Mae West and Other Sonic Celebrity Train Wrecks

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Mae West: Way Out West

For years I’ve seen a pricey album up on the walls of collectors’ record shops that I’d always wanted to own, by none other than Mae West.  I wanted to own it for the same reason most people bought it the first place:  I’ll call it — for lack of a better word — audio rubbernecking.  This is the kind of record you buy incredulously and, when it turns out to be worse than you ever possibly expected it to be, you say to yourself, in an almost dumbfounded manner, “of course it is awful, how could it not be?”

Yet we continue to rubberneck, year in, year out, as evidenced by the popularity of today’s Autotune wonders like the “Bedroom Intruder” song, cobbled together by some clever studio dudes using pathetic TV news broadcasts transformed into a viral video runaway hit.

I recently found an original copy of Mae West’s Way Out West at a very affordable price ($3!) so I had to buy it.  And I still wonder what the producers were really thinking when they had the… erm…  groovy idea of bringing Ms. West into a recording studio to record covers of  rock hits of the day.  The album was issued on the Tower Records subsidiary of Capitol Records.  The choice of songs is inspired, including “If You Gotta Go, Go Now,” “Shakin’ All Over,” “Boom Boom,” and many others.  According to the Interwebs, the backing group  was a teen garage combo called Somebody’s Chyldren, and they are pretty good, cranking out credible bluesy British Invasion-inspired mid ’60s rock and roll.

I finally got up the nerve to play the album, though, and was only able to make it through one side of the disc. It is, quite frankly, a train wreck. What were they thinking? This is right up there with Pat Boone recording a Heavy Metal album (which he did).

Mae West Great Balls of FireAnd as if finding an affordable copy of Way Out West wasn’t enough excitement for a record collector to endure, imagine the palpitations of heart and soul when I found out there were subsequent rock and roll albums by Mae West.  After all, Way Out West had apparently become something of a hit, actually charting at #116 on the billboard charts (according to the Wiki).  So when I found a copy of her 1972 opus, Great Balls of Fire, on the MGM label, I had to get this one too (also, thankfully, under $5).  If that wasn’t enough, a week later I found a white label promo copy of the same LP in the bargain bins at Amoeba!

I guess the generation that might have been genuine Mae West fans have declined to the point that the albums have lost their appeal.

Or maybe people realized that the records are simply travesties of the highest order, which warrant only a once-in-ten-years listen (if that). At least Great Balls of Fire seems to have its tongue more firmly planted in cheek, the track listing mostly flirting with sexual innuendo:  “Men,” “The Naked Ape,” “The Grizzly Bear,” and… um… “Rock Around the Clock.”  Some of the tracks are genuine comedy shtick, so its cute fun.  Terrible. But cute. Fun.


The most stunning train wreck comes on side two, where Mae conquers — yes, conquers, I tell you! — The Doors’ “Light My Fire.”   Especially when, at the end of the track, a fire truck siren blows and then a British-voiced fireman comes in and asks “Wheres the fire? Where’s the fire!?” To which Mae responds “In your eyes, big boy. In your eyes.”

Okay, so maybe the term should be trashes instead of conquers.

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Perhaps this is what Amy Winehouse might have sounded like this had she lived into her 70s, which was the approximate age Mae was when she cut these deep grooves.

The Piano Aristrty of Jonathan Edwards

One of my genuinely favorite bad records is The Piano Aristrty of Jonathan Edwards, a classic that, even though it was intended as a comedy record, wasn’t presented as such.  The cover looks like any standard pop record of the times (in the 1950s) with compelling liner notes and such.  The only hint of mischief was the two left hands on the piano on the cover picture.  The only way you find out this is a comedy record — made by big band legend Paul Weston and his wife, singer Jo Stafford as a result of an act they used to do at parties parodying bad lounge singers and players with horribly bad  singing and playing — was to play it.

It takes real talent to sing this off key intentionally:

I’m still looking for a copy of Sebastian Cabot reading the poetry of Bob Dylan.  Really, it exists.

And then there is Mrs. Miller and Florence Foster Jenkins (I own one of these original self-pressed 78s she used to sell at her concerts, by the way), as well as William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s classics, but everyone knows those by now.

Let us know if you have any faves.

And on that note, we’ll leave you with David Hasselhof’s big Euro dance hit. The video is a jaw-dropping train wreck of epic proportions.

