Johnny Cash, Ring Of Fire: The Best Of Johnny Cash, Columbia CS-8853, 1963
Johnny Cash was one of a kind. No other artist that I can think of managed to break all the rules while adhering to conventional norms. Take this album for an example: I always wanted to find the original album that featured Cash’s biggest hit Ring Of Fire. I never found it because it doesn’t exist. Cash placed the biggest single yet in Country Music on a greatest hits package. It never was on a “regular” Cash album.
I suppose you can’t argue with results. This record was released in August 1963, and yet when Billboard published its first Country Albums Chart in January 1964, this was the #1 album. Now, Beatles albums sometimes replaced other Beatles albums at #1, and The Monkees first two albums spent months at #1, but I don’t know of any album, Greatest Hits or not, that spent 8 months at #1.
It’s mostly just a collection Cash’s Columbia singles from 1958-1963, so it doesn’t play now as a standard release might have. But that also means that there’s not a dud to be found, and you really hear the progression of Cash’s style during these still early years. It falls below my standard for an essential record, but its really nice to have. I may have overpaid at $10, but it is a flawless original copy.
Cost: $10, $45 Remaining
The Four Seasons, Ain’t That A Shame, Vee Jay 1059, 1963
I’ve written about The Four Seasons before, and how they were, for a while, the biggest group in the world. I’ve also written about Vee-Jay Records, and how this little R&B label in Chicago ended up with both The Four Seasons and The Beatles on their roster. This record came out at the time the band and the label had their falling out.
It was the fourth Vee-Jay album released by the group in one year. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it was. As Candy Girl was reaching its #3 peak chart position, the group began to realize they hand’t been paid for any of it. The group not only sued, but also held back material from the company. Vee-Jay, always desperate for cash, would mine this album for singles and re-titled Re-Releases for a year.
And its not that good of an album! Stay!, a cover song that was a very good cover version, is the best song on it. The rest, however, is not the group’s best material. The group must have been exhausted from all the writing and recording that they were just pooped out. As was their record company, struggling to keep the lights on despite overwhelming success. I just wish it was an album I actually liked..
Cost: $5, $58 Remaining
Al Hirt, Honey In The Horn, RCA Victor LPM-2733, 1963
I do love a good Al Hirt record. While I’m clearly one of the few people to ever write that sentence (based on the price of his records today), I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s the thrill of finding a mint condition record for very little money that you have never head before and you completely fall in love with that I’m after, and the Used Instrumental bin is where I usually find them.
It’s not just that Al Hirt had some of the greatest nicknames this side of James Brown that makes me want to have all of his records. I really can’t tell you why The Round Mound Of Sound appeals to me so much. Al “He’s The King” Hirt made an amazing trumpet sound, and since “jumbo” was from New Orleans, he grew up learning from some the all-time jazz greats. That he recorded for RCA in the 50s and 60s makes his records all the more appealing to me, with them adding The Anita Kerr Singers to sing background parts with no lead vocals and enough echo to propel a Mardi Gras float down Bourbon Street.
This pristine $3 copy of his biggest selling record still wears its original shrink wrap. It’s not a particularly hard record to find, but I’ll buy virtually any record in this condition for that price. It’s just a bonus that I happen to really like it. Virtually everyone on Earth knows the hit Java, but not many people know that this album was one of two Hirt placed in the 1964 year end Top 10. That was the year of The Beatles, and this album peaked at #3 behind two Beatles albums.
Cost: $3, $265 Remaining
Mel Blanc, Tweetie Pie, Capitol J-3261, 1963
You could say that Alan W. Livingston made Capitol Records. He was hired by the new company in the 1940s to create a line of children’s records. He created the character Bozo The Clown and wrote the 1951 novelty hit I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat for Tweetie Pie. later singed Frank Sinatra to the label. On becoming president of the label, he oversaw design of the famous Capitol Records Building in Hollywood. Despite how bushy was, he still dabbled in producing from time to time, and this album was one of his last efforts.
It was clearly Livingston’s strength to work with Mel Blanc, the famous Looney Tunes voice actor. I don’t know if the four stories on the album are new or not, but it’s classic Mel Blanc. For a children’s record, this one plays really quite well. But perhaps Alan Livingston shouldn’t have produced this album after all. He should have been reading his industry’s trade magazines instead.
