LOST TREAURES – John Randolph Marr

Posted on 15 June 2013


by Peter Marston

John Randolph Marr

John Randolph Marr

 John Randolph Marr

Fans of Harry Nilsson may remember the small graphic of a simple house and shining sun that appeared on many of his records along with the script, “A Nilsson House Production.” Few are likely to recall, however, records by other artists bearing this imprint. Perhaps the best-known is George Tipton’s Nilsson by Tipton, an album of instrumental versions of Nilsson songs by his long-time arranger. The most interesting may be Bill Martin’s Concerto for Head Phones and Contra-Buffoon in Asia Minor, a collection of skits and other “head pieces” produced by Hank Cicalo and Nilsson himself. Of greatest interest to pop fans, though, is undoubtedly the self-titled debut by John Randolph Marr, a solid set of radio friendly off-kilter pop which perfectly bridges the territory travelled by Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Biff Rose.


Recording sessions for John Randolph Marr began in 1969 with Nilsson at the helm. He produced backing tracks for two of the songs that would eventually appear on the record: a cover of his own “1941” and Marr’s haunting “Pity the Man.” But when trying to get vocal performances out of Marr, Nilsson became frustrated and gave Gary Osborn a shot. Pleased with the results, Nilsson passed the project on to Osborn who produced the remaining ten tracks with Hank Cicalo on board as engineer. The album was released on the Warner Brothers label in 1970 with album design by Dean Torrence (of Jan and Dean).


The songs on John Randolph Marr are evenly split between covers and originals, but together offer a diverse palette of musical styles. “Hallelujah” and “Hello L.A., Bye-Bye Birmingham” (the latter co-written by Delaney Bramlett and Mac Davis) both have a swamp-funk feel with strong horn sections. “We Had Something” is a guitar-driven pop song somewhere between Badfinger and the early Doobie Brothers. “One Shot Lady” is nearly a novelty song, delivered in a style similar to Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses.” “1941” and “Raggedy Ann” are pure baroque pop, with lush orchestration and detailed arrangements. One of the most interesting songs for Nilsson fans is Marr’s treatment of “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now,” a song which presages (and may have inspired) Nilsson’s own foray into standards a few years later on A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night. It is a bittersweet and perhaps more heartfelt rendition.


Unfortunately, John Randolph Marr has never been reissued on CD, but the original vinyl release can often be found on eBay or GEMM. One of the best tracks on the album, “Hello L.A., Bye-Bye Birmingham” appears on the Light in the Attic compilation CD Country Funk 1969-1975 and can readily be found (and previewed) on the usual mp3 outlets. However you get a listen, you’ll find John Randolph Marr well worth tracking down.


Pop Pioneer and “Lost Treasures” writer, Peter Marston is the leader of long-running power pop band, Shplang, whose most recent album, “My Big Three Wheeler” has been described as “the Beatles meet Zappa in pop-psych Sumo match.”  You check it out at this link:  http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/shplang


One Response to “LOST TREAURES – John Randolph Marr”

  1. Bruce Brown says:

    I guess it’s worth hoping Light In the Attic will do a full re-issue. They’ve certainly put out more obscure stuff.