Liner notes and MP3s from the The American Song-Poem Anthology CD (which includes some of the songs heard in the documentary) are online at the extensive American Song-Poem archives site. It calls excellent blogger Kate Sullivan‘s LA Weekly article “an especially thoughtful feature on song-poem music in general.”
…the dingiest outpost of the record industry: the “song-poem,” or “demo” business. “Song-sharking” may be its most accurate label. You know, those outfits that advertise in the backs of tabloids: “Poems Wanted for Recording Consideration,” “Earn royalties!” “Poems Wanted for Songs & Records!”
Naive would-be poets sent in their lyrics — and a fee (nowadays around $100 to $400), expecting entrée to the music business, maybe even a hit song. What they got, instead, was a cheap-ass recording of their words set to music — usually recorded in four or five minutes. One take.
If they were very lucky, Rodd Keith, who worked for several song-poem companies in the ’60s and ’70s, had composed the accompanying melody and arrangement. In his hands, leaden, awkward poetry sometimes achieved a kind of transcendence; he could actually extract the original intent of the writer, it seemed — or else make something far more interesting, at risk of offending the customer. On “I’m Just the Other Woman,” Keith sang in a woman’s falsetto over a piano recording played backward. The lyricist demanded a new version.
Beth Lisick writes at the end of her latest column:
Ever since I received a copy of the documentary “Off the Charts” in the mail two weeks ago, I have made everyone who enters my home watch it…The songs that are cranked out in this commercial-artistic collaboration are unlike anything you’ve ever heard. To paraphrase Ellery Eskelin, a composer, saxophonist and avid collector of song-poems who is interviewed in the film, the songs draw on familiar musical genres like pop and rock, but because the lyrics are often so odd, there’s something completely unfamiliar about them. Incredibly executed and full of memorable characters, this film was obviously made by someone who respects heavy-duty pathos.