The Grateful Dead, American Beauty, Warner Brothers WS-1893, 1970
For the 364th album that I am featuring during this year long exercise, I’ve chosen something by The Grateful Dead. The perennially touring San Francisco based band that made a career out of touring and selling a peaceful laid back vibe for 30 years rarely had a hit record, but this one came close. In classic Deadhead style, American Beauty took four years to achieve Gold status, and 16 years to reach Platinum. The Grateful Dead never worked well with a deadline….
1970 was the year of the twin classic Dead albums. Workingman’s Dead came out in February, while American Beauty was released in November. Both are highly influenced by Country and Bluegrass, along with a healthy dose of hanging out with Crosby, Stills Nash & Young. For a while there the drugs were somewhat under control, and the band decided to really focus on writing and recording, in part to impress their new label, Warner Brothers. When Rolling Stone last updated their Top 500 Albums list, Workingman’s Dead came in at #262 and American Beauty came in at #258. They really are fraternal twins.
Perhaps this record came in a tad higher because of the “hit” single Trucking’. I always loved the fact that The Dead were so popular despite the fact that for years the #64 high chart position of Trucking’ was the biggest single the band ever had. It wasn’t until A Touch Of Grey from In The Dark hit #9 in 1987 that Trucking’ was finally surpassed. Because they have always been in demand, Grateful Dead albums are truly collectible today. Finding this record for $8 is a minor miracle, especially given its condition. Generally I try to play a record once before writing about it, but this clean copy of this amazing piece of Dead memorabilia has been in high rotation on my turntable since I found it.
Cost: $8, $11 Remaining
Van Morrison, Moondance, Warner Brothers WS-1835, 1970
Sometimes a remarkable album comes out by someone you’d least expect from. Yes, Van Morrison had made bit of a name for himself as the lead singer of Them, and with a slightly bubblegum-ish 1967 hit single, Brown Eyed Girl. But who knew he had THIS in him? Brown Eyed Girl was a big enough hit that he got a major label deal with Warner Brothers, and Morrison spent most of 1968 preparing his Warner’s debut, Astral Weeks. It was a very jazzy and abstract record that was a hit with musicians and critics but didn’t really sell.
Moondance was the follow-up, and Morrison spent most of 1969 writing and recording it in Woodstock New York. When a half million hippies rolled into town, Morrison left for the city where he finished the record. Dropping a needle on side one, the record opens with And It Stoned Me, a song that literally jumps out at you. From there, you’re drawn in deeper and deeper until it ends. Crazy Love, Moondance, and Into The Mystic are classics of their-or any other-era. Yes, I love this record.
Oddly, there were no hit singles from Moondance. Come Running and Crazy Love were both released as singles, but neither charted. For some bizarre reason, Moondance was released as a single at the height of the Disco era in 1977, when it climbed all the way to #92. The album only reached #29 on the charts, but despite failing in all of the traditional measures of a hit album, Moondance still sold over three million copies. It has probably never been out of print. Naturally, I held out for an original Warner Brothers copy, with its gatefold cover and extensive liner notes.
Cost: $7, $19 Remaining
Rod Stewart, Foot Loose And Fancy Free, Warner Brothers BSK-3092, 1977
For a hit 70s album, this Rod Stewart record trades at 80s flop prices. It’s odd really, how some artists straddle the very fine line between “classic” and “cliche”. Rod Stewart is one of them. While a similar selling Eagles or Fleetwood Mac album in similar condition would cost $8-$10, this record cost me $1 and there are plenty of copies online for $0.50. Heck, even an Al Stewart album costs $2.
And this is a pretty listenable album. The big hit off it, You’re In My Heart, was not only a #4 hit, but also a really nice follow up to Stewart’s biggest hit Tonight’s The Night. It’s not only self penned, but there’s no one else I can think of who could pull off the lyrics and still sound credible. The rest of the album is a familiar mix of minor hits and Motown covers, but it’s actually pretty listenable.
This near mint copy even has it’s usually missing lyric insert. These things rarely survive intact, and it just firm up what I think about records like this. They will never be cheaper, and as time passes, they will be sought out. I wouldn’t rush out and teach high and low for this one, but I also have plenty of room on my shelf for it.
Cost: $1, $200 Remaining
George Harrison, Somewhere In England, Dark Horse DHK-3492, 1981
George Harrison’s career had all but stalled by 1980. His custom label Dark Horse was distributed by Warner Brothers, and the early submission of this record was rejected for lack of commercial potential. In November, 1980, Ringo Starr came to Harrison’s home studio to collaborate on some songs for his next solo record. Harrison presented a nostalgic tune called All Those Years Ago to Ringo, but because it was too hard to sing, he rejected it. They did finish the backing track together though, and Harrison moved on to other songs.
A few weeks later John Lennon was murdered. Harrison, alone with his thoughts and an unfinished album, rewrote the lyrics to All Those Years Ago as a tribute song to Lennon. With Ringo’s percussion tracks already laid down, George asked Paul & Linda McCartney to come in and sing the background parts. With the three surviving Beatles all performing together on their first track since the I Me Mine session in 1970, suddenly Warner Brothers was very interested in the album. The public was too, and Harrison had his first big hit since 1973.
Despite the success, there’s still a touch of morbidity about the record. The other songs are paeans to God, tales of woe, or rants against the music business. It’s one of the easiest Harrison albums to find these days because it sold so well and 36 years on everyone who wants one already has it. I’m glad I have it, but I probably won’t play it more than once a decade.
Cost: $2, $235 Remaining
Edd Byrnes, Kookie, Warner Brothers W-1309, 1959
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again; it’s very hard to start a record company. Virtually all available talent that can sell records already has a record label, and without that talent you won’t sell many records. Warner Brothers had the good fortune to have major film and TV production talent, and after the strange success of Tab Hunter’s recording career, Warner’s added an exclusive audio clause in all of their video contracts.
