Neal Hefti, Hefti In Gotham City, RCA LSP-3621, 1966
Nestor Armral & His Continentals, Craftsmen C-8027, 195?
We are over 350 records in, and there is still over $90 left on my quest to buy 365 albums for $1000. I could run out the clock with interesting $1 records like the one on the right above. It’s a discount record on the Craftsmen label that features a young Mary Tyler Moore on the cover. It would be easy for me to gush about how they tried to make our Mary look like the Contadina Tomato girl, and how the low budget “Italian” instrumentals sound after 55 years or so.
But, no. I think i’d rather cut it close to the wire and spend the next two weeks spending that $92 down and find a better class of interesting records, like the one on the left. Neal Hefti is one of those artists that skirted the lines of fame & sales and producing & performing. As a performer, he led made a name for himself in the Big Band era, eventually working his way up to the Count Basie Orchestra. When Frank Sinatra started his Reprise label with Basie as one of his first signings, Neal Hefti came along as the conductor of the studio orchestra. By 1966, Hefti had moved on to RCA and work on film and TV scores.
It was a formidable assignment, as Hefti wrote, arranged and conducted possibly the most memorable TV theme song of the 60s. Both the Batman TV show and it’s theme song were instant hits, enough so that RCA gave its in house producer follow-up album. Hefti In Gotham City barely sold, but it is full of lush mid-60s instrumentals and incidental music from the show. It’s in near mint condition too, which, along with it’s rarity and TV show tie in, makes this a bargain record to find for the price.
Cost: $15, $77 Remaining
Clyde McPhatter, May I Sing For You?, Mercury Wing SRW-16224, 1962
I’m coming up to the end of my year of shopping for 365 records with a $1000 budget. It’s to the point that, with 30 days to go and $191 to spend, I still need to buy discount records, but perhaps not this much. While Clyde McPhatter was the original lead singer for The Drifters in the early 50s, and he had a great solo career on Mercury in the early 60s, this 1962 compilation of standards on the discount Mercury Wing label is really not collectible. If the $2 price tag doesn’t tell you that, the crummy title should. May I Sing For You is not a selling feature for a record.
This seems to be the kind of record that happens when a troubled artist like McPhatter has a comeback hit (in this case, the R&B classic Lover Please), material that was sitting in a can somewhere often finally sees the light of day on a discount label like Wing. Artists always record music that falls short of commercial viability. Records like this hope to get some quick sales by people looking for the hit on the radio and end up disappointed by substandard material pressed on cheap vinyl. It’s records like this that also damage careers.
Most major record companies had a discount label or two to handle music not deemed worthy enough for their flagship brand. Mercury had Wing, Capitol had Tower, RCA had Camden, and Columbia had Harmony, all releasing records like this. McPhatter’s solo hits were on the main Mercury label, but out of date music like this came out on Wing. Sometimes, records like this don’t even show up in official artist discographies because they might not have been nationally distributed or the artist may not have even known it was released, such was the business model for them. So enjoy the final discount record of the year, and get ready for the next month of real treasures.
Cost: $2, $189 Remaining
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
The Dukes Of Freilachland, Mazeltov, Aamco ALP-316, 1958
This album is not for everyone. It says so right on the front cover. Chubby Checker never had to put a disclaimer like “Twist Music Of Our People” Ditto Jan & Dean for surfing, cars, or skateboarding. So, it’s a commercial challenge for The Dukes Of Freilachland to limit their audience to their target market.
Aamco Records was a short lived discount label. They leased most of their material from various sources, some were old recordings from superstars like Duke Ellington, some were newly recorded music by unknowns like Charlie Shavers and Ted Steele, and some were international recordings like this album. I presume that this is an international record because I’ve never heard of a place called Freilachland.
Limited as the target market is, this totally obscure album is actually really fun to listen to. The clarinet and accordion swing, and not in an ironic sense. I suppose there were people who actually played this record as their wedding music, but 60 years on, it’s something that virtually no one has ever heard. If Aamco Records hadn’t released it in the US, and I didn’t pluck it from an obscure bin in a vintage shop, I wouldn’t have either. But I’m glad it happened, and that’s a mitzvah.
