Friday, July 03, 2020

Yes, major labels put out fake-hits LPs: The RCA Camden Rockers, 1959

In case anyone has been dying to know whether or not major (and legit minor) labels did fake-hits LPs... well, now you know.  Here's an RCA budget LP of hit copies, all performed by "The RCA Camden Rockers."  I wonder if they were "Stars of Radio, TV, Stage and Screen" working under another name.  Or, possibly, the famous budget outfit known as "Vocals and Orchestra by Popular Artists."  The RCA Camden Rockers.  Bet RCA dreamed that one up on the spot.  "How about the 'RCA Camden Rockers'?"  "Why not?  This is just a budget issue, so... sure.  Whatever."

I like the bit of the three teenage girls listening to The Great Artie Shaw on (surprise!) the RCA Camden label.  It's the one lying on the floor, to the left of the sleeveless LP.  (Record jackets never showed people handling records properly...)  Of course, a junk label wouldn't have pushed the jacket photo toward the bottom, as here.  Anywhere, here's the LP they're inexplicably grooving to:

I can't identify the other three jackets (there's an album leaning up against the girl in pajamas).  RCA has taken a type of scene common to cheap-label issues, only with some "cheesecake" added.  The gal on the hammock-style chair is saying, "We're on the cover of The Biggest Hits of '59, and we're listening to Artie Shaw?"  And those haircuts...

So, you might figure that these RCA (Camden) fake hits are bound to be a notch or two above the junk-label product, and you would be... wrong.  The opening fake, Venus, sounds like the one put out by Synthetic Plastics Company (SPC), featured in this post.  As in, the very same track.  When I have a moment to do track comparisons, I imagine I'll find some other numbers lifted (legally, I'm sure) from the junk labels.  This all confirms my feeling that RCA never put tons of pride into its budget line.  That didn't prevent a lot of great stuff from coming out on RCA Camden, but RCA clearly didn't give a hoot on a release of this type.

At any rate, some excellent fakes, topped by I Need Your Love Tonight, which is graced by terrific Elvis-sound-alike singing--long before that became an industry.  And Hawaiian Wedding Song features an expert impersonation of Andy Williams--something that never became a trend.  (No cut on Andy, who was a superb vocalist.)  Pink Shoe Laces sounds different from the Tops label version, though it could have been borrowed from another cheapo label or group thereof.  Speaking of Tops, even on its cheap LPs, it managed to spring for twelve tracks, yet RCA only gives us ten here.  The old you're-not-paying-for-a-full-album-so-you're-not-going-to-get-one attitude.  Columbia did the same bit.  Then, later, came the post-Endless Summer Capitol reissues of the Beach Boys catalog, with two tracks omitted per LP.  But what has any of this to do with Artie Shaw?  Why would three teen gals at a slumber party be spinning Artie on that groove-destroying portable?  It pains me to think of what players like that did to LPs, especially since I routinely behold the kind of damage they did.

Let the RCA Camden Rockers make your Fourth a blast (and, hopefully, not a bomb).  Best word play I can mange at less than three hours to 7/4/20--sorry!

DOWNLOAD: The Biggest Hits of '59, Volume 1--RCA Camden Rockers


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Tops in Pops--The Latest Hit Recordings (Halo 50220X; prob. 1958)

A cheap-looking but fairly effective jacket photo, with the guy on the left either badly sunburned or wearing war paint.  (Sorry, that was not PC.)  The extreme contrast was not my doing.  It seems to have happened only in the upper left hand corner, and I suspect a lighting issue during the shoot.  Since this release is the cheapest of the cheap (Halo, a product of the fake RCA--aka, Record Corp. of America), we can naturally expect the soda bottles on the cover to not be part a product plug--no respectable soda brand would have wanted a shout out on one of these.  And so the bottles are generic.  And they may not even contain pop.   (I'm not suggesting whiskey or anything else alcoholic, but who knows?)  And I have no idea what's going on with the jacket's catalog number (50220X), since the number on the labels is 1670--the standard number for this outfit's Tops in Pops albums.  (Earlier on, the standard fake-RCA catalog number was 1389.)  Like Tops, the fake RCA used a single catalog number for its fake-hits albums, plus a system of suffixes that made absolutely no sense, because there was no consistency to them.  None.  Zilch.  I've concluded the cheapies weren't trying for consistency.  Consistency involves planning.  Planning takes time.  Time is money.

Anyway, I ripped this according to the track order on the jacket, which makes the terrific I Got Stung our fourth offering.  Having it near the start really helps moves thing along--that was my main motivation for going with the jacket listing.  In fact, the label suffixes--W and X--suggest that the second row of titles should be regarded as Side 1, but there's really no way to be sure.  All Halo would have had to do was print "Side 1" and "Side 2" on the labels, but more ink means more money, and I seriously doubt Halo cared which side people played first.  Halo didn't care if you tossed this to your dog for a game of fetch.

I love the top line, all in the same font and looking like something spit out of a teletype machine: "ultraphonic high fidelity...........Tops in Pops.....longplay."  Who in his or her right mind would have believed this LP actually includes "All the latest hit recordings"?  Which is one bold (as in, blatantly false) claim. We have to hope that no one mistook this for a legit issue.  How would that be possible?  We have the label name stuck down in the yellow rectangle that served as the title box (I've found three other versions which sport this cover), and the cheap print isn't even properly centered (notice how "Donna" and "Near You" spill over the bottom line).  Meanwhile, the models are shoved to the edges of the pic.  I guess I need to revise my "fairly effective jacket" verdict.  It is fairly effective--until you analyze it in detail.

Given all these crimes against the purchaser, the tracks must be pretty bad, no?  Actually, they're terrific.  I can't explain it, but I don't complain.  The performers put their all into these numbers, and the difference between this group of fakes and the lackluster Tops material of three posts back (the girl with the loud socks) is pretty epic.  These are genuinely fine fakes.  I guess we can forgive the lousy lettering and deranged numbering system, though we can still make fun of them.

Masterful fakes of the Playmates' Beep Beep, the Big Bopper's Chantilly Lace, Bobby Darin's Queen of the Hop, Little Anthony and the Imperials' Tears on My Pillow, Warren Covington's delightful Tea for Two Cha Cha, and, of course, I Got Stung--one of the best budget fakes ever.  We owe "Unknown" a long and heartfelt round of applause.

