publication prepared to take a pop: the headline in the July 1957 issue of the US magazine Confidential trumpeted that ‘Liberace’s Theme Song Should Be “Mad About the Boy”!’ Liberace also sued Confidential, this time filing a $20-million libel suit and telling the press that ‘this story is a damn lie and I’m damned mad. If it takes every nickel I’ve got I’ll guarantee it will never happen to anyone else as long as I live. All of us take a certain amount of kidding about ourselves and our work, but when they come out in print and tell such lies, I’m going to move. It’s real heartbreak to see your life’s work destroyed so viciously by a magazine in an article of this kind. It’s a lie. It’s trash.’

Lee kept up the pretense to the end, even after his former chauffeur and lover Scott Thorson filed a $113 million lawsuit against him (in the first same-sex palimony case in the US), he denied any kind of homosexual involvement. In December 1986, less than two months before he died, Liberace settled the case for $95,000. The week after his death (on February 4, 1987) the Daily Mirror made a half-hearted attempt to recover the money from his estate, running the headline ‘Any Chance of a Refund’. 

Let There Be Peace On Earth And Let It Begin With Me is a rarity in the Liberace canon, in that it contains a vocal performance by the pianist. Lee would flex his larynx on occasion, but the results were always pretty dire... and never more so than this. The song, incidentally, was composed in 1955 for the International Children's Choir: it has since been covered by dozens of artists, including country singer Vince Gill and Carlos Santana.

Here are both sides of the 45.

Enjoy!

Download PEACE here

Download WALK here

Touched By the Hand of Cicciolina

Today's post was inspired by the rather wonderful Mr. Weird and Wacky. Blame him!

Immortalised by Pop Will Eat Itself (and Eurotrash), Elena Anna “Ilona” Staller – Cicciolina – is a former member of the Italian parliament, former actress, former porn star… and former disco singer.

Born in Hungary, if her ‘official’ biography is to be believed in 1964 (at the age of 13!) she began working as a model and, later, spy, passing information about American diplomats on to the Hungarian authorities. Soon she met and married Salvatore Martini and moved to Italy.

It was there that she met pornographer Riccardo Schicchi and adopted the name Cicciolina. Her first starring role was in the 1975 softcore lesbian romp La liceale (The Teasers) and, in 1978, the same year that she began her recording career, she became the first woman to bare her breasts live on Italian TV. By 1983 she had moved into producing her own hardcore movies, and this was followed by a tell-all book, The Erotic Confessions of Cicciolina, and an appearance on the cover of Playboy (the first of many).

Her political ambitions began in 1979, when Ilona stood as a candidate for Italy’s Green party. In 1985, she switched to the Partito Radicale, campaigning against nuclear energy and NATO membership, as well as for human rights. She was elected to the Italian parliament in 1987, the same year that she released her most infamous song, Muscolo Rosso, a paean to the penis. While in office, and before the outset of the Gulf War, she offered to have sex with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in return for peace in the region. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she was not re-elected at the end of her term in 1991.

Having gone ‘legit’, in more recent years she has appeared in the film Replikator and had a role in the Brazilian soap opera Xica da Silva. In 2008, she was a contestant on the Argentine version of Strictly Come Dancing.

Here are both sides of her 1979 disco single, a cover of Lief Garret’s I Was Made For Dancin’ and Save The Last Dance For Me, originally a hit for the Drifters.

Enjoy!

Download Dancin' HERE



Download Dance HERE

It's Time To Swing 'n' Slim

Who doesn’t love a good advertising record?

Trimettes, which enjoyed their heyday around 1963/64 were biscuits, available in three flavours, lemon & Chocolate, Orange or Cheese, which dieters were expected to use as a meal replacement – a proto Slim Fast bar, if you like. They came in packs of 12, which represented three meals: it was suggested by the manufacturers that for rapid weight loss you replace every meal with your four biscuit allowance and a glass of milk and, one you had achieved the desired weight, you could then maintain your figure by replacing just one meal a day with Trimettes biscuits.

