Friday, February 03, 2023

It jumps! It's hip! It swings! It's bright! It's cool! It's danceable! It's polyunsaturated! "Ray Ellis Plays the Top 20" (RCA LSP-2400; 1961)

Halfway through my sound-editing, I thought to myself, "Wait--wasn't I supposed to put up Johnny Arthey?"  Oops.  Well, Johnny will have to wait.  Meanwhile, I present this highly entertaining, mostly very energetic collection of hits from the 1961 Top 20.  All of the tracks (save a couple) rock very nicely, and they straddle the fence between instrumental pop (easy listening) and "fake" hits.  Reason being, song lyrics show up, on and off--thus, a few tracks sound like unusually well-produced budget fakes.  Except, they're not budget, this being RCA Living Stereo.

And I found the surface noise--as in, the sound of the needle tracking the vinyl--to be a little too much, and so I filtered it out.  I don't know if Living Stereo LPs are typically noisy in that manner, or if the vinyl has aged poorly, hardening with age.

This collection made for a nice, quick pop music tutorial for me, because I'm not as acquainted with the just-before-the-Beatles period as I want to be.  And my own Top 40 memories don't start until 1962 or 1963.  Clearly, 1961 was a fun year for the Top 20, and we have rockin' mostly-instrumental takes on Ral Donner's You Don't Know What You've Got; Gary (U.S.) Bonds' School Is Out, the wonderful Carole King-Gerry Goffin Take Good Care of My Baby, the superb doo wop number One Summer Night (the Daneleers), and Ben E. King's classic Amor.  And, of course, more.  Twenty in all.

Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor is, needless to say, a cover of Lonnie Donegan's 1959 recording, which hit the U.S. charts in 1961.  Why Wikipedia gives composer credit to Donegan when, in fact, the song originated in 1924 (or 1923?) as Does Your Spearmint Lose Its Flavor (Billy Rose-Ernest Breuer-Marty Bloom), I can't say, but we all know what a joke copyright credits can be, and often are.  Wikipedia claims that the skiffle style dates back to the first half of the 20th century, and I'll have to take its word, since that's news to me.  Strange that I've been collecting 78s for more than half a century without encountering vintage skiffle.  I had assumed it was a mercifully short-lived UK craze--a sendup of 1920s novelty records as historically invalid as Art Mooney's post-WWII hits.  Though Mooney's sides, while inauthentic, were fun.

The liner notes expand on what musicman1979 has already reported: The Clovers, Ruth Brown, The Drifters, and Ivory Joe Hunter can be added to the list of artists and acts Ellis collaborated with.  No wonder these tracks sound very much like the real thing, as opposed to reinterpreted rock and roll.  In fact, this LP is unusual in that regard, making it (as I suggested earlier) a semi-"fake"-hits collection.  Which has me wondering to what extent instrumental pop of the 1960s might have sold to younger buyers?  After all, we can't simply assume that young listeners, as a whole, only settled for the originals.  I can imagine young r&r fans going for something like this.  In 1961, rock/rock and roll had yet to be mythologized as the sound of rebellion.

Seems a shame that things have to start off with the ultra-mellow Michael, since it's so out of phase with the rest of the track list.  Maybe it was an executive decision...

DOWNLOAD: Ray Ellis Plays the Top 20 (RCA Victor LSP-2400; 1961)


You Don't Know What You've Got (Until You Lose It)

As If I Didn't Know

School Is Out

Pretty Little Angel Eyes

Little Sister

Let the Four Winds Blow

One Summer Night

I Just Don't Understand 

Last Night

Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight)

Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)

Wooden Heart


Take Good Care of My Baby

Without You


The Mountain's High

Don't Bet Money, Honey




Bryan said...

Hey Lee, Thanks for posting another Ray Ellis album. Thank you for all the hard work you have done.
I have a question, why did you place the Composer(s) Name(s) in the song titles and not separate them under Composer?
Hope you are feeling better.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Thanks--my sinuses are doing better. For the moment, anyway! And my MAGIX program, where I write the tags, has no separate composer field. The reason I'm using an old program is because none of the newer Audio Cleaning Labs are compatible with any known antivirus. So I have to stay with old software. It still works, though it's not very Windows 10-compatible and thus blinks out when I load it with too many "FX."

Buster said...

Hi Lee,

Ellis had a varied career. The Ellis LPs best known to me are backing singers like Streisand and Billie Holiday. I have never heard one of his instrumental LPs (that I can recall), but will enjoy this, I am sure.

