Some of Dee Stocks’ advice may be dated, but that, of course, is part of its charm, and it is not without wisdom.
One of the great thrills of the dollar bin is the occasional spoken-word gem that a shop with a healthy “Oddities” section could have easily priced at a sawbuck, or more. Such is Dee Stocks’ Lady Look Charm Course, released on the vanity label Lady Look Productions. This document of 1968 reflects none of the volatile tenor of the era, but it’s nevertheless an intermittently entertaining time capsule that’s more than worth the dollar it cost.
The album offers six tracks of spoken guidance, with a nice folk-rock theme introducing the charm school curriculum. Topics include “Figure Control” and “Poise,” and in that respect taps that most unusual vinyl subgenre, the facial exercise album (there are at least several such things). If you think such exercise instruction would be difficult to convey with audio alone, an eight-page booklet is included, with clearly illustrated instructions in, for example, “The beautiful and relaxing way to stand,” and recipes for a three-day “Wonder Diet” that requires a half-pint of cottage cheese at each meal. (Nobody said charm was easy.)
Stocks provides instruction in a voice that is determined to evoke elegance, but sometimes emits a strange weariness, as in such ready-to-sample gems as, “Our next exercise is called, ‘The Tiger’ – and I’m sure you’ve all seen a tiger.”
This charm course is eminently quotable: “The key to a successful day is to be unavailable to anyone…this is the day that you will shampoo your hair.” “What is fashion? The best look of the time—the time being now.” “Makeup can make you beautiful—or grotesque”—a claim that some may find refers to the album’s front-cover portrait, which aims for glamor but misses. Unlike in back cover photos that reveal a tutor who’s smiling and coy, here is Stocks harshly lit and facing at a downward angle that makes her slightly pursed lips seem more than a little sinister, as if she’s sizing up how much you, the listener, really needs this course.
Read between the lines of the back-cover notes and you’ll find evidence of a forgotten suburban world. Stocks, who plied her wares primarily in the Detroit, Michigan area, is credited as a “professional model, lecturer, commentator, fashion and beauty consultant,” who took her course on the road, “to adult night school classes, women’s clubs, conventions, teen groups and shopping center audiences.” It was a different commercial landscape, and Stocks sets very different goalposts in the battle of the sexes: “Ask a man to explain a football game to you–and really listen when he explains.”
Lady Look Charm Course conjures the world of “Mad Men,” which you begin to realize missed out on a golden opportunity to introduce a character with their own private-press instructional record, or a corporate client that commissions a musical. “Have you heard your telephone voice lately?” Some of Dee Stocks’ advice may be dated, but that, of course, is part of its charm, and it is not without wisdom. Stocks died in 2013 at the age of 83, survived by 11 grandchildren, several great-grandchildren, and who knows how many young women who followed her counsel.