25 Years Ago: Rhino Records Release ‘Golden Throats: the Great Celebrity Sing Off’
On May 18, 1988, the fine folks at Rhino Records opened a door to a world few knew existed by releasing 'Golden Throats: The Great Celebrity Sing-Off.' The LP showcased the forgotten artifacts from a time when actors regularly put out records, cashing in on 'the sounds of today' or 'the now sounds of the jet set generation,' or some other such tag line. Say what you want about such boring things as 'artistic merit' and jab if you must about how these, um, 'vocalists' abused these songs, you would be hard pressed to find a more entertaining batch of tunes.
For the record, there are usually those who will hear this stuff, see the humor in it, laugh quite a bit, and move on. There are others, mind you, who upon hearing say Joel Grey's rendition of the Cream classic 'White Room,' will retort with something along the lines of, 'That's just bad.' These are the people we are sending out of the room at this point.
Yes, it is true. Some of the takes on rock classics found here will make you bust a gut, others may make your skin crawl while others will simply paste a dazed and confused look on your pretty little face. Take, for example, Sebastian Cabot and his serious reading of Bob Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone.' Cabot, then starring in the TV series 'Family Affair, issued an entire LP titled 'Sebastian Cabot Actor: Bob Dylan Poet' where he simply reads the lyrics of the songs over top of the music. Never attempting to sing (probably a wise move), Cabot delivers a dry take on Dylan which one can't help but muster a chuckle or two.
Elsewhere we have such gems as the aforementioned 'White Room,' which came from an album Grey released in 1968 title 'Black Sheep Boy' (named after the oft-covered Tim Hardin song). Grey's interpretation of Cream here is heavy on the lounge with a bit of Broadway mixed in. In other words, not exactly what Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker had in mind. But, what the hell, it beats muzak! Leonard Nimoy kicking out Creedence Clearwater Revival's 'Proud Mary' as only a half-Vulcan/half-human could. Nimoy actually released five albums between 1967 and 1970. Someone must have been buying them!
The creme de la creme also comes from the Starship Enterprise. The works of William Shatner have been discussed at length for years now. His approach of overacting as musical interpretation has won fans for life. 'Golden Throats' features two of his 'best' numbers. His paint-peeling version of the Beatles' 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' sounds like he had been ingesting all the acid that John Lennon claimed the song was never about to begin with.
Tandem to that one is his signature take on Bob Dylan's 'Mr. Tambourine Man.' Second only to the Byrds' definitive rendition, Shatner takes the song and boldly goes where no song had gone before. In other words, he's still wigging out on the brown acid here and we love him for it. Shatner would continue to amaze with his vocal style over the years covering everyone from Elton John and Harry Chapin to Pulp, Deep Purple and Hawkwind.
The success of 'Golden Throats' opened the door for three more volumes over the next few years. It is amazing how, from the mid-1960s though the late-1970s, making albums was fair game for any popular actor, or celebrity. Albums by Donnie Most, John Travolta, Goldie Hawn and so on are, no doubt, littering some thrift store near you. Even genuine vocalists like Mel Torme and Frank Sinatra covered the hits of the day. And we can't forget Ethel Merman's disco album! We tried, but it ain't happening.
This trend has been replaced over time to the idea of simply letting anyone 'sing' and just using auto-tune to correct any unfortunate (or glorious) mishaps in pitch or phrasing. You know what we're talking about...the current Top 40.