Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Hit Records filler/B-sides: A fun (and, hopefully, enlightening) survey


Wow--Blogger has made things even more of a hassle.  It has added an utterly pointless extra step to uploading images from a PC.  There's some reverse-logic idea that increasing the number of necessary steps is somehow helpful to the user.  After all, the greater the number of options, the better.  In reality, no one wishes to be deluged with choices.  An intelligent scheme would consist of basic options, with advanced choices accessible upon demand.  Options are not options when they are forced upon us.  (Argggh...)

But, to the matter at hand... A visitor suggested a post devoted to the filler/B-side numbers released on Hit Records (a group which included Spar, Country & Western Hits, and Modern Sound), and this struck me as a great idea.  And this project proved to be unusually challenging (I have a MAGIX project printout for transferring the composer creds to mp3tag, along with ten pages of notes), and mostly because Hit Records typically failed to include writer credits on its LP releases (in addition to regularly omitting artist credits--even aliases).  And there was the occasional problem of title disagreement--e.g., "Up Town Down Town" vs. "Uptown, Downtown."  Yet, for all that, Spar/Hit Records operated in an infinitely less slapdash manner than most of the other rack-jobber budgets.  And, as we shall hear, it produced some of its own material (no doubt, for the benefit of direct-to-the-label royalties), and produced it well.  Its filler numbers were clearly rush jobs, but they were never less than professional and beautifully arranged and engineered.  My opinion of Hit Records "filler" has grown much kinder over the years, and my affection for the label's budget hit knockoffs has increased at the same time/rate.  Way back when, I regarded HR product as an amusing record-collecting sideline, with the occasional superb performance entering the picture--such as the "Boll Weevil"'s amazing My Bonnie.  But I've come to host high regard for HR's entire bag of offerings.

But enough intro.  Today's playlist features songs by HR personnel, most of whom were industry insiders.  Some of whom had "real" chart hits.  I decided to leave the composer tags as they appeared on HR/Spar/Country & Western Hits singles, save for shortening "J. Norris and K. Richards" to "Norris-Richards." N-R were actually Hit Records co-founder William Beasley and his wife Dorothy J.  And there was Connie Landers, who wrote and recorded as "Connie Dee" (and who was songwriter-credited at least once as "Connie Sanders"--a typo?).  Her Brill Building-esque Once a Cheater and her amusing heartbreaker ballad, Ring Telephone are first-rate filler.

Back to the Beasleys, their forte was in the area of country and western, and they wrote at least one successful number for Brenda Lee.  Their The Spirit of This Land was the very first HR single which had me wondering, "Was this an actual hit?"  No, it's a very skillful imitation of a type of conservative patriotic paean--expertly stilted, with a narrator who sounds ready to break into laughter.  Like the instrumental Tower Suite (also by JN and KR), which appeared in single form as the flip of Theme From Peyton Place, it was penned to function as a B-side complement to the hit number, and in that context, it's a gem.  Of the country numbers written on the spot by the Beasleys, I have to choose Broken Hearted, Sad and Blue as the winner, if only because of its bounce-the-stylus energy.  Their best number in this list, though, may be I'm So Lonely, an effort which channels British Invasion rock, Gene Pitney, and Neil Diamond.  

There are only (let's see) three Bobby Russell numbers--all good, with Big Windy City impressing me the most, despite the na├»ve and generic quality of its lyrics.  It certainly conveys the appropriate mood, and the Bacharach-esque hook is delightful and superbly ear-catching.  It hardly rises to the level of Goffin/King, but then there wasn't the necessary window of opportunity.

I have a special affection for Bergen White's efforts--in part, because of some ingenious turns of phrase.  For example, the payoff close to Another Year, the ultimate life-gone-wrong country saga.  And his hilarious, Roger Miller-esque Pay It No Mind takes Miller's sardonic-commentary style to the level of harsh mockery, with the singer/narrator delighting in the misfortunes of the protagonist, who can't so much as get out of bed without dooming his day.  Bergen's You're the Only Girl for Me is an interesting take on the Four Seasons/Jan and Dean sound, and You Make The Decisions is minimalist gold.  Back to Bobby Russell, the masterful Come On On may be the all-time best could-have-been-a-hit filler HR track.  It's astonishing that so much care was devoted to a "Let's sneak in one of our own" project.

Brilliance in context is nevertheless brilliance.  (And you may quote me.)  Coughing up acceptable filler material on short notice is an epic challenge, and the HR folks routinely met it with impressive prowess.  Here are twenty-five goodies.