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  •; Kent Kotal

    Interestingly enough the Mae West album “Way Out West” is the answer to one of the trivia questions we just ran as part of our Joel Whitburn / Forgotten Hits Trivia Challenge! (I stumbled across your site while doing research on this LP!)
    Somebody’s Chyldren (credited on the LP as Mae’s backing band) is actually Gary Lewis and the Playboys. (Take a closer look at that LP cover!)
    Which in and of itself is pretty amazing when one considers that “The Playboys” in the recording studio were actually The Wrecking Crew … and Gary Lewis’ lead vocals were typically layered over a “guide vocal” laid down by a studio singer named Ron Hicklin! So how on earth Gary Lewis and the Playboys got THIS gig is beyond me!
    You’ll find the complete story later this week on The Forgotten Hits website: … and several of our other articles archived at
    I just thought it was amazing that we would both be covering this rare and unusual LP within the span of a couple of weeks. Pretty cool actually!
    Kent Kotal
    Forgotten Hits

  • Mark Smotroff

    Nice to hear from you Ken. Interesting points but now I’m going to have to research this more.From everything I’ve seen online, Somebody’s Chyldren was indeed a real band that put out several singles, not just the Mae West album. To your point, Gary Lewis and the Playboy’s early hits were played by The Wrecking Crew for the most part. I’ll keep looking around for more info on this. Thanks for writing and peaking my curiosity further!

    • Mark Smotroff

      PS: Gary Lews & The Playboys were a 5 piece band. Somebody’s Chyldren (as photographed on the cover of the Mae West album, at least) were a 4 piece.

  •; Kent Kotal

    Well, it’s official … that is NOT Gary Lewis and the Playboys on the front cover of the Mae West album. In fact, Gary himself confirmed that they had absolutely NOTHING to do with the recording of this LP (although he said he would have loved to have met Mae West!!!)
    Sounds like we caught an error in Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Albums Book … which will now be corrected for the next printing.
    Meanwhile, you can check out the WHOLE story here:
    Thanks, Mark!

  • R. Mark Desjardins

    It’s alway fun to stumble upon a site where Mae West’s recording career period is discussed. I have been researching her life and times for several years now, my manuscript entitled, “In Search of Mae West.’ Her early Vaudeville career revolved around risqué musical numbers which she rearranged to make as daring as times allowed. Her first film role in “Night After Night” being the exception, West always featured lavish musical production numbers in all her films, including her last two. As well, she sold a sizeable number of 78 rpm records during the Depression when money for such luxuries was hard come by. Ian Whitcomb, the British 60’s musician produced “Great Balls of Fire” and has many delightful stories of his zany encounters with West in her Ravenswood Apartment lair where iI the pair mapped out what specific songs they would record.

    Mark, you relate finding a while label copy of “Balls.” Listen to it carefully, as you may have discovered a true treasure. The original sessions recorded in 1968 included an extra track, “Love Potion No.9,’ which in my opinion is the best track of the entire session. For some reason this track was scraped and the album master sat in the MGM vault for over around two years. At about the time Myra Breckinridge was released, Mike Curb came on board at MGM and decided to add the Mike Curb Congregation chorus to all the tracks. During the delay in release, many of the world leaders named by Mae in the track “How Miss West Saved The World” had moved off the world stage, so she recut the session to update it. A fellow i met who used to work at Dunhill Records had been given an autographed copy of the remixed vinyl record by Mae West herself. A friend of his who worked at MGM and would trade releases with one another, offered him a white label copy, which my friend initially refused. When told it was a different pressing, he was delighted when he heard it. I had a cassette copy until a few years ago when by happy accident I noticed a white label pressing being offered on eBay. it came from Britain and was inscribed by Ian Whitcomb as a gift! Imagine my delight.

    To further add to my good luck, a friend managed to surprise me with the cardboard jacket of her “Way Out West” personally inscribed by Mae West to her Fan Club President at the time, Craig Eadie, who latter became the iconic female impersonator, Craig Russell. She wrote, “Pulsating’ in vinyl, I hope you like my lesson in progressive education.” Sincerely, Mae West.

    Mae West is truly the finest woman I never met!

    • R. Mark Desjardins

      P.S. I should point out that the “white label” “Great Balls of Fire” vinyl record I refer to above is a test pressing with no printing on the label. This may not be the white label copy you found. However, there may still be some of the test pressings out there. Well, worth the hunt!