2007   JUNE 7   #158

Radio Specials: Telly Savalas / Burt Reynolds

1975 Audio Fidelity Records, Produced by Fred Robbins
01. Side A, Band #1 (7:24)
02. Side A, Band #2 (7:04)
03. Side B, Band #1 (8:05)
04. Side B, Band #2 (6:08)
05. Side B, Band #3 (0:49)
06. Side B, Band #4 (0:40)
07. Side B, Band #5 (1:08)

1973 Mercury Records, Produced by Fred Robbins
08. Side A, Band #1, Music: A ROOM FOR A BOY NEVER USED (4:30)
09. Side A, Band #2, Music: SHE'S TAKEN A GENTLE LOVER (9:27)
10. Side A, Band #3, Music: TILL I GET IT RIGHT (6:24)
11. Side B, Band #1, Music: THE FIRST ONE I LAY WITH and (reprise) A ROOM FOR A BOY NEVER USED (9:06)
12. Side B, Band #2, QUICK QUOTES (1:19)
13. Side B, Band #3, QUICK QUOTES (0:55)
14. Side B, Band #4, QUICK QUOTES (1:02)

These are records sent to radio stations with enclosed scripts so that DJs could pretend to be doing a live interview. I can't see how such a process would EVER come off smoothly, and I'd love to hear some sample broadcasts of the fake interviews. Here's 2 Radio Interview records that are revealing and enjoyable: Telly Savalas and Burt Reynolds!

Telly Savalas, here promoting his third LP, TELLY SAVALAS, on Audio Fidelity, comes across as self-effacing and very aware of the fact that he can't sing. He refers to himself as an "average guy" and has a real sense of humor about the absurdity of his singing career. It amazes me that he released 4 LPs (SOME BROKEN HEARTS only came out in Europe) and several 45s in his lifetime. His records were even chart-toppers in England and Germany. Who Loves Ya, Telly? I do!

Conversely, Burt Reynolds comes across on his Radio Interview record as a total a-hole! Marlon Brando said of Burt (on one of those celebrity cuss-out compilation CDs): "...he worships at the temple of his own narcissism...". I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it sounds correct after hearing this record. Burt seems entirely convinced that he's not only a great singer ("a cross between Kristofferson and Roy Acuff"), but that he also has a wealth of profound and tender messages to lay on the people. It's staggering how completely full of himself the man is! He worships at the temple of his own narcissism! Burt calls his ASK ME WHAT I AM LP a "damn good piece of work" and "a classy album". Sheesh, Burt!

- Contributed by: Jim Blanchard

Images: Telly Radio LP, Telly Lovin 45, Burt Radio LP

by Phil Milstein
This article was originally published in 1994, in both Hermenaut and Scram magazines.

Ask Me What I Am, Burt Reynolds' 1973 album on Mercury, somehow failed to propel him to the same heights of superstardom in the musical realm as he was then reaching in film. It's tempting to expose the twisted brilliance of this monument to pretension not by describing it but by simply quoting all of its breathtaking lyrics verbatim ... but that would be cheating.

With each and every cut on Ask Me What I Am, Burt documents in some way the decline of American culture, usually by presenting an object example. One of the great joys of listening to it is discovering all the little schtick that he scatters throughout its grooves — querulous tremors, self-conscious chortles, dramatic whispers, etc. — as if he feels it's his obligation as an actor/singer to be acting as he sings. Another notable quality of this record is Burt's voice — with but a six-note range and utterly unable to impart any genuine feeling via his singing, Burt has little choice left but to deposit his mediocre acting tricks into every song.

Childhood 1949. Written by Bobby Goldsboro, the album's co-producer and a renowned master of pop schlock himself ("Honey," "See The Funny Little Clown," "Me Japanese Boy I Love You"), this song is a worthy addition to the Goldsboro canon. It's a cutesy litany moistfully reminiscing over the same type of nostalgic material as writer Jean Shepherd covers with far more charm in the movie The Christmas Story. The song includes the first evil cackle of the album and ends with this profound query: "Where was I when childhood died [pronounced exhalation here] and manhood came to take me?"

Slow John Fairburn. Two people I discussed this album with remembered it for this one song, though I don't think it was even a single, let alone a hit. Half-spoken/half-sung tale of a small town old-timer who's coaxed into one last motorcycle thrill-ride: "That old man made Evel Knievel look like he needed training wheels." The "wild ride" sequence features Dukes Of Hazzard-style music, ironic since that show was nothing but a knockoff of Burt's Smokey & The Bandit to begin with. Burt cuts one ridiculous snicker and one berserk cackle here. He's acting up a storm on this one - he even speaks as Slow John by doing a Walter Brennan imitation. Scary.

