19 January 2016

A Tribute to Laura Branigan + Dusty Springfield: Oedipus Ram, Act Two


OEDIPUS RAM MIDPIECE 8


OEDIPUS RAM
A Toon Tragedy
inspired by Sophocles' Oedipus Rex
Directed, Staged and Written by
DC Hampton Jacobs
Original characters and Archie Fan Art Images
Created and Drawn by
Stuffed Animal

THE PLAYERS:
Kakushitsu Barazoku, the TV producer
Donna Dante, the wife
Chaiwat Bunyasam, the sound engineer
Gynger Ming, the keyboard player
and the star
Ramsay Khalid Sharma

ACT TWO:
WONDER

SYNOPSIS:
Ramsay Khalid Sharma and Donna Dante are members of The New Archies, an iconic Rock group of the 2040s and '50s. They fall in love and marry up in the year 2054. When the group disbands in late 2057, they leave the United States for Ram's home on the Asian continent. Dody founds an acting school in Mumbai, India, and Ram becomes a successful Bollywood soundtrack composer. However, he longs to become the latter-21st-century version of Yanni!  Toward that end, dude cuts an all-instrumental solo album which he arranges, composes, performs and produces himself. Its failure to sell disheartens him, but Dody urges her husband to reload and aim for a different market. She's convinced he has the talent to make it big as a Pop singer; he is skeptical, to say the least!

In late 2064, TV producer Kakushitsu Barazoku contacts Ram.  Kaku is an old friend from his days as an A & R director, and he has a favor to ask.  "I'm producing the Motown Festival," he explains.  "The Festival's music director retired last year, but we've yet to hire a new one. The reason why has to do with a lot of bureaucratic bullsh*t!  It's time for another show, and there's nobody to put it together.  I know this is short notice, but can you do the job for us this year?"  Ram can, and he does; flying to Tokyo, dude whips the production into shape in just two week's time!
 
Each year, Japanese Motown fans mount a tribute concert to the iconic Detroit label. The ‘64 edition will celebrate songwriters Holland, Dozier and Holland, the hitmaking team behind Diana Ross + The Supremes, the Four Tops and many other Hitsville acts. Their songs are performed by contemporary Japanese artists. Not only does Ram arrange and conduct the show, he also has a hand in choosing the repertoire.

At the last minute, one of the scheduled acts drops out. Kaku remembers that, years ago, he saw Ram perform with the boy band Tygerpenis; on that occasion, he subbed for lead singer Salman Dresden, who had laryngitis. “Your voice was superb!” the Gay TV producer enthuses. “It was so masculine and commanding! My penis hardens just from thinking about it.” Much to Ram's shock, Kaku suggests that he step in for the absent Japanese Pop singer. "Damn, dude!" he exclaims. "You sure want a lot for your dime!" 

It takes a lot of cajoling, but the guest music director eventually agrees. Never comfortable singing in his natural voice, Ram decides to imitate Motown legend Levi Stubbs. His mimicry is spot-on perfect, and his bluesy rendition of “Ghost In My House” (originally sung by R. Dean Taylor) brings the capacity crowd to its feet! The tune isn’t well-known, so many in the audience think he’s singing a Four Tops rarity. They respond as wildly as if the Tops themselves were on stage: Whistling, screaming and stomping! “Kuso!" the MC exclaims. "Give them an encore, before they tear the roof off the sucker!"

CROWD SURFING IN TOKYO

Before it's all over, Ramsay Khalid Sharma experiences the thrill of crowd surfing; eager hands pass him half the length of Nakano Sun Hall and then deliver him safely back to the stage. Deafening applause leaves the fill-in singer stunned!  Back in Mumbai, he expresses disbelief to his wife. “Why are you surprised?” she wants to know. “Your singing always went over big when we did our Sharmante act.”

Dody proceeds to scold his reluctance to sing. “Don’t even bother cutting any more solo albums," she says, "unless you sing!" Her bluntness ruffles his feathers.  “I thought you liked my début record,” he pouts. “I do, Nipples,” she confirms, ”but it didn’t sell worth a damn, did it?  Do you understand why? Your instrumental music is popular in movies, and that's where people go to hear it.  When they buy an album of yours, they want to hear you!  A lot of people know you can sing.  You cheated the public by not letting them hear your marvelous voice!”

