Thursday, August 02, 2018

Early fake hits (before rock and roll gained its foothold), 1949-1954










Sixteen tracks today--all fake hits, but all dating from before rock and roll became a regular presence in the pop charts, which I consider to be from 1956 on.  Feel free to argue that point (some would name 1955), because I'm no record-charts expert.  Rock and roll sides were making it into the pop charts prior to 1955/56, but not routinely.  We need to remember, too, that in the popular press rock and roll and rhythm and blues were used interchangeably, so using charts to trace the progress of rock and roll isn't a foolproof way.

The only number in this list that I consider rock and roll is Leiber and Stoller's I Need Your Lovin', as it is credited here on the Parade label, though the proper title is Bazoom (I Need Your Lovin').  You'd think Parade would have stuck with Bazoom, to save space and ink.  I guess they were cheapskates, not logicians.

Otherwise, I've kept to "pop" versions of "pop" hits, since the purpose of this post is to demonstrate that the postwar fake-hits boom (how's that for a phrase?) predates the rock era as we know it.  I've traced the boom back to the late '40s with Tops and the Royale/Varsity/etc. family (and a fascinating graveyard of Tops/Royale wannabes), and I don't know of any earlier flood-the-market-with-cheap-copies period.  The famous Depression-era "Hit of the Week" 78s were short-lived, and from approximately 1900-1940 (but more like the mid-'30s), there was a big market in budget-label re-pressings of major label sides (Silvertone, anyone?), so the notion of catering to a budget market was nothing new, but the postwar period seemed ideal for the surrogate-hit practice to invade the market--and flourish.  Fake hits kept on coming through the 1960s, but not at anything like the same rate--I'm guessing that all the Beatles knock-off LPs helped create a mass distaste for sound-alikes.  But that's only a guess--other factors (copyright issues, for one) were surely involved.  Perhaps drug and grocery stores stopped displaying these things.  Maybe the junk labels had to depend more and more on mail-order sales, which would remove the advantage of rack display and the resultant impulse purchases.

This playlist of sixteen titles was meant to cover the years 1948-1954, but I somehow forgot to add my 1948 Varsity label version of Buttons and Bows, so it starts with 1949.  The recording years lean toward (and match) 1954 much moreso than I'd intended, but this is partly because I was working with 78s, and my earlier fake-hit 78s sound awful.  And, come to think of it, there were likely far fewer of these in the earliest years, meaning far fewer survivors, especially on shellac.  Anyway, a decent sampling, regardless, I think.

Thanks to the amazing website 45worlds, I have definite release years for most of these.  No sure year for the Music Club Hit Tunes 78, though Come On-a My House, and My Truly, Truly Fair were two huge 1951 hits.  So 1951 it probably is.  The presence of Elliott Everett and His Orch. almost certainly makes this a Royale or Varsity reissue, or both.  I may have the Royale 78, so stay tuned--its catalog number would tell me.  Then again, there was no rhyme or reason to Varsity's numbering system, so....

A few of these were 45 rpm rips--I've noted them as such in the label info.

Click hear to hear: Early fake hits (1949-1954)

Dragnet--Enoch Light and His Orch. (Prom 1056; 1953)
The Creep (Instr. and Vocal)--Larry Clinton and His Orch., v. The Carillons (Bell 1022; 1954)
Rags to Riches--Bud Roman w. Lew Raymond and His Orch. (Tops 380--45 rpm; 1953)
Kaw Liga--"Hap" Williams (Victory Extended Play Records BG1020; prob. 1953)
The Story of Three Loves--The Magic Strings (Bell 1015; 1954)
I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Cocoanuts--Jimmie Livingston Orch., v. "Skeets" Morris (1949 or 1950)
Underneath the Arches--The Blenders (Tops 106; 1949)
Till Then--Anne Lloyd, Carillons, w. Larry Clinton Orch. (Bell 1034; 1954)
Mambo Italiano--Mimi Martel w. The Four Rhythmaires (Tops R 249-49--45 rpm EP; 1954)
Come On-a My House--Elliott Everett and His Orch., no vocal credit (Music Club Hit Tunes 2; prob. 1951)
Cross Over the Bridge--Earl Sheldon/Hits a Poppin' Orch. (Parade 4501--45 rpm EP; prob. 1954)
I Need Your Lovin'--The Four Rhythmaires, Lew Raymond O. (Tops R 249-49--45 rpm EP; 1954)
Lover--Mimi Martel w. the Hal Loman Orch. (Tops 334; 1952)
I Get So Lonely--Hits a Poppin' Orch. w. Stars of Radio and Television (Parade 7802--78 rpm EP; prob. 1954)
My Truly, Truly Fair--Elliott Everett and His Orch., no vocal credit (Music Club Hit Tunes 2; prob. 1951)

