Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, kids were suddenly the buyers of popular music. AM radio (which at that time was really the only kind on the airwaves) was playing lots of music aimed at kids and young adults and wherever there’s a buck to be made, some sharp promoter will come up with a way to exploit the situation. Nothing illegal, but these experiences were how kids learned to read the small print and be less trusting of grownups.
In the third grade, my allowance was 25¢ a week, and I did my best to get the most value for my two dimes and a nickel. Once, on a grocery trip with my mom, I saw a standalone cardboard bin that sold hit records at a great price: 39¢!!! What a deal!!! At that time, a legitimate 45rpm single by Elvis or Chuck Berry might cost 79¢ or more.
So I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes and the next time I went to the store with mom, I bought the record.
Yeesh. I hadn’t counted on the hit song being performed by a studio band that wasn’t even close to what I was used to hearing:
Wake Up, Little Susie/Silhouettes by two unknown Tops Records bands, 1958:
That first track didn’t sound quite like The Everly Brothers and as for the second, it wasn’t even close to the version by The Rays or The Diamonds. What a burner for me, huh?
Nowadays, though, it’s kind of fun to search out some of these tacky cover versions. They range from lackluster to lame to absolutely rank. But the purpose was to get the pennies out of a kid’s pocket and into the cash register and I suppose that was one way to make a living playing music. The musicians and vocalists seldom got credit on the records, but they probably preferred it that way!
Here a Jailhouse Rock cover by Jimmy Helms from 1957 from one of those cheapo records; he doesn’t manage to get his phrasing of the lyrics in alignment with Elvis’, so he just drops lyrics here and there:
When The Beatles came out, there were a slough of fake Beatle records out there. Woe to the kid who, like me, lived in a small town and asked his mom to pick up a Beatles record when she was going to the big city for the day. That unfortunate kid might be surprised by something like this:
I Want To Hold Your Hand by The Doodles, 1964:
Or even this:
It happened to me more than once, and I learned not to ask my mom to purchase records for me anymore.