LITA HERALD

Dody presses her point repeatedly, and finally Ram gives in. He promises that his next album will contain all-vocal tracks. She ends up helping him choose the repertoire for his second LP: Covers of hits by 1980s cult singer Laura Branigan. Both of them love her music!

"She died young and had a relatively short career," Ram notes, "but she left behind so many wonderful performances!  And Laura was breathtakingly beautiful."  "As talented as she was, Laura's physical beauty was a big part of her appeal," Dody believes.  "You should take a lesson from that."  She advises her husband to appear shirtless on the album cover. “Put everything you’ve got on the table,” she tells him. "First make them look @ you, and then they'll listen!"

RAMSAY ALBUM BOOK ONE

Ram’s first album will have taken the better part of three months to complete. His second is finished in less than three weeks! Dude has low expectations for the new LP, so he doesn’t spend a lot of time cutting it. Instead of laboring over each track like before, he falls back on the workmanlike approach of his A & R years: The multi-instrumentalist records two takes of himself playing a song, with two different arrangements. Then he chooses the one he likes best.

He treats cutting vocal tracks almost as an afterthought. “Despite what Dody thinks, I can't sing that well,” he shrugs, “so why be a perfectionist?” One take usually suffices.  Dude won't even listen to himself on playback! He trusts his sound engineer to tell him if he should give it another try. 

Chaiwat rarely makes that request: Ram’s pitch, timing and phrasing is seldom less than first-rate!  Particularly dazzling is a voice technique the sound man dubs “the Sharma Seesaw.” Within a single verse, Ram alternately whispers and belts words in rapid succession. “Your breath control still amazes me,” Dody raves after hearing the album master.

LOVERS IN THE AFTERNOON

Santi Music SM-65929
Gloria (Bigazzi, Tozzi, Veitch)
Shattered Glass (Coe, Mitchell)
Self-Control (Bigazzi, Piccolo, Riefoli)
Show Me Heaven (McKee, Rackin, Rifkin)
The Lucky One (Bruce Roberts)
I Found Someone (Bolton, Mangold)
Spanish Eddie (Cochran, Palmer)
Moonlight On Water (Goldmark, Kipner)
Ti Amo (Bigazzi, Tozzi, Warren)
Power Of Love (Applegate, DeRouge, Mende, Rush)
Forever Young (Gold, Lloyd, Mertens)
Solitaire (Clemenceau, Warren)
Lovers In The Afternoon
A Tribute to Laura Branigan
Ramsay Khalid Sharma
A Sharmante Production
Music Supervision:
Donna Dante
Arranged, Performed + Produced by
Ramsay Khalid Sharma
Sound Engineer:
Chaiwat
Recorded @ DALEKtable Sound Studios, Bangkok
released in Asia
2065

It’s not Ram's breath control that first stirs public interest, though: It’s the provocative album sleeve, on which he appears naked down to the pubic hairs! The cover photo also displays topless women in sultry poses. Fortunately, his singing does end up generating the most comment.

His thunderous readings of ‘80s Pop classics “Spanish Eddie,” “Show Me Heaven”, “Self-Control”, “Solitaire” and “Gloria” all rate airplay on satellite radio. His vocal ability, which he still doubts, draws universal praise. “Ramsay Khalid Sharma, the King of Bollywood Sex Music, displays another facet of his talent,” reports Indian Billboard. “This sophomore album promises to outsell its predecessor by a big margin.”

And sell it does! Donna Dante is too busy to help with publicity this time, but there’s no need: Ram’s Laura Branigan tribute Lovers In The Afternoon scores a solid hit on the Asian continent.

I FOUND SOMEONE

Santi Music SMX-003
I Found Someone (Bolton, Mangold)
Show Me Heaven (McKee, Rackin, Rifkin)
Shattered Glass (Coe, Mitchell)
Touch (Marlette, Shifrin)
I Found Someone
Ram
Club Mix
Produced by Ramsay Khalid Sharma
Remixed by Chaiwat
released in Asia

Dance clubs are a major venue for music sales in the 2060s. For the price of a cover charge, dancers can download vinyl copies of their favorite spins!  The product of 3-D printers, these four-track discs are known as “club mixes” in Asia. Ram’s sound engineer Chaiwat will have begun his career as a circuit deejay and helped pioneer the format.