The Top 40 at the time sure was varied - ancient novelities like "Does Your Chewing Gum," Fats Domino tunes, Curtis Lee's "Pretty Little Angel Eyes" (a favorite of mine back then), a German tune ("Wooden Heart"), Brill Bldg. products, etc.

"In 1961, rock/rock and roll had yet to be mythologized as the sound of rebellion." Not so sure about that (as I think you have pointed out in the past). In its early days, rock and roll was widely denounced as the work of the devil. A few years later, it was tamer, but still not all that well accepted by the more conservative members of the community.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Hope you enjoy the LP--the tracks seem remarkably close in sound to the originals, which was unusual for a pop-instrumental effort of this type. As far as the denouncing of rock and roll in its early days (and I assume you're referring to the time when the music was beginning to enter the white charts, starting about 1951), people were well aware of its Black origins, and of course interracial interaction of any type was disapproved of (even illegal, in certain instances). "Good" white people, especially in (but not limited to) the South didn't want their white children corrupted by you-know-what music. All of which you well know, of course. Come the mid-1960s, when counterculture "folk" songs merged with rock, thus began the narrative of rock as protest music--and never mind that very few examples of rock actually functioned as such. (Dylan, maybe... but Bread and Butter, Dirty Water, Hang on Sloopy, 96 Tears, Paperback Writer?) This led to the hugely successful marketing strategy wherein rock was music which spoke to, and for, the youth of America. A story concocted by older folk, but no matter. The greatest absurdity of all was the coronation of Elvis as the original rock and roll rebel. That's when everything left the orbit of logic, imo. Elvis, a well-behaved, patriotic, attached-to-mother-and-family Southern boy, a rebel? But the rebel narrative, whether we buy it or not, is still an essential part of the rock mythos.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Oh, and of course, in popular usage, a "myth" is a falsehood, but the formal meaning is something closer to a body of cultural beliefs and values expressed symbolically. The factual truth or falsehood of a myth is irrelevant; all that matters is its meaning. That is to say, though I don't buy the traditional rock history narrative, I'm not declaring it false. In my view, the standard "story" of rock isn't testable/falsifiable.

Buster said...

Lee - Elvis' gyrations were widely denounced as obscene when he came on the scene. In addition to racial prejudice, there was a fair amount of class prejudice involved as well, with the poor and rural backgrounds of some of the early acts being held against them. Being a middle-class youngster of the time, I well remember this.

musicman1979 said...

This is going to be a great one!! I am always looking for Easy Listening records like this. Will get to it eventually.

Buster, thanks for mentioning Barbra Streisand among Ellis' arranger-conductor credits-that one slipped my radar. Really liked your recent Frankie Laine postings and hope you will feature some Three Suns soon on your blog. Have a great day.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Hope you enjoy! It's quite different as an example of instrumental pop.


I'm not surprised that classism merged with racism. But rock's debut as a thing of protest/defiance happened in the late 1960s, it seems. This is when critics began taking the music seriously, which meant that the principal narrative required a reason/excuse to regard rock as serious and socially relevant. (It was already the latter, having topped the pop charts.) The protest label rendered rock a serious force, and it's important to note that this shift in rock's "story" was blatantly ad hoc in nature, which suggests that rock mythology is built upon noncontingent assertions. And I vividly recall how, about 1970, journalists were treating early r&r as if it had never happened, since "Earth Angel" and "Sh-Boom" and "Rock Around the Clock" hardly rate as protest numbers. Even the Beach Boys were old hat. The bottom line, in my view, is that the mythology (body of stories) which make up the "story" of rock are, in effect, necessarily true propositions. Noncontingent assertions. Thus, they can't be debated or denied. The claims of rock historians are typically untestable, in part because lack real-world substance. For example, what on earth does "country plus blues" mean? Can I create rock by simultaneously playing a Howlin' Wolf LP and a Loretta Lynn album? And I'm fascinated by the skill (and sneakiness) with which Rolling Stone writers have most people believing that r&r started with Elvis, when that actual claim is hard or impossible to track down in rock literature. Rock writers seem to have expertly IMPLIED the genesis account without trapping themselves with claims that can be challenged. This is why I can only suggest reasons not to take the rock "story" seriously. I can't disprove the chief claims of rock, because they would have to exist in a falsifiable format, and they do not.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


And, as you know (since you subscribe to my comments), I had to revise my last entry just now.

Diane said...

Young buyers might indeed have sprung for something like this -- hey, it's 20 songs for one price! As opposed to the $$ of buying 20 singles. (Those had 2 sides, of course; but the flip side was usually a boring publishing rights money grab.) It's also possible parents would buy this for their kids -- "Here you go, 20 new songs! I'm sick of that last single you play 17 times in a row."

lafong said...

