Sunday, September 5, 2021

When Encyclopedia Britannica hated rock 'n' roll

 



The alleged use of educational and reference materials to push an agenda has been a point of controversy in the sciences for decades, but did you know that the Encyclopedia Britannica was used to promote the anti-rock 'n' roll viewpoints of cultural elites in the late '50s and early '60s?

It's true. In Arnold Shaw's excellent book The Rockin' 50s (published in 1973), Shaw shares some quotations about the state of music in 1958 from the Encyclopedia Britannica yearbook. The encyclopedia entry was written by Sigmund Spaeth, a Britannica contributor who really hated rock 'n' roll. Spaeth summed up the popular music of 1958 like this:

The incubus of rock 'n' roll continued to weigh down the popular music of the year, with a majority of the music representing some form of the illiterate, savage noise.... The violence of this juvenile concentration on aboriginal rhythms actually led to several cities eventually barring rock 'n' roll from public performance. ... One of the biggest sensations of the 'Hit Parade' was a definitely Negro exaltation, He's Got the Whole World in His Hands...."

1959

Intrigued by this outpouring of racially loaded anti-rock rhetoric from a stodgy encyclopedia, I looked at Britannica Book of the Year 1960 to see if Spaeth held forth in a similar manner that year. He did! Spaeth wrote:

The menace of 'rock 'n' roll' continued through 1959, although it showed some signs of weakening. Elvis Presley's military service did not interfere noticeably with his standing as high priest of the cult, and his popularity with teen-agers accounted for at least three hits....

...There was also a flicker of encouragement in the fact that some real folk music managed to find its way into the mass of incredible trash, a trend already established by the jazzed-up Negro exaltation, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hand."  

There he goes again with that "Negro exaltation" stuff. He really liked that phrase. 

Spaeth also liked show tunes, or at least some of them. Remarking that the "few good songs" that were released in 1959 "were seldom heard except in the theatres," he went on to say:

When Kurt Weill wrote The Three-Penny Opera, he deliberately turned out a vulgar, worthless tune called "Mack, the Knife." Brought up to date and recorded by Bobby Darin, it became one of the big hits of the year.

Elsewhere in the entry he gets in some digs at Fabian, describing him as "highly synthetic." Fair enough. 

1961

In the 1962 yearbook Spaeth was right back at it, beginning his article on the previous year's music thusly:

Once more it was difficult if not impossible to express any enthusiasm for the music being produced in the U.S. As of 1961 there was very little material that could be credited with either musical value or novelty. There was the same emphasis on the "big beat" characteristic of the nauseous "rock 'n' roll," although this particular type of musical illiteracy seemed gradually to be losing its hold on even the most undiscriminating teen-agers. 

I wonder if many teenagers read this encyclopedia entry and agreed?

Spaeth argued, with some merit, that the hit records of 1961 were hits only because of payola and the star power of the performers, not the quality of the songs: 

Again the success of a popular song depended largely on phonograph records rather than sheet music, and the sale of records could be traced to the drawing power of the interpreters, not the merit or appeal of the song. The form of bribery known as "payola" reportedly continued to play an important role in such spurious promotion of commercial trash. 

After giving a rundown of the previous year's hits, Spaeth managed to find two pop records he actually liked: 

To balance such a consistent array of nonsense, there were at least two songs published in 1961 that could command respect. The first was the theme from the motion picture Exodus, by Ernest Gold, whose background music for that film won an Academy award. The song had an excellent melody of the Hebraic type and was helpfully recorded by Pat Boone (also credited with the words), the Ferrante-Teicher team and orchestrally by Mantovani

The other outstanding popular song of 1961 was "Never on Sunday," also derived from a film of the same title and winner of the "Oscar" as the best of the year in that field. The composer was a Greek, Manos Hodijidakis, and the song profited by the recordings of Don Costa, the Chordettes and the star of the picture itself, Melina Mercouri

Even though I'm a Pat Boone fan, I find it pretty amusing that a person could hate all the music of the rock 'n' roll era until Pat Boone's vocal version of "The Exodus Song" came along.