Dude keeps a finger on the pulse of contemporary Gay dance music.  He creates a special club mix of “I Found Someone” to promote the Lovers In The Afternoon album. In the latter 20th century, ballads are just as likely to become club hits as up tempo tunes; in that context, the lead track choice makes perfect sense. Chaiwat's mix also includes “Touch”, a Laura Branigan cover tune left over from the album sessions.

RAMSAY ALBUM BOOK THREE

“I Found Someone” breaks for a smash across Asia, and even enters the playlists of some key clubs in Europe. Ram goes on tour in support of the hit, and remains dumbfounded by positive response to his singing. “My voice is nothing special,” he believes. “It’s definitely not a great voice like Nat “King” Cole, or Ray Charles, or Sammy Davis, Jr.”

On stage with Donna Dante, he would imitate all the famous Pop baritones; audiences loved it, so he never stopped! On the one New Archies track that features his lead vocals, he channels Country Gospel star Tennessee Ernie Ford. With his uncanny ear for pitch, mimicry comes easy to Ram.  His natural singing voice won't emerge until he cuts Lovers In The Afternoon, and then only at his wife’s insistence. “You’re doing Sammy D again,” she’ll snap. “Stop it! I want to hear Ram.”

LITA GATEFOLD 2

Now it seems everybody wants to “hear Ram”! Dude is so grateful for what he feels is undeserved acclaim, he wants to put 110% into his live performances. Unfortunately, he finds that most of the musicians backing him up can’t even manage 50%! A frustrated Ram cuts the tour short after just four dates. “You wouldn’t believe how stank pickup bands are these days,” he complains to Dody. “The live version of ‘Gloria’ we did sucked so bad, Laura Branigan must’ve turned upside-down in her grave! I’m not going back on the road until I find adequate musical backing.”

RKS Ti Amo Promo 1

Santi Music SMX-007
Ti Amo (Bigazzi, Tozzi, Warren)
Self-Control (Biggazzi, Piccolo, Riefoli)
Gloria (Bigazzi, Tozzi, Veitch)
How Am I Supposed To Live Without You? (Bolton, James)
Ti Amo
Ram
Club Mix II
Produced by Ramsay Khalid Sharma
Remixed by Chaiwat
released in Asia

This sophomore club mix from Lovers In The Afternoon fails to catch on with club deejays. It will seldom appear on future Ramsay Khalid Sharma hits compilations. Even so, in later years the “Ti Amo” download will be a much-coveted collector’s item.

The man being dubbed "Bollywood's Balladeer" doesn’t spend any time worrying about its failure; he’s too elated with news that Donna Dante is pregnant with their first child. So elated, in fact, that he re-issues his second album in a gatefold sleeve. "Wait until you see the new inside artwork," he tells his mother Kharis. When she does, the old woman almost faints!  The sleeve is adorned with graphic photos of Ram and Dody conceiving their baby!

CONCEIVING VIJAY SHARMA

For Ram’s third album, he and Donna Dante decide to explore the song catalog of British Pop legend Dusty Springfield. That catalog was often a wealth of classic Soul covers; Dody thinks that genre is a perfect match or her husband's vocal style. Predictably, Ram isn’t so sure. “Let’s put out a Soul-flavored club mix first,” he demurs, “and see how well it does.”

EVERY OUNCE OF STRENGTH 45

Santi Music SMX-009
Every Ounce Of Strength (Cropper, Hayes, Porter)
Sweet Ride (Lee Hazlewood)
If It Don’t Work Out (Rod Argent)
Goin’ Back (Goffin, King)
Every Ounce Of Strength
Ram 
Club Mix III
Produced by Ramsay Khalid Sharma
Remixed by Chaiwat
released in Europe + Asia

Sales figures prove his wife right in no uncertain terms: “Every Ounce Of Strength”, originally recorded by Stax diva Carla Thomas, scores an even bigger hit than “I Found Someone”! It charts as far away as Australia. “Sweet Ride”, another track from Chaiwat’s shimmering club mix, gets substantial play as well. The Dusty Springfield movie song is shortlisted for inclusion on Ram's new album, but somehow fails to make the cut; the tune won’t even appear on a Ramsay Khalid Sharma compilation during his lifetime.

