Off the Charts: The Song Poem Story

Off the Charts is a PBS documentary about song poems in which the film makers take an earnest and unbiased look at both the poets and musicians responsible for the 20th century phenomenon of song poems. If you're not familiar with this practice let me try to briefly explain what's going on here. Last century saw the boom of the recording industry, but with it came several companies who decided to dedicate themselves to writing, recording, and releasing songs based on lyrical content which was given to them by anyone who was willing to pay their submission fees. Since lyrical quality wasn't at a premium and mass production was the point, it was pretty much unavoidable that some of the most awkward, graceless, bizarre, and slapstick material in the history of music resulted. Classics such as Non-violent Taekwondo Troopers, Jimmy Carter Says Yes, and I Like Yellow Things are a few of my personal favorites. 

Truth is that my buddies and I have been listening to this music while playing poker for years now and I never bothered to look past the absurdity of the product and get the full picture. This documentary does that in a manner which I believe is both fair and heartwarming. It's fair in that you'll see how easily these musicians were slamming together their material and then moving on to the next one – it was a business, not an art. However, you also connect with the lyricists on a personal level after hearing and seeing their side of the story. Most of the submissions did come from sincere, if not slightly misguided individuals who believed in the worth of their work, and found satisfaction and fulfillment through this means of expression. 

Thank Jehovah for kung fu bicycles and Priscilla Presley – and song poems. You dig?