Lee

14 comments:

Buster said...

I have quite a few of those Bell mini-78s in picture sleeves. The items in my own collection tended to feature better-known artists, indicated here by the presence of Larry Clinton.

Someone asked me once to transfer one of the Bells, and it was so wrecked by the use of a worn needle and heavy stylus that it was unplayable. Vinyl 78s were a nice idea, but the soft surfaces didn't hold up well.

Anyway, a great collection!

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Thanks! I've been lucky with 7-inch Bell 78s--I don't think I've come across a totally trashed one, which I can hardly claim for any of the other cheapo operations. With my Bells, the main issue is lots of pops, and I actually enjoy digitally removing them. To my surprise, all the Clinton 78 required was a single filter application, despite the pops.

Yes, heavy tracking would be death to those Bells. I've seen portable players from that era, and what terrifying artifacts. And I'm guessing plenty of people missed the "best results with LP needle" notice on the Bell labels, which would kill the things after so many plays. Oddly enough, that notice isn't on the "Story of Three Loves" label (a ten-incher, by the way), despite the fact that an LP needle works much better. My 78 needle rip sounded wrong--weak audio, low volume (I used my software's dynamics feature for the first time). Luckily, I thought to swap styli for a second rip.

Joe Scianna said...

Hi Lee, I haven’t checked in with you for a while- I picked up an interesting mini lp of Christmas music that seems to have been a promotional giveaway by a store in Chicago. I took a few pics of it because I’m really curious if you have it in your collection. If you can message me an email address or something, I will forward the pics to you. Take care- Joe

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Hi, Joe. I forgot that Blogger stopped showing my email. I enter and re-enter it, and no dice.

Email: hartsfeld at windstream.net

Thanks!

DonHo57 said...

Lee, you faker, you.
I love seeing what 78 treasure you've dug up and shared with us when I see an update on your blog. somehow Bell mini-LPs have eluded me in my searches in thrift stores, so this is new territory for me. Mambo Italiano. Dragnet by Enoch in 1953. And who can forget (or even remember) the Hits a Poppin' orchestra. This is a really nice lineup of fakery. Thank you, young man, thank you.

Ernie said...

So...many...fakes...

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Ernie,

I assure you these are authentic fakes.

DonHo57,

My pleasure. Actually, the Bells in question are vinyl 7" 78s (meant to be played with an LP needle, oddly enough). Bell also produced regular 7" 45s, 10" vinyl 78s, and regular LPs, of which I have a few. Typically, it's the seven-inchers that survive, and sometimes the original picture sleeves do, too. I only four or five pic sleeves, but they're quite cool. Bell had exceptionally good sound for their day, too. Bell actually had a subsidiary label, the name of which escapes me. A quick Google search gave me nothing.

Hope you enjoy the playlist!

Diane said...

Thanks for linking/pointing me toward 45worlds.com!

Buster said...

Hello there - I posted an LP of 1959 German hits including several covers of American songs. I pay homage to this very post as well.

http://big10inchrecord.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-flying-ice-cream-vendor-and-other.html

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Thanks! I'm almost afraid to hear the "Purple People Eater" cover!

Boursin said...

The reason the fake hits stopped was because full-priced cover versions stopped first. And this was because in rock, the artist became more important than the song, so that each song was associated with one artist only.

