Year of Release: 1963
Dora Hall is an old friend of the blog, of course, and I've already gone into enormous depth about her absurd and almost certainly unprecedented and unrepeated career in vanity recording. Whereas most self-released artistes press up 200 records for their friends and family and the people who fancy them, Dora was married to a millionaire plastic kitchen utensils magnate. This meant her records were regularly given away free with purchases of picnic-ware, airtime on cable television was bought, and she ended up an ubiquitous presence in the USA for decades without ever having a hit single.
Of course, it would have been a lot more fun if Dora Hall had been an exponent of experimental noise or political agit-prop, but the fact her husband's money bought her time with some of the finest session musicians in the country often meant that some of her singles weren't bad free gifts at all. Several veer towards the Northern Soul end of the spectrum and sound no worse (and in many cases better) than acclaimed efforts from small indie labels operating in that sphere, and her takes on tracks like The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" actually have kicking horn sections and a gritty edge that is surprising. She chose her material and musicians wisely and was much more than a middle-of-the-road character.
"Did He Call Today Mama" - by Randy Newman, no less - is another example of her picking a winner. It's a swinging borderline Northern Soul song with an edge of desperation about its lyrics, a beautiful kick about its performance, and a world-weary vocal from Hall who doesn't have a fantastic voice, but knows how to deliver the sentiments. It's true to say that her television appearances sometimes made her seem somewhat naff and perhaps distracted from the quality of her recorded work, so I'd ask doubters to listen with a fresh pair of ears. Some of these singles are so cheering I only wish they were more easily available in the UK.
Dora died in 1988, but she'll always have a special place in this blog's heart.