Today, artists in music and film are sometimes criticized for remaking old songs and movies instead of creating new ones, but Spaeth felt differently; he hated new music and liked old music, so he saw any return to pre-rock songs and styles as an improvement:

There was an encouraging trend toward the revival of song hits of the past, including some authentic folk music, obviously resulting from the increasing realization by even the juvenile singers of the poverty of current material.

1962

Fascinated by Spaeth's indefatigable crusade against rock, I hoped to find a continuation of his thoughts in the following year's installment, but the 1963 yearbook contained a much milder assessment of the previous year's music. What changed? Well, Spaeth didn't write that year's entry—he died in 1965, so he appears to have retired from Britannica in '63. The 1963 entry on popular music was written by Lester L. Brown, who said:

There was some improvement in the general quality of rock 'n' roll records over previous years, mainly because the smaller recording firms that had championed the idiom in the beginning had acquired enough wealth to dignify the songs with thoughtful arrangements using brasses and strings. Rock 'n' roll was essentially the same musical ragamuffin it had been in the mid-1950s but was somewhat more attractively outfitted. 

The standard narrative in rock histories is that popular music was so insipid and uninspiring in the early '60s that music listeners were desperate for anything new and different, and that's why the British Invasion happened, but according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, American pop music was actually better in 1963 than it had been in the previous years, including 1958, which is my personal favorite year in music. It's an opinion I don't recall ever hearing or reading elsewhere.

Who was this Spaeth guy, you ask? He was almost 80 years old when he wrote the words above and had been active in music, music instruction, and music journalism for decades. A musicology PhD, he wrote for The New Yorker in the 1920s and hosted some radio shows in the 1930s: Keys to Happiness (a piano instruction program), The Tune Detective (which became Spaeth's nickname), Song Sleuth, and Sigmund Spaeth's Musical Quiz. He wrote some books too. He wasn't alone in being a high-profile hater of rock 'n' roll in the '50s; he had allies among folks like Mitch Miller and Stan Freberg

 



Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Songs about Howard Hughes: 1972-78


Howard Hughes' reputation as one of the world's wealthiest men and an eccentric crackpot captured the popular imagination in the 1970s. A notorious recluse, Hughes was reported to have odd personal habits such as saving his urine in jars, wearing Kleenex boxes like shoes, and allowing his toenails to grow several inches long.

Hughes' pop-culture image and many of the strange claims about his life came from Clifford Irving's 1971 best-selling book Autobiography of Howard Hughes, a literary hoax for which Irving spent 17 months in prison.

As a result of the book and the controversies that followed, Hughes became the topic of many songs in addition to occasionally being mentioned in song lyrics. Sometimes he was referenced indirectly. For example, the R&B group The Hues Corporation, who had a #1 hit with "Rock the Boat" in 1974, originally wanted to call itself The Children of Howard Hughes but abandoned the idea for legal reasons and used the homophonous name Hues instead.

Today on The Music Weird, we look back at the songs Hughes—and Clifford Irving—inspired in the 1970s.


Sonny Hall – "Howard Hughes Is Alive and Well" (1972)

Sonny Hall appears to have started the Howard Hughes song frenzy with this talking-blues-styled song about a musician who works for Hughes but has never seen him. 


Bud & Bud, AKA the Hooper Twins – "Howard Hughes Is Alive and Well" (1972)

Hall's record was soon covered by Bud & Bud, who sound a bit like Homer & Jethro


Leo Teel – "Like Trying to Find Howard Hughes" (1972)

This mournful song about a heartbroken man doesn't have a chorus, and the titular line is sung only once. Teel was a Texas artist and recording engineer who cut a single for Decca way back in 1951.


John Hartford – "Howard Hughes' Blues" (1972)

The great John Hartford offers a gently parodic but sympathetic view of Hughes. 