In 1954, for instance, besides this cheapo cover here, "The Creep" was released simultaneously on a full-priced 78/45 by Stan Kenton on Capitol, the Three Suns on RCA Victor, Art Mooney on MGM, Ralph Marterie on Mercury, Jerry Gray on Decca, Leroy Anthony on Epic, Les Brown on Coral and Ted Heath on London. But by 1964, when the Beatles hit with "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on Capitol, it would have been ludicrous to suggest that in order to catch a piece of the action, RCA should cover it as soon as possible with Paul Anka, Decca with Brenda Lee and so on. All anyone wanted was the Beatles version.

In the US, the two biggest signs of this change were that in 1959, the TV show Your Hit Parade (where the biggest hits of the moment were performed year after year by the same artists, most of whom were not any kind of stars outside the show) was cancelled; and in 1963, Billboard magazine ceased to publish its "Honor Roll of Hits", a separate chart that tabulated the popularity of songs instead of records. Of the 30 songs on the final chart, only four had even one cover listed as available, so the chart had become practically equivalent to the record chart.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Hi, Boursin.

Yes, that's the conventional take--i.e., that with rock, it wasn't the song as much as the version/artist. There's some truth to this, but I think it's ultimately an over-generalization. For one thing, there were umpteen major label versions of every Beatles hit, including "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (Petula Clark, Arthur Fiedler, Freddie Cannon), "Can't Buy Me Love" (Brenda Lee, Johnny Rivers, Dave "Baby" Cortez) "She Loves You" (Brenda Lee, Bobby Vee, Freddie Cannon, Mark Murphy), and so on. And I haven't mentioned all the "adult pop" folks (except Fiedler) who did versions of Beatles songs--Johnny Mann, Henry Mancini, you name them.

Fake hits continued into the 1970s, and probably further. So did multiple major-label versions of chart hits. The problem, I think, is that the rock press has successfully written the non-rock market out of pop music history, so that the quite numerous covers of youth music by Percy Faith, Mantovani, Tony Bennett, Andre Kostelanetz, Barbra Streisand, Count Basie, and so on, simply don't count. The media has placed rock at the center of the modern popular music universe, just as swing and jazz were placed at the center of the pre-rock popular music universe by the media of yesterday. Rock hype is brilliant marketing--it sells endless units of the latest re-re-packagings of the Beatles, Elvis, the Who, Clapton, and Stones, but marketing is concerned with myth, not fact.

If NPR, NYT, PBS, Rolling Stone, and other authors of pop music mythology think nothing of stooping so low as to take the "rock and roll started at my label" bullshit of Sam Phillips as gospel (and why HIS story, and not the numerous identical claims by other indie label owners), then these folks are either morons, disgracefully lazy scholars, or charlatans. I don't even bother giving their claims the benefit of the doubt--I simply presume they're bilge.

Sorry--I despise what's been done against pop music history. Anyway, I'm aware that umpteen versions of, for instance, "Mule Train" were recorded--I collect sheet music and love it when all the competing versions of a tune are listed on the cover. (My copy of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" has Joe Turner on the cover but mentions Bill Haley's hit.) But let's look closely at the artist-not-the-song idea. I record my own version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash." What happens? The copyright cops are at my door. The copyright applies to what? The song. As far as I know, publishing continues to be the thing, just as it was the thing in 1958 or 1964.

I appreciate your comments! Feel free to disagree or correct, please.

Boursin said...

Oh, I understand perfectly what you mean, and I can assure you that I'm very much irritated by exactly the same things as you!

But one very relevant consideration is that what you called the "non-rock market" mapped on to the LP market to a remarkable extent. The mainly teenage buyers who bought the latest hits on a 45 costing 98 cents rarely bought LPs, and the mainly adult buyers who could afford LPs that cost $3.98 rarely bought 45s after the LP had become established as the main format for adult-oriented music by 1960 or so.

And so your long list of cover versions of early Beatles hits is not really relevant here, because nine out of the ten were not released as 45s, but as one of the twelve tracks on an LP. And LPs by most youth-oriented artists, while probably making a profit for the record company,

1) sold very poorly compared to the same artists' 45s (the biggest hit of the LPs here was the Johnny Rivers one with "Can't Buy Me Love" on it, and even that only reached #38 on the Billboard LP chart);

2) were in any case only released after the Beatles' original versions had already fallen off the charts, which means that they were not competing for the Beatles' sales, even pretending for the sake of argument that the 4:1 price ratio in favour of 45s was not a consideration.

