THE BLOG
09/26/2012 02:31 pm ET Updated Nov 26, 2012

JFK Tribute 45's From the Fringes

Mr KennedyNovember 22, 1963, saw the end of John F. Kennedy's life, and, as many have observed, the end of many hopes, dreams and wishes, of a certain innocence, and of any success for Vaughn Meader. But literally within days, the events on that Dallas afternoon had given birth to a new cottage industry, that of JFK tribute records. Has anyone been to a rummage sale, estate sale or used record sale without coming across at least a few copies of Kennedy tribute LP's?  

More interesting to me than the mass-produced big budget albums from the major labels are the one-off singles done with perhaps more sincerity than talent. For your consideration today, here are two of them. 

Johnny Tucker appears to have made only one single for the obscure Sonic label. The record is undated, but one online source indicates that the backing band heard here is listed on some copies (although not mine) as The Pastels, aka The Vigilantes. Johnny's tribute is simply titled "Mr. Kennedy," and is straightforward enough until about the halfway point, where someone made the bizarre decision -- one I can't remember ever hearing on a record -- of having a spoken word section double tracked, made even weirder by the fact that the two vocals are ever so slightly out of synch with each other! 

I've included the flip side, "Walk With Me" (which does not related in any way to Kennedy) for completists: 

Johnny Tucker - Mr Kennedy (MP3)  |  Johnny Tucker - Walk With Me (MP3)  | Johnny Tucker A-side Label  |  Johnny Tucker B-side Label

Song-Poem companies also made hay off of the Kennedy tragedy. Today's other record came from the Sterling song-poem factory in Boston, and features one of my favorite song-poem singers, Norm Burns. (If you are not familiar with the term (or the genre) "song-poem," the best explanation of it can be found here.)
My particular love for this singer is fairly hard to explain, if all you have in evidence is this record, which is fairly awful in both writing and performance, but there are enough examples of his gifts here to demonstrate why I think so highly of him.

This record, however, is more entertaining for its deficits, particularly some of the choices made by the songwriter, who contributed the lyrics to both sides. The more famous song here is "John F. Kennedy Was Called Away," which was included in both the first (LP) and second (CD) song-poem compilations released, back in the '90's, and again, I'll include that here, both because it fits the topic, and because there may be some who haven't heard it. The flip side has not been heard outside of those of us obsessives in the song-poem collecting world, and it shares some of the same qualities with its more famous record-mate. It's called "John F. Kennedy's Election Race". 

The laziness (or perhaps incompetence) of the songwriter really calls attention to itself. I particularly like: 

 "And now he is gone, and all we can do is sing these songs" (did the obvious and more effective rhyme "carry on" really not occur to the writer?)

(about Oswald): "He saw that there's really no use, because there's nothing anyone wanted to do."   (um...huh?)

"He did not discriminate any race.... (he) tried to keep each and every one in his place" (well, which was it?)

"Now in West Berlin, he had been"

And my favorite is the way the lyrics to "Election Race" build up to the big finish, that last important line, in which we learn that: 

"John F. Kennedy loved our air force base!"

This record, by the way, came out nowhere near time of the events it describes, but rather, was produced some time around 1972. 

Norm Burns and the Five Stars - John F Kennedys Election Race (MP3)  |  Norm Burns and the Five Stars - John F Kennedy Was Called Away (MP3)  |  "Election Race" Label  |  "Called Away" Label 

 

Subscribe to the Entertainment email.
Home to your favorite fan theories and the best movie recs.