Reading this article from our San Francisco sister blog All Shook Down got Rocks Off thinking: If Leadbelly could murder a man in cold blood, yet also excel in the gentle whimsy of children's music, could there have perhaps been other killers who tried to record children's albums that, for one reason or another, never got released?
We'll never reveal our sources, but as it turns out...
Jumpin' Al Capone & The Bowery Boys, Songs For Little Palookas
Before he was the leader of the Prohibition Era's most notorious Chicago crime syndicate, Al Capone was a young Italian-American thug on the streets of Brooklyn. Running with several different street gangs, he managed to find enough fellow street toughs who could play musical instruments to briefly form a crude ragtime band.
Dubbing himself "Jumpin'" Al Capone (a nickname which spectacularly failed to catch on), Capone led his six-member ensemble through ten children's songs, all highly derivative of popular Scott Joplin tunes. "Chin Music" warns children against gossip, and "Head Down" is an admonishment for kids to mind their own business. Indeed, most of the songs serve as pointed warnings towards children, or anyone listening, to leave Capone and his gang the hell alone, under poorly concealed threat of violence.
Needless to say, potential audiences weren't thrilled about having their kids threatened by a jowly singer with fresh scars on his face, and so Capone's band was scrapped shortly before he moved to Chicago to go into the import/export business.
Charles Whitman, We Will All Go To Heaven Today
In the months leading up to his shooting spree at the University of Texas, Charles Whitman obtained a tape recorder and recorded several songs, accompanying himself on guitar. With an aggressive tumor growing inside his brain, Whitman's state of mind clearly deteriorates as time goes on.
His earliest songs amount to a love song named after his wife, "Karen," and an ode to his beloved mother called "Mama Knows Me Best." Things take a turn for the strange when Whitman becomes obsessed with the non-Biblical legend of The Rapture, starting with a song of that title, continuing in "Death From Above," and coming to a close with the 7-minute experimental epic "Heaven Awaits."
After that, the songs are mostly depictions of angels swooping down and doing increasingly violent things to people with their heavenly swords. The last song, "I Am Become the Redeemer," is about what you'd expect. Avoid this album, unless you're trying to teach your children about "the Lord's" insane and random vengeance.
Bonnie & Clyde, Songs For Children
At some point early on in Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow's crime spree, they took a tape recorder off of one of their victims. While on the lam, they proceeded to record demo after demo of what, by the time of their deaths, amounted to 14 songs. Neither Bonnie nor Clyde possessed the ability to play any musical instrument, so with most songs the only accompaniment is a tambourine, or sometimes simply handclaps.
A few songs feature a child's xylophone toy that Parker was somehow able to get her hands on. Parker is thought to have been the most interested in making the recordings, as Barrow often only half-heartedly mumble-sings for the chorus of most of the songs and has no solo sections. The lyrics are also clearly written in Parker's "simplistic" style; the song "Trees" contains the lyrics "I like trees, trees are good/ Trees are sometimes made of wood."
Another song, called "Birds," simpy repeats the mantra "Birds got eyes, birds got wings/ I like to hear the birdies sing" over and over until a distant voice, obviously Barrow's, admonishes Parker to "cut the shit, I got a roarin' headache." After the lovers/criminals died in a hail of gunfire, police collected the tapes and donated them to WNOE, a local radio station, where they sat for years until an intern, looking for tapes that could be recorded over, discovered them.
That intern, a young Phil Hendrie, slipped the song "Nice Things Are Nice" into that evening's rotation, and before you could say "Weird Al," Bonnie & Clyde finally began to achieve a moderate amount of success as a novelty act. Rumor has it they were the main inspiration for The Shaggs.
The Donner Party, O, What A Glorious Feast!
After a winter excursion in the Sierra Nevada mountains turned into a bit of an ordeal, the surviving members of the Donner Party can't really be blamed for coming a little unhinged. Still, historical records chronicling the reactions of the few dozen people who originally heard this very limited-release phonograph as nothing less than gobsmacked at the sheer mountain of insanity therein.
Made up of eight surviving members of the actual Donner Party, The Donner Party, the band, were a group of competent, even gifted musicians who wanted to sing about one thing and one thing only: Food.
According to a brief 1880 interview in a tiny California news journal, the remaining Donners - and Reeds and Breens and so on, all calling themselves "Donners" for purposes of the album - were dismayed at the state of the post-Civil War nation, and wanted to remind people that although times were bad, at least food was still in reasonably good supply and most could go to bed with a belly full of... well, you know. Something decent.
All eight songs unfold as more or less worship hymns sung to food, with a few unfortunate titles such as "Manhunt," "Only Kill the Slow Ones," and "A Most Frozen, Bitter Flesh." The titles respectively reference a woman's search for love via cooking dinner for various suitors, the proper method of hunting jackrabbits, and the sad fate of the recently-extinct sea mink, but considering the Donner Party's history, perhaps greater care could have been chosen, wording-wise.
The album was given to several friends of the Donner Party survivors as a gift, and history shows that most of these copies were immediately sold or stowed away, unopened.
John Wayne Gacy, Send In the Clowns!
Gacy's children's album skews towards a very young audience, with merry, child-friendly instrumentation featuring ukuleles, bells, slide whistles, and even a calliope. Things start out innocently enough with the opening song, "Let's Sing and Dance!" but take a sudden depraved turn as early as the very next song, which is called "I Will Cut the Unholiness Out of You!"
Things only get worse from there, and at the albums' halfway point, a soft ballad called "Eyes On Fire!" Gacy croons "Laugh and dance and play and play/ And while the wondrous day away/ But I can see the demon inside/ Who peers at me from behind your eyes" shortly before describing, in graphic detail, how he intends to exorcise these demons - unsurprisingly, it involves a lot of sharp things.
The next-to-last track, "Sharing Is Caring!" is simply Gacy making guttural grunting noises while slowly strumming a guitar, and the final track, "Welcome to Your New Home!" is an eight-minute blast of static, occasionally punctuated by what sounds like someone pounding frantically on a hard surface and repeated muffled screams of things like "Let me out!" and "Somebody help!"
Obviously, the album was deemed inappropriate for children and, worse still, unlikely to yield a hit single, although a disco remix of the title track received moderate club play in the Chicago area for the first half of the '80s.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.