Starburst Memories: Robert Mitchum “Calypso – is like so…”

The OED defines “completist” as “An obsessive (and often indiscriminate) collector”. The key word here is “indiscriminate”. I have amassed some crap in my time. The gap in my Bowie collection where ‘Tin Machine II’ should go keeps me awake at nights even as I contemplate taking ‘Tin Machine I’ and throwing it in the sea. And so when I learnt that Robert Mitchum had recorded an album of calypso music in the fifties, I had to have it.

SURPRISED THAT ROBERT MITCHUM SINGS CALYPSO?” asks the back cover. “IT WOULD BE STRANGER IF HE COULDN’T!

It goes on to explain why but I’m just going to leave that oddly threatening statement hanging there.

According to Mitchum’s biographer, “Mitchum got bit by the Calypso bug while on location in Trinidad and took to wandering the beaches, serenading people with impromptu calypso songs.” Personally I can think of few things more terrifying than the prospect of the man who terrorized children, old women and nubile teenagers in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) emerging from the ocean spray with a ukulele and singing at me as I’m trying to enjoy my holiday. I’d try to look like I was appreciating his rendition of ‘The Banana Boat Song’ but I’d be thinking about that bit in CAPE FEAR (1962) where he bear-hugs Gregory Peck to death naked in a swamp. The Thomson’s rep would be powerless to intervene.

And look at this picture from the inside cover:

That flat cap doesn’t quite scream “tropical paradise” does it? Less “sex on the beach” and more “night at the dogs”.

So what’s the record like? The first thing that hits you is his ill-advised attempt at Caribbean patois. Dean Martin meets Jar Jar Binks. “Surely he isn’t going to keep this up for the whole album?” you think. Oh yes. In fact it gets hammier and hammier as the record goes on, culminating in the track ‘Mama, Looka Boo Boo’ where he loses his way completely and turns into Joe Dolce. The second thing you notice is he actually has a pretty good baritone singing voice. He uses it to dispense home-grown pearls of wisdom for happier, more productive living, such as on the song ‘From A Logical Point Of View’:

If you want to be happy, in all of your life,
never make a pretty woman your wife

Therefore, from a logical point of view
better marry a woman uglier than you

An ugly woman give your meals on time
and try to make you comfortable in mind

And then there’s this bawdy number about a lady and a lost watch:

But don’t take my word for it, the Amazon reviews are effusive:

Not as bad as I expected

He’s a more authentic Calypso singer than Vanilla Ice was a rapper

In conclusion, this is a magnificent record and every household should own a copy. His country album on the other hand…

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