Dave Barry – Will the Real Howard Hughes Please Stand Up? LP (1972)

Humorist Dave Barry released this LP that references Howard Hughes in the title as well as in the track "H.H." on side two. 



Wayne Thomis – Howard Hughes Press Conference LP (1972)

A weird nonmusical entry: After Clifford Irving published his fraudulent Howard Hughes autobiography, Hughes held a press conference to challenge the authenticity of the book, and this press conference was released on LP for some reason. You can listen to the whole thing on archive.org.



Jim Croce – "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues" (1974)

This song is a character study of an ambitious car wash employee who dreams of becoming rich and describes himself as an "undiscovered Howard Hughes."


10cc – "The Wall Street Shuffle" (1974)

A sardonic view of Wall Street moneymaking, "The Wall Street Shuffle" asks, "Howard Hughes, did your money make you better?"


AC/DC – "Ain't No Fun (Waiting 'Round to Be a Millionaire)" (1976)


This song about wanting to get rich in rock 'n' roll ends with a shout-out to neighbor Howard, a reference to Howard Hughes.


Glenn Martin – "The Ballad of Howard Hughes' Will" (1976)

Hughes died in 1976, so his will became the topic of this country novelty song.


Buford Hirman & the Contesters – "Howard's Will (Part 1)" (1976)

Another song about Hughes' will. 


The Cruse Family – "Ode to Howard Hughes" (1977)

I haven't heard this song, but the gospel group The Cruse Family included "Ode to Howard Hughes" on their 1977 LP Faith


Ernie Dunlap – "Spruce Goose" (1977)

"Spruce Goose" refers to the Hughes H-4 Hercules, the largest flying boat ever built. Nicknamed the "Spruce Goose" because it was made out of wood (birch, incidentally—not spruce), it was designed and built by Howard Hughes' Hughes Aircraft Company in the 1940s.



The Tights – "Howard Hughes" (1978)


British punk band The Tights released only two singles during its initial run, one of which is this ode to Howard Hughes.


Boomtown Rats – "Me and Howard Hughes" (1978)

"Me and Howard Hughes" is a portrait of a reclusive friend who compares himself to Howard Hughes.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Jaws inspired a wave of shark-themed novelty songs in 1975-76

 


Steven Spielberg's film Jaws, released in the summer of 1975, was a blockbuster box-office hit. It was the highest-grossing film of all time until Star Wars bested it in 1977, and it inspired a wave of shark-themed novelty songs. A few Jaws-themed records came out after 1976, and the film was mentioned in Queen's 1978 hit "Bicycle Race," but the majority of the craze occurred within 18 months of the movie's release. 


Byron McNaughton & His All News Orchestra – "Right from the Shark's Jaws (The Jaws Interview)" (Jamie J 1427, 1975)

This break-in comedy record "bubbled under" the Billboard Hot 100. Originally released on the small Route label, it was picked up for national distribution by Jamie Records. The record reached the Top 10 at Philadelphia's WFIL. The B-side, "Jaws Jam," was credited to a different artist, The Chief


Dickie Goodman – "Mr. Jaws" (Cash CR 451, 1975)

The king of all Jaws novelties and the only one to become a major hit, "Mr. Jaws" was a #1 hit in Cash Box and a Top 5 hit in Billboard. A few years later, Dickie Goodman tried to exploit the Jaws theme again with a sequel, "Mrs. Jaws," but that one didn't chart.


Sharktooth – "Jaws" (Bryan B-1021, 1975)

This funky cut is instrumental except for a voice that repeatedly says "Jaws," similar to The Champs' 1958 hit "Tequila." 


The End – "Do the Jaws" (20th Century TC-2229, 1975)

A one-off single by a studio group. 



Atlantic Ocean – "Jaws" (Atco 45-7032, 1975)

Weird, mostly instrumental tune with interjections of "Jaws" and some talking. 


Seven Seas – "Super 'Jaws'" (RCA Victor XB 02048, 1975)

French Jaws record. Another mostly instrumental tune with interjections of "Jaws!"
 


