Film Threat archive logo


By Stina Chyn | April 20, 2004

According to Jamie Meltzer’s documentary “Off the Charts: the Song-Poem Story,” there are companies out there that make songs from poems sent in by everyday people. A song-poem is not a song with narrated lyrics nor is it a poem read aloud to background music. Companies like Magic Key Productions, Sunburst Recording Studios, and Nashco Records take poems and turn them into songs. Going back and forth between the poets and the recording companies, Meltzer succinctly examines the thriving song-poem industry through the people involved in its creative process. Lasting only about sixty minutes, “Off the Charts” is less criticism and more show-and-tell.

The extent of direct analysis of song-poems comes from Ellery Eskelin, a jazz musician and song-poem collector. He remarks that because they’re musically modeled after existing genres, song-poems seem familiar. But, given how they’re put together and the nature of the lyrics, they’re simultaneously unfamiliar. “Off the Charts” includes clips from several songs by a few poets to substantiate Eskelin’s perceptive comment. For instance, while Caglar Juan Singletary is riding his bicycle and demonstrating his martial arts skills, a snippet of his poem-turned-song “Non-Violent Tae Kwon Do Troopers” plays and titles appear to confirm that the lyrics are as follows: Within Queen City of Southern Tiers/I am sitting on my Super Bicycle/”Angelaria”/And I’m dressed like Captain Bicycle/“Angelaria”/Show me yourself/Come and live the spirit of Jesus Christ/Thank Jehovah/for KungFu Bicycles/and Priscilla Presley.

John Trubee relates an amusing story regarding his experience with Nashco Records. One night in 1972, John saw an ad in the back of Midnight Globe magazine asking for poetry submissions that would be transformed into songs. He quickly typed the most bizarre and assuredly objectionable poem that came to him and sent it to Nashco Records. John was eagerly awaiting a rejection letter; instead, he received a warm acceptance letter. For a small fee, his poem “Blind Man’s Penis” became a song. Trubee’s account suggests that all entries are welcome.

What’s really pleasant and encouraging about “Off the Charts” is that it doesn’t judge or make arguments for or against the existence of what Eskelin calls “a pop-culture oddity.” When Meltzer reveals that sometimes the words of poems are revised to translate more smoothly into song, what you observe is people doing what they like to do. Even when the poets realize that a word or four have been altered, and their faces reveal a hint of disappointment, they’re still in awe. At the end of this hour-long documentary, you will sit amazed as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon