These Hits Missed!

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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:

I Want to Hold your Hand, by The Buggs, 1964:

It happened to me more than once, and I learned not to ask my mom to purchase records for me anymore.

When Will Their Bubble Burst? Beatles For Sale!

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Folks who weren’t around in the Sixties may find it hard to believe, but The Men In Suits at Capitol Records refused, initially, to release Beatle records in the United States because no pop group from England had ever sold in this country. What made this even more nonsensical was that The Beatles’ UK record label, Parlophone, and the U.S. label, Capitol, were both divisions of the EMI recording giant. Thus, Parlophone was contractually obligated to offer their releases to Capitol first, and Capitol responded, more than once, “No, thanks!” Parlophone would then sell or lease the records to whomever they could find in the U.S. to deal with.

In an earlier post, I mentioned The Beatles’ Ed Sullivan Show appearance in early February, 1964. Both before and after that milestone, members of the press were constantly speculating about how long the Beatles “bubble” would last, and they’d query the band as to what they planned to do for a living once the bubble burst. Ringo famously replied to one such question that he’d like to own a beauty parlor!

So at first, if you wanted to listen to a Beatles record in this country, you had to look hard to find it. I remember the first 45 or single (two-songs, front and back for today’s younger readers) of The Beatles that I bought was She Loves You issued by Swan Records, a small independent label out of Philly.

As far as albums, or LPs (long-players) as we called them then, the first release of The Beatles in the U.S. was on the jazz/R&B VeeJay label. It was a version of The Fabs’ first British LP, Please Please Me. Here’s the VeeJay album cover with some very young-looking Beatles; note that Ringo’s hair hadn’t quite settled into the “moptop” style at the time this photo was taken:

After the appearance on Ed Sullivan, Capitol released Meet the Beatles in this country, and it was a chopped-up version of the second UK Beatles release, With the Beatles:

So began a long series of U.S. Capitol record releases that took Beatles UK releases and switched or cut songs, added reverb and generally fiddled around with them.

It wasn’t until Sgt. Pepper that a Beatles LP was the same in both Britain and the U.S., and even after that, there was still some monkeying around with U.S. releases on Capitol Records.