Johnny Otis – "Jaws" (1975)

Veteran R&B performer Johnny Otis delivered this funky instrumental that has some ocean sound effects and screaming toward the end. 


Hobie Cat – "Mr. Gums" (96x 9600, 1975)

Yet another Jaws-themed break-in comedy record. 


The Investigators – "Jaws Is Working for the C.I.A." (Andee 4002, 1975)

From the title, I was expecting another break-in comedy record, but it's an actual song. 


Homemade Theatre – "Santa Jaws" and "Santa Jaws Part 2" (A&M AM-407, 1975)

This Christmas-themed Jaws novelty comes from Canada. 


Darryl Rhoades & The HaHavishnu Orchestra – "Surfin' Shark" (Wonder, 1976)

Beach Boys-styled novelty about a surfer whose legs are eaten by a shark. The refrain "super jaws" is repeated at the end. 


Love Bite – "Killer Jaws" (Magnet MAG 53, 1976)

A one-off UK single recorded for the same label as Peter Shelley and Alvin Stardust



Ted Rogers – "Beware of Mr. Shark" (Sol-Doon SDR 010, 1976)

A British novelty attempt to make some coin from the Jaws fad.


Ed Lawhorne – "Never Swim Again"/"Don't Let Old Jaws Bite You" (Plumbers 6015-14 , 1976)

A double-sided Jaws-themed record from the short-lived Plumbers label of North Carolina.



Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias – "Dread Jaws" (Transatlantic BIG 541, 1976)

Reggae song about Jaws released in the UK. Parts of the melody resemble Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry." 


Steve Allen Backed by "Red Eye" – "Jaws" (Viking VS330, 1976)

New Zealand release by the NZ Steve Allen, not the US television personality. 




Errol Holt/Ja Man All Stars – "Shark Out Deh"/"Jaws" (Locks LOX 17, 1976)

Reggae two-sider.


Skin—Flesh and Bones – "Jaws" (Spider Man, 1976)

Jamaican record with this Jaws-themed track on the B-side. The A-side is by Merlyn Webber.



Richard Hewson Orchestra – "Shark Bite" (Splash CP 6, 1976)

Disco number that may or may not be about Jaws, but the timing suggests that it's part of the craze. It was a double-sided shark-themed single, because the B-side was an instrumental titled "Hammerhead." 


Bigbite & Mack – "Deep Tooth" (Fun-E-Bone 4322, 1976?) 

Another break-in comedy record.


Gums original soundtrack – "Thar She Blows" (1976)

This song is only tangentially related to Jaws, but the X-rated Jaws parody Gums, about a killer mermaid, concludes with a raunchy "Mack the Knife"-styled theme song. 



Wednesday, May 5, 2021

"Deep Throat" on 45: 1972-78

 


Practically every pop-culture craze, fad, notable event, and miscellaneous point of interest used to generate a slew of cash-in records, often but not always made by unknown artists who hoped to exploit the moment for some quick fame and fortune but usually failed. Their efforts may have been futile in their day, but they're fun to look back on now as examples of the indomitable human spirit, as we did recently with songs from the Pet Rock craze. Today's Music Weird looks at records that were released in the wake of Deep Throat, the 1972 adult film that was the first hardcore feature to achieve mainstream success.

Directed by Gerard Damiano, Deep Throat was a surprise hit. The first "porno chic" film, it played in mainstream cinemas, was ranked that year as one of the top 10 highest-grossing films by Variety, and was thoroughly absorbed into mainstream pop culture via jokes, television talk shows, music, and even the Watergate scandal, in which "Deep Throat" became the code name of Bob Woodward's secret informant. Richard Nixon himself, according to John T. Bone, tried to arrange a screening of the film for one of his private parties. The movie played in adult cinemas for years and spawned one R-rated sequel, numerous X-rated sequels, and the documentary Inside Deep Throat, a look back at the film's cultural impact. Damiano himself revisited the film in 1984 with the sequel Throat... 12 Years After

The Deep Throat-related records are a little different from some fad records in that a few attempted to look like official soundtrack releases or like recordings that featured star Linda Lovelace, either by including images of Lovelace or using artist names that suggested Lovelace's involvement. Lovelace made no commercial musical recordings (although you can hear her sing "Nearer, My God, to Thee," "Happy Birthday to You," and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in the 1975 film Linda Lovelace for President), but she became world famous as a result of Deep Throat, so record labels hoped that her recognizable face would sell.

