Bernard Manning - Everybody's Fool (Decca - 1974)
Ronnie Barker - Going Straight (EMI - 1978)
Wood Street Market, Wood Street, Upper Walthamstow, London
One pound each
Welcome to the first in an ongoing series of dips into the budget boxes and bins of second hand record stores and charity shops of this fair isle - neatly alphabeticised collector's items and classic releases need not apply.
Comedians have been releasing records for some considerable time now, with usually dreadful results. As casually dismissed as Vic Reeves' forays into the musical arts seem to be these days, it's worth remembering that most comics usually only manage to make total gimps of themselves when the recording studio red light goes on. Even Ken Dodd, who forged a vinyl career which somehow lasted decades, caused fear and dread to penetrate the hearts of every right-thinking person whenever he appeared on Top of the Pops with his wild hair neatly slicked back. We could also, if we wished, examine Jimmy Tarbuck's limited singing career, or Hale and Pace's "The Stonk", or (worse still) Gary Wilmot's Jungle Book medley, but there are some areas even this blog wishes to stay clear from.
Given the above evidence, any person believing that Bernard Manning's 1974 waxing "Everybody's Fool" could be anything other than dire could surely be forgiven. One of Decca's many flop singles of the period, it's a seldom referenced curio from a man who was better known in his time for cracking bigoted jokes about ethnic minorities than releasing pop records. Anyone expecting a racist calypso record about immigration here is going to be disappointed, however - "Everybody's Fool" is in fact a self-pitying ballad which could possibly give fellow Mancunian Morrissey a run for his money.
Across its play time Bernard frequently wails that he is "crying inside" with a voice which is surprisingly strong and earnest, and would probably bring comfort to many of his detractors. As the man made a living out of singing on the variety circuit way before the comic muse ever struck him, the fact he manages to pull this off without making himself seem too foolish probably shouldn't surprise us much. And sure, there's nothing exceptional about this record, and it sounds rather old school in its arrangements even for 1974, but the fact he comes out of the other side with his dignity intact is alarming. It's certainly not offensive, which is more than could be said for Newman and Baddiel's dreadful "Three Lions", as anybody who has ever witnessed a German being punched repeatedly in the face whilst some English football "fans" scream "Football's coming HOME!!!" and "Thirty years of HURT!!!" will doubtless testify.
Ronnie Barker, on the other hand, doesn't quite cut the mustard during the same decade. "Going Straight" was the follow-up sit-com to "Porridge" which didn't capture the public's imagination in the same way. Perhaps most of them turned off after hearing the theme tune, which was released as a spin-off single. "Going Straight" is an unfunny, never-ending shaggy dog story of a record without a discernable punchline, lyrically consisting almost entirely of comparisons made between bent objects and Fletcher's character. Macaulay and Clements must be given credit for successfully thinking of so many - perhaps the men would also be good at one of those intelligence tests where you have to think of uses for the humble paper clip - but why did they have to bore us with the results of their experiment? At least two minutes too long, "Going Straight" is an unenthusiastic, anaemic, rinky-dink-dink tune which sold next to no copies and frankly deserved to.
So there we have it - in the world of the comedy performer releasing singles, Bernard Manning comes out on tops as the Frank Sinatra of his parish, whereas Ronnie Barker is rather more like the washed up, barely tolerated local pub singer in his. These things are all relative, though, and it should go without saying that this is a review of their musical careers rather than a comparison between their abilities as comedians.
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