Oh, and the sound quality is surprisingly good, too.  This LP was an accident or something. 

DOWNLOAD: Tops in Pops (Halo 50220X; prob. 1958)


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Living Guitars Shindig (1964): Al Caiola rocks the digs for citybillies

Living Guitars Shindig.  Dig the lack of punctuation--no colon, no dash.  Even RCA Camden preferred to save a penny on its keystrokes.  In case we were new to the concept, the back jacket tells us the definition of "shindig": "An 'uproar,' 'row,' or 'rumpus.'"  Really?  And here I thought a shindig was a quiet, somber affair.  Learn something new every day.

I find the foremost couple oddly posed.  It's as if the young man is asking, "Did you have your temperature taken?"  He wants to make sure before he touches her.  Meanwhile, she's looking a bit puzzled.  Otherwise, good budget label pic.  Of course, this is is a major label budget, so we can expect more professional jacket shots than we'd get with SPC or Broadway, though the guitars on the wall are an odd touch.

Actually, maybe the Rock Roll Hall of Hyp... er, Fame got its cue from this cover--the whole guitars-on-the-walls routine.  Of course, these are likely pretend walls (see the gap between the facade and the floor just right of the center model).  The more I study those red walls, the more hilarious they look--especially in the unnatural angle on the left.  What did RCA Camden use?  Classroom poster board?

I strongly suspect that the Living Guitars (I wonder if it ever did a Halloween LP and called itself the Dying Guitars?) was purely Al Caiola, multi-tracked à la Les Paul, with top studio pros (working at RCA Camden label rates) providing the extra sounds.  But a Google search led me to nothing that either supports or busts my theory, so we'll just have to take my word for it that I'm correct.  And though Caiola was fifteen years older than Elvis (and thus one of the old guard), he rocks more than adequately on these tracks.  He never did anything fancy on these Living Guitar LPs (to generalize from the four or so that I've heard), but you can tell he was an expert player.

"Your favorites are here, set up rhythmically just like the original hits," the notes say.  Songs which "burned up the best-seller charts in the original versions."  That being said, each one of these numbers existed in current (1964) versions.  For instance, in that year Chuck Berry's School Days was covered by The Knights (a Gary Usher group), and Chuck's Maybellene was covered (with some chart success) by Johnny Rivers.  Meanwhile, Hank Thompson did a version of Detour, Lee Curtis and the All-Stars recorded Jezebel, and the 1963 Beatles version of Roll Over Beethoven did big business.  On this LP's shindig version of Roll Over, Caiola perfectly mimics George Harrison's imitation of Berry, which is no surprise, since Al's chops were infinitely above Berry's or the young Harrison's.  (Please send all complaint emails to address provided in my profile.)

Sorry about that.  Now, the thing is, how to designate this sort of LP?  Is is a fake-hits LP?  In my view, not really.  It's just part of the long-standing pop music industry tradition of covering hit material, and covers made up a huge portion of recorded pop music into the rock era.  Elvis, after all, borrowed much of his material and style from day one, and R&B vocal groups frequently recorded old standards (Blue Moon, Blueberry Hill, The White Cliffs of Dover), and some 1960s groups functioned primarily as cover bands (Kingsmen, Ventures), while the Beatles and Beach Boys did plenty of vintage r&r material (Roll Over Beethoven, Money, Barbara Ann, Why Do Fools Fall in Love)... and so on.  The pop cover tradition didn't become something to mock until about the time rock and roll dropped its "and," and folks like Tony Bennett, Kate Smith, Perry Como, Frankie Carle, Benny Goodman, and Billy Vaughan were covering the Woodstock-era Top 40.  They were simply carrying on a tradition, but suddenly it was hilarious.

Similarly, sound-alikes became a "What the heck are these?" sort of thing once the pop-cover era was just a memory.  Gone was the context that made the tradition make sense, so nowadays our natural first response to a sound-alike collection is, "Somebody bought these things?  Why?"  I imagine these budget cover-the-hits collections seem nearly as odd to many folks.  As in, why buy the Living Guitars, when you can go to YouTube and hear the originals?  Well, what about that, RCA Camden?  Anyway, some very fun stuff here, and in glorious mono.  The light green cover came out dark green, and that's mainly because my scanner produced weird color fluctuations in the green that made the jacket border look like... curtains, basically.  So I had to do a crazy degree of cloning.  The cover is actually pretty shiny, but shiny doesn't always register in scans.  Any cover or label meant to reflect light at an angle--well, forget that when you're laying something flat on a piece of glass.  Anyway, shindig on!!

Can't you just hear Frankie saying that to Annette, right before taking off to catch a rear-screen projected wave?

DOWNLOAD: Living Guitars Shindig (1964)


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Doris Akers, Directing Glad Tidings Temple's Harvest Time Choir (Crusade LP M 2709; circa 1964)

The best-known hymn by "Miss Gospel Music," Doris Akers (1923-1995), may be 1962's Sweet, Sweet Spirit, which was sung at the 1977 funeral of her close friend Elvis Presley.  Another famous Akers song, Lead Me, Guide Me, appeared on Presley's 1971 Grammy-winner, He Touched Me.  But here we have Doris, from 1963 or 1964, directing the Harvest Time Choir of Vancouver, BC's Glad Tidings Temple, home of pastor Reg Layzell (1904-1984), a major name in the post-WWII Latter-Rain Movement, about which I know nothing, except that it happened within the Pentecostal movement and remains very controversial (says Wikipedia).  Though the choir--which is very fine--appears to be all-Caucasian, there's a strong black gospel feel on these tracks, what with Doris' lovely mezzo(?)-soprano voice, which was capable of leaping to some impressively high notes, and her fabulous piano playing.  Also, by virtue of the superb organ of Doug Moody, the young man pictured on the lower left, above.  Not to racially stereotype, but for a white musician, Doug gives Billy Preston a run for his money.  What soul!  I've tracked down a few LPs he was involved with, but he doesn't seem to have made a musical splash commensurate with his talent.  That'll happen.  He's not to be confused with the owner of the Clock label.