In 1954, the situation for a teenager was: "The Creep" is the big thing of the week, now which of these numerous 45s should I buy? In 1964, by contrast, nobody thought: Hey, "She Loves You" is the big thing of the week – should I buy it on a 45 today by the Beatles or wait for six to twelve months to see if it's Steve Lawrence or Brian Hyland who will release it on his next LP?

This changed around 1967–68, when rock began to be marketed as a form of art to be taken as seriously as classical music (Sgt. Pepper, Hendrix, etc.), and the first generation to have grown up with rock was old enough to afford to start to buy LPs, which then proceeded to become the main product of the record industry for rock as well. But by that point, the old culture of simultaneous multiple cover versions had been dead for quite some time. Knockoff LPs continued to be produced into the 1970s, it's true, but at a quite low volume compared to the age of Bell and Tops 78s.

You might well enjoy this article by the Canadian musicologist Keir Keightley, which discusses these developments in more detail. One of the greatest merits of his scholarship on the relationship between rock and "adult pop" (of which this is only the iceberg's tip) is precisely that he resolutely refuses to accept the former as a default position from which everything else is a deviation.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

"The mainly teenage buyers who bought the latest hits on a 45 costing 98 cents rarely bought LPs."

I have about three peach crate rows of 10- and 12-inch fake-hits LPs on Allegro, Waldorf, Bell, Tops, Masterseal, Broadway, etc., and most are pre-1960.

I know we were talking the Beatles, specifically, but as for LP versions of 45s that had fallen off the charts, how about the 1956 Artie Malvin Waldorf LP "Rock n' Roll"? All the tracks are Bill Haley hits, and only one is current ("See You Later..."). Obviously, Waldorf was banking on the continued popularity of "Dim, Dim the Lights," etc. Which we have no reason to think Decca wasn't doing in the case of Brenda Lee, or WB in the case of Freddie Cannon. I doubt young listeners had forgotten "Can't Buy Me Love," "She Loves You" or "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by 1965. I hadn't (I was born in 1957).

And I don't know exactly where relative sales figures fit into any of this. Maybe they do, but I submit we have yet to establish if, or to what extent. We already know the crap labels weren't putting the genuine operations in the poorhouse. As parasites, their job was to exploit the market, and so long as they did so successfully enough to keep operating, their numbers and profit margins are hardly a big issue. They had to sell enough singles, LPs, etc. to stay in business. The majors had to make hits.

Focusing on what was or wasn't the rule, or what was or wasn't the general trend amounts to splitting hairs when we're dealing with history in the broad. The point is, young folks bought LPs, at least the crap ones. How many, who knows? And how and why does it matter?
We can't say. And we know that hits were collected on cheap label LPs, EPs, box sets, etc. after their chart life as singles. I wouldn't have boxes of EPs, boxed sets, and rows of 10- and 12-inch LPs, otherwise. If issuing fake versions AFTER the chart life of the genuine hit weren't a successful tactic, the cheapies wouldn't have done it, because they were operating on too thin a shoestring to hang on to any money-losing tactics. And my impression, after collecting (far too many of) these things is that, for junk labels, collections of hits (EPs, LPS, sets) were much more the rule than single versions.

Covering history in the broad is a matter of going from general to specific, not the other way around. To put it another way, when we're doing bedrock research--especially in the shadow of long-term bullshit pseudo-scholarship--we must deal with ALL of the evidence. We don't toss out anything, because the goal is to amass all the data we can, so that (and until) it can be properly tested. Until that time, all data related to the research topic is equally valuable, practically speaking. Using the "Yes, but..." move to auto-disqualify a potentially significant point is a bad idea, imo, and it's a kind of circular thinking, to boot.

In my view, we can't really decide what counts and what doesn't, evidence-wise, until we've finished the collection process. Excluding something from consideration before we can truly determine its relevance or lack of relevance--it's a huge error, imo.