Song Of The Day 6/28/2016: Whistling Jack Smith - “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman”

Seeing as how "Mixtape #23: Sincerely Yours, Sunbrite" has become the most-listened to mixtape I've ever done (given that the other 22 weren't, ah, exactly gigantic hits), I thought I'd give you some inside information and what the kids call "Easter eggs" about this work.

  • From conception and writing to recording and execution, the piece took about two and a half weeks. Not continuously, but between work and family things.

  • Lulu was played by a recorded lamb. I played all the other fictional characters.

  • The song playing under Milton Fairport's introduction is the theme to an old BBC One radio series called Open House, which is why you have that doorbell sound all over it.

  • Milton Fairport was named after Milton Berle and the 60's folk-rock band Fairport Convention. Gareth Rossiter Wheatcroft was an amalgamation of names I got from a British-sounding name generator. They have no personal relevance.

  • The "scratchy record" sound and the tone of the music and voices on the opening track were achieved with a sound file, heavy EQ and abuse of a hi-pass filter.

  • No, I don't actually own any bongs. Those sounds were taken from a free sound effects library on the web.

  • The songs playing under Brooks Martin's commercials were The Ventures' cover of "Theme from 'A Summer Place,'" Horace Silver's "The Preacher" and something from Ravi Shankar.

  • The Lewis Carroll-type narrative of the Little Lord Sunbrite/Vertical Pizza commercial was directly influenced by a similar trick the Dukes of Stratosphear (aka XTC) employed on their album Psonic Psunspot. Sensing that other XTC freaks would notice the debt, I put the Dukes' "Pale and Precious" towards the end of the mix as a tribute. It was recorded in the mid-'80s, one of only two songs on the whole mix not recorded between 1964 and about 1971, give or take.

  • The brass-band-and-special-effects introduction to the Idle Race's "On With the Show" was manipulated by me using panning controls and extra reverb.

  • Nineteen different but equally wonderful people do the single-line readings on "Testimonials." Most of them were recorded on June 23, 2016 at a meetup for my karaoke gang, the Karaoke Party People (KPP) at Molly Maguires in the Green Lake area of Seattle. Before I went out that night I posted a note to our Facebook group asking if people could help me out with the track. The response was positive, so at home I wrote out 30 different, one-sentence phrases relating to Sunbrite, cut them up and put them in an envelope. Then later that night at Molly's, I distributed the slips to folks in the group, dragged them outside to the sidewalk and had them speak three sentences each into my smartphone. That's where the majority of the testimonials came from; pretty much all of them are in the first two rounds of the piece.

  • The group of Testimonial givers included two men I met for the first time that night.

  • Out of the testimonials I wrote my personal favorite was read by Sunny: "Sunbrite -- because pain shouldn't have to hurt."

  • All of the participants at Molly Maguires got to keep their slips as souvenirs.

  • I had completed what I thought was the final version of "Testimonials," when I got an email from John Manini containing nine different Sunbrite testimonials. John's bits were simply too damn funny for me not to use, so I went back and spliced him into the final final mix. John's the one saying "Sunbrite solved my lisp issues," "Before Sunbrite all we had was dull," "Sunbrite takes away the scabs," and the very last testimonial about "the magical Sunbrite promise of Sunbrite."

  • My wife Kate is the person saying "Sunbrite introduced me to my second husband!" (I am her first.)

  • That's my daughter Lucie talking about her dad finally getting out of bed before 2pm.

  • The "group" of men singing "Sunbrite, Sunbrite!" at the end of the song is actually me singing six different takes of the phrase and overdubbing them.

  • The song the "Testimonials" are read over is called "I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman," and it was a hit single in the UK in 1967 for a man (more accurately an Archies-like studio creation) named Whistling Jack Smith. It also hit #20 in the US. "Batman" does not refer to the Caped Crusader of comics and screen, but a British soldier who serves as a high officer's assistant, therefore avoiding most if not all combat action. "Kaiser Bill" is a reference to Kaiser Wilhelm II, bombastic emperor of Germany and king of Prussia during the first World War. The German version of this song at the very end of the mixtape has a title that translates to English as "I was a cleaner for the Kaiser," with the lyrics describing the batman's cleaning of soldier's boots, having marmalade and cakes at 8am, and misbehaving at official banquets by peeking at women's cleavage and vomiting. Legend has it that these lyrics originated in World War I, but I haven't seen any reliable confirmation of that.

  • I also manipulated the weird guitar solo in the middle of Sweetwater's "My Crystal Spider," but not very well.

  • The music buried in the left channel on "Performance Notes" is Enoch Light's cover of "Autumn Leaves," the opening notes of which were sampled by RjD2 for his opening theme to the TV show Mad Men. Since Little Lord and Pizza spend this skit analyzing marketing decisions, and since I loved Mad Men, I felt the musical quote appropriate.

