Groucho's daughter Melinda Marx and her very brief singing career.
March 2, 2008 6:21 AM   Subscribe

The year is 1965: Groucho Marx takes the Hollywood Palace stage to introduce (in typically gag-laced fashion) the next number on the program, to be sung by none other than his 18-year-old daughter, Melinda Marx. What follows is, arguably, right up there with some of the worst songs ever written, performed by Melinda and her backup singers in some of the most excruciatingly bad choreography ever seen. But this is Groucho's daughter we're talking about here, so I just had to share it with you: The East Side of Town.

Yes, there's more! Here we find Melinda in a very Phil Spector-ish production, in what appears to be another lip-synch, but pitch is kinda dodgy here and there, and she sounds terribly strained on the chorus: you have to wonder, if this was in fact a lip-synch of a commercially available recording, was someone trying to wreck her career? Well, anyway, What Can I Do?

Then there's this folk-tinged number, Catch the Wind. Mercifully short!

Yet another performance (again, a lip-sync) of the big hit, here announced simply as East.

In all fairness to the young lady, it must be said that the material they gave her to sing was uniformly awful. Perhaps she could've gone on to some success with better songs. She was certainly very lovely, and as history has shown, mediocre singers can actually do rather well in the music biz, if everything else is played right. On the other hand, she didn't look too comfortable in these clips, and I imagine she might've just decided performing wasn't for her.

Here's an IMDb page on Melinda, who also who did a couple of movies and TV spots.

Finally, you can see her here as a little girl, on Groucho's famous TV show "You Bet Your Life", singing a little ditty with a very young Candace Bergen and her wisecracking daddy.
posted by flapjax at midnite (47 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
She's better than Brittany Spears.
posted by Balisong at 6:43 AM on March 2, 2008

She and France Gall are like the misguided 60's pop version of Lost Highway's Patricia Arquette doppelgangers.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 6:48 AM on March 2, 2008

The East Side of Town is just a knockoff of Petula Clark's Downtown. I've seen worse. I'll see your Melinda Marx and raise you a Telly Savalas.
posted by jonp72 at 6:50 AM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Great post. Here's a good blog post about Melinda as well, with a link to the actual East Side single, if anyone would like to download it.
posted by JanetLand at 6:50 AM on March 2, 2008

I'll see your Melinda Marx and raise you a Telly Savalas .

Hee hee! At the risk of being accused of moderating my own post, let me simply say that I won't mind one little bit if this thread should turn into a "worst song" compendium. Hey, like the old gangster said to Michael Corleone in The Godfather (about gang wars, but might apply here as well): "it has to happen every so often... clears out the bad blood".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:58 AM on March 2, 2008

Oh, and [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST]: Good call on the France Gall. She and Melinda are kinda transatlantic soul sisters!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:00 AM on March 2, 2008

i don't get this post. east side of town is good. the strange thing is the 50's dresses with the 60's dance moves. i guess her dad didn't want her in a mini skirt.

"what can i do" has bad audio. it's not her singing that's the problem.
posted by bhnyc at 7:01 AM on March 2, 2008

I think she's kinda cute.
posted by omegar at 7:17 AM on March 2, 2008

As an earnest performance, I didn't think it was all that bad. (It was easy to listen to; everyone was instep.)

If it was done ironically (which would explain the 50's dresses, 60's dancing, and obvious knock-off song) it was pretty good.

If it was performance art, it was brilliant.
posted by oddman at 7:35 AM on March 2, 2008

I was expecting something far worse from that description. Unexceptional, but not particularly embarrassing--the song's not bad for a Petula Clark knockoff. (This is MeFi's cue to look up the dates and prove that "Downtown" was recorded after this.) And yeah, she's cute.
posted by Epenthesis at 7:35 AM on March 2, 2008

It comes from the same time period where Gary Lewis, Frank Sinatra Jr., Dino Martin, Desi Arnaz Jr., were all trying to become music stars, so no surprise that she wanted in on it, too. If they'd had better costumes and choreography, she probably would have sold some records.

