Horst Wende, Africana!, Strand SLS-1024, 1961
To my knowledge, Poland never got around to colonizing Africa, meaning the entire continent was forced to begin human culture and civilization without much of a Polka tradition. It appears that this album was intended to remedy that situation. From the bejeweled cover model to the bizarre landscape scene where mountains become waterfalls and rainbows appear below grasslands. It’s obvious that this album is as African as the Royal Cape Town Yacht Club.
With song titles like Zambezi, I was under the impression that this was an African import licensed for US release by the budget Strand Records. After all, there’s no artist credited on the record anywhere, so who’s to say really what this is. I should have known better. I already knew that once a band records an instrumental piece, they can call it whatever they like. But it’s a real stretch to try to sell a twist polka record as traditional African music. At least I know that when I listen to this record, I’m the only one on Earth doing so (outside of Krakow, Malawi that is).
But that sort of trickery seems to have been the business model for Strand Records. They started as an actual record company, but when that didn’t immediately work, they became the epitome of the slimly New York budget label. Obviously, artists would never be paid for any sales they made on Strand, but it’s how they would churn and burn the customer that is probably worse. I imagine that this was a German or Polish record that Strand got their hands on and re-released without any credit to the artist. Both Lawrence Welk and Bert Kaempfert had #1 records in 1961 with music that sounds like this record, but to hide their tracks, Strand came up with the Africana ruse. Anything to make a sale after all, right? I was briefly captivated but this record’s cover at a 50% off sale, so that old Strand magic still works.
Cost: $4, $208 Remaining
Hear How To Converse In Spanish, Carlton How To Series, CHH-21, 1961
Carlton Records was a small New York based label that had a few hit records from the late 50s through the mid 60s. The biggest “stars” on the label were Jack Scott and Anita Bryant (!). Like most small labels, they were always strapped for cash and always looking for ways to sell a record. Their “How To” series was the result.
It’s a simple idea. You’d pay an expert in a field to narrate a script once and then you’d have a record you could sell for years with no further investment. Naturally, basic language instruction was a no-brainer, but topics included bowling, typing and throwing the perfect dinner party. I’m guessing the “Hear How To Achieve Sexual Harmony In Marriage” album didn’t sell well.
If all of the albums are as bad as this one though, I can see why Carlton Records isn’t with us today. It’s pretty funny to listen to, with the stern announcer giving clear, concise instructions in English before incomprehensibly raving in Spanish. “Listen…carefully…to…the…following…conversation…” “Lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala”. It’s not a way to learn a language, at least in a way that would help a traveller in a Spanish speaking country. But maybe it was a good way to sell a few records.
Cost: $2, $237 Remaining
The Smothers Brothers, Live At The Purple Onion, Mercury SR-60611, 1961
The Smothers Brothers began their long fruitful career in 1958 at San Francisco’s The Purple Onion. The same small beatnik coffeehouse launched the careers of The Kingston Trio and Phyllis Diller, and this record is both of it’s time and ahead of it’s time for where The Brothers took musical comedy in the 60s. They sing some of the the same folk songs as The Kingston Trio, but there’s a bite to them that is missing from the trio’s #1 albums for Capitol.
But this really isn’t an update on the nature of the record, I’m writing today to show the lengths record companies went to to sell two different kinds of records. Record sleeves of the classic vinyl era were made of cardboard that was then covered with what was called a cover slick. It was more economical to produce a color front slick with a black and white rear cover slick. But, because albums were released in both mono and stereo formats, front cover slicks had to differentiate between the two.
The easiest thing to do was design an elongated front cover slick, with this record being a prime example. The top edge would scream that this was a stereo record, suitable for those who had the money to invest in a true stereo sound system and pay 10% more to buy stereo records. The bottom part of the front slick would be reserved for the more economical mono record purchaser. The sort of Chevy Biscayne driving record buyer who’s home player was “affordable” or only had one speaker. The record company could then fold either appropriate edge onto the back of the cardboard sleeve and cover the non applicable part with the back cover slick. This Mercury jacket shows how easy it was to do. Plus, I get to choose between stereo or mono when I need to hear The Smothers Cover of Tom Dooley.
Cost: $2, $270 Remaining
The Chipmunks, The Alvin Show, Liberty LRP-3200, 1961
The Chipmunks were HOT! With two #1 Hits under their fur and several top 20 records, Ross Bagdasarian, AKA David Seville knew he had a good thing going and created an animation pilot that was picked up by CBS for the Fall 1961 season. This was the first time that Alvin, Simon & Theodore were fleshed out into distinct characters. Before, Chipmunk albums and 45 picture sleeves featured three identical chipmunks that were much more rat like in appearance. A weekly animation schedule required much simpler 1-D forms.
