Saturday, March 25, 2006

Downtown (1966) – Mrs. Miller (Tony Hatch)

In the same vein as William Hung, Elva Miller’s recording career was a product of dubious talent, a record label insidious enough to exploit her, and a public eager for a dupe to ridicule. She exuded a carefree obliviousness that endeared her to listeners who were simultaneously repulsed yet compelled out of horror and curiosity to listen to her cavort in her own lotus land. Operatic and robust like the nun in The Sound of Music singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” Mrs. Miller’s shrill voice cracks and bludgeons with vibrato capable of shattering glass, and molests like the rotund aunt who pinched your cheeks and made you sit on her lap. In mangling Petula Clark’s signature song, Elva’s timing is more often off the beat than on; her tone and elocution smack of an etiquette instructor rather than a vocalist. She sings ahead of the beat, then waits for it to catch up to her, at some point realizing how lost she is. (She claims that she was conducted a beat ahead or behind while recording, and the orchestra would change tempo to confuse her—claims which don’t exactly pass scrutiny.) Aware of how ludicrous the whole affair has become, she laughs at one point in mid-verse. Despite her protestations that she wanted to be taken seriously as a singer, she lapses into whistling bird warbles—as if that would ever garner respect. Then, re-launching into the lyrics, she loses her place, forgets the words, and mumbles gibberish. Instead of stopping the take, she stumbles her way back into the lyric and continues about her romp. The song fades out to the strains of chirpy birdsong, but the listener escapes the whole fiasco with a peculiar sense of survivor’s guilt.

  • Listen to "Downtown" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
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