The theme music from Deep Throat was also popular with easy-listening and middle-of-the-road instrumental artists, who, by recording these tunes, could appear to be a little bit racy and hip while still delivering smooth instrumental music that didn't depart from their typical fare.


Leon Ware & Bob Hilliard  – "Deep Throat (Filmmusik) (Parts I-VI)" (1972)

Released only in Germany, these three singles feature remakes of instrumental music from Deep Throat. The titles don't correspond with the titles that were used on the Deep Throat soundtrack album. The video below contains a remake of the eight-minute-long instrumental "Love Is Strange" (not the Mickey & Sylvia song, although it does contain an interpolation of the "Love Is Strange" guitar riff), but on the single it's generically titled "Deep Throat V." The description on the YouTube video says that this single was sold at adult cinemas.



Linda & the Lollipops – "Theme from Deep Throat" (1973)

This oddball vocal record is notable for its incomprehensible singing and moaning by the female vocalist, who is named Linda in reference to Linda Lovelace but is not Lovelace. The Italian single had a picture sleeve with a topless image of Lovelace, which I censored here so that I don't get a content warning on my blog, but you can see the full monty over at Discogs



Julius Wechter & the Baja Marimba Band – "Theme from 'Deep Throat'" (1973)

One of several MOR covers of the theme, this one was released as a single. 


T.J. Stone – "She's Got to Have It" b/w "Deeper and Deeper (My Love Grows)" (1974)

The success of Deep Throat led to director Joseph W. Sarno directing an R-rated comedy sequel, Deep Throat Part II, that was aimed at the mainstream but flopped, in part because it's a silly mess of a movie. It brought back stars Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems and added a number of other porn veterans in straight acting roles, including Jamie Gillis, Marc Stevens, Tina Russell, Chris Jordan, and Andrea True, the latter of whom would later notch a Top 5 pop hit with "More, More, More." The soundtracks of both Deep Throat and Deep Throat Part II were released on LP in 1974, and although the first soundtrack album didn't identify any artists, Deep Throat Part II did. This track by T.J. Stone was even released as a single. 



Lindy Lovelace – "Be My Baby" (1974)

The name was surely intended to make people believe it might be Linda Lovelace of Deep Throat fame, but it's not. A disco remake of The Ronettes "Be My Baby," this was the artist's only release, at least under this name. Arranged and conducted in the UK by Richard Hewson, the record wasn't a hit, and I've never heard it. I tried to contact Hewson a while back to ask about the story behind this single but didn't get a reply.



Los Indios Tabajaras – "Theme from 'Deep Throat'" (1975)

Los Indios Tabajaras were a prolific Brazilian instrumental guitar duo who specialized in easy-listening music that had a light "world music" touch. The Japanese picture sleeve for their interpretation of "Theme from 'Deep Throat'" included a photo of Linda Lovelace and an illustration of her that appeared on theatrical posters and the Deep Throat soundtrack album. I'm guessing that no one asked for permission.



Dolphin – "Linda Lovelace" (1977)

The UK band Dolphin included the original song "Linda Lovelace" on their debut album, Goodbye. The following year, it was released as the B-side of the single "Carry Me Away."


Some 1970s LPs that include "Theme from 'Deep Throat'" 

  • Rusty Bryant on For the Good Times (1973) (listen here)
  • The Richard Gold Orchestra on New Screen Theme Music (1976)
  • The original soundtracks of both Deep Throat and the R-rated sequel, Deep Throat Part II (1974) (listen here)

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Homer Lee Sewell – "Ring Around the Bath Tub" (1965)

 



With its reference to vomiting and depiction of a sentient ring of soap scum, Homer Lee Sewell's "Ring Around the Bath Tub" is one of the weirdest old country songs I've heard in a while. 

