NOW SOUNDS’ “GOD BLESS TINY TIM: DELUXE EXPANDED MONO EDITION”
by Justin Martell
“[I use the unexpected for] shock value, [but] I loath gimmicks. The unexpected only works with artists people are familiar with. I guess my mind does go in the direction of the unexpected, because I like things that hit with tremendous impact…and make it besides. Unless it really makes it, the impact, the unexpected means nothing…It’s like Tiny’s laughter on the first cut of the second side of his first album. Maybe he’s laughing at people who laughed at him. Maybe it’s something else. But it fits.”
God Bless Tiny Tim should have gone down in the annals of music history as one of the greatest albums of the sixties, on par in iconic-ness with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Blonde on Blonde, The Velvet Underground & Nico, Are You Experienced?, Safe as Milk, and so on… Unfortunately, the album has, for 45 years, has been something of a closely guarded secret or guilty pleasure; dear to a handful of enthusiasts, and conceded as being “not that bad” or “better than I thought” by some music aficionados. One wonders just how many people who watched James Wan’s Insidious had any idea that the song, “Tip-Toe Thru’ the Tulips With Me,” which plays over a demon sharpening its nails, was derived from an album as musically diverse and rich as God Bless Tiny Tim!? The release of God Bless Tiny Tim [Deluxe Expanded Mono Edition] by Now Sounds aims at setting that right.
One thing is for sure, Steve Stanley and the fine people who produced this release remember just how famous Tiny Tim was for a few years at the end of the sixties. This is evident in their decision to include, in the CD booklet, artwork from Parker Brothers’ “Tiny Tim Game of Beautiful Things” (Yes, the world’s leading board game manufacturer released a Tiny Tim board game) and photos of Tiny Tim memorabilia which was issued at the time, such as pins and the troll doll. And, yes, he was regarded as a novelty by many, but by and large, the Tiny Tim phenomenon was not some Mrs. Miller-William-Hung-Foster Florence-Jenkins-let’s-poke-fun-at-the-guy-who-thinks-he-can-sing situation. Long forgotten is the fact that when Tiny Tim exploded onto the scene in 1968, he was not without mainstream praise and appreciation from his contemporaries:
“…Tiny Tim is real, that is is, in a sense, a peculiar butterfly…like nothing you’ve ever experienced before, quite odd, but above all, gentle and beautiful.” – Rolling Stone, Issue #13 (featuring Tiny Tim on the cover), July 6, 1968
“The Last Innocent…the laughing stopped when this mystical musical medium summoned his voices, a pleasing tenor and a Jeanette MacDonaldesque soprano, in renditions of classic crooner ballads that rivaled in authenticity the old crank-handle gramophone itself.” – Newsweek, May 20, 1968
“No performer has ever created such a furor in show business as New York City’s own Tiny Tim…[He is] the first – the real – love child…” – Ed Sullivan, 1968
“He’s something else, isn’t he?…From what I know, he is what he appears to be. He’s strange, at best, but when he sings, and sings straight, he’s got a quality of the old time singers that’s got a little bit of heart to it.” – Johnny Carson, 1968
“[Tiny Tim is] the most important artist we’ve had in a decade of music and that’s legit. I’m not kidding anybody with that.” – Mickey Dolenz, the Monkees, 1968
“I like him. I like him a lot. I like [God Bless Tiny Tim], too.” – Frank Zappa, 1968
And, of course, the Beatles, who were reportedly instrumental in bringing Tiny Tim to the Royal Albert Hall, had this to say during a June 6, 1968 appearance on the Kenny Everett Show:
JOHN: (excitedly) “Play Tiny Tim! That’s what you gotta play! Tiny Tim! He’s the greatest ever, man! You see if I aint right, Kenny Everett! He’s the greatest fella on earth! Play Tiny Tim, gentle-readers.”
PAUL: “He’s real.”
JOHN: “He’s real, man. We saw him.”