I found a Billboard Magazine review of this album online. They sometimes come up by googling a record’s catalogue number, in this case Capitol J-3261. From the August 31, 1963 issue of Billboard, they wrote a special note of praise for Tweetie Pie in a review on page 75. But on page 37, in the International News section, I read that a man named Brian Epstein is planning a November trip to New York to find support for the three Liverpool groups he manages. One of these, The Beatles, is apparently selling an unimaginable number of record sales in the UK. Ireland reported that most EPs only sold a few thousand copies a year, but the new Beatles one sold 7,000 in one week. On the Hot 100 Chart, Del Shannon “bubbles under” at #108 with a cover version of The Beatles British #1 From Me To You. The man who passed on releasing the original version in the US on Capitol Records was Alan W. Livingston.
Cost: $2, $349 Remaining
Dick Van Dyke, Songs I Like, Command RS-860-SD, 1963
I almost didn’t buy this one. Even at $2, I have way more easy listening records than I will probably ever listen to. If it was just The Ray Charles Singers with Enoch Light and his Orchestra, I would have passed. But because it’s Dick Van Dyke seemingly from the era of his eponymous TV show, I took a chance. I’ve been wanting to do a theme week of TV records (that I think actually began yesterday!), and this one would certainly be a part of it.
Generally, when a TV star gets a record deal, it’s on a label affiliated with the network the show aired on. With The Dick Van Dyke Show airing on CBS- The Columbia Broadcast System- I don’t know how this record came out on the relatively unknown independent Command Records. There’s scant information out there about the album, but there is a lot on Enoch Light and Command Records. Learning how this tiny label made revolutionary advances in recording technology under the guidance of Light makes me now a fan of Command Records. I knew that he had huge selling albums like Persuasive Percussion in the late 50s and very early 60s, but I just assumed they were oddities that were meant for people to experience the sound benefits of stereo. I was wrong.
You really can hear a depth of clarity on this record. Despite this not really being my first choice of music to listen to, I listened to both sides twice because of how great this record sounds. The music is what you might expect of a 60s game show or variety program, but it’s still pretty fascinating. This was obviously a super-premium package, with a gatefold cover (another Enoch Light innovation) and extensive liner notes from Carl Reiner. I’m sure it sold at a high price, meaning it was purchased by an audiophile who took care of it. Command Records was sold to ABC in 1965 who promptly deleted record like this from the catalogue. But they kept the technology alive, pressing Quadrophonic records well into the 80s.
Cost: $2, $362 Remaining
Barry & The Tamerlanes, I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight, Valiant 406, 1963
Beginning with an aside, the actual Tamerlane was a Mongol warrior who in the 14th century had a dream of restoring the conquests of Ghangis Khan. His armies swept across Asia, Africa and Europe and it’s estimated they devastated 5% of the world’s population. So, it’s an odd choice of name for a Southern California vocal group. This, their one album, came in the wake of the the middling success of the title track. Both suffered sales-wise by their November 21, 1963 release date. Not many new pop groups could break through in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.
Barry DeVorzon was the founder of tiny Valiant Records. As such, when his one mildly successful group, The Cascades, passed on recording I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight, he could just record it himself and put it out. The rest of the album sounds just the same as the hit, but this is one rare record. My trusty Goldmine price guide values this record at $150. it would be worth double if it was the stereo version. Not too shabby for a $3 vintage store purchase.
Barry would later sign The Association to Valiant before selling the operation to Warner Brothers. He would become a prolific writer for TV and films, with one of his creations, the theme from The Young And The Restless hitting the top 10 in 1976.
Cost: $3, $458 Remaining
Madelaine/Sister Adele, Dominique, Diplomat 2303 & 1020, 1963
First of all, who says you can’t buy an Adele record on vinyl for cheap? True, this might not be the first Adele that comes to mind, but still… This was going to be a lesson on label variation, meaning I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw two different labels for the same dopey copy cat album from our friends at Diplomat Records. They’re the schlocky outfit that had a JFK tribute album out in stores within a week of the assassination. Just after that tragedy, with the national mood in a funk similar to the election of Donald Trump, Ed Sullivan dispensed with the usual pop act and featured a film of a Belgian Nun singing some simple Bible themed songs she’d written to children. Well, the record that Nun made was quickly leased to Phillips Records, and both the album and the single of Dominique quickly shot to number one.