  • After finishing the first Little Lord/Pizza bit I realized I didn't care for the Vertical Pizza's name that much. But instead of changing it I had the two unnamed actors discuss my "problems" with it as part of "Performance Notes." The talking points between Verty-P and Little Lord regarding "The Vertical Pizza" reflected my original issue with the name and my eventual rationalization for keeping it.

  • "Swiss Cottage Manoeuvres": Yes, that's the guy who sang "Year of the Cat." His name is Al Stewart and he's got a wealth of great stuff. And yes, that's how he spelled "Manoeuvres."

  • The piece playing in the background of "Gareth Returns" is Sonny Bono's famously bad anti-drug song "Pammie's On a Bummer." Go find it. It's terrible.

  • Matt Berry's "Accident at a Harvest Festival" was actually recorded about five years ago. I felt it fit the styles of the other songs so I snuck it on there to see if anyone would notice.

  • The Move's "Beautiful Daughter" was the last song to be put on the mix.

  • The piece of music playing under the final, straw-breaking Sunbrite ad is "L.A. Blues" by Iggy and the Stooges.

  • The character of Stanbery Wallace is a tribute to my friend Stanbery who's been sidelined much of this year with medical issues. Hi, Stan. (I should say, the naming of Stanbery Wallace was a shout-out to my friend, who is nothing like the aggressively insulting Wallace. Although I bet my friend would have a soft spot for animals, as Wallace does.)

  • The character of O'Donaghue is a tribute to Michael O'Donoghue, one of the very first writers for Saturday Night Live, who also appeared in that show's very first skit, ever, with John Belushi. But more importantly for the sake of this mix, he was a writer and performer for The National Lampoon Radio Hour.

  • Wallace's line "Get me Proctor, Bergman, Ossman and Austin!" is another tribute, this time to the four performers in the audio comedy group Firesign Theatre, who directly inspired pretty much all the skits in this show.

  • I had to record all of Wallace's lines in my car since most of them were very loud.

  • In addition to sheep and people moaning, that additional sound effect in the background of Stanbery's piece is some Vietnamese gentleman slapping wood together and breaking things.

  • The musical selection behind Stanbery's encounter with Lulu the Lamb is John Berry's theme for the movie Born Free, which I think had something to do with animals.

  • Yeah, that's right -- "The Doors featuring Paul Pearson." Ha ha. 
ADDENDUM 7/4/2016 - Now that Sincerely Yours, Sunbrite has been out for a week and qualifies as what my limited reach would define as a "hit," I thought I'd give you a quick bit of background as to what the hell it is and how it came about.

Originally, I decided I just wanted to do a Nuggets type mixtape. For those young'uns, Nuggets was a compilation originally put out in 1973 by a man named Lenny Kaye. It brought together a bunch of songs from American bands in the '60s in the wake of the Beatles' middle period, the onset of garage rock and the burgeoning principles of the psychedelic generation. Rhino Records reissued Nuggets in the '90s in a 4-CD set, and it remains my favorite box set of all time. They released a few sequels: one focusing on foreign bands, and two more on the San Francisco and Los Angeles scenes. They are all wonderful in their own way. So my main goal was to put together something Nuggets-esque, but in most cases (hopefully) focusing on tracks and/or bands that didn't make any of the other Nuggets boxes.

At some point in all this planning I remembered the final episode of Mad Men, the ending of which hinted that lead character Don Draper had, at least for business, shed the consumptive American everyman directive and stumbled upon the idealism of the late '60s, leading him to create the famous "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" advertisement for Coca-Cola. This led me to thoughts about how advertisers -- when they are doing their job -- capitalize on societal zeitgeist to sell products, and to imagine Mixtape #23 as sort of an extended marketing plan for a product called Sunbrite. 

That's how the first hour basically goes... and then in the second hour, the whole plan gets unwrapped by the stars of one of the commercials in the first hour. That would be Little Lord Sunbrite and the Vertical Pizza, or more exactly the unnamed actors who play them. They reveal that there's nothing really there with the shaman, Gareth Wheatcroft, who's putting the ads together, and that his excess of pharmaceuticals and his lack of articulation ultimately bring him down. The idea of having two enemies in the commercial sort of join forces when the cameras are off was appealing to me, as was the entire persona of Gareth, who I imagined as Harry Potter's Hagrid with more drugs and less cognition, but just as powerful and mysterious a presence. Nobody knows exactly why, though.

That's all the Cliffs Notes you need for this one, I think. Except for what Sunbrite, the product, actually is. In true, experiential '60s fashion, the answer is: whatever you want. I made it a point not to describe Sunbrite's physical properties at all. I still don't know what it is. At one point I thought it might be in liquid form but I've had to retract that.

Thanks to all who participated and all who listened. Tell your friends!

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