PAUL: “I mean, he’s good with it. It’s like– it’s a funny joke at first. But it’s not, really. It’s real and it’s true.”
JOHN: “He’s great. (sings) ‘Tiny Tim for President/ Oh, Tiny Tim for Queen!'”
And as for, God Bless Tiny Tim itself, which peaked at #7 on Billboard’s Top LP’s chart on July 13, 1968, no reputable, objective critic could listen without conceding its merits. Two of the most notable reviews appeared in Life and the New York Times:
“…one of the most dazzling albums of programmed entertainment to come along since the Beatles introduced the new genre of pop with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If Sergeant Pepper was a wide-screen epic, Tiny’s album is a full-length animated cartoon, with Tiny doing all the voices.” – Al Aronowitz, Life Magazine, June 14, 1968
“…a dream theater that echoes beguilingly with all the voices of Tiny Tim; the cackling twenties tone of Lee Morse, going ‘do-do-dee-do’: the straw-hat bel canto of George M. Cohen; and the droll team of Billy Murray and Ada Jones, he with his lolling minstrel’s voice and she with the tremelo-ridden sound of Lydia Pinkham femininity lining out Sonny Bono’s 1912 hit “I Got You, Babe.” To say that these are the most perfect impersonations of old singers ever heard would hardly do justice to the art that has reembodied these entertainers in electronic avatars, summoning them up out of the past to caper again before a strobe-lit oleo.” – Albert (the otherwise despicable) Goldman, New York Times, April 28, 1968
Get it? Tiny Tim was legit and so was God Bless Tiny Tim. As for the album itself, there’s not much that can be said now which hasn’t already been said in reviews and which Kristian Hoffman does not mention in his song-by-song liner notes written specifically for this release. However, one thing is certain, and that is that Richard Perry and Tiny Tim complimented each other brilliantly; with Tiny’s versatility serving as a vehicle by which Perry could experiment with any style of music and Perry’s producing prowess allowed Tiny to prove his point that pop music, whether written in 1898 or 1968, is timeless (just compare and contrast album’s versions of “Stay Down Here Where You Belong,” written by Irving Berlin in 1916, and “Fill Your Heart,” written by Paul Williams and Biff Rose in 1967).
Perhaps Tiny Tim’s appeal was also that a look into his world offered an alternative to the music of the era, much of which chronicled the social and political unrest of the late-sixties (For context, note that Tiny Tim’s first appearance on the Tonight Show was on April 4, 1968, the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated): a world of silver angels drifting through timeless, never ending June, youthful romance blossoming on the old front porch, and people rejoicing at the melting of the polar ice caps; a place full of champagne fountains, wandering rainbows, where there words ‘I love you’ can send a man into hysterical ecstasy, and coffee costs only a dime. In a turbulent time, when people were taking drugs to escape, Tiny’s drug of choice was the sweet old songs of yesteryear (and some carefully selected new tunes thrown in for good measure).
Coming back to Now Sounds’ reissue of the album, it is great to finally have an official release of the mono mix. To provide some background, specifically for pop and rock albums, it had been standard practice for record labels to issue both stock copies of both the mono and stereo versions of albums. This was due to the fact that many older turntables had only one speaker. In fact, in many cases, the artists and their producers were partial to the mono mixes of their albums as often times the “stereo” versions issued were not in true stereo and sold for a dollar more (take Capital Records’ “Duophonic” records and Columbia’s logo “Electronically Re-channeled for Stereo”) in a scheme by record labels to make some extra money. By 1967 and 1968, however, labels were phasing out the practice of releasing both mixes in favor of releasing only true stereo mixes as hi-fi equipment with two speakers was becoming the standard.
In the case of God Bless Tiny Tim, unique mono and stereo versions of the album were created, most likely with the intent of releasing two versions. This is evident by the fact that the back cover of the album features two catalog numbers, “R 6292” (this would have been mono) and “RS 6292” (stereo). Further evidence that Reprise most likely intended to issue a stock version of the mono mix is the fact that a unique cover, sans the word “STEREO,” was created and used for the white label promo of the album which was sent out to radio stations. Why the plans for a mono stock version were shelved isn’t clear, but perhaps the suits at Reprise figured they could make more money by issuing only a stereo stock version and make an extra dollar on all copies of the album which were sold.