It sounds like a song poem but was written and recorded by Sewell himself, a Texas country singer, recording engineer, and recording studio owner who once cut a single for Pappy Daily's D Records label on which a young Willie Nelson played lead guitar. 

Sewell was born in Wills Point, Texas, in 1920 and died in 2018 at the age of 98 in Haltom City just outside Fort Worth, about an hour and a half from Wills Point. His grave marker describes him as a "Country Poet."

He ran Oakridge Music Recording Service and Demo Studio in Haltom City as well as Oakridge Records, on which he released his own music and music by other country and even rock 'n' roll artists. His entry on Discogs lumps together records by Sewell and Homer Lee, but Homer Lee was a different artist. 

Sewell's recording career appears to have begun in the late '50s. He recorded the previously mentioned D Records single, "She's Mad at Me" b/w "Whisper Your Name," both original songs, in 1959, but that wasn't necessarily his first record. These two songs are more conventional country fare than the bizarre "Ring Around the Bath Tub." 

The book Willie Nelson: An Epic Life by Joe Nick Patoski talks about how Nelson came to play guitar on a recording by Sewell, whom Patoski identifies as "another Cowtown Hoedown regular," referring to the Fort Worth country music radio show that aired on KCUL from 1957-61:  

"I found out he [Willie Nelson] was a good lead man," Sewell said, "so I asked him if he wanted to play on my record." Sewell rounded up Willie, Paul East, an upright bass player named Bill Bramlett, and two fiddlers and paid Uncle Hank Craig $200 to get his recording made and released on D Records. An alternate version of "Whisper Your Name," recorded on the stage of the Majestic with Sewell on fiddle and Willie and Paul East on guitar, supported by Jack Zachary, Hank Craig's son Eddie Craig on bass, and Bill Bramlett—members of the Hoedown house band—was used as the B side of the single. "I got more airplay on that than I did with 'She's Mad at Me,'" recalled Sewell. "It had a good beat to it." Lawton Williams played the record on KCUL, and so did the disc jockeys on KTJS in Sewell's hometown, Hobart, Oklahoma. But sales were feeble....

Around that time Sewell also launched his Oakridge label and began releasing singles by himself and others that probably had been recorded at his Oakridge studio. If the catalog numbers can be believed, it appears that his first release was "Open Arms" b/w "Always Broke" (Oakridge OR101). A later single, "Country Boy Shuffle" and "Two Silver Dollars," was numbered OR 104 and was released in 1959, according to 45cat, so "Open Arms" might have preceded the D Records single. 

None of these were hits, but some recordings Sewell released on Oakridge—of himself and others—have been included in modern anthologies of vintage country and rockabilly music.

That brings us to "Ring Around the Bath Tub," which, according to 45cat, was released in 1965. It is a surreal account of a man's conflict with an anthropomorphized ring of bathtub soap scum that keeps him awake at night. 

The offbeat story and slurping sound effects at the end might qualify this as a novelty record, but the narrative is played straight and even includes some religious imagery in the chorus. The mention of vomiting is very unusual for a song of this era, and the almost random length of each line in the lyrics keeps the listener guessing about where the melody is going. 

The B-side, "Image of Daddy and Me," is a sad but somewhat confusing recitation that breaks into song on the choruses. It's one of those country weepers in which a child begs its parents to stop fighting, but the story is told by an observer in a courtroom who alternately quotes the child and the mother, the latter of whom says the titular line that the child is the "image of daddy and me." 

