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I'm back mining the rich vein of the "Colors," episode, first broadcast back in February. This time we're looking at an Orange Colored Sky. Like most music from the Big City, it has its own, strange story... with a cast of characters including Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Frank Zappa, and Robin the Boy Wonder.
When out of an orange-colored sky
Flash! Bam! Alakazam!
Wonderful you came by
I was humming a tune, drinking in sunshine
When out of that orange-colored view
Wham! Bam! Alakazam!
I got a look at you
One look and I yelled "Timber"
"Watch out for flying glass" '
Cause the ceiling fell and the bottom fell out
I went into a spin and I started to shout,
"I've been hit, This is it, This is it!"
I was walking along minding my business
When love came and hit me in the eye
Flash! Bam! Alakazam!
Out of an orange-colored sky.
"Orange Colored Sky" was co-written by Willie Stein and Milton DeLugg in 19 and 50. Stein would go on to become producer of the TV quiz show, "To Tell the Truth," and the original "Price is Right."
DeLugg and Stein may have written the song for one of the themes for Broadway Open House, a `50s variety show on the old DuMont TV network where DeLugg led the house band, but as far as I can determine two other pieces of music were used instead. Broadway Open House was hosted at one time by Morey Amsterdam, giving us even more Theme Time and Dreamtime connections.
DeLugg might be best known to you for his stint as band leader for the infamous "Gong Show," where he and his group were known as "Milton DeLugg and the Band with a Thug." If you're a bit older, you might also remember him as composer for the score of the equally infamous kiddie cult flick, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," featuring a 9-year-old Pia Zadora, later much better known for cavorting in public fountains in g-string bikinis.In 19 and 67 DeLugg issued the solo album Accordion My Way--Ole!, with him featured wearing a Spanish bolero and an item still prized among collectors of space age pop lounge music.
Originally recorded by Stan Kenton and his Orchestra with The Nat King Cole Trio in August of 1950, Orange Colored Sky would be covered by Screamin' Jay Hawkins in 19 and 57. Hawkins' wild I Put a Spell On You was featured on Theme Time's "Halloween" episode. Sky would be another hit for Screamin' Jay, although it reached nowhere near the popularity of Spell.
According to a fan site, Hawkins picked up Sky because he had "always dug its strange changes." As he did with every piece of music he touched, here's Screamin' Jay making Orange Colored Sky his own.
[Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Orange Colored Sky]
Screamin' Jay Hawkins with lots of strange changes under an Orange Colored Sky.
We get a lot of mail here at Dreamtime, but here's a special one from a True Fan, who writes:
"Dear you, wonderful, fabulous, magnificent, exquisite Boy Wonder, A cold chill runs up my spine everytime I see you sock a villain, and, oh, how I cry when you're even scratched. Please, don't send me a mimeograph copy of interesting facts about you, I want your handwriting. I have a whole wall on my room dedicated to you.
Oh, Boy Wonder, I'm making a gum wrapper chain to symbolize my love for you. It's going to be as long as I am tall, and I'm 5 foot 10 inches in stocking feet. Please, Boy Wonder, PLEASE, come next Saturday and sleep for a week or two. I will feed you breakfast in bed, I will make your bed for you, and I like you so much that I want you to spend the whole summer with me.
(I hope you know this is a girl writing)"
Well, thank you fan, and I'm sure glad you're a girl. Keep on listening, okay?
Orange Colored Sky would be covered again in 19 and 91 by Nat's daughter, Natalie, on her album dedicated to her father's music, Unforgettable. But the song had an earlier cover 25 years before, in one of the strangest collaborations in music history... the day Frank Zappa met Robin the Boy Wonder.[Batman theme]
In 19 and 66, the Batman television series was at its height of popularity, and the actor who played Robin - Burt Ward - was a major teen heart throb. Ward wasn't the first actor who the studios thought they could make a quick buck from by getting him to croon a few tunes for the kids, but the problem was that Ward couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. Here's what Burt Ward had to say about his recording career
I should have had the wisdom I now have when I signed a recording contract with MGM Records... MGM staffer Tom Scott was assigned as my producer. He brought in one of the visually wildest groups imaginable as my backup band, the Mothers of Invention. What a sight! Neanderthal. They had incredibly long, scraggly hair, and clothes that appeared not to have been washed in this century if ever. These were musicians who became famous for tearing up furniture, their speakers, their microphones and even their expensive guitars onstage. They were maniacs!
Their fearless leader and king of grubbiness was the late Frank Zappa. After listening to me sing, Frank got a wild idea to make use of my hideous voice to do a hilarious recording with a song that had some of the Batman feel to it. He picked Orange Colored Sky.
I can't bear to think of this song. The memories are too embarrassing. Though the intent was to create comedy by putting my lousy singing to good use, the actual result was so disastrous that the studio thought the tape had been left out in the sun and warped.
Orange Colored Sky was released as a single and it got lots of air play. I am told that thirty years later it is still played regularly on Dr. Demento's Sunday show.
In an attempt at self-preservation, the record company had me just talk on the [next] two sides I recorded. That I could do very well! The material for the song was a group of fan letters that had been sent to me. Frank and I edited them together to make one letter, which became the lyrics for the recording. Frank wrote a melody and an arrangement, and we titled the song, Boy Wonder, I Love You!
Showing the care and attention to detail that marked the entire recording session, the single was released to deejays under the mislabeled title, Oranged Colored Sky, with the B-Side holding Boy Wonder, I Love You! Because I love my listeners at Dreamtime, I won't inflict the recording on them. But to give you a taste of what a Burt Ward/Mothers of Invention collaboration sounded like, here's Burt Ward with the unreleased spoken word, Teenage Bill of Rights.
[Burt Ward - Teenage Bill of Rights]
Sources: The Burt Ward/Frank Zappa connection; and a little bit more. Information on Milton DeLugg taken from here and here.
Burt Ward's recollections of the recording sessions, as well as the "Boy Wonder I Love You" mail are taken from Boy Wonder, My Life in Tights, Ward's 1995 memoir.
You've been listening to the Dreamtime podcast – occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour.
Dreamtime is researched and written by Fred Bals, and is a Not Associated With production. As the name says, we're not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else.
Some of the music on Dreamtime is provided via the Podsafe Music Network. Check it out at music.podshow.dot com. Our closing theme is performed by Lounge Affaire, courtesy of Christopher Murphy Studio.
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Until next time, dream well.
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