That said, the mono version of the album has remained something of a rarity and has primarily circulated among tiny Tim fans and collectors on CD-R for many years. Given that the standard stereo version of the album has only received limited releases on CD (a Japan-only CD release by Reprise , Rhino Handmade’s God Bless Tiny Tim: the Complete Reprise Masters and More, limited to 3000 copies , and the scarcely available UK Encore Series release by Rhino ). Essentially, a simple release by Now Sounds of an expanded version of the standard stereo mix would have been more than enough, but, as usual, they have gone above and beyond the call of duty by giving the mono mix it’s first official release and making it available for the first time in 45 years.
While the common stereo mix is most likely how Richard Perry most likely intended the album to be heard, with its brilliant use of mixing Tiny’s vocals into different channels, giving his duets with himself another dimension, the mono mix has emerged as the favorite among many Tiny Tim fans; Tiny’s vocals are much more up front (sometimes his different voices are low in the stereo version, such as the low voice in On the Old Front Porch) and several instruments in Artie (“I wrote as if I was writing for Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett”) Butler’s lush arrangements are brought to the surface, which are buried in the stereo mix. Put simply, the mono mix is like the stereo, but with a few extra helpings of sherbert moon.
For bonus tracks, Now Sounds has included the two non-album singles which Reprise issued in the summer of 1968, “Hello, Hello” and “Bring Back Those Rockabye Baby Days.” Released in the opposite order than they are featured on the disc, releasing “Rockabye Baby Days” in August, 1968 was truly a bizarre decision, given the fact that Reprise had planned to issue “Then I’d Be Satisfied with Life”/“Strawberry Tea” as a follow-up to “Tip-Toe”/”Fill Your Heart,” as is evidenced by a 10-inch acetate of the scrapped single. Just whose decision it was to scrap the plans for a solid follow-up to “Tip-Toe” remains a mystery. Liner notes contributor Kristian Hoffman calls the single a “paranoid retreat into baritone,” and he is probably right in that it was most likely an attempt to show listeners a different side of Tiny Tim; but to follow up “Tip-Toe” and its psychedelic album with a Mammy song (albeit a fun listen) set to a standard rock arrangement? “Then I’d Be Satisfied With Life” would have shown listeners that other side of Tiny and probably would have come much closer to rivaling the impact of “Tip-Toe.” Tiny, himself, was much more critical, stating in a 1993 interview with Ernie Clark that the single was “simply horrible.”
As for “Hello, Hello,” a cover of the 1966 Sopwith Camel hit, Hoffman correctly notes that its release “was an odd choice with which to follow up an LP where almost any other track would have made a better single.” As noted, “Rockabye Baby Days” was the follow up to God Bless. “Hello, Hello” was, in fact, a botched attempt to obscure the release of Concert in Fairyland, a bootleg LP featuring Tiny’s butchering of 12 standard tunes (“Indian Love Call,” “You Make Me Feel So Young,” “Be My Love,” and so forth) recorded back in 1962. Tiny, himself, explained the situation best to Ernie Clark:
One of the worst recordings I have ever done!…Warner Brothers, Reprise and Mo Austin were hitting the ceiling. An issue of “Billboard” came out with a full page ad. “Tiny Tim’s new hit, “Be My Love” (the old Mario Lanza hit.) It was on an album called, “Concert In Fairyland” on the “Bouquet” label. When Mr. Perry saw this he said, “Tiny, look what’s going on here.” (It was now August of 1968) and I’m just opening up a day or two later at Caesar’s Palace, and now this album is coming out with the single “Be My Love.” I had two names in the early ’60’s, Darry Dover and Tiny Tim. Some people recorded me [under the name Darry Dover] and then due to arguments and disagreements dropped the whole thing. When I became big in ’68 they asked for $25,000 from Warner Brothers not to put it out but they wouldn’t pay it so they put it out. It sold 100,000 copies before they could take it off the market…So Mr. Perry said, “We have to record a song right away,” so we recorded “Hello, Hello.” When I went into the studio the high voice was not there that time. Mr. Perry thought it was great anyway. To top a bad album off I killed “Hello, Hello” too!