Naturally, Diplomat Records needed to grab a hold of that gravy train. They rush released a cheaply recorded version by “Sister Adele” which was somehow “Sung By Madelaine”. Whomever is singing, it’s clear that they sing in French as a second language. Not that I speak French, but I’m familiar enough with the original record to know that Sister Adele isn’t singing the same words. I almost want to study French to solve the mystery, with the hope being that she sings something along the lines of “you fools, you saved Fifty Cents but didn’t get the real record”.
But while I couldn’t believe Diplomat shelled out to print two different covers, the one with the fake nun pretending to sing to some kids out in the woods of New Jersey is actually a Stereo pressing! Why a discount label would even bother with that expense is beyond me, and I can’t find any information about any other Diplomat records coming out in Stereo. Still, I listened to it and sure enough it’s in some kind of Stereo. Madeleine comes out of one speaker and the fake background nuns come out of the other! I’m beginning to realize that I might have just found the Holy Grail of the discount record, pun very much intended.
Cost: $2, $611 Remaining
Lou Rawls, Tobacco Road, Capitol ST-2042, 1963
I struggled with this one a bit. On the one hand, not enough people know about Lou Rawls or his amazing voice. On the other hand, that voice was amazing partly because of all the cigarettes he smoke, only to die from lung cancer. Yet here he is singing about tobacco.
Most people know the album’s title track from the British Invasion remake by The Nashville Teens, but Lou’s version is as soulful as they come. I’m not sure if this is the version where the teens found the song, but the timing of the two records makes me probably thin yes. Lou got his start following his mentor Sam Cooke around the gospel circuit, only to sing back up on some of Sam’s biggest hits, notably Bring It On Home To Me, so he was pretty well known in music circles, even if his early albums didn’t sell very well.
If Lou is known at all, it’s for his photo disco albums he made in the 70s for Philadelphia International. But his 60s Capitol albums are really great and fairly easy to find and well worth searching out.
Cost: $1, $646 Remaining
The Beach Boys, Surfing’ USA, Capitol T-1890, 1963
The eternal city is a great place to find a classic record from a group that was perceived as a fad. Surfing’ USA was a huge hit for The Beach Boys, the follow up album to Surfing’ Safari, but Capitol Records was treating the group as a fad who’s popularity would soon end. My evidence? The stock photo of an anonymous surfer is on the front cover, instead of a smiling picture of the happy group.
Capitol didn’t really bother too much with the back cover either, using an outtake from the Surfing’ Safari cover photo shoot, along with some random studio shots. Mainstay Al Jardine wasn’t yet prepared to leave dental school for something so foolish as recording for Capitol Records, so The Wilson brother’s neighbor, 14 year old David Marks is still in the group as rhythm guitarist.
This copy of the record, still in it’s original shrink wrap came with me on my recent tour of Europe. I was interested in seeing if there was a market for selling fairly easy to find records in places where they aren’t very easy to find. So much so that I couldn’t find a record store in Italy to offer it to. Anyway, having a near mint condition of one of my favorite group’s best early records is a good thing.
Cost: $3, $656 Remaining
John F. Kennedy, A Memorial Album, Premier Records 2099, 1963
The best selling record of December, 1963 didn’t belong to The Four Seasons or The Singing Nun (even though her Dominique was the Number One single, and it’s album also hit the top spot). By the second week of December, this record sold four million copies in just six days. It’s kind of amazing that the tiny discount label Diplomat was able to get that many printed and into stores, but it was a special moment for the country, and the demand for Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs was waning.
Supposedly, the record was priced at $0.99, with proceeds going to the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation for “mental retardation”, but I would imagine Premier getting something out of the deal. The speeches were all in the public domain, so it really wasn’t much to edit them from the WMCA Radio station tribute that was produced on November 22 into a cheap album and whip up some cover art and get it into stores. This copy has a “Super Special” price sticker of $0.44 on it, so the demand must have fallen off quickly. I can imagine once the pain of the news wore off, buying an album to constantly remind one of the assassination didn’t seem very necessary. The record apparently hit the charts, but since it essentially got zero airplay and that was a factor in chart position, it didn’t hit the top 10.
People always think when they see this that it must be some really rare collectable, but the truth is, it’s not. I don’t think anything produced as a future keepsake never turns out to become one. This record is really easy to find and I probably overpaid for it at $2. But it was still in the original shrink wrap, and that means that it’s in better shape than all my other $1-2 copies. With the US election a week away, I think it’s a great week to do another presidential theme week!
Cost $2, $679 Remaining