The First One That I Lay With. Over a stupefying mid-tempo soft stomp, sorta like if James Taylor took over leadership of The Troggs, Burt sings: "The first one that I lay with was not the first one that I loved. ... The first one that I lay with was a woman who was older, and wiser in the ways of bein' free. She took advantage of the shyness of my body, and the oversimplication [I swear that's what he sings] of my mind. ... The first one that I lay with, and the first one that I loved, I'm a lucky man for having on the two [?!?], for I can see the best of both of them [spoken tenderly:] in you."

Till I Get It Right. Takes the same beat as the previous song but slows it down even more and adds a Fender Rhodes, the cheezy, ubiquitous keyboard sound of the era. Burt sings like he has one or two marbles caught in his throat — you can tell that he thinks he's really "singing," but it's just kind of painfully off. He's breathy; he's hitting the notes, I suppose, but so what? He pours out his soul for us, but his soul by this point has shriveled to the size and texture of a Dunkin' Donuts Munchkin. And still you're compelled to root for him, because he's just trying so hard. [spoken:] "Now if practice makes perfect [perverse, snorted chuckle here], man, I'm near about as perfect as I'll ever be ... [sings:] in my life."

She's Taken A Gentle Lover. The album's first big peak. Burt's gal is cattin' around, but not with a dude. (Is this song about Judy Carne? After she tired of Burt whacking her around she left him for songstress Lana Cantrell.) In an introduction spoken with a sad and heavy heart, Burt explains: "A triangle is defined as having three straight sides, but sometimes only one side is straight." The song kicks off, this one a bit more lively than its predecessors, as if Burt has grown weary of wallowing in the swamps of self-pity and is ready to launch himself back into high gear. The piano is heavier, the girl backup singers chant in empathy for Burt, Burt is still trying real hard to act like a genuine singer. "She's a stranger now, wearing a veil I can't see through. But she's changed somehow, beyond the face that I once knew. For long I've known that she, had hungered for the key, that unlocks Pandoras's box where her love must be. Now the chains are free [la la la], from the shackled love locked in her [Montalban-like trill:] soul. But she's found the key [la la la], in the self-reflection that she holds. Through shaded greys and blues, down shadowed avenues, she haunts the boulevards that she never knew. [big chorus:] She's taken a gentle lover, they sip their wine together, in a bar they call The Golden Eye. They hold hands by candlelight, fair lovers of the night, I won't say it's wrong if she believes it's right. There's another now [la la la], they share a room of blooming things, but they're blind somehow [la la la] to the backward looks and [hushed, dramatic tone] whispenings [sic]. In the shelter of her kind, she takes a dreamer's wine, as far as she can be from these arms of mine." (Repeat chorus to end.) Dick Feller, the writer of this song, also wrote the theme song to Smokey And The Bandit ... and the daisy-chain grows ever tighter.

You Can't Always Sing A Happy Song. Side one ends with a little light relief, a necessary respite following the maudlin tone of the previous song. This one is a jolly little pop-country number. Burt sounds like his gal-at-the-time Dinah Sore's got her maw wrapped tight around his sphincter. Bogus white-gospel/vaudeville interlude. Cute little organ trills, though not quite in the league of song-poem keyboard wizard Rodd Keith.

Ask Me What I Am. Philosophy! Carpe diem! Today is all that matters! No shit, Burt! This might be even closer to the Jonathan Livingston Seagull of '70s pop music than anything by Neil Diamond himself. It is Heavy. "Don't ask me what I hope to find — ask me what I [querelous tremor here:] found. Don't ask me if I'm chased by time — it's the other way around." Maximum drama!

A Room For A Boy Never Used. No, no, get your mind out of the gutter — it's the room that's never used, not the boy. The boy isn't even born yet, Burt's squeeze at that time being well past menopause, but he has every intention of one day making him be born. (The handwriting's on the wall, Dinah!) Then he will raise him in full accordance with the prescription for boyhood laid out in this song. The number is entirely spoken-word, delivered in Burt's most passionate-sincere voice. [over quaint nursery music:] "There's a house in my mind. [stifled snort] It's more than a house. It's made of dreams that are ... more than dreams. And the rooms of that house are ... carefully filled ... with my most-loved people and things. But you know there's one single room, at the top of the stairs, with a door untouched and new, reserved for a son, a son that I never had. One room for a boy — never used. The drapes are done in trains and affection, the walls in race cars and love. [chuckle] There's a place for a, a dartboard, a football helmet, a ball, a bat, and a glove. There's a space just right for crayon-stick men. Just so high, here by the door. Model cars hung from the ceiling, [bigger chuckle] and airplane glue on the floor. The boy is lying half under the bed now, he's passed out from the fumes. ... God, you've given me more than I've ever deserved, but if I might humbly ask, if I might humbly ask this of you, when you're giving out sons, don't forget, I still have room for a boy, never used." As I can't imagine a more fulfilling childhood than the one sketched out in this song, I sincerely hope Burt and Loni kept it in mind when rearing little Quinton. This one is also written by the ever-crafty Dick Feller.

