Here’s a fun one that I grabbed just yesterday at my local record store.The ’70s were the golden age for certain brands of kitsch. This is the gold chains and polyester leisure suit era, after all — the decade of shag carpet, avocado and harvest gold appliances, and bean bag chairs. Kitsch was in the air, and coming out of the psychedelic ’60s, belief in the paranormal and pseudoscience remained high. Astrology was taken somewhat seriously, as was the notion of biorhythms, and allegedly inexplicable phenomena like the Bermuda Triangle and the popularity of Tiny Tim.
From a record collector standpoint, the height of ’70s kitsch is the celebrity crossover album. Starsky and Hutch’s David Soul had a hit with “Don’t Give Up On Us,” a song so saccharine that even thinking about it causes cancer. Not to be outdone, John Travolta dropped “Let Her In.” ABC sitcom stars Donny Most, Anson Williams, Scott Baio–even Lenny and Squiggy–released albums, as did Telly “Kojak” Savalas. Even the great Johnny Carson put out an album on the Casablanca label, home of Kiss, Donna Summer, and the Village People, though admittedly it was just a compilation of Tonight Show clips.
There was no better place to wallow in the drunken, wood-paneled kitsch of the decade than Carson’s late night show. Johnny hosted guests ranging from opera singers to potato chip collectors, all of whom he listened to with what seemed like genuine interest. Carson was known as a pretty proficient amateur magician, so when self-professed psychic Uri Geller started making the talk show rounds it was just a matter of time before he took a seat on The Tonight Show’s set.
Geller was an ex-model and Israeli paratrooper who by his mid-twenties had reinvented himself as a nightclub. Geller’s act centered on telepathy, specifically the ability to guess what audience members drew or their license plate numbers, and telekinesis, which in his case usually meant bending spoons and keys. It was the right act at the right time, his claims more than plausible for a decade of people declaring the power of crystals. His celebrity grew quickly courtesy of his talk show appearances, leading to a 1975 memoir imaginatively titled My Story.
That same year Geller released his equally imaginatively titled celebrity crossover album, Uri Geller. Similar to Timothy Leary’s trip sitting records, Geller’s album was an amalgam of spoken word and musical accompaniment, and similar Dr. Leary’s albums it is comically bad. Here’s a taste:
Geller takes credit for all of the lyrics, which is a courageous admission. The musical accompaniment is only slightly less cringe worthy than Geller’s poetry but the album isn’t without its interesting touches, the first of which comes in the liner notes: “CBS, Hazak Productions, and Uri Geller and all parties that have been hitherto involved, take no responsibility of the experiments herein.” Experiments? Was Geller trying to hypnotize us? Should we check our silverware drawers for bent spoons?
The other interesting touch? Maxine Nightingale appears on two of Uri Geller’s tracks. Roughly a year later she had a huge international hit with “Right Back Where We Started From” — coincidence, or the coveted Geller boost? We’ll never know.
Geller is still alive and remains on the celebrity radar in Europe, but his star in the U.S. faded long ago. We’re too sophisticated these days to fall for spoon benders, focusing our attention instead on new pseudoscience like climate change denial, anti-vaccination “science,” and cleansing diets.
You can pick up a copy of Uri Geller on vinyl for five bucks, or you can pick up a CD reissue for around the same amount. If you’re a cover collector, the album was released with three different versions. Take that, David Soul.
Go to the 45 minute mark to see Johnny sucker Uri into exposing himself as a fraud.