Chameleon Label: Zero Communications
Released: 1980 / 2007
Wonderful World of Romance Label: Zero Communications
Released: 1980 / 2007
Stardust Label: Zero Communications
Looking for a fool’s errand? Try going onto a city street, picking a person at random, and convincing them that Tiny Tim was anything more than a freakish-looking footnote of late-‘60s pop culture.
Actually, don’t even waste your time. It’s not worth the trouble. The average person might be familiar with his warbling ukulele rendition of “Tiptoe through the Tulips,” and, if they’re a little older, they might even recall when he and his beloved Miss Vicki were married live on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” since it was one of the highest-rated episodes in the show’s history. But if you dare to suggest that Tiny Tim was more than a one-trick pony, musically-speaking, you’ll be laughed right off the street and into the path of a moving car…and, certainly, nobody wants that, least of all Bullz-Eye. (Our insurance premiums would go through the roof!)
Tim was a man with a few obstacles to overcome, not least of which was being pigeonholed as a novelty act. In truth, however, Tiny Tim was a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of music from the early part of the 20th century, and he loved to perform and record songs from that era whenever given the opportunity; given that “Tiptoe through the Tulips” was actually written in 1926, Tim was clearly flaunting this preference from the very beginning. The problem is that these songs which so thrilled Tim are, for the most part, completely unknown to today’s audiences. As a result, when you examine the three new Tiny Tim reissues that have just emerged from the Japanese label Zero Communications, your eyes tend to fall to the most recognizable song titles...and as you find yourself wondering what on earth it would sound like to hear Tim singing AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” suddenly, you’re back to thinking of him as a novelty act again.
Okay, so maybe he was a novelty act in the eyes of most; nonetheless, there was definitely more to Tiny Tim than that, as these albums clearly reveal.
Chameleon and Wonderful World of Romance both came out in 1980, but, for some reason, they were only released in Australia. (Was he really that much more successful there?) Adding to their hard-to-get nature was the fact that only a thousand copies were pressed of the former and a mere 200 copies of the latter; in fact, Wonderful World of Romance didn’t even have a proper cover, which explains why the front of the CD booklet simply shows the original label from the LP. Stardust, meanwhile, is a new compilation of previously-unreleased songs and alternate takes of earlier numbers.
If you’re looking for an album that straddles the two worlds of Tiny Tim, Chameleon is the perfect selection. Tim is all over the place with his song selections, starting with a tremendous and brassy performance of “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” ending with a somewhat strange version of “My Way” in which he opts to sing as if he’s an old man with no teeth, and, in between, offers a crazy cover of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” There’s also a version of “The Great Pretender” (which, if memory serves, had an accompanying video that aired on the USA Network’s late, lamented “Night Flight”) and silly but fun performances of “The Hukilau” and “Mickey Mouse Club March,” the latter done in perfect Mickey Mouse voice. The bonus tracks here find Tim offering a better “Dancing in the Streets” than Bowie and Jagger managed, two different but equally bluesy takes on “St. Louis Blues,” and a version of the Don Ho standard, “Tiny Bubbles,” that’s quintessentially Tiny Tim.
The most heartfelt of the three albums is Wonderful World of Romance, which teams Tim with pianist Marvin Lewis and cellist Nathan Waks for a romp through some of those obscure standards that Tim so enjoyed. Making absolutely no concessions in order to achieve commercial appeal, the album actually bears the subtitle, “For Tiny Tim Fans Only,” but that’s not entirely true. Though the songs will almost certainly be new to your ears if you’re under the age of 60 (their composition years range from 1918 to 1932), Tim’s love for the material shines through every moment. The album was recorded direct to disc, so it’s almost like a personal concert, particularly with Tim offering a few sentences of exposition for most of the tracks. The most fun offering is probably “Million Dollar Baby,” which was recorded by Bing Crosby, among others, but other highlights include “She’s A New Kind of Old Fashioned Girl” and a pair of parental tributes, “Stand Up and Sing for Your Father” and “That Wonderful Mother of Mine.” The original release of the album only contained eleven songs, but this highly expanded reissue adds eleven more, from a second direct-to-disc session Tim did for this album; there are a few differences in the selections at the beginning – “Million Dollar Baby” and “Prisoner of Love” are switched out for “As You Desire Me” and “Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear” – but, otherwise, there are only slight differences in the recordings of the other tracks.
Stardust, inevitably, is the least of this trio, if only because it’s an odds-and-sods collection that doesn’t really hold up as a proper album; the recording quality varies wildly from track to track, with some only being snippets of songs that last less for less than a minute. There’s also a temptation to bemoan the large number of covers, since it does nothing but play up the novelty aspect of Tim’s career; in the long run, though, Tim sounds like he’s having so much fun on some of these renditions that you have to love them. The aforementioned cover of “Highway to Hell” really does kick ass, and his version of The Doors’ “People are Strange” is so damned goofy that it’s impossible not to grin at it. What saves a lot of these songs is Tim’s completely bizarre vocal range, and his occasional decision to flip from falsetto to baritone between verse and chorus; “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” starts off sounding like “Tiptoe through the Tulips,” but in less than 30 seconds, Tim’s bellowing from the depths of his soul, with a fuzz guitar version of Keith Richards’ famous riff at his back. The closing pair of tracks, “A Woman to Love” and the title track (yes, the Hoagy Carmichael song), are particularly nice performances which play to Tim’s strengths as a straight crooner.
Unfortunately, none of these albums are available through iTunes, nor are there samples of them available on Amazon, so, realistically, the likelihood that you’ll ever consider purchasing them is probably somewhere between slim to none. Still, if you’ve got a sense of humor and an appreciation for a man with a decidedly unique musical vision, behold the work of Tiny Tim and take a chance; as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into, you’ll be grinning all the way.