Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Song A Day: The Creep, "Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean"



JUNE 1, 2017


“HALDEMAN, EHRLICHMAN, MITCHELL, AND DEAN” (WRITER: BOB WARREN)

ARTIST: THE CREEP

RELEASED 1973 ON 7” 45

Another memory.

When some friends and I became aware of this song back in 1973, we tried to learn more about it, but I didn’t know about Top 40 radio and it wasn’t being played there anyway. Finally we learned that someone’s older brother had it. So we all went over to Michael’s house, listened to it with the door closed, and laughed our little 10-year-old brains out. They’re making fun of that crook in the White House!

As we struggle through this time of odious presidential malfeasance, it’s good to remember that protest can sometimes be funny. And necessary.

In late spring 1972, United States Attorney General John Mitchell, domestic affairs adviser John Ehrlichman, and presidential counsel John Dean, all serving under President Richard Nixon, became involved in an attempt to discredit and weaken the Democratic Party by breaking into Democratic National Committee offices and taping phone conversations.

Mitchell soon left the AG’s office to head up the newly formed CRP (Committee to Re-Elect the President), which kept close ties with the Nixon White House. After five men, four of them Cubans, were arrested in a sloppy attempt to secretly enter DNC offices in Washington’s Watergate Hotel office complex, the FBI and CIA began to sniff around.

White House chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and President Nixon orchestrated a cover-up of the incident to insulate the president, and Nixon was handily re-elected in November 1972. But the CIA, FBI, and the press continued to dig, finding more and more links between the abortive bugging, the CRP, and the White House.

By spring 1973, as the story grew before a disbelieving American public, Nixon distanced himself from Mitchell--who had used CRP funds to pay those responsible for the break-in--and on April 30 “accepted the resignations of” Haldeman and Ehrlichman (who had lied to current AG Richard Kleindienst about his involvement) and fired Dean and Kleindienst.

None of this worked out too well for the parties involved. Evidence of criminal activity continued to mount, and over the next year, Watergate became a pathetic tragicomedy playing out through endless congressional hearings and further White House stonewalling. Nixon named a special prosecutor to investigate the scandal, hoping that it would fizzle out. Then he fired the prosecutor when he began to uncover more irregularities. Smaller fish began to be sacrificed to save the Nixon presidency. Etc. Etc. Etc.

John Dean turned state’s evidence, testifying before a Senate subcommittee that he believed that Nixon was illegally recording conversations in the Oval Office. This was the crusher. Eventually Nixon resigned in August 1974, barely beating impeachment out the door. Haldeman, Mitchell, and Ehrlichman were convicted of conspiracy, perjury, and obstruction of justice and served time in federal prisons, while Dean escaped hard time in exchange for his testimony. He was, however, disbarred, as was Mitchell.

During all this insanity, a record label called Mr. G released a 45 called “Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean” in June or early July of 1973. The label appears to have been created only to issue this record; it released nothing else. The name of the singing group, The Creep, is clearly a play on John Mitchell’s CRP.

“Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean” is barbershop-slash-barroom sing-along that sounded like old stuff even in 1973. Maybe that was the point. It features just four comic voices, a pub-styled piano, possibly a string bass, and wood blocks playing an old-time rhythm.

This disc hews to several basic old-time comic-song traditions. First, the individual of a singing group heard last has a comically deep voice. (Laff Theory 101.) Second, “Haldeman” is driven by piano, the instrument most likely to be the center of a group sing. Third, it has topical, quite funny lyrics referencing people and events currently in vogue that may eventually be lost to history. Fourth, it’s a beery waltz. And don’t the names just trickle off the tongue?

Blogger Mark Evanier noted in 2010 that he’d been informed that all four singers on the record were members of the chorus on the 1960s TV Show Sing Along With Mitch. I can find no information about Bob Warren, who wrote the song.

The first contemporaneous mention of the record I can find is from the July 15, 1973, Waterloo, Iowa Courier, in which its TV writer refers to a “rock group” (sic) with “a prospective hit record entitled ‘Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean.’”

Syndicated entertainment columnist Earl Wilson wrote, two days later, that “Bob Warren’s Watergate record, ‘Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean,’ is getting airplay.”

Nine days after that (July 26), an AP story in the Hamilton, Ohio Journal News noted about "HAMD" that “Cleveland and Chicago are the two biggest markets for the song,” quoting Sheldon Tirk, who owned Midwest Ltd. Inc., the company distributing the record in that region. The article reported that a New York company had ordered 8,000 copies the previous week and predicted that “Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean” would sell a million.

But it didn’t.

So what happened?

It seems that the record built some momentum, but as an independent recording not backed by the major companies, it may have lost steam. At least one station—KIRO in Seattle—actually banned the song from its airwaves in August 1973 after listeners called in protest. Other stations may have done the same if pressured by their corporate owners, many of whom supported Nixon.

On September 10, 1973, Bob Warren and the Creep performed the song on Mike Douglas’ syndicated TV show, which was recorded in Philadelphia. But despite such exposure, the record only made it to #116 on the Billboard “Bubbling Under” chart, and struck out on the Cashbox survey; these were the two biggest chart references in the industry.

Perhaps it was crowded out by other records about the scandal. In late June 1973, “Watergrate,” a ‘break-in’ record by Dickie Goodman, became a major hit, just missing the national top 40, while Don Imus (yes, the windy radio host) nearly had success with “Son of Checkers (The Watergate Case).”

Here in Chicago, John “Records” Landecker, the evening DJ on AM powerhouse WLS, released two 45s of Nixon impersonations: a ‘break-in’ entitled “Press My Conference” and “Make a Date with the Watergate,” which featured Landecker rapping, Nixon-style, over a loop from Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.”

“Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean” scored its best position on the industry’s #3 survey resource, the Record World chart. The novelty reached #109 on August 18, 1973 and jumped to #103 a week later. It fell to #104 on September 1 and dropped lower in the next three weeks before disappearing for good.

There is little evidence of “Haldeman” hitting any local charts either, as it scored only in some small stations in Virginia and Tennessee. Perhaps, due to the song’s musical style, it got most of its airplay on adult contemporary stations, which generally did not publish charts.

To this day I have no idea how I became aware of the song. And it was nearly 40 years before I heard it again, bringing it home after snagging it at a record fair. It holds a special place in my heart and in my collection.

Now all we need is a new song…something like “Tillerson, Lighthizer, Bannon, and Pence”? “Sessions, Melania, Kushner, and Flynn”? “Spicer, McMaster, Conway, and Chao”?

Listen.

Thanks to Paul Haney and Thom Henninger for assistance with this post. 

2 comments:

  1. Stu, I had never hear this before. Amazing, since I do like novelties. Certainly, there were lots of misses with such in the 70's. "Mr Jaws" hit big, but "Stairway to Gilligan's Island" was a fave of mine back then. Of course, Landecker's song did a lot in Chicago--especially when you could write in and get free copies, like I did! WLSClark

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, "Stairway to Gilligan's Island" was sued pretty much out of existence very quickly by the Zeppelin lawyers. Only after the 2 Live Crew verdict was it rereleased, by which point it was too late, of course. (not that I like it anyway, "Stairway" being near the bottom of this Zep fan's list.)

    The Midnight Special here in Chicago played HEMD a bunch around that time. We have it on two different tapes of episodes of the Special. Not that I had any idea (or care) at ages 13 and 14, what was going on in politics. I really mean it - no measurable interest at all.

    ReplyDelete