Established to compete in the burgeoning slimmer’s market with Limmits, a similar meal replacement biscuit that had been around since the middle of 1961, Trimettes were manufactured by Universal Laboratories of Folkestone, Kent, who also made Daxaids, an indigestion medicine, Soothe chilblain cream, and Dascote cold and flu remedy as well as countless other ‘over the counter’ medicines.

Not exactly sensible, the biscuits’ main ingredient was sodium carboxymethyl cellulose, a thickener derived from wood pulp that is still used today in diet foods and in everything from paint to laundry detergent. Yum! By the early 1970s the range had increased to include fruit shortbread biscuits, chocolate fingers, lemon crisps and other tasty treats

Anyway, like a lot of other slimming aid manufacturers (Energen crispbread, for example) the good people behind Trimettes decided to produce a keep fit record, to encourage their loyal customers to add a few aerobic exercises into their diet regime. Sadly the disc, which came in a groovy fold-out cover featuring illustrations and directions for each of the exercises, gives away very few clues as to who was involved, although judging from the catalogue number it's clear that it was manufactured by CBS Special Products around 1965.

I know I know the narrator’s voice, I just can’t put my finger on his name. It’s almost definitely a pirate radio DJ. But what we do know is that the fantastic background music on Trimettes Swing ‘n’ Slim came from the Chappell music library, and features such now-revered composers as John Hawksworth and Jack Dorsey.

Here are both sides of this wonderful slice of 60s kitsch. Enjoy!

Download Side One HERE


Download Side Two HERE

Witches Brouhaha

Janie Jones, I hear you say. Where do I know that name from? Didn’t the Clash have a song called Janie Jones?

Yes they did, and this is the very Janie Jones they sang about, and who they – and a couple of members of the Blockheads - would later join forces with under the name Janie Jones and the Lash for the single House of the Ju-Ju Queen.

Born in 1941 in Seaham, County Durham as Marion Mitchell, Janie Jones has had a colourful career, at one time vying with Cynthia Payne as Britain’s most notorious madame. She started out as a clog dancer, winning championships in County Durham before becoming a cabaret artist in late 1950s London. It was then that she began to get herself in trouble.

In 1956 she was given 12 months’ probation for shoplifting, and in 1957 she was jailed for nine months for trying to smuggle a hacksaw in to prison. The following year she was fined £50 for allowing her home to be used “for the purpose of habitual prostitution.” She performed at the Windmill Theatre and reached notoriety in August 1964, when she attended the film premiere of London in the Raw wearing a topless dress.

Shortly afterwards Janie embarked on a career as a pop singer. Issued in November 1965, her debut single, the cackling novelty number Witches Brew, peaked at number 46 in the UK Singles Chart in 1966, despite one reviewer reporting that “the bubbling cauldron sounds more like a washing machine in full spate.” Later the same year that she was at the centre of an S&M vice scandal, and was charged with attempting to blackmail one of her clients for £2,450. After a lengthy trial Janie was acquitted, but just over a fortnight later – while she was performing in cabaret at the Astor in Berkeley Square (with Jack Hammer, author of Down In the Subway) she was arrested again, this time charged with running a brothel from her flat in Kensington Park Gardens. In May 1967 she was found not guilty.

It’s hardly surprising, given the notoriety Janie attracted, that subsequent releases failed to chart, despite her appearances on television programmes including Thank Your Lucky Stars and the Mike and Bernie Winters show. After a few years out of the spotlight she hit the headlines again after holding sex parties at her home, and in April 1974 was jailed for seven years for running what the papers of the day referred to as “a VIPs vice racket.” Janie was released on parole in 1977, the same year that The Clash sang about her on their debut LP. Five years later they returned the favour, backing Janie on the 1983 single House of the Ju-Ju Queen.

Here are both sides of her debut 45, Witches Brew and Take-a My Tip, plus the A-side to her third single, the ridiculously fun Tickle Me Tootsie Wootsies. You can find out more about Janie's colourful career at http://janiejones.info

Enjoy!

Download Witches HERE

Download Take-a HERE

Download Tickle HERE