Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story (2003)

Genres - Language & Literature, Music  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Literary Studies, Sociology, Vocal Music  |   Run Time - 60 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Synopsis by Mark Deming

If you've ever flipped through a supermarket tabloid, vintage comic book, or various sorts of pulp magazines, it's not unlikely you've seen ads in which a "record company" or "song publisher" claims to be looking for new, fresh material. This is the most public face of what is known to music buffs as "the song-poem industry," in which small companies will take the lyrics of amateurs of all stripes, set them to music, and produce rudimentary recordings of the results -- all for a price to the novice writer, of course. While literally hundreds of thousands of songs have been recorded and released in some form through the song-poem business, only a tiny handful have reached any sort of audience beyond the lyricist himself (and perhaps their family and friends), and most of those people who follow the work of the song-poets view them as folk art at best, and examples of the outer limits of low-grade musicianship at worst. Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story is a documentary which looks at this curious sidestreet of the music business, examining its history, the musicians who set the work of rank amateurs to music, and the lyricists who are willing to pay to have tunes like "Non-Violent Tae Kwon do Troopers," "Rip Off Fear," "Chicken Insurrection," and "The Human Breakdown of Absurdity" committed to plastic. Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story was produced and aired by PBS as part of the documentary series Independent Lens.



poetry, songs, music-industry, music-producer, subculture, writer, lyricist