Cost: $2, $251 Remaining
Gordon Fleming, Gigi, Golden Tone C-4035, 1960
I wasn’t paying all that much attention when I flipped though a pile of records at a vintage store when I first saw this record. I thought to myself that the cover model looked like Mary Tyler Moore, so I splurged $2 for if on a whim. It wasn’t until I looked through my new purchases, looking for TV themed records that I noticed that it IS Mary Tyler Moore on the cover of this discount record version of the stage and screen hit musical Gigi.
It turns out that MTM made her way into show business by being a cover model for the Tops and Golden Tone record companies. Both are long defunct discount labels based in Los Angeles, and they released generic covers of soundtracks and public domain songs by anonymous musicians and sold them at discount prices. To compete, they used attractive young girls for their record covers, and Mary Tyler Moore appeared on (it seems) about 12 of them in the late 50s and into 1960. Landing a gig as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1961 finally stopped this strange aspect of her career.
Gigi won the 1959 Oscar for Best Picture of 1958, and the Lerner & Lowe musical was a broadway smash before that. That made it a prime candidate for people to make cover version of the music. That’s about as kind as I can be to the actual music of this album. It’s not it’s badly made, it’s just not that well made. This really is one to buy for the cover, and judging by what it lists for on eBay, I got a screaming deal!
Cost: $2, $289 Remaining
Kings Road, The Long And Winding Road, Pickwick SCP-3239, 1970
Most of the schlocky discount Beatles records I have came out in the immediate aftermath of I Want To Hold Your Hand, meaning that the covering group didn’t have much genuine Beatles material to cover. But this one came out in 1970, months after the group broke up, but soon after this album’s title track hit #1 in June, 1970. “Kings Road”, whoever they were try their best to sound original, straining the word “you” on Revolution to sound like John, and trying to hit the high notes on The Fool On The Hill to sound like Paul. It doesn’t work at all. These songs were light years more advanced than the early Beatlemania hits and there was no way a Long Island discount label could make a record sound like George Martin or Phil Spector.
There are some hilarious liner notes that have a general Beatles summary, with the theme that all things must pass. The “author” calls himself the President of something called the Society for the Preservation Of Scholarly Liner Notes. Hilarious! What he couldn’t justify in his summary is why this record only has right songs…
Pickwick was perhaps the longest lasting discount record seller. They were somewhat successful at re-releasing deleted albums from an artist’s past, especially if the artist came up with a new hit. For example, when Tom Jones had his biggest hit in years in 1971 with She’s A Lady, Pickwick was right there with a “follow-up” which was nothing more than a repackaged 1965 British release. It must have worked, because Pickwick was there well into the 80s trying to fool people into buying what they thought was the song they were hearing on the radio. I fell for the cover of this records, and as soon as I saw the Pickwick label, I knew it was going to be awful. And I wasn’t disappointed…
Cost: $4, $571 Remaining
The Blue Beats, The Beatle Beat, AA Records 133, 1964
Of all the discount records I’ve featured this week, this one might be the most galling. I use the French references because one of the names of this album is “dance discotheque lp”. Now, the word discotheque took on a different meaning about ten years after this record came out, but it certainly also had a meaning in 1964. That is to say that that the swinging clubs of the 60s had their own kind of beat, and this album kind of personifies that.
Now don’t get me wrong, trying to sell this as a Beatles album is appalling because, well there’s not one Beatles song on it. It’s 100% instrumental, and all originals too Beatle Boot. The handy (and familiar) twist lesson on the back cover, I’d guess that the music on this record was a European twist record that was repackaged for US consumption with a Beatles “twist”.
The amazing this is, despite the packaging, it’s a pretty decent album of 60s background music. I don’t know, because there’s scant information online, about who the musicians are but they can play. I would imagine that owing to the next to nothing sales of this record, there is now no copyright to keep anyone from using this for whatever 60s based project on eight have in mind. There’s no songwriting credits, no record company information available, so have at it you creative types!
Cost: $3, $586 Remaining