Three of today's numbers are by Akers--My Expectation, Sweet Jesus, and I Felt the Spirit.  Looking at the back-jacket scan, you'll notice "Manna Music" showing up quite often.  Akers' song catalog appears to be owned by same, and it was founded in 1955 by Tim Spencer (1908-1974), who, with Roy Rogers and Bob Nolan, had founded The Sons of the Pioneers 22 years earlier.  At one point, Tim was also in charge of RCA's religious record division.  Busy guy.  He wrote two of today's numbers--Praise God, Hallelujah, and the lovely I'll Be There.

Joy, Great Joy, To My Soul was a tricky one to track down.  A famous spiritual, it's known by various titles, including Yes, He Did; I Can Tell the World; He Took My Feet from the Miry Clay; and You Can Tell the World.  Simon and Garfunkel recorded it under that last title for their Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. album.  It was a pop-folk standard, apparently, performed by Bob Gibson, The Chad Mitchell Trio, The Seekers, The Tarriers, and (live in concert) Peter, Paul, and Mary.  One site claims that the song was first recorded in 1926, and that would be the Taskiana Four's Victor recording, Then He Brought Joy to My Soul.  Could well be, though this assumes there were no earlier recordings.  "First recorded by..." claims should be made with caution, because it only takes one exception to sink the boat.  Such claims can very easily be qualified (and thus protected) with simple phrases like "first known" (as in, "the first known recording of..."), but I guess people are no longer taught about the risks involved in making universal claims.  Nothing I can do about it.

After much searching off line, I found this single (hard copy) copy of the number in a youth hymnal in my collection:

To the sounds...

DOWNLOAD: Glad Tidings--Doris Akers, Harvest Time Choir (c. 1964)


Friday, June 19, 2020

Twelve Top Hits--The Toppers, and the Toppers. Plus, The Toppers.

Yet another Tops Records 12 Top Hits.  Don't ask me how many of these they made, because the very thought is terrifying.  And, for once, we have a group of kids who honestly look like they're having a blast.  The two dancers are overdoing it a bit, but better to err on the side of looking too happy than "When is this shoot going to be over?" Every entry in the 12 Top Hits series had the same four-digit number with an L prefix--L1510.  And one of my life missions has been to discover some consistent pattern to the suffixes used by Tops.  In a logical universe, Tops would have used suffixes in sequence--as in, 1 for the first LP in this series, 5 for the fifth, 9 for the ninth, and let's get groovy and drunk for the night.  Sorry--I got caught up in some 1949 rock-the-house lyrics.  But, really, the logical and simple thing would have been a digit for each LP in the series.  But logical and simple were not words in the cheap-label vocabulary.  These outfits were determined to make life harder for future pop historians that it should be.  They did a good job.

Tops' catalog suffixes didn't happen in any pattern I can recognize as a pattern, and they usually varied from side A to side B on a given issue.  Totally nuts.  But on this L1510, we actually have the same suffix on both sides: L1510-A24 and L1510-B24.  Typically, "A" and "B" are not employed as part of the actual catalog numbers, but this is Tops, and it had no set system beyond using the same cover art over and over, so we'll overlook this.  Yes, amazingly, "24" on both sides, with 24 possibly meaning the 24th release in the L1510 series, which is well within the realm of probability.  It looks like Tops goofed up and did something in accordance with logic.  Anyway....

This is a lively and memorable set, but as usual there are the exceptions: specifically, Bobby Sox to Stockings and There Goes My Baby, both performed with a lack of enthusiasm which borders on the last moments before dozing off.  Of course (and this is just my opinion), it would be quite difficult to put across There Goes My Baby with much passion, since the thing hardly qualifies as a song--its more like stitched-together phrases falling over one another atop a cliche chord pattern of early r&r: I-vi-ii-V.  "Sketchy" is the best word, I think, that describes the song and its arrangement.  To Tops' credit, this fake does manage to catch much of the lackluster quality of the original.  There Goes... is not so much an excuse for a song as the absence of one.  And Bobby Sox to Stocking (a silly Venus rewrite) is sung with an amazing lack of energy by Alex Carey, as if he'd just woken up from a nap in the studio.  Or maybe it was dawning on him, just as he was putting this on tape, that a singing career was not for him.  It's possible he was on the verge of leaving the studio, but someone persuaded him to do the track before quitting.

Way better is an acceptable cover of Tallahassie (sic) Lassie, which can be forgiven for not capturing the incredible energy and power of the original (Tops lacked both budget and desire, I'm sure, to make a knockout knockoff); an extremely good Tiger--one which (Tiny-Compliment Alert) features a better singer than Fabian and manages to rock superbly, the out of tune guitars actually helping the effect; a lovely Lavender Blue (a fake of Sammy Turner); an excellent Along Came Jones (and my brain confuses all three Leiber-Stoller Coasters songs together--Charlie Brown, Yakety Yak, and this one); and fine fakes of Personality and Lipstick on Your CollarThe Battle of New Orleans, on the other hand, doesn't leave a powder burn on the great Johnny Horton hit, and in fact qualifies as plain lousy--but fun-lousy.  It's memorably terrible.  It's as if the singer, chorus, and background musicians were instructed to achieve the reverse feel of the original--"Perform as if you're inside a phone booth and the folks in the adjoining cubicles asked you to please keep it down."--Tops.  Maybe this fake was intended as an apology for our War of 1812 victory.

"The Finest in Top Hit Entertainment"--Front jacket.  Well, maybe not, but this is a fun edition of the Lord-knows-how-many-they-made 12 Top Hits series, the cover filled with writing (and the label covered with typed-upon stickers) that I artfully cloned out.  I even had to cut and paste "...The Toppers" where it had been covered by correction tape, or something similar.  No one said documenting dime-store LP history was a waltz in the park.

To the faker's dozen (minus a 13th track):

DOWNLOAD: 12 Top Hits (Tops L1510-A24/B24)


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Tuesday morning gospel--The Cleveland Quartet and Mr. and Mrs. Floyd H. Lacy

Kind of a late Sunday post here.  This superb quintet included Floyd H. Lacy, high tenor, and his wife, who apparently played piano for the quintet, though (for some reason) not on these reissued (1940s) Sacred label sides--the superb ivory tinkling is credited to Spurgeon R. Jones.  However, Mrs. Lacy does play piano on the five duet sides by the Lacys, which feature added organ accompaniment by the famous Lorin Whitney.  The group belonged to the Christian and Missionary Alliance, aka the Alliance World Fellowship, about which I know little, save that a lot of great music is connected with the denomination.  It's part of the Holiness movement.

Here's an excellent entry on the group, which started in 1913.

It's more than worth noting that many of the so-called "lower" churches (did somebody say, "class"?) were ahead of the Christian pack when it came to integrated congregations and leadership positions for women.  Just saying.  We progressive Christians are, and should be, a bit embarrassed by this inconvenient fact.

Anyway, splendid music, with a polyphonic quality that I can't find the words to describe.  It's as if the voices are darting in and out on some of the quintet sides.  My ears try to determine which voice is doing what, and they (my ears) give up after a spell.  To call these tracks lively is an understatement along the lines of, "Godzilla wears at least a 5X."  And I love the Lacys' interesting style of duet vocalizing--the very precise enunciation, especially.  In addition to the twelve LP tracks, we have a 1925 "Personal Record" (Columbia Phonograph Company) of the Lacys singing the great Rapture hymn, The Meeting in the Air, and The Hornet Song, the theological point of which I haven't figured out yet.  But I'm working on it.  And I'll offer no puns along the line of "stinging vocals."  I can't account for the highly compressed sound on Hornet, and I apologize for the mildly painful resonance.  Did someone cover the microphone with a blanket, or...?

This LP is a thrift gift from Diane, and I'm very grateful for it.  I knew it would be a great experience the moment she mentioned finding it.  This post puts me in the mood to feature one or both of my Doris Akers LPs.  I believe I posted one years back, but the entry is gone.

DOWNLOAD: Cleveland Quintet (Sacred Records 9037; 1958)


Saturday, June 13, 2020

"We've been invaded!"--Montgomery Ward (British Beat A-Go-Go; 1965)

"Teens, you'll like Wards....because Wards is really 'with it'...has been for over 90 years."  People were "with it" in the late 1800s?

Other than this, there's no attempt made in the liner notes to sell young people on Montgomery Ward.  Oh, and this: "Join the smart teens who belong to our Wendy Ward program..."  Wendy Ward program?

"Join the 'in' crowd...stick with Wards!"  A quarter century before the internet, and Wards was already disregarding traditional punctuation.  I guess Wards really was "with it."

So, what about the music on this LP of then-current British Invasion hits?  Is it "with it"?  Mildly so, but there are a few too many clunkers (on the rhythm guitar, especially), and the musicians sound game but under-rehearsed.  They certainly don't sound overly familiar with the charts, but maybe Ward/Wards figured that teens--even smart ones--couldn't tell a wrong chord from a right one, so why sweat it?  This is several levels below Herman Clebanoff's teen-hits albums on Mercury, though I suspect much more rehearsal time went into those.

But it could be worse.  It could be the Design label, for example.  The unidentified group--let's call it Wendy Ward and the Montgomeries--has a fairly decent feeling for British pop, and the bass is appropriately fat and loud.  And, as I type this, I'm listening to a spirited A Hard Day's Night, so maybe Side II makes up for its counterpart.  The lead guitarist almost nails the famous George Harrison solo, and at a faster tempo, but... not quite.  And the ending is too abrupt.  But Side II is more together, with more energy--especially on It's Not Unusual.

Ah, but then we have a plunge into near-chaos with the Lennon-McCartney A World without Love, which sounds like a Pickwick reject, complete with distorted piano.  Glad All Over, the next track, is nice and bouncy, but the drummer is speeding through the chorus, and the chord changes are going to pot.  A sloppy Can't Buy Me Love ends the set, and what a shame.  This could have been a camp gem.  But I'm certain the musicians were rushed, so I'll give them an A for effort.

Liner notes: "We've been invaded!  Its (sic) that swingin', dynamic British sound, which is their version of 'rock & roll.'"  No, it's that swingin', dynamic British sound, Montgomery Ward.  Not "its."  I should note that the label, Majorette, also put out four Heidi LPs--as in, Remco's Heidi Pocketbook Doll, which I very vaguely remember.  Never had one, of course.

"The prices at Wards are sized to fit a teen's budget," the liner essay informs us.  Which is about what they put into this album, apparently.  But I'm being too mean.  This is a reasonably campy relic of its day, and what can we expect from a freebie designed to get teens into the Wendy Ward program?  At least, I hope this was a freebie....

And here's the 2016 obit for Lois Daly, founder of the Wendy Ward program.

DOWNLOAD: British Beat-A-Go-Go (Majorette Records 305A; 1965)


Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Top Hit Tunes time--Joe Hollis and the Gang, Joe Perkins, The Monarchs, more!

These tracks hail from a strange time in the history of Waldorf Music Hall/Waldorf Record Corp. (which I simply call the Waldorf label, to keep things simple).  I refer to late 1957 through 1958 or 1959, when the label's fake hits were sounding less professional than usual, with some of them actually appearing on other labels, as well.  I'm not aware of any previous label-hopping when it came to Waldorf/Audition/Colortone/etc.  For instance, at least two of the tracks in this playlist also appeared on the Hit Parader label, where they were offered (minus any attribution): Put Your Head on My Shoulder, credited here to "Flip Morgan," and Poison Ivy, credited here to "The Flashes."  Comparing the two Poison Ivy pressings side by side (or one over the other), the only difference I discovered was a longer fade-out on Hit Parader.

Both Sides Now notes that Am-Par Records, which later became ABC-Paramount, bought out Waldorf in October, 1959, and I believe them, because BSN knows its stuff.  But, as I've noted in previous posts, there was also a mysterious Pickwick-Waldorf connection that seems to have started about this time, and which continued at least into the early 1960s--even as late as 1965.  I first noticed the connection in this post of a 1961 Hurrah! (Pickwick) release which used the standard Waldorf LP format (eighteen current hits, plus six filler tracks), plus stock Waldorf cover art.  It's possible that it was Am-Par, not Waldorf, which partnered with Pickwick, since this crossover phenomenon started about the time of the acquisition.  At the moment, I don't have enough examples to go by, so I'm still confused by the whole thing.  But I doubt anyone is losing sleep over this, so, to the music....