I Didn't Shake The World Today. Once again we need something jaunty and light after the heartwarming (heart¬warming like a Parade magazine collectors' dish) tone of the last song. This one celebrates the joys of an average day, assuming your average day can accommodate a five-mile hike in beautiful Florida weather. "I didn't shake the world today, did you? [Hammond organ swell] I didn't find out anything that's new. [subtler, double-swell]. I just got out of bed and washed the evenin' from [faux-vaudeville voice:] my head, and took a walk for lack of something else to do. [leering cackle] I stopped a couple times along the way, to pick some reminders of the day. [another double swell] A walking stick, a flower picked, a girl beside the road with [Burt subtly and cleverly bends this next word for dramatic effect:] pockets full of time and stories never told. Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, [answered by electric piano trill], ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba, [whistles the tune — good whistler, too]. The sun was shinin', climbin' up the sky, I caught a couple jet planes sneakin' by, thinkin' while we's walkin', then I redo all the [bends word again:] talkin', and we said the nicest things and let the miles ... go ... by. We didn't shake the world today, [half-spoken:] it's true. I hear it's gettin' very hard to do. Tomorrow is another day, forgive me but it's true. [last line is half-spoken, especially last two words:] I didn't shake the world today, did you?" (Band goes into big finish.)

There's A Slight Misunderstanding Between God And Man. More philosophy! Wish I could understand what this song means. It has all the depth and tone of a Jacques Brel song, or at least a Rod McKuen one. Maintaining a plodding, deliberate tempo, it starts out with finger-picked guitars and windchimes. Burt approaches the mic and in a gentle, firm voice, announces: "Y'know, a lot of people think it isn't chic to believe in God anymore. I still do. But you know, I think: [begins singing] There's a slight misunderstanding between [voice slides down over course of this next syllable:] God and man. Is this the land he promised, or is this the promised land? [windchimes come back in prominently] Am I the shepherd, or am I the [extreme emphasis:] flock? Am I the prisoner, or am I the [voice slides back up here:] lock? There's a murmur of confusion, if you know what I mean [Tower of Babel reference?]. If it's all just illusion, I'd hate to see the dream. [voice now goes very high, way out of range though not quite in falsetto:] Everything's true, and everything's [bizarre, spat emphasis here:] false. There's no room left, or much discussion at all. [windchime and cello break, then synthesized flute comes in] ... My cup runneth over, or is it my cup? Excuse me, but will the real Jesus [acts out the next two words in true Shatner-doing-Shakespeare fashion:] stand up? Please help ... me if you can, clear up a slight misunderstanding between God [carries out these next two syllables via vibrato for about 10 beats:] and man." Ends with firm guitar strum and more windchimes.

I Like Having You Around. Once again the producers have wisely followed one of the album's pinnacle songs with a wind-down type of number. This one closes the record in fun style, as if Burt means to say, "Yeah, the heavy stuff's heavy, and I mean every word of it, but if you have a whole album's worth of that kind of thing no one's gonna take you seriously." This one is a duet with Dinah, who is coyly credited only as "One Unidentified Friend." Dinah may have been a dynamite chick, but her singing's a might painful. Fortunately she's just allowed to harmonize a little and answer those of Burt's turnaround lines that aren't answered by the Hammond organ. This song is so insipid that you could easily imagine it being sung by Ricky Segall at the end of one of the later episodes of The Partridge Family, but it's also as catchy as a bad virus —many's the day I find myself humming the tune without even realizing what song it is.

And so ends one of the masterful and definitive recordings of the 1970s, a high-water mark in music history. Soon after the release of Ask Me What I Am we would be entertaining on our turntables platters by The New York Dolls, The Dictators and Patti Smith, and in hindsight it seems as if the world would never again be as innocent as it was when they were letting Burt Reynolds make records.


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