For both recording and touring purposes, Ram hires his own band prior to sessions for the third album. After a month of auditions, he settles on a quartet of Pan-Asian women who call themselves Chutney Rose. Half-Chinese Gynger Ming, her sister Jazzmyn, New Dehli native Odessa Maharaj and Tahiti-born Fawn Tiffany read music, take direction well and are highly proficient on their instruments. "They have a bitchin’ group sound, too!" he raves.

Keyboard player Gynger is a Eurasian knockout, with pink cotton candy hair cut Pixie style, sultry almond eyes, bee-stung lips and an hourglass figure. Babe sings excellent harmony vocals behind Ram. She flirts with him shamelessly, and he flirts back; but dude stays true to his wife (for now). His son with Dody, Vijay Sharma, is born five days after the new album drops.

EVERY OUNCE OF STRENGTH COVERS

Santi Music SM-65959
Once Upon A Time (Dusty Springfield)
Baby, Don’t You Know? (Kaye, Verdi)
What's It Gonna Be? (Ragavoy, Shuman)
In The Middle Of Nowhere (Kaye, Verdi)
Go Ahead On! (Bell, Duncan, Springfield)
In The Middle Of Nowhere (Kaye, Verdi)
He's Got Something (Lynch, Samwell)
I Wish I'd Never Loved You - Part One (Hawker, Raymonde)
I Only Want To Be With You (Hawker, Raymonde)
Every Ounce Of Strength (Cropper, Hayes, Porter)
The Look Of Love (Bacharach, David)
I Wish I'd Never Loved You - Part Two (Hawker, Raymonde)
If It Don't Work Out (Rod Argent)
You Don't Have To Say You Love Me
(Donaggio, Napier-Bell, Pallavicini, Wickham)
Every Ounce Of Strength
A Tribute to Dusty Springfield
Ramsay Khalid Sharma
with Chutney Rose
A Sharmante Production
Music Supervision:
Donna Dante
Arranged + Produced by
Ramsay Khalid Sharma
Sound Engineer:
Chaiwat
Recorded @ DALEKtable Sound Studios, Bangkok
released in Europe + Asia
2065

When retail outlets get a look @ cover art for the new album, a proper uproar ensues: Ram is depicted shirtless (naturally) and in bondage, with wrists trussed high overhead. However, the back cover is what inflames the most outrage: The foreground shows a burly male hand brandishing a whip. In the background, the singer stands bound with blood oozing from fresh cuts on his torso. 

The clear implication is that he’s being flogged! There’s talk of banning the album cover in some Asian countries. That never happens, but even without a ban, it’s an instant collector’s item!

By now, Ram has hired a manager; but for all intents and purposes, he’s managed by his wife. Donna Dante has strong opinions about how he should be presented to the public. She devises a four-pronged marketing strategy for him:

1) Ramsay Khalid Sharma is a Retro Pop artist whose repertoire consists of great 20th century songs from the classic Rock era. 2) He is a male artist who exclusively covers hits by great female artists of the past. He covers these hits without changing pronouns on love songs. 3) He appears shirtless and sometimes nude on album covers and most of his promotional materials.  4) He pursues acting roles concurrent with his music career, with a preference for edgy, controversial stories.

Male cover artists focusing on female acts aren’t a new thing, but they’re still rare in Asia during the 2060s. Ram’s acting career won’t kick in for another twelve months; but everything else is in effect with his third album. That LP, titled Every Ounce Of Strength after its first single, is a Dusty Springfield tribute that shies away from the diva's iconic hits. Instead, Ram puts his stamp on various album tracks, single B-sides and rarities that she recorded in the 1960s.

SON-OF-A-DALEK MAN

His treatment of up tempo Soul numbers like “What’s It Gonna Be?”, “Go Ahead On!”, “In The Middle Of Nowhere” and “He’s Got Something” are masterful! Reviewers begin hailing him as Asia’s finest classic Soul singer. Yet ballad performances are the true test for excellence in that genre: Ram doesn’t disappoint!  In addition to being the first record where he takes on an explicitly female persona, Every Ounce Of Strength finds him blending orgasmic gasps, sensual coos and anguished cries into his phrasing for the first time.  These style changes are influenced by Patrice Holloway, one of his wife’s favorite 1960s Soul singers.

