Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: One of Brenda Lee's many magnificent ballads, “All Alone Am I,” opens with a distinctive string section.

By hearing only the first second, I could name that tune.

However, there is another song from the early '70s with a very similar beginning, but with some psychedelic-era lyrics. Please try to identify it for me.

Otherwise, the only other fragment I recall is a line about ducks in a pond.

What is it and how can I find it?
—Wendy Ferris, Paducah, Ky.

DEAR WENDY: The water foul clue cinched it.

This bouncy tune is “Kaleidoscope,” and your notes perfectly describe the version by Glenn Yarbrough.

Written by Rod McKuen, “Kaleidoscope” is, like many of his compositions, a poem with a melody.

Allow me to jog your memory regarding McKuen's ducks with just the first verse:

“Come with me, what wonders we'll find
The ducks on the millpond that swim in the mind
Come with me, together we'll go
Where buttercups shoot through the roof of the snow
And many the sights that we'll see
I'll look in your eyes and see me.”

Owning it is easy, and you have choices.

If vinyl is your preference, you'll find “Kaleidoscope” on Glenn's 1971 LP, “Bend Down and Touch Me” (Warner Bros. 1911).

As for a CD, look for “I Think of You: Glenn Yarbrough Sings Rod McKuen” (Delta 018111242929).

Years before those ducks turned up in the “Kaleidoscope” lyrics, a poem titled “Ducks on the Millpond” appeared as one of the tracks on the 1967 spoken-word LP, “Listen to the Warm” (RCA Victor LSP-3863).

Glenn Yarbrough did indeed sing Rod McKuen, and frequently.

Three more fine collections of their teamwork are:

“Glenn Yarbrough Sings the Rod McKuen Songbook (A Collection of 26 Happy and Lonely Songs)” (RCA Victor VPS-6018); “The Lonely Things: Love Songs of Rod McKuen” (RCA Victor LSP-3539); and “ Glenn Yarbrough Sings the Words and Music of Rod McKuen: Each of Us Alone” (Warner Bros. 1736).

In 1959, nine years before his string of charted albums began, Rod McKuen and comedian Bob McFadden recorded at least 15 novelty tracks for Decca. Nearly all of these soon appeared on Decca's Brunswick and Coral labels.

One, “The Mummy” (Brunswick 55140) even became a Top 40 hit, no doubt boosted by a tie-in to the 1959 film of the same title.

Hoping to appeal to both horror film fans and the cha-cha dance craze, the follow-up chosen was “Dracula Cha-Cha” (Coral 62209). Another novelty, but this one flopped.

Based on just the one hit, Brunswick released an LP full of these type tunes. Among some of the other wacky tracks are: “Sing Along with the Mummy;” “Frankie and Igor at a Rock and Roll Party;” “Son of the Hound Dog;” and “Beverly Hills Telephone Directory Cha Cha Cha.”

Surprisingly, especially considering the time period and type of music, the album (Brunswick 7-54056) contains true stereo recordings.

The appeal of this oddity keeps its value between $100 and $200.

Using nom de guerres like “Dor” (Rod spelled backwards) and Oliver Cool, McKuen was still several years away from creating prose about ducks on the millpond.

IZ ZAT SO? Wedged between his fling with mummies, vampires, beatniks, etc., and timeless beauties like “Seasons in the Sun” and “Jean,” Rod McKuen jumped on and off the hot teen dances and trends.

Movies in 3-D were a short-lived trend, so in 1959 Rod — this time as Dor and the Confederates — gave us “The 4-D Man” (Brunswick 55159).

In late 1961, “The Twist” (Chubby Checker) and “The Peppermint Twist” (Joey Dee Starliters) were both in the Top 10, so McKuen put out “Oliver Twist” backed with “Celebrity Twist” (Spiral 1407).

He followed those with “Miss American Teenager” and “I Dig Her Wig” (Spiral 6417).

Three months later, as “Duke of Earl” (Gene Chandler) held the nation's No. 1 spot, Rod countered with “Oliver Twist Meets the Duke of Earl” (Jubilee 5420).

Still, after 20 years and over two dozen singles, including some with very commercial titles, “The Mummy” remains McKuen's only hit 45 rpm.

His fans clearly favored the long-play format, making him a very successful albums artist.

Oh yes, never as Brenda Lee had so little to do with a column that mentions her in the first sentence.

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