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Song Poems

Thursday, 28th August, 2003

Songs in the Key of Z (see yesterday's blog entry) also contains a chapter on song poems, with one of the most bizarre, 'Virgin Child of the Universe', included on the CD.

Song poems served a particular need and are still being made today. They work like this:

Suppose you, solitary reader, have written a poem that you feel particularly proud of. You would love to hear it set to music but there's a major flaw: you're not a musician! So what do you do? You send it to a song poem company, that's what. For a fee, this company will compose music for your song, record it with a band and a singer and press a few copies to vinyl for you.

I'm sure some good poems have been sent in, but generally they are garbage that doesn't scan and doesn't rhyme and shouldn't ever be seen by the public. But song poem companies have to turn them into songs anyway. On a critical level, most are bloody awful, but they have something very important going for them: they are honest.

Chart music, and indeed most of the music you'll hear on your restricted ClearChannel radio, is slick and commercial. It's been designed to appeal to a target demographic based on market research. Song poems don't concern themselves with an audience or any level of commerciality. Each one is just one of thirty churned out in a session by a bunch of musicians and a singer who not only didn't write the words but has no idea how they should be sung.

I find song poems fascinating. You've all seen the cliched image of a Christmas card family sat round a blazing fire listening to the wireless. Perry Como or Bing Crosby are crooning out some sort of sap and mum and dad and the kids are all happy as Larry. Well song poems are that image as seen in The Twilight Zone.

'Virgin Child of the Universe' is a stunning example of a poem that makes no sense and even includes words that don't exist, yet has been turned into a listenable piece of pop. It's not a diamond but it's a heck of a lot more than coal.

Where can I hear these gems, you cry? Well mosey on over to American Song-Poem Music Archives and you'll find a whole bunch that you can download for free. If you like these, then buy the compilation CDs that feature even better material.

And before you leave the ASPMA, make sure you read all about the most infamous song poem of all time, written as 'Peace and Love' but known to one and all as Blind Man's Penis. It was written as an attempt to see if the song poem companies would record absolutely everything, and sure enough, yes they did.


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