Now Sounds clearly can’t resist another tip-toe thru the tulips. Following the 2013 reissue of Tiny Tim’s debut God Bless Tiny Tim (1968) as an expanded mono edition, the Cherry Red imprint has recently returned to the catalogue of the late “Human Canary” for his Complete Singles Collection (1965-1970). Twenty years after Tiny Tim’s passing at the age of 64, his music remains equally beguiling and bewildering. These tracks, culled from his recordings at Blue Cat, Reprise and Scepter, find Tiny in the plushest surroundings of his musical career as he tackles standards and contemporary pop-rock alike in the second half of the “anything goes” 1960s. Sixteen out of the 22 memorable tracks here were sympathetically produced by Richard Perry, his own star on the ascendant.
The first two sides, from 1966, predate God Bless Tiny Tim. Blue Cat 127 was one of the final releases on Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s label. Preceded in the label discography by the likes of The Ad Libs’ “The Boy from New York City” and Evie Sands’ “I Can’t Let Go,” what must record-buyers have made of “April Showers” b/w “Little Girl”? Though both sides were arranged by Perry in rather rocking fashion (with “Little Girl” in the style of The Animals’ hit version of “House of the Rising Sun”) The A-side finds Tiny in his unapologetic falsetto glory, breaking from it only to channel the 1921 standard’s originator, Al Jolson. The flip, a dark, post-Civil War ballad adapted by Lead Belly, introduces Tiny’s mannered, quavering baritone and – by the time he gets to his uncontrollable weeping at the song’s climax – his gift for making listeners wonder whether he’s parodying a song or celebrating it. Of course, the answer was much closer to the latter, for Tiny Tim’s love of the classic, pre-rock American Songbook was never in doubt – even as he revived those melodies in his high-camp performance art custom.
It’s too bad that Reprise never elected to release the infectious, groovy vaudeville of Al Sherman’s “Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight” as a 45 off God Bless Tiny Tim, but in addition to Tiny’s Top 20 signature tune “Tip-Toe Thru’ the Tulips with Me,” the album yielded a 45 of what could have been a Tiny Tim anthem, “Bring Back Those Rockabye Baby Days,” as well as a number of B-sides. The flip of “Tip-Toe,” Paul Williams and Biff Rose’s warm “Fill Your Heart” (also recorded by another genre- and gender-bending performer, David Bowie), is delivered in relatively direct style. “Rockabye” was backed with Gordon Jenkins’ “This is What I Ask,” on which Perry and arranger Artie Butler pulled out all the stops (a string chart of which Jenkins would certainly have approved, a tinkling cocktail piano, horns) to support Tiny’s utterly sincere and even affecting reading of the ballad. God Bless Tiny Tim‘s ominous, psychedelic “The Other Side” backed the non-LP A-side “Hello, Hello,” a revival of the then-recent hit by Sopwith Camel. Tiny and Perry attempted to recapture the sound of “Tip-Toe” on “Hello,” but it didn’t catch fire the second time – likely because the original “Hello, Hello” had already tapped into the retro vaudevillian vein itself.
Tiny continued to release both contemporary and vintage material on 45, and the 1969 A-side cover of “Great Balls of Fire” (lifted off Tiny Tim’s 2nd Album) saw the vocal chameleon venturing into rock-and-roll territory. The public could be forgiven for not knowing what to make of the single, though it did reach a more-than-respectable No. 85 on the Hot 100. Over Perry’s energetic backdrop, Tiny adopts a “new,” deep, uninhibited voice that ascends into his trilling falsetto that leaves no doubt as to who’s singing. A lushly orchestral version of the standard “As Time Goes By” was selected as the B-side, but another single from 2nd Album wouldn’t emerge until after Reprise had tapped Tiny Tim’s next project on which he was reborn as a children’s artist.
