Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Musical Mirth of Meri Wilson: "Hey Lolly, Lolly"

Sappy, insipid, and Smile Button-semi-sweet as the '70s were, occasionally the corn was cute, even quixotically quirky, without being condescending. Such was the case in the charismatic confection of a frisky, fingers-did-the walking 45 called Telephone Man, novelty vocalist Meri Wilson's (the OTHER Meri Wilson; note the spelling of the first name) opus delicti to an amorous assault on the local AT&T lineman. The tune peaked at #18 on the Billboard charts in 1977 and earned Wilson the legacy of being one of Dr. Demento's favorite artists of all time.

Wilson, a military brat, was born June 15, 1949, in Nagoya, Japan, and was raised in Marietta, Georgia, where she studied piano and flute as a child. Continuing in the field of music, Wilson earned her BS in music from Indiana University and later garnered a Masters Degree in Music Education at Georgia State. After completing her roster of academics, the performing bug took her to Dallas, Texas, where she became a successful jingle singer, eventually writing the sexually suggestive yet simplistic and savory Telephone Man, which would enroll her as an official member in pop culture's fifteen minutes of fame club, and even bring a Boomer Castleman/Jim Rutledge-produced LP into manifestation.

After a hearty yet fruitless attempt at a follow-up to the one-TRICK-pony success of Telephone Man, the derivative Peter The Meter Reader, which failed to chart significantly, Wilson retired from entertainment. As the married Meri Edgemon, Wilson became a school teacher, working as a choral director in the Georgia public school system.

In 1995, with her children sufficiently raised, Wilson again opted for the entertainment world. Reigniting her talent as a songwriter, Wilson/Edgemon updated Telephone Man, transforming it into a latter-90s tune called The Internet Man, which appeared on a self-titled album released in conjunction with her revamped music career.

Sadly, the return to the limelight was short-lived. Wilson died in auto accident on December 28, 2002 when she lost control of her car on Highway 377 in Americus, Georgia during an ice storm. At the time of her death, Wilson/Edgemon was president of the Americus Arts Council and the Civic Chorus and had just arranged and directed the music for the "Cotton Patch Gospel" performance at the Rylander Theatre, receiving a state award for the project.

Telephone Man
Meri Wilson

-Peaked at #18 in 1977 and was her only hit
-Sold over a million copies
-A "novelty" song
-Produced by Boomer Castleman and Jim Rutledge of "Bloodrock"

I went to my apartment on a Monday at one
A-singin' do lolly, lolly shicky bum, shicky bum
Started movin' in it on a Tuesday at two
A-singin' do lolly, lolly shicky do, shicky do
Wednesday at three I called the phone company, singin':
"Hey baby, put a phone in for me"
Thursday at four he came a-knockin' at my door, singin':

"Hey, baby, I'm your telephone man
You just show me where you want it and I'll put it where I can
I can put it in the bedroom, I can put it in the hall
I can put it in the bathroom, I can hang it on the wall
You can have it with a buzz, you can have it with a ring
And if you really want it you can have a ding-a-ling
Because-a hey baby, I'm your telephone man"

Can you believe that? And then he says:

"Now when other fellas call ya tell 'em how it all began"

Well...can you imagine?

My heart began a-thumpin' and my mind began to fly
And I knew I wasn't dealin' with no ordinary guy
So while he was a-talking I was thinkin' up my plan
Then my fingers did the walkin' on the telephone man

Singin' hey lolly, lolly
Hey lolly, lolly
Hey lolly, lolly
Get it any way you can
Right? Ha ha ha, so...

I got it in the bedroom, and I got it in the hall
And I got it in the bathroom, and he hung it on the wall
I got it with a buzz, and I got it with a ring
And when he told me what my number was I got a ding-a-ling

A-singin' hey lolly, lolly
Hey lolly, lolly
Hey lolly, lolly
Just-a doin' my thing

Ha, ha...I've never done anything like this before!

The DSS Duo: Elwood Norris and F. Joseph Pompei

Elwood "Woody" Norris, California sound entrepreneur

George Bernard Shaw once described the works of Mozart as "The only music yet written that would not sound out of place in the mouth of God." Yet even as the mezzo-soprano is about to project the peak solo of Solitudini Amiche, thirty ringtones blaring the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake to Snoop Dogg's Up Jump The Boogie, explode throughout the Met and even the creator himself cannot resist answering the phone. And as disabling as this would be to high-strung, operatic artists and their crusty, consumer-conscious audiences, only two mere mortals, Elwood "Woody" Norris, a technological God from the ever-innovative state of California, and the even more Juno-esque-sounding F. Joseph Pompei, of "Technology Row's" Watertown, MA-based Holosonic Research Labs, have the indisputable solution to this auditory dilemma: Directional, or as it is known in its more Sci-fi-named commercial identity, Hypersonic Sound.

Using an ultrasound transmitter to project a laserlike beam of focused audible sound, HSS enables a listener standing in its pathway in a particular space to tune in to multidimensional waves that only they can hear. Norris and Pompei each assert that their respective version of Directional Sound is the premier source for its commercial marketing and use. Imagine a busload of 25 tourists, each with a transfixed look of satisfaction, listening to separate pieces of music, without screeching walkmans or the use of headphones. Apply this scenario to the dilemma of obnoxious ringtones blaring in public and the mezzo-soprano can finish her Solitudini Amiche solo without incident. But how many audience members apparently mesmerized by the viking-horned vocalist's coloratura are actually listening to her?