The first eight selections come from the red-label 10" 78 rpm EP pictured above, and the best of that lot are Hollis Robinson's Johnny B. Goode--primarily for the deft copying of Berry's guitar style--and the excellent fake of the Coaster's Yakety YakWitch Doctor might have reached the fake-hit heights, too, had Waldolf taken the time and trouble to speed up the "Oo-ee, oo-ah-ah"'s instead of featuring a falsetto. But at least it's enthusiastically done, which can't be said of Jennie Lee , which has too much tired blood.  The Prom label issued a far better Jennie Lee fake, and I was sure that I'd posted it recently, but it doesn't look like I did.  Odd. Or maybe not--these are so easy to lost track of.

The next eight tracks come from the only Top Hit Tunes 45 in my collection that isn't shot to heck--of the eight numbers, King Creole is by far the best, featuring a singer who does a very good Elvis.  Bird Dog and Betty Lou are decent covers, while Gingerbread is overdone to the point of comedy.  The hit version was by Frankie Avalon, of all people.  And, listening to his version, I can't hear any basis for Loren Becker's vocal swoops, or whatever those are, though Becker does pull off a livelier version--Avalon sounds like he didn't want to do it.  I can see why--rockabilly was clearly not Frankie's thing, though I regard him as a competent teen-ballad singer.

Put Your Head on My Shoulder and Poison Ivy come from my 45 rpm copy of Top Hit Tunes TH-34-1--they were the only two salvageable numbers.  And, after I discovered that both tracks were also on the Hit Parader EP, I sort of cheated and substituted the quieter HP version of Poison Ivy, carefully duplicating the earlier Waldrof fade-out.  Which only goes to prove that all of this time indoors is not affecting my sanity.  Not one teeny bit.  Good cover of Put Your Head..., and, while simple, it's a beautifully written tune, in my opinion.  I've read accounts that describe Anka as not the easiest person to work with, but he's certainly talented.

To the fakes!

DOWNLOAD: Top Hit Tunes time

Don't You Just Know It--Joe Hollis and the Gang  (Top Hit Tune TH-20-1; 78 rpm)

Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry)--Hollis Robinson (Same)
Twilight Time--Joe Perkins and the Zig Zags--(Same)
Witch Doctor--Joe Perkins (Same)
Do You Want to Dance?--Jerry Duane w. Enoch Light and His Orch. (Same)
Secretly--Jerry Rollins (Same)
Jennie Lee--Jean and Johnny Jones (Same)
Yakety Yak--The Monarchs (Same)
King Creole--Dick Penrose (Top Hit Tunes TH-22-1; 45 pm)
Gingerbread--Loren Becker with the Zig Zags (Same)
Carol (Chuck Berry)--Jerry Duane with Enoch Light Orch. and Chorus (Same)
How the Time Flies--Loren Becker and Micahael Stewart (Same)
Bird Dog--The Ferrell Brothers (Same)
Early in the Morning--Ken Lynch (Same)
Betty Lou Got a New Pair of Shoes--Tony Stevens (Same)
Poor Little Fool--Loren Becker with the Zig Zags (Same)
Put Your Head on My Shoulder--Flip Morgan (Top Hit Tunes TH-34-1)
Poison Ivy--The Flashes (Same)


Sunday, June 07, 2020

The Pan-Harmonic Musical Education Society presents... Songs of Faith, Prayers and Hymns (1959)

These Golden Record Library LPs are thrift store staples, and I could have had the entire set at one point--at 99 cents apiece.  Nah.  And I haven't lived to regret it, either.  But this one looked fun, and I thought it would be an interesting change of pace to post an LP of standard church hymns sung in traditional fashion by a traditional choir.  Whoever they were.  They receive no credit anyplace.  The closest thing we get is, "Musical Direction by the Pan-Harmonic Musical Education Society.  Orchestral, Choral, Chamber and Folk Music Divisions Supervised by Leading Educators and Musicologists."  I see--fine.  Why do budget labels always carry on as if their cut-rate offerings were the most amazing things out there?  It's some weird rite of reversal....

Naturally, A.A. Records (or Bell Records, Inc.??) failed to coordinate the jacket title with the one on the label.  The jacket says, Songs of Faith, Prayers and Hymns, and the label says, Songs of Faith, Prayer, Hymns, which makes slightly more sense.  I mean, what exactly are songs of prayers and hymns?  This is what happens when the Oxford comma isn't used--the last two items in a series become a pair.  Ah, but on the back jacket, just above the track listing, we see, Songs of Faith, Prayers, and Hymns.  (A.A. found the missing comma.)  And "songs of prayers" is a commonly used phrase, so we're fine.  And I didn't know it was commonly used until I Googled it just now.

Oh, and in the Golden Record Library series listing on the back, this LP's title becomes Songs for Faith, Prayer and Hymns.  So, four variations on a single title.  Anyway, very good choral work on these tracks, with everyone singing like they mean it.  It helps that these are all great numbers.  I suppose the musical quality is better than we have a right to expect.  The Onward Christian Soldiers rendition is especially memorable (though the closing reverb is a little weird), and, as I always love to point out, the composer of the 1871 tune was Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.  Arthur replaced the drab-sounding tune (adapted from Haydn) that was originally used with the text.  In one of my zillion songbooks, I have Onward... set to the Haydn tune.  The Haydn tune is actually fine--it just fails to register with these words.  It was a marriage not meant to last.

You know, instead of making fun of A.A. Records for its careless packaging, I should be praising it for providing an inexpensive Musical Heritage for Young America.  I mean, when's the last time I provided young America with a musical heritage?  And I mentioned Bell Records, and that's who gets the 1959 copyright credit--Bell Records, Inc.  But Bell was not associated with A.A. Records, to the best of my knowledge.  So... I have no idea.

One of A.A.'s sub-labels was Golden Records, and I assume that explains "The Golden Record Library," of which this was the 12th volume.  I think it was the last in the set.  Something about this LP says "Mail-order product."  (Now my records are talking to me....)