Today she'd be a Disney teen star and well on her way to drug-enhanced psychosis and a lifetime of rehab, and we'd all know what her genitalia looked like.
posted by briank at 8:12 AM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

No one has mentioned this yet, but this was also the same broadcast of "Hollywood Palace" that featured the final appearance of Margaret Dumont, Groucho's comic foil in most of the Marx Brothers' films. They reprised a scene from "Animal Crackers" for the show. She died about a week after the episode was taped, in March 1965.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 8:14 AM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

She is reminiscent of Ashlee Simpson; good looking, lip sync TV appearances, a father with powerful media connections, and marginal singing talent.
posted by Tube at 8:50 AM on March 2, 2008

She was good looking, I think I will marry her when my time machine is ready, and how cool would it have been to have Groucho as a father in law? I would just sit there and let him bash my very existence while I howled at the moon in glee.
posted by Senator at 9:09 AM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like it! She's cute, the kitschy choreography is great and the song is Belle and Sebastian bait.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:21 AM on March 2, 2008

Delightfully heinous!
Call Beyonce-- it's remake time!
posted by Dizzy at 9:21 AM on March 2, 2008

The song wasn't bad, but that choreography looks like the stuff my girlfriends and I made up in my basement during summer vacations when we were kids. And poor Melinda gracelessy galumphs around, looking like she'd rather be somewhere else. They should've let her just stand at the mike and "sing."
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:29 AM on March 2, 2008

anyone else notice that the backup dancers wearing white in "What Can I Do" look like men in dresses?
posted by janetplanet at 9:45 AM on March 2, 2008

Yeah, maybe I'm just a sucker for 60s girl-pop, but I kinda liked the song, I liked her voice, and she was way cute. Not as bad as advertised!

Groucho's jokes fell flat, though. I think he was nervous.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:57 AM on March 2, 2008

At the risk of being accused of moderating my own post, let me simply say that I won't mind one little bit if this thread should turn into a "worst song" compendium. Hey, like the old gangster said to Michael Corleone in The Godfather (about gang wars, but might apply here as well): "it has to happen every so often... clears out the bad blood".

You want to clear out the bad blood? This mp3 of Burt Ward, Orange Colored Sky from April Winchell's mp3 collection will definitely thin your blood.
posted by jonp72 at 10:14 AM on March 2, 2008

posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:25 AM on March 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

right up there with some of the worst songs ever written

Seriously? Seriously?! You seem like an allright fellow with an extensive record collection (and a music career to boot), but you'd like to nominate that for one of the worsts? Are you mad? Are you drunk?! Dear god man, did you leave your taste somewhere in the streets of Tokyo?! Go retrieve it, post haste!

It is, as many others have already said, a blatant "Downtown" rip-off. But if you want to rip-off a song, "Downtown" is a fine place to start. Taste surely is subjective, I'll give you that.

The worst song ever written? Anal Cunt's "I Sent A Thankyou Card To The Guy That Raped You".
posted by soundofsuburbia at 11:11 AM on March 2, 2008

soundofsuburbia: Agreed. I will charitably assume that mr. at midnite was engaging in some modest hyperbole.

Still, those were some pretty hilarious videos. Good post.
posted by danb at 11:43 AM on March 2, 2008

I love me some Groucho Marx, but he really didn't do an especially good job with his poor kids.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:34 PM on March 2, 2008

My eyes!

Total Petula Clark rip-off. And I'd love to think of some zinger to describe that horrible dancing, but I think I'll just go look at something else now.
posted by telstar at 1:46 PM on March 2, 2008

I wouldn't say it's a "Downtown" ripoff, it just sounds like a Petula Clark song, or a Leslie Gore song, or any number of songs from -suprise!- its own era. (and, well, the lyrics, of course...)

But-- where in the world does the idea come from that it's a bad song? I'm flummoxed. It isn't bad at all. I hope this isn't the same thing that made them pan Sofia Coppola in Godfather III.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 1:52 PM on March 2, 2008

Hokay, what makes a song bad. In general, anemic derivatives of somebody else's original work are considered bad. You wouldn't say it's a "Downtown" ripoff? Well, the song does rhyme "down" and "town" numerous times. Even starts with the idea of being "lonely", then goes on to offer a solution of going to the east side of town. The song sounds like it was written by a six-year old, rhyming "place" with "erased" and talking about "O how happy we will be". Just filler fluff around, again, the very unoriginal idea of the song itself. As if that weren't enough, the "West side" of town is contrasted as a place where people will "put you down". Laughably bad.
posted by telstar at 2:15 PM on March 2, 2008

It's not an especially good, or especially bad, pop song. If I heard it on the radio, even with those production values, I'd just assume I wasn't pulling in stereo or something.

But that choreography -- Yikes! Her voice is not up to the range needed for the song, either, despite it not being especially challenging. That first "a place where [strangled bird] troubles [/strangled bird] can be erased" told me all I needed to know about her singing career.
posted by dhartung at 2:37 PM on March 2, 2008

Well, I read the responses first and it was actually worse than I thought.

