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Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story airs as part of Independent Lens on many PBS stations tonight (check local listings). You can enter a contest to have have your poem set to music.

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.”

Kate writes:

…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.

The liner notes for “I Died Today,” a CD of Keith’s music are oline as well as a transcript and the audio of a seventeen-minute story his son did for This American Life.

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.

There is a story (complete with music) in Entertainment Weekly, another in the Hartford Advocate, and Jon Pareles wrote an article in Sunday’s New York Times.

Yo La Tengo has covered song-poems including “Santa Claus Goes Modern” on “Merry Christmas From Yo La Tengo” which you can buy on their site.

Kurt Anderson’s Studio 360 did a story on song-poems (scroll down the page a ways to listen).

There will be a benefit reception and screening of “Off the Charts” tonight at the San Francisco Indie Film Fest with some of the song-poets featured in the documentary.

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About Steve Rhodes

  • She’s Worth Fighting For

    She’s been called Old Glory
    Some call Her Stars and Stripes
    She’s called the Star Spangled Banner
    By Her people of many types

    She’s survived Indian arrows
    Cannons from ships of old
    Leading the US Cavalry
    On horses they fought so bold

    She’s Worth Fighting For
    She’s Worth Fighting For
    They Call Her Old Glory
    And She’s Worth Fighting For

    She’s traveled across the oceans
    Survived bombs and enemy tanks
    She held Her stripes up proudly
    As they bombed Pearl Harbor’s banks

    She’s been to the Moon, Korea, Viet Nam
    She has went
    With liberty and justice for everyone
    That’s why she was sent

    She’s Worth Fighting For
    She’s Worth Fighting For
    They Call Her Old Glory
    And She’s Worth Fighting For

    She’s went to the Persian Gulf
    The world called Her once more
    To help free Kuwait
    On the Saudi Arabia Shore

    While soldiers fought so bravely
    On the battlefield She did fly
    They supported Her in combat
    For Her many did die

    She’s Worth Fighting For
    She’s Worth fighting For
    They Call Her Old Glory
    And She’s Worth fighting For

    By jet planes her people were attacked
    Through the Nation they did cry
    New York’s Twin Towers fell to the ground
    From dust and ashes She Did Fly!

    Today she will fly in Battle
    in Iraq she will go
    To help free the people
    from a very evil foe

    She proudly covers Her heroes
    presented to families so proud
    Though their hearts will be broken
    When the rifles salute so loud

    She has called all Americans
    To fight for Her today!
    So ask God to bless our flag
    And bless the USA

    She’s Worth Fighting For
    She’s Worth Fighting For
    They Call Her Old Glory
    And She’s Worth Fighting For

    Author: Bobby J Moffitt Jr.
    3025 Stearns
    Wichita Falls, Tx 76301
    Former US Marine (Viet Nam Vet ) , Former Deputy Sheriff from Forth Worth, TX.

    Please pass this poem on to all who love our flag and country!