The record’s original owner helpfully wrote in ink the names of each chipmunk on the back. Alvin needed no introduction with his bright “A” on his red jersey, but I never knew that Simon was the tall one with glasses and Theodore was the shorter stout one. David Seville appears in a much thinner appearance than the portly Ross Bagdasarian was in real life. The foil of the show was Clyde Crashcup, a hapless inventor that the “boys” annoy and/or save in every episode. With the public now able to put a face to The Chipmunks, Liberty Records re-released all previous Chipmunk records with new covers that featured the new animation.
The record must have been very easy to prepare. The show had seven minute animation segments, and two of them are on the soundtrack album. Throw in the show’s theme song and incidental music, re-record the 1958 #1 hit Witch Doctor, and get it in stores! So it’s not a very musical record, but the classic animation voices of June Foray and Shepard Menken are really fun to listen to. I had this record growing up, I’m not sure why, but my copy had a massive scratch that made most of side two unplayable. Because I only had about two records, I came to know the stories on here without some crucial elements that the skips prevented me from hearing. It’s nice to finally hear the full version of Crashcup Invents The Bathtub!
Cost: $5, $318 Remaining
Bobby Darin, Twist With Bobby Darin, Atco 33-138, 1961
Josh White, The Josh White Stories, ABC Paramount ABC-124, 1956
Bobby Darin released a ton of albums, and they’re all great. There’s just hard to find in great shape. So I didn’t think twice about picking this one up for $2, I just added this to my pile and kept on flipping thought the bins. A month later, I was in the mood to twist (not really, but, memo to all aspiring bands out there, don’t ever name your album after a dance craze) and I got this record out.
This is sort of a compilation album, with a mix of old hits, new hits and Darin originals. I’m not sure if it ever got a CD release, although it is available on iTunes. Albums of this era rarely had a cohesive theme beyond what the title implied. Still, Bobby Darin is one of my favorite singers, and I was really looking forward to this record.
So imagine my surprise/disappointment/curiosity/acceptance when I pulled out this record. The Josh White Stories is among the least twistable records imaginable, beginning with the nearly five minute version of The Boll Weevil Song. My bad for breaking my Rule Number One: always look at the record you’re about to buy before you buy it! It just so happens that The Josh White Stories is a really amazing record by an incredible performer that I had never heard of. So it’s really a win win for me. I’m now a Josh White fan too.
Cost: $2, $394 Remaining
Alvin Simon & Theodore with David Seville, Let’s All Sing With The Chipmunks, Liberty LST-7132, 1961
In an uncharacteristic move for me, I went to file yesterday’s Chipmunk album away into the permanent collection, and in its place I found this $2 version that I’ve had for a few years. It was shoved back in the stack, probably when I was re-filing my Chubby Checker records. And since, believe it or not, this isn’t my preferred type of music, I forgot I even had it.
This record is just a complete reissue of the 1959 original, but it was repackaged to cash in (!) on the animated cartoon series “the boys” got in 1961. Called The Alvin Show it was like a 30 minute version of The Chipmunk Song shown every Saturday morning.
So while I usually get rid of duplicates, especially re-issues, in the permanent collection, I think I just keep both. While I’d never knowingly have two, this one does have the new cover, with the cartoon chipmunks on it. Plus, it’s in stereo, and that’s pretty rare. It also happens to be in virtually mint condition, so this is the copy I’ll pull out on those once a decade occasions that I want to hear The Chipmunks.
Cost: $2, $607 Remaining
Brook Benton, The Boll Weevil Song, Mercury SR-60641, 1961
I love the smokey deep voice of Brook Benton. His material was very often syrupy love songs with lush arrangements, but this album produced his biggest hit. It’s a novelty rendition of a delta blues classic, but very much done in a novelty version. It doesn’t play well these days, but it’s an ok little tune.
But what really caught my eye was the sleeve. Besides the other great Brook Benton albums available from your Mercury Record’s dealer, there’s not a picture of the artist on it! It is sad to say that it’s probably because he was an African American artist who became popular with white audiences at a time when there was rampant segregation in parts of the country. Stores in those parts of the country wouldn’t stock record with non white faces on them. So the biggest hit Brook Benton had came out without his picture on it.
So while I’m glad I found this record, it isn’t something to be very excited about. But I think I will go through the bins to look for other records like this. Time for another theme week soon!
Cost: $2, $716 Remaining