"But rock's debut as a thing of protest/defiance happened in the late 1960s, it seems. This is when critics began taking the music seriously, which meant that the principal narrative required a reason/excuse to regard rock as serious and socially relevant..........The protest label rendered rock a serious force, and it's important to note that this shift in rock's "story" was blatantly ad hoc in nature.................I vividly recall how, about 1970, journalists were treating early r&r as if it had never happened, since "Earth Angel" and "Sh-Boom" and "Rock Around the Clock" hardly rate as protest numbers."

Amen to all of that.

Mid to late 60s was when pointy-headed "journalist" types began to use the term "rock" rather than the down-market and frivolous "rock and roll", being sure to tell us all how deadly serious and socially relevant it all was. Sniff sniff.

You are then expected to believe there is a connection between James Taylor and Bill Black, beyond both being bipeds. Were it not so, why would both be in the Hall Of Fame? And I'd guess most listeners under 70 eagerly swallow it all.

Give me Ren Grevatt or a random Cashbox blurb. You can have Jann Wenner and his ilk.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


You mean, the Rock and Rock Hall of Hype? (-: Very well put. And I've always been mystified by the perception of, say, Rolling Stone writers as excellent wordsmiths. I recall that, in the 50th-anniversary-of-rock RS edition (2004, of course), the introductory essay was barely literate.

lafong said...


What do you make of the vocalists on this mostly instrumental LP? I wasn’t expecting to hear voices at all.

“The Mountains High”; clearly not Dick St. John

“Take Good Care Of My Baby”; sounds an awful lot like Bobby Vee, but presumably not.

“You Don’t Know What You’ve Got”; sounds identical to Ral Donner, so much so that I wonder if it is in fact his Gone label vocal track with Ellis over-dubbing a new background? Ral had such a unique sound and if not him, I wonder who else it might have been. Whoever it is, I’d like to find more of whatever he may have recorded. It’s not Elvis, not Vince Everett, and not anyone I can think of who might have been on RCA. Or any “Elvis sound-a-like”, for that matter. I Googled a bit and struck out.

Re Art Mooney: His "Honey Babe" became a life-long earworm for me when I first saw "Battle Cry" and those troops marching to it. Most of his stuff IS square, but you ought to dig out "Good Time Special Part II" if you haven't heard it (MGM 12869)......vocal by R and B group Julio and The Cloverleafs.

Lastly....hats off to Kent Westberry for writing “I Just Don’t Understand”. Anyone who hasn’t heard Ann Margret’s hit version from 1961 should go find it, if for nothing else than the early use of fuzz guitar on the intro. Said to be played by Billy Strange, Grady Martin, Jerry Kennedy, or Hank Garland, depending on who you choose to believe. If only Julie London had tried this song.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


It's a big mystery to me. I would assume that none of the original singers made cameos at any point, because I'd think the liner notes would make a big deal out of that, if it were the case. The notes simply note that most of 20 hits "originated with other artists and arrangers." Nothing beyond that. I find the on-and-off inclusion of vocals very unusual (and interesting)--it's always cool when standard conventions are tossed out the window--but why Ellis took this approach, I can't say.

I can't picture RCA using tracks from other labels. And I've heard so many Elvis- and Ral-style vocals in the "fake" hits of Promenade, Bravo, Hit Records, etc. (ranging from totally inept to quite convincing) that I simply assumed RCA found a good mimic.

I hate to report that "Honey Babe" drives me nuts! But I'll definitely check out "Good Time Special Part II." Thanks!

Ernie said...

Hey Lee, Thanks for another great collection from Ray Ellis.

If you're interested in upping your tag game, you can look at a program called MP3Tag. It does a good job of letting you add a few more tags to your files in the appropriate places. Dunno if it's backwards compatible with your editing software, but it does run very well on my older home computer without causing any problems. You just load the files into it, then you can tag all or one of them.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Thanks--I'll check that out. My old MAGIX program can export mp3 files to wherever I choose, so the programs should work together without a problem. (Knock on wood.)

lafong said...

MP3tag is excellent. I use it nearly daily.

I don't use many tags, but I particularly like MP3tag because you can force the tags to match the file name.....or vice versa. In a single click.

It's quite versatile. Has a "case conversion" feature also, so you can change "elVis PresLEY" to Elvis Presley in one click.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


That's great, because I make lots of "case" errors anymore. I will check out MP3tag. Thanks!