Excellent choir, whoever they were.  And a cool period cover.  For a buck minus a dime, a good buy.

DOWNLOAD: Songs of Faith, Prayers and Hymns (1959)


Friday, June 05, 2020

Friday popcorn--Merv Griffin, "Love Story" (1957)

This 1957 Merv Griffin single usually goes for too much money on eBay, and because it's a "popcorn" standard.  I got it for cheap, and probably because it's a Mexican pressing.  But it sounds great--better than any of the YouTube postings, if I may be so humble.

So, what is "popcorn"?  Well, you read the Wikipedia entry, and see if you can figure it out--I gave up.  I mean, I get the background, but there seems to be no real-world definition of popcorn as a style or genre. See, there was a Belgian cafe in the late 1960s that played soul and ska, and which changed its name to the Popcorn (after James Brown's "The Popcorn") as its brand of DJ background caught on with dancers.  The kernel that was ska and soul expanded to include 1950s and 1960s country, pop, and R&B (all of it mid-tempo to slow).  Other such clubs popped up, pun intended.  Apparently, at some point, someone heard Merv's Love Story and figured it was a perfect example of the popcorn style, since the style doesn't really have a firm definition, anyway.  The Arthur Norman Singers doing The Lone Ranger Theme on Golden Records could be popcorn, for all I know.  No, actually, that side is too lively.  But a DJ could slow it down to 33 and 1/3.  The 45 single, I mean.

I'm just trying to picture Belgians dancing to Merv Griffin.  Did Merv know about this?

Anyway, popcorn is not simply pop that's corny (my first, and wrong, guess), though I suppose we could use that definition if we wanted to.  For the sake of speculation (using clues contained in W.'s essay), I'll postulate that Merv's Love Story makes the grain--er, grade--because it's in minor mode and has kind of a tresillo or habanera thing going.  I'm not good at naming Latin rhythms, because they overlap, as a rule.  And so it took me several minutes of playing along on my keyboard to figure out that the bassline is unsyncopated--it's just (12)34--a half note, followed by two whole notes.  The accent on the fourth eighth note is happening in the vocal chorus, on top of at least one other rhythmic event.  I could have simplified all this to "It's got a Latin groove."  But no--I had to take the complicated route.

Also, and maybe more importantly, Love Story features happy lyrics about the triumph of true love, only set to a melody that can hardly be described as cheerful--"dire" comes to mind.  That might (emphasize might) be the most popcorn thing about Love Story--the mood of doom, only joined with words that are as happy as lyrics get.  When I first heard this side years ago, I was expecting a last-minute twist--a train running over the lovers, or maybe the ground swallowing them up.  But, no.  It's like the Boulevard of Broken Dreams with sunny lyrics: "I wake up feeling fine each morning.  I really love my lot in life.  I'm full of glee, I'm so happy, etc."

Merv does well on both sides.  As a singer, he recorded for (let me see) seven labels, starting with his very own, Panda.  Then RCA, then Columbia, then Decca, then Carlton, Cameo, and Mercury.  He started out strong on RCA, and it looked like he was on his way to the big time as a pop singer.  But it never happened.  After Merv became established as a talk show host, he sang on MGM, Zoo York, and Griffin Records, Inc.  I wonder who owned that last one?

"A reminiscent melody that will stay with the listener."--Billboard, March 9, 1957.  A "swingy rhythm":

DOWNLOAD: Friday Merv--Love Story/I'll Be Thinking of You (1957)


Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sunday morning gospel: The Speer Family--Won't We Be Happy (1965; re. 1981)

This LP had my a bit confused at first, what with its copyright year of 1981.  I was sure I had previously owned a much earlier edition, and it turns out that I was correct--this is a 1965 gem reissued on the occasion of the Speers' 60th anniversary.  Hence, the revised cover (the anniversary reference).  Now, my original copy had some weird "extra" sounds on a couple of the Side 2 tracks--sort of like audio bleeding through the performance, as if the engineer were reusing a tape that hadn't been fully erased.  I wrote it off to a defect in the pressing, but apparently not, because the same noises are present in this edition!  So the problem obviously resides in the master tape/disc.  For some reason, it's a relief to discover that both the 1965 and 1981 editions have the same odd noises.  Why that would come as a relief, I don't know.  Maybe I've been puzzling over this subconsciously for the past ten years.

Back to topic, during the 1920s and 1930s (after forming in 1921), the Speers peddled songbooks for publisher James D. Vaughan, which meant they had to be good--and hard-working.  I'd give anything to hear this wonderful group in its earliest days, but unfortunately it didn't start recording until 1947.  And, needless to say, the outfit didn't get rich from singing to sell books, but maybe the paychecks got bigger when "Dad" Speer went to work for Stamps-Baxter upon James D. Vaughn's death in 1941.  And bigger yet when they landed recording dates with Columbia and RCA.  I hope so.

The music throughout this superior LP is expertly and lovingly presented--polished but with a down-home sincerity that gets addictive after a few tracks.  I'll have to count this version of Palms of Victory (aka, Deliverance Will Come), as my all-time favorite (and my reason for snapping this up from the thrift bin), because the Speers get it exactly right, with a tight and subtly insistent instrumental background (after Ye Olde Deceptive Slow Start), a properly moderate tempo, and superbly precise diction--exactly what the words demand.  It's all a buildup to the final (well, in print, the next-to-final) verse, in which he "wayworn traveler" at last reaches the Golden City.  The group celebrates this triumph by drawing out the last three words:"Palms of victory I... shall... wear."  Sometimes genius touches are simple ones.  And sometimes, when you're working with great material, you just let it shine.  This is a group which works to glorify the material, not itself.

Wayworn Traveler, by the way, was the title the Carter Family used when they recorded this 1836 number a century later.  And, oddly enough, SecondHandSongs claims that Carter wrote the verse that ends this version ("While gazing on that city, Just o'er the narrow flood...").  In fact, the verse appears in my edition of New Christian Hymn and Tune Book, which was published in 1887--four years before A.P. was born.  (Scan below.)

A touching note--George Thomas "Dad" Speer died one year after this LP, and wife Lena "Mom" Speer the following.  Adds some poignancy to a beautifully done cover.