Ram’s wounded-puppy-dog delivery of ”You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” underscores decidedly masochistic nuances in the Pop standard. “Baby, Don’t You Know?” and “The Look Of Love” display late-night Soul crooning @ its finest.  His "Sharma Seesaw" is most effective on the two-part “I Wish I Never Loved You,” which builds to a shattering climax. “Watch out for this one!” music trade papers predict, all but guaranteeing its release as a club mix.

Every Ounce Of Strength is much more successful than its predecessor, charting high in Asia, Europe and Australia. It also penetrates some key American markets. Ram’s label, Santi Music, starts searching for an American distributor; Santi executives (as well as Donna Dante) are convinced he can make a major impact on the US Pop scene.

I WISH I'D NEVER LOVED YOU

Santi Music SMX-015
I Wish I’d Never Loved You - Parts One + Two
I Only Want To Be With You
Your Hurtin’ Kind Of Love
Stay Awhile
(Hawker, Raymonde)
I Wish I’d Never Loved You
Ram 
Club Mix IV
Produced by Ramsay Khalid Sharma
Remixed by Chaiwat
released in Europe + Asia

Chaiwat’s fourth Rock ballad remix storms dance clubs around the world! What’s more, “I Wish I’d Never Loved You” lights a fire under audiences when Ram and Chutney Rose perform it onstage. Gynger Ming’s wailing harmony vocals heighten the sense of unbearable pathos. When they début an extended version @ a Ho Chi Minh City concert, many in the crowd become emotionally distraught: There are multiple fainting spells, outbreaks of hysterical sobbing, and dozens of women rushing the stage. Security guards barely manage to restore order!

Similar chaos @ subsequent shows lead critics to label Ram “the Asian Tom Jones”! Donna Dante bristles @ both the nickname and the comparison: "Sir Tom was a fabulous singer, but his voice and macho image are nothing like Ram's."  She coins a unique moniker for her husband. “He’s my Rad Asian Manchild,” she beams during a Youtube interview. Much to her delight, the name sticks!

The Manchild films his very first Scopie video for “I Wish I Never Loved You”. Scopies, short films originally produced for customized jukeboxes in the 1950s, are the main vehicle for music promotion in the latter 21st century.  By the year 2055, the French Scopitone company will dominate the Rock video market! Ram will always name his début Scopie as his favorite, because it includes footage of he and Dody bathing their newborn son.

The tour in support of Every Ounce Of Strength stops in the biggest Southeast Asian cities, as well as in Paris, London and Berlin. Fondly remembered in later years, it will be the talk of 2065! Those who hear Ram perform on stage with Chutney Rose will swear he never had better live backing. The acclaim this tour generates all but ends his renown as a Bollywood soundtrack producer; from this point forward, Ram can claim a higher level of celebrity.

RAM LIVE IN TOKYO

The way he conducts concerts is established on this maiden tour, and it will seldom vary:  The Bollywood Balladeer enters the venue by a public entrance, calmly acknowledging applause as he strolls to the stage.  In the local language, he asks:  "May I sing for you?"

Ram then plants himself ten paces in front of the band and stands like he's made of stone; dude doesn’t budge through the entire set!  His booming voice throbs with passion, but there’s no emotion reflected in his body language at all.

He performs every song from his current album, not necessarily in track running order. Then he bows deeply to the audience, sustaining his bow through hand-clapping.  Abruptly, he bolts upright and runs off stage. 

Once Ram gets several hits under his belt, he’ll habitually leave crowds yelling for more. Dude will enjoy teasing them to the point of outrage! It’s a risky gamble, but one that never fails to whet their appetite for a rousing finale.

When the Rad Asian Manchild finally returns to the stage, he’s much looser in demeanor.  More often than not, he's shirtless.  Strapping on a guitar, he jams with Chutney Rose while delivering an extended set of oldies.  Some of them are parodies, with lyrics rewritten by Ram and Chaiwat to emphasize Asian Pride.  Audiences especially love “Secret Asian Man,” his politically-charged take on a 1965 Johnny Rivers’ smash.

In the future, this segment will be devoted to songs from his own catalog; but Ram closes these early shows with a selection of Archies hits. The Rad Asian Manchild more than does justice to "Magic Town", "Love Her”, “I Wonder” and “Nobody But You”; all four ballads appear on Big Noise from Riverdale, a recent chart-topping Indian compilation.  Never again will he draw from that repertoire. After the year 2066, he won't have to!