First and foremost, the poor child does not have a fine voice. Nothing was going to fix that. People cared a lot about that back then - if you listen to "Downtown," you hear a very talented singer in full voice. It could well be that she's nervous - you could easily attribute the slightly warbling pitch to that.

Nor is she a talented dancer, nor are the other girls. The choreographer and director deserve a huge portion of the blame. They're mostly in time but their gestures lack conviction, they don't work well as a group, there isn't a thread or story in the dancer: and it's all definitely management's fault.

Finally, it is more of a Downtown rip-off than I'd anticipated. The descending fourth in the chimes is a serious give-away.

(Also, I thought Groucho's jokes were actually pretty good. "You give her a big reception, I'll give her a small wedding." His timing's thrown off because the audience claps longer than he expected, I think to be polite and out of warm feeling for Groucho and his family.)

However, it isn't truly terrible. (Note: there's a spoiler in the first comment on that last link, ignore if it you can... but it's still extremely memorable even if you see the spoiler.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:37 PM on March 2, 2008

I know it doesn't seem possible, but the Catch the Wind video has even worse dancing. Check out the couple trying to do a slow "frug" in front of Melinda. And those chicks in the background sitting on the, this was some 50-year old alcoholic choreographers idea of what the groovy kids wanted. I think therein lies the problem. Melinda Marx is pretty and not that bad a singer in this clip. But her daddy's old-timey show biz connections probably ruined everything for her.
posted by telstar at 2:38 PM on March 2, 2008

"Catch The Wind" is a Donovan number and a pretty decent tune (covered successfully by many), which pokes holes in the "with decent material she'd be alright" theory.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:52 PM on March 2, 2008

Am I the only one who reached for the "Vertical Control" knob at the 1.26 point in the video?
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:56 PM on March 2, 2008

But her daddy's old-timey show biz connections probably ruined everything for her.

Connections are never bad. I feel she failed on her own merits.

It's also really not clear from that clip that she's a great singer; it shows that she's a competent close-harmony singer but if you single out her voice you can hear the same quality defects as in the main clip, a little less issue with the pitch (but then it's always easier to sing on pitch when you're doing close harmony, if you're at all competent, particularly if the other singer's pitching is good) and still issues with breath, timbre and this sort of thing.

As I said before, people really cared about a good singer back in the day. If you compare Dusty Springfield's voice to, say, Madonna's or Britney's, it's like night and day; and both Madonna and Britney benefit from huge quantities of digital processing to get even the limited results they do. (Britney has a far better natural voice than Madonna ever did but Madonna has worked incredibly hard to get what she has starting from no natural voice at all... but I'd lose all their work in a moment to preserve one Joplin, Fitzgerald or Mitchell track...)

Take Lauren Bacall as an example. She was no better a singer than Ms. Marx and no dancer at all but she had a huge amount of charisma. You'll also notice that the studios very quickly realized this and got rid of her singing; even in her first film, "To Have Or Have Not," she just does, well, this.

Note the little plotlet - she only gets up to the piano to avoid being groped by a drunk and then Hoagy Carmichael basically orders her to sing (note his bit of business with the toothpick before that, priceless!) - she doesn't volunteer to sing. The point of the scene isn't, "She's a brilliant singer," but, "She has a lot of character."

You know, I liked style. I liked subtlety. I miss it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:58 PM on March 2, 2008

Lauren Bacall sounds like she's got a head full of snot and is trying to sing in a German accent in that clip!
posted by telstar at 3:19 PM on March 2, 2008

"That's where the people are always gay"? A little narrow-minded of you, don't you think Melinda? And are you implying that on, say, the west side of town, the people are only intermittently gay? Perhaps trying to imply that "being gay is a choice" with a subtle message of religious conservatism, hmmm? Or maybe there was a contemporary gay bar named East Side or something similar, and she's singing the praises of fag-hagdom? O, the onion, it has many layers.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:23 PM on March 2, 2008

Joplin, Fitzgerald or Mitchell

Do you mean Scott Joplin, the ragtime guy? I don't know if he sang, but you must mean him and not Janis Joplin, the caterwauling drunkard. If she hadn't died young during the GLORIOUS SIXTIES, she never would have gone on to serve as a role model for future generations of dumpy hippie chicks with butterfly tramp stamps and no one would particularly care about preserving her folksy tortured screams.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:32 PM on March 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Groucho Marx had a daughter??

On preview: Oh.... ohhh.