DOWNLOAD: The Speer Family--Won't We Be Happy (1965; re. 1981)


Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Blue Beats--The Beatle Beat (A.A. Records AA-133; 1964)

I was going to start by describing this as one of the odder Beatles knock-offs.  But it may, in fact, be the oddest.

The Beatle Beat, Featuring the Blue Beats.  That's what it says on the front jacket.  So what does it say on the back jacket?  "How to Do the Twist" (Reprinted from The Fred Astaire Dance Book).  How to do the Twist?  So, uh... to do the Beatle Beat, one must first master the Twist?  Wouldn't a "Beatles Beat" tutorial have made more sense?  This is a level of front jacket/rear jacket disagreement that rivals anything from Synthetic Plastics Co. or Halo, Allegro/Royale, and Ultraphonic.  So, what exactly do we have here?  A discotheque collection repurposed at the last minute to siphon some of the Beatles cashflow?  That seems like the closest thing to a logical explanation.  But couldn't they have come up with a more creative fake-Beatles name than "The Blue Beats"?  That sounds like a quartet of depressed poets listening to Miles Davis albums when they aren't accompanying Slop and Mashed Potato contests.

Nothing, however, can compete with the hideous cover art, which has a group of kids dancing (Twisting, Frugging, Hully Gullying?) under a massive Beatles wig.  Doesn't it look like the wig is consuming them?  Maybe that's a bit of social commentary.  At any rate, the dancers seem to be leaning into the giant wig, as if caught by surprise while doing the Rock-a-cha-cha, and this huge prop has just landed on them.

One look at that cover had me remembering the carpet monster from outer space in the Z-movie classic The Creeping Terror (1964--same year!).  Specifically, the scene where the monster invades a dance hall and struggles its way through a cluster of tables and chairs while the patrons stand by a back exit, making no attempt to get away.  Heck, as slow as the thing was moving, they could have walked past it and gone out the front:

Here's the Creeping Terror dance hall scene on YouTube, taken from a terrible print. Which is apt, since the sequence features what is possibly the worst editing job in film history.

Now, A.A. Records (which gave us Golden Record and Wonderland Records) wasn't the cheapest of the cheap, by any means.  It issued collectible stuff like At Home with the Munsters (featuring the TV cast), Roger and Over with Roger Price, the Famous Monsters of Filmland classic Famous Monsters Speak! and Huckleberry Hound for President (apparently authorized by Hanna-Barbara)  Yet, here it's giving us a Beatles knock-off that's less of an actual knock-off than even the Palace label's Beattle Mash.  How to explain?  Maybe the easiest option is to simply accept.

The music is fun, if monotonous, and well recorded and played.  So, it's discotheque rock and roll, all right, and every dance from the Slop to the Frug to the Rock-a-Cha-Cha (Rock-a-Cha-Cha??) to the Mashed Potato is represented, so everything about this album rings true--except for the "Beatle" part.

The titles are confusing as heck, since they're all followed by the name of the dance they go with.  Which would be fine, except that, in a number of cases, the dance names are part of the title and not just an addendum--for instance The Blue Beats' Ska.  Or Jack's Chickenback.  On the mp3 tags, I used dashes in front of the dance types, because I have no means of italicizing any part of the tags.  This resulted in some strange names, like One-Two--Hully Gully.  I guess there's no way to make this LP make any sense.  So, enjoy!

DOWNLOAD--The Beatle Beat--The Blue Beats (A.A. Records AA-133; 1964)


Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020--"Then came the journey over the foam, but all that went over didn't come home"--Billy Murray

An all-78 rpm Memorial Day salute, with every rip but one courtesy of George Blood LP--this was my second raid of the amazing Internet Archive's 78 rpm offerings.  I ended up doing a good deal of declicking and (judicious) filtering to these tracks, since Blood's rips, superb as they are, are pretty much straight from the turntable.  The single non-George Blood side--the Chico Marx Orchestra's We Must Be Vigilant (American Patrol)--was a bad remastering job and required a complete makeover.  With Vinyl Studio, I imposed a flat curve to rescue the file from its severe over-filtering and highly over-emphasized bass, and then I worked on it from there.  What you hear is much better than what I started with.  A great side, and totally worth the trouble--especially since it was the only one I could find.

My Dream of the Big Parade, a 1926 gem expertly performed by the Peerless Quartet, features surprisingly no-holds-barred lyrics about WWI, and the narration by Billy Murray (!) is profoundly moving and well done.  Sentimental but very frank--powerful and eloquent stuff.  Hard to believe that the lyricist, Al Dubin, also gave us Tiptoe Through the Tulips.

And we have two versions of America the Beautiful--the first, from 1914, set to a melody I've never heard before, by one C.G. Hamilton.  No label credit given for the words on this Wellesley Glee Club recording.  The second recording, from 1927, correctly credits Katharine Lee Bates for the text (the first draft of which dates to 1893) and Samuel A. Ward for the melody we all know.  Ward composed the tune (titled Materna) in 1883, but obviously not for Bates' text.  His music, plus Bates' lyrics, were first merged in 1910.  Bates words originated as a poem she titled "Pike's Peak," though the title was changed to "America" when it was published in 1895.  See how simple this stuff is?  Nothing complicated at all about the history of our best-loved songs.

I was thrilled to find a choral recording of William Billing's patriotic anthem, Chester.  This marvelous number hails from 1770 and was hugely popular during the Revolutionary War.  For quite some time, the self-trained Billings caught a lot of grief from music historians who pretty much regarded him as a joke, but, far as I know, he's now rightfully credited as the first major American composer.  He's looking good, and the historians who wrote him off... not so much so.

If George F. Root's Tramp, Tramp, Tramp melody has your ears expecting to hear Ray Stevens start in with Everything Is Beautiful, it's because the melody was also used for the famous Sunday School song, Jesus Loves the Little Children.

John Philip Sousa's famous Liberty Bell March was famous long before the Monty Python troupe chose it for its theme music, and this 1916 Columbia recording by Prince's Band boasts extraordinary fidelity.  I almost thought I was listening to a mislabeled electrical side.  One of the finest Sousa marches, though I'm not sure he ever wrote a dud.

