For the last several Decembers, I’ve brought you strange holiday records as part of my “Have A Strange Christmas” series. I thought I’d use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to take a similar look at some unusual vintage romantic records.
- Love Is A Drag (Lace Records: MLA200; Mono; 1962)
I love strange vintage albums, and I love them even more if they’re wrapped in mystery. This album, self-described as “for adult listeners only”, is of a male crooner singing love songs to another man. Yes, you read correctly. Perhaps it wouldn’t be quite so scandalous if it just came out (so to speak), but Love Is A Drag was released more than sixty years ago!
Love Is A Drag wasn’t a comedy or novelty album. Top session musicians were brought in and a professional singer was recruited. The songs, including The Man I Love, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, Bewitched, and He’s Funny That Way, were sung with sincerity, not in a campy style. This was a serious jazz record.
The mystery I illuded to is that the male singer remained anonymous for decades, for good reason since it was recorded in 1962 when this kind of content wasn’t generally accepted. The album only stated that the singer was “a most unusual vocalist”. Neither of the men pictured on the cover was the singer. I guess it was the 1960s version of The Masked Singer. The album’s liner notes said of the singer, “…he has broken the barrier which has confronted so many other great singers who, for lack of courage, have not attempted.”
Regarding the album’s title, which was printed in pink letters, the liner notes clarify that the word “Drag” in Love Is A Drag, meant a bore or a headache and was not a reference to a drag queen. Based on the cover photo, I would’ve thought it had to do with taking a drag on a cigarette.
Thanks to an LGBT music historian, J.D. Doyle, the mysterious singer was revealed 50 years later as none other than big band vocalist Gene Howard. Howard was part of Gene Krupa and later, Stan Kenton’s bands and sang with Anita O’Day and June Christie. He was 42 when he recorded Love Is A Drag, was married with two children, and was very much heterosexual. Just sayin’.
Besides being a talented singer, Howard was also a professional photographer and co-founded a studio with his friend, Murray Garrett. I mention this because the back of the album includes a very small credit, “Garrett/Howard, Inc.”, for the artwork. Yes, the undisclosed singer had his last name on the back of the jacket and was at least partly responsible for the photograph on the front.
Edison International Records was behind Love Is A Drag, but the label didn’t want to be associated with a “gay record”, so Lace Records was invented just for this release. By the way, I wouldn’t recommend trying to hunt down the original Lace LP. It will set you back $70 and higher.
Over time, Love Is A Drag developed its own cult following. As the story goes, Frank Sinatra, Liberace, Bob Hope, and Shirley MacLaine were all closeted fans of the album. If you’d like a festive and flamboyant Valentine’s Day, check out Love Is A Drag.
2. Music To Massage Your Mate By (ALA Records: ALA-4002; Stereo; 1976)
If you think this album cover looks like something out of the 1970s, you’re right. It was released in 1976. It’s an all-instrumental album and all six song titles end in “of Love”, such as The Sounds of Love and Doorways of Love.
Music To Massage Your Mate By came with an 8-page “explicitly illustrated instruction booklet” with black & white photos. According to the liner notes, the booklet “is a vehicle for your enjoyment and of course the enjoyment of your partners.” Note the word “partners” is plural. Keep in mind, this is 1976. Some jughead wrote “I guarantee it!!” on my copy of the booklet. I guess he was giving it as a gift and was trying to be funny.
The liner notes continue: All you need do is “go to that particular room in your home- one that is quite comfortable, with low light- and play the album, following the steps in the booklet…and you’re on your way.” On my way to where? Maybe I shouldn’t ask.
The front cover of the album looks like a still from a 70s low budget porn film. The woman looks as uninterested as humanly possible. Her “partner” looks like a cheesy Burt Reynolds stand-in. I wish the price sticker on my copy covered his face. Perhaps the jazzy music on the record will put the two of them in the mood so they can be “on their way”.
Believe it or not, another label called Laff Records licensed the music from ALA Records and released it on their own label also with the booklet. The only difference is the Laff label doesn’t show the 6 song titles, only “Continuous Uninterrupted Music for Massage.” Perhaps it was going to cost too much to print out all the songs on the label.
Apparently, this strange album has its own fan club. One enterprising person is selling t-shirts featuring the album cover on eBay for $30. Why not surprise your mate on Valentine’s Day by playing this record and wearing this shirt? Then you’ll be “on your way”…probably out the door.