I'm So Lonely (Norris-Richards)--Dee and Robert
You're the Only Girl for Me (Bergen White)--The Roamers
Come Back to Me (N-R)--William Randolph and His Orchestra
I'm on My Way (N-R)--Jack White
Come On On (Bobby Russell)--Dee and Robert
Broken Hearted, Sad and Blue (J. Norris)--Ed Hardin
Pardon My Living (B. White)--Bob Adams
You're Not the Same Now (B. White)--Fred Hess
Never Forget Me (B. White)--The Roamers
Another Year (B. White)--Bergen White
Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater (Connie Sanders)--Connie Dee
Pay It No Mind (Bergen White)--Fred York
A Broken Hearted Fool Like Me (N-R)--Fred York
Where You Been (Bobby Russell)--Charles Baker
Don't Come Too Late (N-R)--Bobby Russell
You Can't Trust a Friend (B. White)--Lisa French
Big Windy City (Bergen White & Bobby Russell)--Fred Hess
Hearts Are Funny Things (N-R)--Bobby Brooks
Ring Telephone (Connie Landers)--Connie Dee
That's All That's Important Now (N-R)--Ed Hardin
The Spirit of This Land (N-R)--Charlie Rogers
Uptown, Downtown (B. Russell)--Fred York
You Make the Decisions (Bergen White)--The Chellows
You Were Gone (B. Russell)--John Preston
Tower Suite (N-R)--William Randolph and the Music City Orch.


Monday, June 10, 2024

Who among us doesn't dig "That West Coast Sound"? (Modern Sound 561; 1966)


You have a choice: I Love that West Coast Sound, by The Jalopy Five or That West Coast Sound, by The Jalopy Five.  That is, you can go by the front jacket or the back.  And, of course, some of these are not by the Jalopy Five (a Hit Records alias, anyway), which means I'll have to track down the original artists and dates by referring to the Hit Records singles.  Easily accomplished with 45cat and Discogs.

And, good grief, Blogger must be on its last legs.  It took me several minutes to get those two images in their proper place AND properly enlarged.  Blogger simply doesn't want to cooperate.  Oh, and I'd initially inserted the cover and label images, in that order.  And Blogger displayed them in reverse order.  Of course.  And, in other news, I've taken to snapping "live" label shots, since my new Epson printer has, at best, a one-centimeter depth of field.  If I want in-focus images, I have to go the Canon route.  But I shall spare no effort to get these fake sounds to you.  For real.  That is my (more or less) sacred pledge.

The liner notes discuss "The British Sound," "The Detroit Sound," and "The Nashville Sound," noting in delightfully redundant fashion that "each is distinctive within itself."  That's like calling something "unique in its singular way."  Anyway, in case you weren't paying attention, this LP features "that" West Coast sound, and my first response was, "Cute blonde."  My second response was, "Hit Records never did a good job with the California sound."  And, as a rule, it did not--Its Beach Boys knockoffs are typically lacking.  But here we have some actually decent imitations of Jan and Dean, the B. Boys, and the Mama's and the Papa's, as the latter (for some reason) called themselves.

Did producer (and California Street cowriter) William Beasley say, "Let's assemble our more passable efforts in this area"?  Was that premeditated, or is the track selection just a lucky accident?  Whichever the case, Sloop John B is a totally acceptable copy of the Beach Boys hit, Surfer Girl (even though it changes the melody in spots!) features unusually tight Hit Records harmonies, and Ride the Wild Surf beautifully captures the Jan and Dean sound.  I'm impressed.  California Girl(s), on the other hand, falls in the middle range of okay.  It's hardly the worst budget Beach Boys copy, but the famously awful Pickwick effort, The Surfsiders Sing the Beach Boys Songbook (1965), set the budget-knockoff bar at a record low!  (An LP best experienced with a licensed therapist on hand.)

The filler tracks are fun--California Street in particular (cowritten by producer William Beasley as "Richards").  And Bergen White's She's Come of Age has more than a slight touch of Brian Wilson, meaning that Bergen, as usual, took his pen-a-flip-side-as-quickly-as-possible job seriously.  I really should devote a post sometime to Hit Records filler numbers.

And I took the liberty of correcting California Girl (maybe the cover model is that very girl), though I otherwise retained the credits as displayed.  At least Hit Records' errors were consistent from front to back, and label to cover.  There's a certain integrity, there.

Really, much better than we might expect from a dollar-bin special.  And the engineering, as ever, is gorgeous.  Below I've given the 45 rpm credits and dates, though all the mp3 tags read "The Jalopy Five," and the composer fields are blank--both in concurrence with Modern Sound's layout (or lack thereof).

DOWNLOAD: I Love That West Coast Sound (Modern Sound 561; 1966)

Sloop John B--Jalopy Five, 1966
Monday Monday--Jalopy Five, 1966
California Dreaming--Jalopy Five, 1966
California Girls--The Chellows, 1965
California Street (Dorothy Jean and William Beasley)--Johnny and the Jalopy Five, 1965
Ride the Wild Surf--The Roamers, 1964
Little Old Lady From Pasadena--The Roamers, 1964
Hey Little Cobra--The Roamers, 1964
Surfer Girl--Jalopy Five, 1963
She's Come of Age (B. White)--Bobby Brooks, 1965