77 Sunset Strip, a Warner show produced for ABC, debuted just as the new policy came into effect. The show was a laid back affair about private investigators solving the problems of the most fortunate and beautiful people on Earth, all set to a smooth jazz sound. Warners first released a soundtrack alum from the show, but the breakout success of a minor character named Kookie quickly led to a novelty hit and this follow-up album. Kookie was famous for constantly combing his hair and speaking solely in late 50s teen slang.
The album is no longer as ginchy as it once was. Byrnes doesn’t really sing, he just sort of mumbles his way through his the script while arranger and conductor Don Ralke’s music plays underneath. It’s interesting to listen to, but the nagging thought you’ll have after about 90 seconds is “why was this ever a hit”. Then you’ll have 28:30 more to scratch your head and try to translate the words into 21st century English. It’s not the kind of scene I usually dig dad, but while the record didn’t send me straight to snoresville pops, I don’t find it to be the maximum utmost. Later, like dig.
Cost: $5, $293 Remaining
The Beach Boys, Holland, Brothers/Reprise MS-2118, 1973
I love 70s Beach Boys albums. They’re wonderfully crafted and really strange at the same time. Holland is one of the best of the bunch. The group actually moved to a homemade studio in Baambrugge, Netherlands, a move that most of the band described as “awful”. Brian Wilson didn’t make the trip, and was still on the downward slope of a long decent into mental illness.
Fans of the classic lineup of the band won’t be very familiar of this group of musicians. Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar became full fledged Beach Boys for about four years, ending soon after this album came out. The “hit” of this album, Sail On Sailor is actually sung by Chaplain, which may explain why it’s so hard to place the voice from any other Beach Boys single.
Speaking of singles, Holland came with a “bonus” 7″EP that plays at 33 1/3 RPM. From a nasty tell all biography of the band, I learned that The Beach Boys’ contract with Warner Brothers/Reprise stated that a certain percentage of each album had to be written by Brian Wilson. As his condition worsened though, the band found themselves at odds with their leader. When the band heard Brian’s contribution Mount Vernon & Fariway (A Fairy Tale) they were aghast. It’s really hard to get through and not at all like the rest of the album. Contractually obligated to release something from Brian, and with only this to release, the band came up with this idea to include the music on a separate record. Look in any used 45 store under “Beach Boys” and you’ll find this bonus record.
Cost: $3, $396 Remaining
Bonnie Baker, Oh Johnny!, Warner Brothers B-1212, 1958
There’s very little information out there about tis record. It seems to be a re-recording by a semi-novelty one hit wonder named Bonnie Baker. The 1939 recording apparently did very well on the “hit parade” (Billboard began publishing popular music charts the next year), but it would have been quite an oldie by 1958. The liner notes on the back don’t have any Bonnie Baker career highlights newer than 1941. What really drew me to this record wasn’t the questionable artistry of the singer, but the car on the cover.
Warner Brothers records was just getting going. Jack Warner watched as his young contract star Tab Hunter had a #1 hit on Dot Records with Young Love and apparently hit the roof that his property was making money for someone else. Of course, there isn’t much of a record label if there’s no one signed up to make records and it was unsigned artists like Bonnie Baker that filled out the original Warner roster. The 1958 Warner Brothers releases didn’t get hits anymore than the 1962 Mets did. This was the twelfth album released by the label.
The car though is by far the best thing about the record. It’s for sure a Jaguar XK-140 which was in production from 1954-57. Because of the split windscreen, I date it to 1956 or earlier. Johnny may be a good lover, but he buys used cars it would seem. I also question his judgement about driving a car with such a low ground clearance on an uneven dirt road. But hey, Bonnie seems pleased. I just hope the two month wait for a new oil pan to come from Coventry England was worth it.
Cost: $2, $410 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
Gerard W. Purcell Associates, LBJ In The Catskills, Warner Brothers W-1662, 1966
Vaughn Meader sold millions of records doing an impersonation of President Kennedy. The Beverly Hillbillies, about a rural family striking it rich and moving into exclusive society, was the number one show on TV. So with the sudden presidency of the very Texan Lyndon Johnson, it didn’t take long for comedy producers to try their luck at “going there” with poking fun at the new First Family.
Rather than Beverly Hills, the Johnson Family gets sent to the upstate New York resort area in the Catskill Mountains at the height of the Borscht Belt era. Picture the movie “Dirty Dancing”, only not retro. For an obvious and easy set up, the material is just so weak. The impressions aren’t that great and the comedy is full of stereotypes that don’t play well now. It’s hard to imagine that this passed for comedy 50 years ago.
Maybe not very funny Presidents in not very funny times don’t make great comedy records.
Cost $2, $677 Remaining
Petula Clark, My Love, Warner Brothers W-1630, 1966
Petula Clark was on a roll. Mostly because her producer kept writing and recording some really great pop tunes that only she got to record. Tony Hatch was to her what Brian Wilson was to The Beach Boys and the hits only dried up when they went their creative ways.
Ms. Clark sometimes gets tagged as being a part of the British Invasion, but she really transcended that label. Her music was much more popular on the Adult Contemporary charts than the Pop charts in the USA, even though she was hugely successful pop-wise. In fact, the title track of this album made her the first British female to have two number one hits in the USA. The follow up single, A Sign Of The Times, barely missed the the top 10, peaking at number 11.
Beyond the hits, though, this isn’t much of an album to listen to. It’s all pretty much a collection of material not strong enough to be released as a single, instead of anything done to advance Petula Clark’s career or music. It’s kind of a shame, because she really can sing, but 50 years on, it is what it is.
Cost: $2, $686 Remaining