Before I go to my final strange Valentine record, I must mention one other ALA Record called Music to Strip For Your Man By from 1973. If the red headed woman on the cover looks familiar to you, it’s because she’s the same woman on ALA’s Massage cover, but in better condition. What a difference 3 years can make. The record identifies her as “professional stripper Honey West”. Incidentally, the cover photograph was taken by Robert Wotherspoon who also took the photo on the Massage album cover of Honey and the Burt Reynolds reject.
This album also came with its own black and white illustrated booklet…16 pages of stripper instructions and revealing demonstrations by Honey West. Apparently, booklets inside records were a thing.
Like the songs on the Massage record, the music on Music To Strip was also jazzy, but with better song titles reflecting 1973 lingo like Funkie Mama, High Times, Strut Your Stuff, Funk Town, and my personal favorite, Theme For A Dirty Ol’ Man.
The liner notes on the back cover are classic 1973: “This package now lets you join the trend toward “THE NOW” way of sensual living…as you bump and grind, he’ll lose his mind…take it off for him…that ain’t no sin.” Not exactly Ernest Hemmingway.
Unlike the Massage album that followed 3 years later, we know what band performed on Music To Strip For Your Man By…it was Teddy Phillips and His Orchestra. Phillips was regionally popular in late 1940s/early 50s Chicago, playing frequently at the Aragon, Trianon, and Willowbrook Ballrooms. In 1956, WGN-TV aired his performances on The Teddy Phillips Show. Perhaps the big band business slowed down in the 1970s to the extent that Ted was forced to resort to recording stripper albums. Whatever it takes to put food on the table.
3. Sonny Lester & His Orchestra – Ann Corio Presents How To Strip For Your Husband (Roulette Records, R 25186; Mono; 1962)
Composer, conductor, and producer Sonny Lester came up with the concept for this 1962 album after being introduced to Ann Corio, a popular East coast stripper during that time and star of the Broadway show, This Was Burlesque. The album’s liner notes described Lester’s music as “brassy and bouncy”, and the record probably appealed to similarly described females. The notes go on to say the record offered women the opportunity to become “in the privacy of your own fancy, and perhaps the enjoyment of your spouse, an ecdysiast” (i.e. a stripper).
Perhaps a sign of the times, unlike the 2 previous records from the 1970s which stated “Mate” and “Man” in their titles, this 1962 album title narrows it down to “husbands” specifically.
Some of the original songs include Seduction of The Virgin Princess, Bumps & Grinds, and Lonely Little G-String. The entire album was supposedly recorded in a single session. Oddly enough,a cover of The Stripper, a song that reached #1 the year before,wasn’t included.
Included with the record was- you guessed it- a black and white “special instruction” booklet featuring “America’s most famous strip teaser”, Ann Corio. It detailed stripper tips and was an indispensable guide to making your marriage merrier.
According to spageagepop.com, the album’s sales accelerated after Corio herself was a guest on The Jack Paar Show and promoted the record. A woman shoplifted a copy of the album from a Macys which made headlines, resulting in more sales. In fact, How To Strip For Your Husband sold so well, it was followed up with More How To Strip For Your Husband Vol. 2.
The first volume was later packaged as a box set with another Lester record, How To Belly Dance For Your Husband, which…wait for it…came with its own instruction booklet featuring belly dancer “Little Egypt”.In 1968, the first volume was re-issued again on vinyl and 8-track tape with completely different cover art but included a reprinting of the original booklet. In 2010, both volumes were re-issued on a single CD with the stripper instructions incorporated into the CD booklet. It was re-issued in France in a special edition box as part of a “cheesecake collection”. How To Strip For Your Husband was the stripper album that just wouldn’t die. The real question is- how many men actually “benefited” from it?
I hope my article brought a smile to your face and you have a strange but romantic Valentine’s Day. If you’d like some suggestions for Internet radio stations to play on Valentine’s Day, head on over to my Patreon page. Thanks to my Patreon members for helping to make this website blog possible. You won’t find articles like this anywhere else.
Trivia (from massagestudiospa.com): “The beginnings of ancient massage practice can be traced back to around 3000 BCE in India…The touch therapy used centuries ago in India is one of the earliest findings of a practice similar to the massage therapy we know today.”
Trivia (from wearemarlow.com): Stripping for cash began in “18th century Europe, when gentleman’s clubs, Burlesque clubs, private banquets and other secret sex clubs transformed the political economy of stripping. This was essentially the era that would catalyze the market for stripping/exotic dancing as we know it today.”
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