That's a strange door you opened, Flapjax! Close it!
Inothernews, the vidlad account on youtube is suspended.

posted by not_on_display at 4:25 PM on March 2, 2008

I don't know if he sang, but you must mean him and not Janis Joplin, the caterwauling drunkard.

I just put on "Summertime" to make sure and damn, what a voice. Her voice is not pretty but incredibly expressive, and she's an extremely polished musician.

Take a listen to a random Joplin track. Listen first to the phrasing - always impeccable. Listen to her control of dynamics. Listen to how she sings in a group - her fundamental note is right with the group, but the harmonics are slightly sharp so her voice always stands out while it blends. Listen to embellishments, grace notes - open your ear to the end of each phrase.

Of course her rhythm; and even some crazy tricks, like this weird overtone singing that she was pulling out towards the end of her life, where she does something that sounds like a ring modulator to her voice, to her vocal cords!, to produce a clear overtone about a true fifth above her fundamental. It's definitely not accidental, as you can hear her working it out and even showing it off in solos. Her fundamental note is as clear as a bell, it's an amazing trick (and you can hear it in the opening of Catch Me Daddy on Farewell Song). You'd pay good money to see Tibetan monks do that stuff, and they wouldn't have a kicking rock band accompanying them, either.

As a musician, she had fantastic technique. You might or might not like her style and sound, but you cannot deny her skill.

You must be missing out on a lot of great music as well as Joplin.

Let me give you a tip from one who has gotten transcendent pleasure out of music both as a player and a listener for over forty years and that's that music that made me angry because it was "wrong" almost always concealed something of great value that I could learn to love.

(BTW, seems to stream both those songs for free if you're signed up. Mmm....)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:38 PM on March 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

My divination of the incident is as follows: Somebody was pushing Melinda, who was not really into it. No fire in the belly. Either she was pushing herself, or one of her relatives. Then, the decision was thrust onto Groucho whether to use his show and his connections to spotlight her. He decided "yes" and probably was passive and uninterested in how the run-of-mill showbiz hacks devised Melinda's production. It's my view that the nub here is that Melinda was not suitable for showbiz (you can see it in her body-language). The deep problem had nothing to do with the song, presentation, choreography, etc., as second-rate as all that was. In Groucho's world, as well as in 50s-60s rock, second-rate ditties, trite arrangements and tableaux, and re-used recent hits were COMMON!! tricks of the trade. That's not the issue: the issue was the girl Melinda herself. Her soul held her back. Something in her said "no; don't do this."
posted by yazi at 5:53 PM on March 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

yazi nails it, except that Groucho seems a little agonized so he has to know how bad it is. It was probably pushed on him and he very rationally delegated the job to someone else rather than have to yell at his daughter and tell her how bad she was, or worse, lie to her (pay someone else to lie to her, is the theory).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:57 PM on March 2, 2008

And yes to lupus_yonderboy, for I think he's right that Groucho looked a bit put out in his announcement of Melinda's act. Although I'm perhaps 50-50 whether someone (Mrs. Groucho, or Melinda??) had to push the old Groucho to trot out Melinda. I have the hunch that nobody in that family got the best of Groucho. If he was pushed, perhaps Lupus is right, he got back at them (told them "yuck to you") by turning the production number over to hacks. But... it really may be that Groucho was doing some of his own pushing, and that he DID NOT HAVE AN EAR for how rock was trending at that moment. That he thought the little production number was pretty cool and trusted the numb-nuts whom he assigned the task of staging it. Nuff said by me.
posted by yazi at 7:48 PM on March 2, 2008

Oh oh oh. Decemberboy, I love you. You totally captured what I've been trying to say about Janis Joplin for years.
posted by geekhorde at 8:20 PM on March 2, 2008

geekhorde: your loss!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:37 PM on March 2, 2008

I liked it and am now a fan. I shall put her music in a place of pride, next to my Leonard Nimoy albums.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:52 PM on March 2, 2008

I could be remembering things wrong, but I've read a lot of Marx Brothers biographies and it is suggested that it was Groucho who was pushing Melinda to perform.

Again, a great comedian, but he managed to push away the people close to him, especially wives and children.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:40 AM on March 3, 2008

Why, Astro Zombie, how nice of you to drop by! I'm particularly pleased that in this case I've posted something to your liking!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:22 AM on March 3, 2008

I was expecting something horrendous, but it wasn't that bad.
posted by zardoz at 1:33 AM on March 3, 2008

« Older It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way...   |   Well, I guess it's for a good cause... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments