Monday, March 16, 2009

Why I Listen to Terrible Celebrity Albums

Non-singers cutting records is not a new subject. There are countless books and articles that lampoon the efforts of wannabe musicians. "Golden Throats" is the preferred nomenclature for this genre. On the whole, all joking is deserved. The rare brilliance of a Zooey Deschanel as part of She & Him is startling.

But there's more to it than just the standard crappy singing. Think about it. Whether through sheer megalomania or humble faith in their abilities (OK, it's always sheer megalomania), a performer exposes himself (or herself) in a new medium in which they have no grounding. It takes balls and it has the joys and discomforts of watching your kid play the clarinet at the Middle School band concert.

I'd like to focus on one entry in the vast canon of misplaced musical meanderings.

Silverthroat: Bill Cosby Sings
By 1967, Bill Cosby had already revolutionized stand up comedy and television by 1967 when he laid down his vocals for this LP. He reaches into the Jimmy Reed catalog, and it's clear why. Reed has the cool, laid back sound of a true bluesman and his records are among my favorites. So Cos gives "Bright Lights Big City," "Hush Hush" and "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" a whack and it's not a bad fit for Cosby's muted, tentative singing. But where Reed is totally cool in his delivery, ol' Bill is timid. Same idea, different execution.
Still, it works fairly well. The band is a cracker jack rhythm group and they are worth listening to. Cosby's vocals are subdued and mixed fairly low. That's a common occurrence in celeb discs. It shows, quite audibly, the lack of confidence they, and their producers have, in the ability of the vocalist to stand alone, front and center. It's only when Cosby is deliberately funny that he bursts forth. "Little Ole Man," which is Stevie Wonder's "Uptight" with a different script, has Cosby talking to a man, presumably little and old, who gets run over by a train and trampled by elephants day after day at the same time. Why doesn't he move? Well, he just can't believe it's really happening! Impeccable logic. Side 2 closes with "A Place in the Sun," which Stevie Wonder also covered. Cosby is so hidden that he can only be faintly heard from what I imagine is at the bottom of a very deep well.

I do like this record. In listening to celebrity outings, it's important, at least to me, to hear the whole album. That's where the treasures are to be had. What I found most remarkable is that it made the Top 20 on Billboard's Pop Album chart. That, if nothing else, shows how big Bill Cosby was circa 1967.

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