Granted, Tiny Tim didn’t change much for 1969’s For All My Little Friends. A certain innocence, however knowing, was innate in his heartfelt if unconventional performances. The lead single was the ukulele-strummed “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” the Shirley Temple favorite which had long been in Tiny Tim’s repertoire and was featured on his first Laugh-In appearance. The B-side “America, I Love You” – a 1915 march by Archie Gottler and Edgar Leslie – walks the line between jingoism and a spoof thereof (“America, I love you/You’re like a sweetheart of mine/From ocean to ocean, for you my devotion/Is touching each bound’ry line…”) and likely alienated listeners on both sides of the 1969 political divide, if in fact they heard it at all. The artist was on more solid footing when Reprise looked back to 2nd Album for “Neighborhood Children” as his next 45. Its carnival-esque Perry Botkin, Jr. chart specifically evoked the air of irony-tinged nostalgia in which the not-quite-made-for-these-times Tiny truly thrived.
Richard Perry’s swansong on The Complete Singles Collection is his production of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” the closing track off For All My Little Friends. Surely Tiny identified with David’s humanistic lyrics, but the resulting version wasn’t a reinvention of the oft-recorded composition. A vintage-style arrangement might have distinguished the recording, but instead, the juxtaposition of Tiny’s vibrato and the straightforward arrangement simply feels uneasy. Tiny returned to the milieu of “America, I Love You” but took that song’s sentiments a step further with the even more uncomfortable pairing of “Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds You” and “What Kind of an American Are You?” on his penultimate Reprise single. Tiny inauspiciously closed out his tenure at The House That Frank Built with a single most notable for the participation of arranger-pianist Nick DeCaro: a duet between recently-betrothed singer and Miss Vicki on the oldie “Why?” and a ukulele-and-piano take on Tiny Tim’s own, childlike “The Spaceship Song.”
Compilation producer Steve Stanley has happily included both sides of Tiny Tim’s lone Scepter single, from 1972. Tiny signed with the label as its superstar headliner, Dionne Warwick, was exiting for Reprise’s affiliated Warner Bros. label. Tiny didn’t fill Miss Warwick’s vacancy, but he did leave behind two enjoyable sides. He teamed with producer-arranger Norman Bergen for the jaunty voh-de-oh-doh ode to “Movies” (“They don’t make movies like they used to…”) as well as the tongue-in-cheek original song “Am I Just Another Pretty Face” from the “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” team of Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown.
Tiny Tim’s The Complete Singles Collection boasts Kristian Hoffman’s affectionate and enthusiastic track-by-track liner notes as well as superlative period design from Stanley. Alan Brownstein has crisply remastered each track, with all appearing in their original mono mixes except the two Scepter tracks which appear in stereo as originally released. Tiny Tim was certainly not “just another pretty face,” and Now Sounds’ Complete Singles Collection goes a long way in illuminating his outré yet fascinating musical legacy.
- April Showers (Blue Cat BC-127, 1966)
- Little Girl (Blue Cat BC-127, 1966)
- Tip-Toe Thru’ the Tulips with Mew (Reprise 0679, 1968)
- Fill Your Heart (Reprise 0679, 1968)
- Bring Back Those Rockabye Baby Days (Reprise 0760, 1968)
- This Is All I Ask (Reprise 0760, 1968)
- Hello, Hello (Reprise 0769, 1968)
- The Other Side (Reprise 0769, 1968)
- Great Balls of Fire (Reprise 0802, 1969)
- As Time Goes By (Reprise 0802, 1969)
- On the Good Ship Lollipop (Reprise 0837, 1969)
- America I Love You (Reprise 0837, 1969)
- Neighborhood Children (Reprise 0855, 1969)
- Mickey the Monkey (Reprise 0855, 1969)
- I’m a Lonesome Little Raindrop (Reprise 0867, 1969)
- What the World Needs Now is Love (Reprise 0867, 1969)
- Don’t Bite the Hand That’s Feeding You (Reprise 0939, 1970)
- What Kind of an American Are You? (Reprise 0939, 1970)
- Why – Duet with Miss Vicki (Reprise 0985, 1970)
- The Spaceship Song (Reprise 0985, 1970)
- Movies (Stereo) (Scepter SCE-12351, 1972)
- Just Another Pretty Face (Stereo) (Scepter SCE-12351, 1972)