Another treat is the inclusion of the single, which Richard Perry produced for Tiny in 1966 and was released on the tiny label Blue Cat, “April Showers”/“Little Girl” (more commonly known as “In the Pines”). These tracks have received limited releases in the past (on a scarce 1998 UK CD release The Red Bird Sound Vol.4: Dressed In Black and in 2011 on the LP Tiny Tim: Lost and Found Volume One (Rare & Unreleased 1963-1974), co-produced by yours truly, and limited to 750 copies), so their inclusion on this wider release is fantastic as “April Showers” is classic Tiny Tim falsetto fair and “Little Girl” should put to shame any critic who claims Tiny Tim could not sing as well, or better than, many of his contemporaries. The tracks further illustrate just how serendipitous it was that Perry was hired by Reprise at the same time Tiny was signed to the label. As Richard Perry said, “it was fate.”
The CD also includes the single version of “Tip-Toe,” which is like the album version minus the cross-fading from “Welcome to My Dream.” From there, it closes with instrumental versions of “Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight,” “Stay Down Here Where You Belong,” “On the Old Front Porch,” “Tip-Toe,” “Fill Your Heart,” and “Hello, Hello.” The instrumental tracks are an interesting listen as, in addition to studio banter included before each, they show, in some cases, where Tiny’s vocals obscured some aspects of the arrangements (such as the harpsichord on “Stay Down Here Where You Belong) and where his vocals actually made the arrangements sound more full (“Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight”). While some outtakes or Tiny performing alternate takes of the tracks would have certainly been more exciting (though such material may not exist or be readily available), they certainly round out the release and set it apart from previous re-issues.
In addition to the memorabilia mentioned previously, the booklet contains plenty of rare and never-before-seen photographs, including several of Tiny in the recording studio. Kristian Hoffman’s liner notes are extensive and informative, though I would have to disagree with Hoffman’s assertion that the female voice on “Then I’d Be Satisfied With Life” is “not Nico – as rumored – but Ultra Violet.” Perhaps Hoffman has been made privy to information which is not otherwise available, but both Tiny Tim and Richard Perry confirmed to tinytim.org webmaster Ernie Clark that the voice was, in fact, Nico.
This release is a must for anyone who wishes to examine Tiny Tim beyond his inclusion on the Insidious soundtrack and YouTube videos of his version of “Do You Think I’m Sexy.” I can not wait to find out what Now Sounds has planned for their upcoming deluxe expanded version of Tiny Tim’s Second Album.
Justin Martell is an independent filmmaker who is obsessed with Tiny Tim. Martell has consulted on and contributed liner notes to Richard Barone’s Tiny Tim: I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana (Rare Moments Vol. 1) [CD – Collector’s Choice, 2009] and the rarities compilation Tiny Tim: Lost and Found Volume 1 (Rare & Unreleased 1963-2009) [LP – Secret Seven Records, 2011]. In 2012, through his company the Ship to Shore Phonograph Company, he released a previously unavailable Tiny Tim track on a limited edition Edison cylinder record, which TIME.com dubbed the “most retro record release ever.” Since 2008, Martell has been preparing a biography of Tiny Tim, entitled, “Eternal Troubadour: The Improbably Life of Tiny Tim,” which is slated for release in spring, 2014.
David Elliott, Aaron Hamel, and Ernie Clark contributed to this review.
- Martin Sharp, Tiny Tim and the Street of Dreams (unapologeticallyplastic.wordpress.com)