And it's inevitable that a racist number would show up at some point, and The Ragtime Volunteers Are off to War is that number, though minus the word "darkies," the lyrics could be taken to refer to soldiers hip to the sound of ragtime.  But given the long minstrel show tradition of lampooning blacks in uniform, you sort of know from the title what it's about.  Bouncy number, though, and we get to hear the fascinating instrumental version by (Ernest) Borbee's Jass Orchestra, from the same year (1917).  Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925 describes Borbee's style as "dance music in a genteel fashion typical of its time," but I hear some solid ragtime in a pretty innovative string band style for the time, complete with percussion.

The Peerless Quartet's Liberty Bell is not the Sousa march--it's a rather strange patriotic number that no one sounds very enthused about.  Even the finally bell gongs sound flat.  Maybe the bells were eager to call it day, too.  "We'll keep the take.  What the heck."--Recording director.  "Who's buying?"  The final track, from 1905, is by the Life Guards Military Band, "with descriptive effects," though there isn't much of a narrative happening.  I've heard similar sides on which the overlapping conversations are more audible.  But it's still quite cool.  I'd almost think it had to have been recorded outdoors, which would have presented a challenge for 1905 recording technology.

DOWNLOAD: Memorial Day, 2020

We Must Be Vigilant (American Patrol)--Chico Marx and His Orch., v: Ziggy Lane (The Hits Record 7003; 1942)

America the Beautiful (C.G. Hamilton)--Wellesley College Glee Club (Columbia A1659; 1914)
America the Beautiful (Ward and Bates)--Columbia Mixed Chorus (Columbia 1202-D; 1927)
Comin' in on a Wing and a Pray'r--Johnny Zero--The Studio Orchestra (London Music Library W. 7051; U.K.)
The Battle Cry of Freedom (George F. Root)--Harlan and Stanley w. Orch. (Victor 16165; 1907)
American Patrol (Beacham)--Chicago Symphony Orch., Dir. Frederick A. Stock (Columbia A5977; 1917)
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (The Prisoner's Hope) (Root)--John Young w. Orch. (Victor 16987; 1911)
Chester (William Billings)--The Madrigalists (Columbia 17251; 1927)
Joan of Arc (Wells)--Henry Burr, Tenor Solo, Orch. Acc. (Columbia A2273; 1917)
Liberty Bell March (Sousa)--Prince's Band (Columbia A2079; 1916)
My Dream of the Big Parade (Al Dubin-Jimmy McHugh)--Peerless Quartet w. Billy Murray (Victor 20098; 1926)
The Ragtime Volunteers Are off to War (Macdonald--Hanley)--Van and Schenck (Victor 18340; 1917)
Same--Borbee's Jass Orchestra (Columbia A2473; 1917)
Liberty Bell (Mohr)--Peerless Quartet (Columbia A2473; 1917)
Departure of a Man of War (Hunting)--Life Guards Military Band, with descriptive effects (Victor 61152; 1905)


Saturday, May 23, 2020

That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland (1916), and more!

Twelve tracks, all swiped from the Internet Archive and sound-edited by me.  All of the pre-doctored rips are by George Blood LP, the outfit which uses the four-tonearm turntable.  Its sound files are superb, but sometimes they're whisper-soft, as was the case with 1916's That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland, recorded by Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harland for Edison--which, luckily, I was able to get some volume out of.  That Funny Band was released in 1917, but this take (take C) was recorded on Dec. 1, 1916.  The song title is said to be the first to mention jas/jass/jazz, but it's the band's slightly discordant imitations of Dixieland which make this recording fascinating.  These breaks were clearly meant for humor but they provide incontestable proof  that Original Dixieland Jazz Band-style was around in 1916.  Not that anyone was arguing this, but every bit of audio proof proof is precious when it comes to jazz in its earliest stages.

The record is racially offensive, of course, though it's only a 5 on a scale of 10 as far as dialect humor goes.  For its period, this rates as moderately insulting....

I filled out the playlist with Earl Fuller (Rector Novelty Orchestra) and Paul Whiteman 78s which I haven't (to the best of my memory) featured here, save for Earl Fuller's Mummy Mine, which didn't sound as good as this, and Paul Whiteman's Chicago--ditto.  The 1945 Whiteman recording of San (arranged by Bill Challis) was recorded for the Capitol 78 set The History of Jazz Vol. 2--The Golden Era, and it features original band member Matty Malneck doing his usual masterful violin solo, and... I thought it also had Bill Rank on trombone, but I guess not.  Brilliant performance, and it was the first Whiteman record I ever heard, thanks to my dad's hi-fi set and his copy of the 78 album.

I was very happy to find the superb George Blood LP rip of Paul Whiteman's 1929 Button up Your Overcoat, one of my all-time favorite 1920s sides, which features a charming Ferde Grofe arrangement and an incomparable Vaughn De Leath vocal (she gets no i.d. on the label!).

High entertaining shellac, and I didn't have to set the needle down once....

DOWNLOAD: That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland, more!

That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland (Kahn-Marshall)--Collins and Harlin, 1916 (Edison 50423; 1916)
I Want Him Back (Lew Brown)--Earl Fuller's Rector Novelty Orch. (Columbia A2566; 1918)
Mummy Mine (Hickman-Black)--Same (Columbia A2722; 1919)
We'll Do Our Share (Egan-Creamer and Layton)--Same (Columbia A2566; 1918)
Alabamy Bound (De Sylva-Green-Henderson)--Paul Whiteman and His Orch. (Victor 19557; 1924)
Button up Your Overcoat (De Sylva-Brown-Henderson; arr: Grofe)--Same (Columbia 1736-D; 1929)
Chicago (That Toddling Town) (Fred Fisher)--Same (Victor 18946; 1922)
Dixie's Favorite Son (Lew Brown--Albert Von Tilzer)--Same (Victor 19389; 1924)
I'm Just Wild About Harry (Sissle-Blake)--Same (Victor 18938; 1922)
In a Boat (Lange-Liggy-Klapholz)--Same (Victor 18789; 1921)
Manhattan (Hart-Rodgers)--Same (Victor 19769; 1925)
San (McPhail-Michels; Arr: Bill Challis)--Same (Capitol 10026; 1945)