Loudspeaker manufacturers, such as Meadowlark Swift, Spendor S5e, and Focal JMIab Cobalt 806, beware! Your commercial days may be numbered! Visualize a crowded convention trade show, the din of meshed noise as speaker systems blat multiple, distorted messages pertaining to products on display (or even lost children separated from parents in the rush of the crowd). Now imagine that tumultuous cacophony replaced by thousands of beams of sound directed concurrently through space yet enabling only those at each display to hear the singular sounds of that exhibit.

HSS founding fathers Norris and Pompei are as focused and yet different as the sound gradients directed by their systems. Norris, a 65-year-old self-styled pioneer and sound savant with no college degree or intricate scientific background, honed his formal education while working as a radar technician in the U.S. Air Force. Earning million of dollars as a maverick inventor who has created various audio devices, such as a hearing-aid-sized FM radio, a line of flash-memory voice recorders and car audio systems, and several models of cell-phone headsets, Norris purports to have been working on HSS systems for the past decade. Persistent, driven, and highly intuitive, Norris claims to have invested $40 million in his research and development of Directional Sound.

Pompei, a 30-year-old academician, with an electrical engineering degree from Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a master's degree in Psychoacoustics from Northwestern University, has worked for the world-famous Bose loudspeaker company in Framingham, MA. and is the creator of the Audio Spotlight System. It was during his educational stint at Northwestern that Pompei began devising ways of converting silent ultrasound into a vehicle for producing audible sound. While working on his PHD at MIT, Pompei developed his HSS system, Holosonic, which works by pointing a spotlight of sound at a human recipient and basically linking them, via the beam, to the sound itself.

The danger of abuse of the developed HSS systems is already evident. "Harrassment Technology", wherein innocent civilians could be subjected to unwanted noises that emanate from the air around them, such as annoying bird calls, or fabricated human voices (such as mock police commands to "pull over" or "Stop or I will shoot!") has already occurred via cruder variations on the same technological theme as Norris and Pompei's accoustical heterodyne.

Pompei, interviewed by author Roland Schulte at the forum on the web says that there are practical advantages to the Hypersound Systems. "The applications that are the most interesting are the utilitarian, the workhorse applications. The most interesting ones are the ones that permit the use of the sound in a place you normally couldn't. That's an interesting concept for people to understand, a nice quiet environment. They want it both ways, a quiet room and a quiet environment, but they still want to add sound without losing the background. The Audio Spotlight lets them do that, which is great for galleries and retail stores and other kind of solutions. I find those applications tremendously interesting."

Does this mean the ultimate end to commercial sound distortion? Will segments of music be shot through the air at concerts to emphasize a guitar riff or a vocal excerpt kaleidoscopically like light shows of yesteryear? If you accompany a friend with certain tastes to a Britney Spears performance and you wish to listen to the sultry tones of Madeleine Peyroux instead, just lean a little to the side and immerse yourself in that invisible beam just to your left. Much better.

F. Joseph Pompei , MIT's Maestro of Directional Sound

R&B from The Twilight Zone: Nolan Strong & The Diablos

Singular, resonant guitar notes, like the ponderously slow, nightmarish ticking of a clock in an ominous film noir, presage urgent mystery. A zombified base vocal insistently chants the word "wind...wind...wind...", melding with an ethereal, phantom tenor which escalates and glides eerily in a lonely summer breeze. It is 1954, one year before Rock and Roll begins its ascent to the heights of fame, and Michigan songsters, the Diablos, create an interstellar R&B masterpiece, The Wind, an ode to the denial of lost love.

With exotic titles such as Adios, My Desert Love, and Hold Me Until Eternity, The Diablos helped tiny, homespun Fortune Records, begun in 1947 by songwriter Devora Brown, become a landmark of the Detroit music scene. Owing to the superlative high tenor of lead Diablo Nolan Strong, Fortune Records scored its third national hit, The Wind, considered to be one of the all-time masterpieces in black vocal group harmony.

Strong, inspired by the silky tenor of Drifters vocalist Clyde McPhatter, was born on January 22, 1934, in Scottsboro, Alabama, and was one of the premier musical influences on a youthful, pre-Motown Smokey Robinson. At the age of 16, Strong assembled the first Diablos grouping, consisting of himself, Willie Hunter, Quentin Banks, Juan Guitierrez, and guitarist Bobby Edwards, while attending Detroit's Central High School. With the advent of newly emerging Rock and Roll, as the Diablos booked on-going gigs throughout the mid-western and northeastern U.S., group members Banks and Guitierrez were replaced by musicians Jim Strong (Nolan's brother) and George Scott.

Because the Diablos had achieved notoriety prior to the insurgence of Rock and Roll and they hailed from a record label which could not compete with the promotion given to rising stars like Chicago's El Dorados, or nationally known artists such as Little Richard, The Moonglows, or Etta James, they never achieved their deserved commerical stature. Their majestic creation, The Wind, was covered by New York Doo-Woppers, The Jesters, who, in 1960, eclipsed The Diablos' version in terms of airplay and popularity. Times had changed and although the Jesters' version of The Wind was considered critically inferior, a new generation of listeners, many of whom did not know of the Diablos, were exposed to the Jester's version via the myriad rock and roll radio stations which had not existed in 1954.

Though the Diablos never achieved nationwide hit record status on Billboard and their name was changed to that of the Velvet Angels when some of their material was re-released in the early '60s, they remain as legends of the R&B and Doo Wop world because of the haunting intonations infused in their 1954 classic The Wind. Nolan Strong, whose soft, agile, fawnish voice sounded like a past-life Michael Jackson, died at the relatively young age of 43 in 1977 but his legacy continues on more than a quarter of a century after his death.