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Morton Downey Jr.--The Mouth Goes on the Record

April 04, 1989|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

In a world of few absolutes, TV talk-show host Morton Downey Jr. has given us one. His "Morton Downey, Jr. Sings" is the worst album of the '80s. Absolutely.

Oh, there may be a record hidden in some dusty garage in some dark, lonely corner of this great land that is more musically hackneyed and thematically thick-skulled. But there surely hasn't been an album this bad that has been widely distributed in the marketplace.

A full-page ad last week in Billboard magazine--the nation's leading record industry trade publication--declares that little-known Compose Records of Newark, N.J., is shipping more than 500,000 copies of "Morton Downey, Jr. Sings" to stores.

That's enough to earn the album a gold record if the stores are able to actually sell them. Copies should be in most record shops by the end of the week.

Downey, whose syndicated TV show is seen by an estimated 28 million viewers daily, casts himself as the champion of the underdog and a defender of traditional American values.

He acts out the role nightly with such loudmouth, bullying tactics that he makes Geraldo Rivera seem like a calm and respected journalist. Downey is to TV talk shows what wrestling's Randy (Macho Man) Savage is to professional sports.

In his album, Downey sticks to that image.

"Hey Mr. Dealer" addresses the nation's drug problem in these subtle terms:

So take your drugs and shove 'em

We've had our fill of 'em

And we won't rest till your ass is on Death Row.

And your epitaph will read

"Here lies a man of greed."

Ya slime suckin', drug pushin' S.O.B.

We hope that you die slow.

The man who has been called the Dirty Harry of talk shows isn't real fond of doctors, either. From "Operate, Operate":

And he said, "Operate, Operate, even if it makes no sense.

"Operate, operate, gotta pay for my Mercedes-Benz."

Other targets include lawyers ("Lawyer Named Sue"), environmental exploiters ("Solution to Pollution"), politicians ("Senator Paperman") and anyone else who gets in his way ("Zip It").

Downey isn't new to pop music. His father, Morton Downey, was a celebrated Irish tenor who became a favorite in the 1930s with his radio broadcasts. Downey Jr., too, has made stabs at singing. He sang years ago in Las Vegas and Reno lounges and even once made a record for Memphis' legendary Stax label.

Listening to "Morton Downey, Jr. Sings," however, you can easily see why he achieved his fame in television rather than pop music.

There have been albums before by show-biz celebrities who sing as stiffly as Downey (think of your auto mechanic stepping behind the microphone), but they didn't open their records with tributes to themselves.

Like the other 10 songs on the album, "Blue Collar King" was written by Oxnard math teacher David Lloyd, and it salutes Downey with lines like these:

He's the pit bull of the airwaves, the piranha of TV

Sayin' any damn thing he wants, from sea to shining sea

They love him or they hate him, there ain't no in between.

From miles away they come in droves, rich and poor, young and old

To see America's new hero--the Blue Collar King.

Besides this cartoonish hero worship, the song touches on some of Downey's right-wing political thoughts:

He says our government is selling off America

And foreigners from everywhere keep buying up our land

But if those idiots don't stop sending money overseas

You won't have to leave your home to vacation in Japan.

Lloyd, who also sings that song, wrote all the country-flavored music on the album (imagine a corny sort of Kris Kristofferson-meets-Jimmy Buffet feel) and most of the lyrics--the latter tailored, the liner notes say, to "Mort's beliefs."

Joey Porrello, head of the artists and repertoire department for the Compose label, said Monday that Downey's manager took the album to a "couple of major record labels," but the companies "didn't react the way he expected and let Mort slip away."

But Compose saw an opportunity. "If just one-tenth of one percent of Mort's audience bought it, we'd be halfway to a gold album," Porrello said by phone from his office in New Jersey.

That's the scary part.

The record business--which is accused of everything from supporting bands that worship Satan to rappers who glorify violence--is so often portrayed as an anything-for-a-buck operation. But Morton Downey Jr. is in a gutter all by himself. All you have to do is listen to a few songs on this album to see that he is a joke. But what about those 28 million TV fans who tune in every night? How many of them are laughing at this shameless blue-collar king?

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