Wednesday, July 9, 2008

He Could have Picked a More Distinctive Name

Michael Allen. If you know someone named Michael Allen, raise your hand.

I thought so.

If one is trying to do research on a singer named Michael Allen, the common nature of the name will make life difficult. For starters, there are singers named Michael Allen Something, as in first name Michael, middle name Allen. And there are several plain old Michael Allens, not that they (or I) consider them plain or old.

But, by golly, when I search for Michael Allen and add “A Boy with a Dream” (Mercury 72036) to the mix, I get results I can count on.

Four of them.

What I know for sure is that the program director at 910 AM KDEO in San Diego thought enough of “A Boy with a Dream” to include it in the “9-10 Wax to Watch” twice: at #3 on October 12, 1962, and at #1 on October 19. That doesn’t mean KDEO played the song; this was the equivalent of “Bubbling Under” the KDEO Top 40. It never bubbled over.

But that means the Michael Allen 45 I got from Uncle Tom was a whole lot more successful than a number of the 45s he gave me.

The Airheads Radio Survey Archive (ARSA) lists under the name Michael Allen twelve singles, running from 1962 to 1976. If ARSA did their research well, this same Michael Allen kept plugging away for a considerable amount of time. He never reached the Billboard or Cash Box charts.

There is an album called Michael Allen Sings, and some of the ARSA titles are on the album, whose track listing appears, with sound clips, on the All Music Guide. The voice sounds similar enough at times that I could believe it’s the same Michael Allen, but I won’t stake anything at all on it.

The single came into my collection just after Mercury deleted it, and by adding yet another Mercury 45 to my collection, Uncle Tom further fostered a major confusion in three-year-old caithiseach, who had to tell the singles apart by visual memory. (I’ll talk about the big confusion in October.)

I found both sides of the 45 likeable enough, so it was a minor two-sided caithiseach hit, “He Don’t Need You Like I Do” being the flip. Frankly, I had so many good 45s that, by the time I got through the big hits each day, I’d had enough music and opted to do something else, like climb the elm trees in the front yard. Michael Allen simply got crowded out of airtime. Thus, his record avoided being Ground to Dust, and somehow it survived the Great Meltdown as well.

Michael Allen seems to have earned a legitimate shot from Mercury. Whereas the label sometimes picked up recordings that showed regional promise on smaller labels, Allen’s record was produced by a rising star in the Mercury ranks, Shelby Singleton. Singleton’s trademark was to add a twang to a pop recording, as he did with Brook Benton’s take on “The Boll Weevil Song.” Singleton went on to buy Sun Records from Sam Phillips.

The Merry Melody Singers, who backed countless Mercury artists from Brook Benton to Ray Stevens to Patti Page, were called in to work on this recording, so again, it seems that Mercury held high hopes for Michael Allen.

Ramsey Kearney wrote “A Boy with a Dream.” He registered 111 compositions with ASCAP, but he seems to have recorded most of them himself. There is one twist to his music career that I absolutely have to mention.

Ramsey Kearney worked for, and perhaps owned, a business called Nashco Records. What Nashco did was put ads in the back of magazines, offering people the opportunity to send in their poetry to see if Nashco could find a melody to go with the lyrics. Typically, the music publisher in question would praise the lyrics, get the poet to cough up cash to have the song recorded, and that was that.

A prankster named John Trubee sent some really awful lyrics to Nashco in the mid-1970s. The label took $79.95 from Trubee to produce one single-sided 45, with the music written by Will Gentry. Ramsey Kearney sang the song on the 45 sent to Trubee. Eventually, Trubee made more copies of the song, and it has become a cult classic: “Peace & Love (Blind Man’s Penis).” Or maybe it’s the other way around. You must listen to "A Boy with a Dream," the Kearney composition, and “Peace & Love,” the Kearney recording. I don’t think it’s possible to hit both ends of the musical spectrum in one career, but here it is.

You will be amazed by John Trubee’s song, and you should do what I did and buy it at iTunes. Please. He’s a serious musician, and he deserves your support. You should also rent this 2003 film, which tells Trubee’s tale: Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story.

After that experience, the source of “He Don’t Need You Like I Do” is somewhat anticlimactic. It was written by Bob Perper, composer of 99 BMI titles, none of which stand out to me.

And so, the dead-end story of Michael Allen and his near-miss 45 ends here. If you know anything about Michael Allen, the one who sang “A Boy with a Dream” and the oh-so-ungrammatical “He Don’t Need You Like I Do,” let me in on the secret. I’ll update this post and praise you effusively therein.

This post owes a lot to If you ever wondered who answers those ads for “Song Lyrics Needed,” this site has your answer, in abundance. Spend an afternoon there.

I said in January that Elvis (Presley) would not figure in this blog. That’s true, but Saturday, you’ll think he does. See you then!

Michael Allen, A Boy with a Dream

Michael Allen, He Don’t Need You Like I Do

Ramsey Kearney, Blind Man’s Penis (Peace & Love)

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