Here are the lyrics of "Ring Around the Bath Tub":


Friends, that old ring around the bathtub sure must be lonesome…


The towel is on the towel rack

And soap is in the container

The garbage disposal is all stopped up

And the ring around the bathtub makes me want to throw up


I’m drying myself off with the towel from the rack

And the dripping from faucet is running down my back

The ring around the bathtub has just about wore me out

I’ll try and get some sleep now if that ring around the bathtub don’t interrupt


I dreamed last night I was in Heaven

I was sleeping away in a room on flight eleven

When I awoke I’m-a whirling sound

The ring around the bathtub was up walking around


I got me some scouring pads and I put him back in place

And when I got through, he said, “You’re a human disgrace”

“If you go to sleep,” he said, “I’ll just interrupt again”

“I may be a ring around the bathtub, but brother, your troubles have just begin”


I dreamed last night I was in Heaven

Sleeping away in a room on flight eleven

Then I awoke I’m-a whirling sound

The ring around the bathtub was up walking around

That ring around the bathtub was up walking around 


(slurp)



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Songs from the Pet Rock craze (1976)

 


Remember Pet Rocks? Mother Jones called them "one of the great crazes of 1976," and Time Magazine ranked them among the Top 10 toy crazes of all time. Inventor Gary Dahl struck gold, at least for a little while, by selling ordinary rocks in a pet-carrier-like container that held some excelsior as bedding and a pamphlet on how to care for the rock. Like most crazes, the Pet Rock also inspired a handful of novelty records that year. 

Introduced at the end of 1975 and priced at about $4.00, Pet Rocks were an instant success, but by 1977 the fad had run its course, and Dahl donated his remaining inventory of 100,000 Pet Rocks to Goodwill and the Salvation Army. 


Al Bolt "I'm in Love with My Pet Rock" (Cin-Kay CK-201, Feb. 1976)


Country singer Al Bolt wasted no time in rushing a Pet Rock novelty song to market. The title suggests that the song is about romantic love for a Pet Rock, but it's actually about a child who loves the rock that followed him home.


Walter Rockite – "The Pet Rocks Are Coming" (Westbound WT-5022, May 1976)

None of the creators of this break-in comedy record wanted to be identified by their real names, apparently, because the artist is credited as Walter Rockite, the composer as Sandy Granite, and the producer as Sparkle Quartz. Or maybe that was just part of the joke. The record is set up as an interview, like many of Dickie Goodman's break-in hits, with Rockite and others asking questions, to which snippets of hit songs play in reply. The topic, generally speaking, is the Pet Rock craze, but the questions veer into miscellaneous celebrity news, with rock puns and jokes being the only real thread. The B-side, credited to the Walter Rockite Rock Conglomerate, was a song called "Rocky Road."


Chuck McCabe & the K-ROCK News Team – "That Old Pet Rock of Mine" and "Live at the Pet Rock Show" (GRT Records, GRT-044, 1976)


Pet Rock inventor Gary Dahl actually cowrote the A-side of this double-sided Pet Rock single, which GRT Records advertised as "the greatest rock hit of all time." Get it? It wasn't a hit at all, and as far as I can tell didn't get substantial airplay, but the B-side, "Live at the Pet Rock Show," is a fairly amusing break-in comedy record in which all the snippets of popular songs sound like re-recordings, a strategy that would get around the licensing problems that often plagued break-in records. 


Michael Andrews – "Pet Rock" (Theta 2019-A, 1976)

Released in the summer of 1976, "Pet Rock" by Michael Andrews inspired a Los Angeles secretary named Jannene Swift to marry a 50-pound rock. The song got a little airplay but not nearly as much attention as the resulting marriage, which made national news. The wedding ceremony was performed at a park on Wilshire Boulevard in L.A., and the union was described as the first "inter-rock-cial" marriage.




Merlin – "Without My Rock" and "Pet Rock Rock" (Stonehenge 3001, 1976)

This double-sided Pet Rock record was supposed to accompany a book by author Thomas N. Corpening that was going to be titled either Pet Rock Jokes & Songs, as it says on the label of the 45, or The Pet Rock Joke Book, as it says in Corpening's obituary, but I haven't seen any evidence that this book was actually published. The Texas band Merlin set Corpening's lyrics to music for this single.


That was the end of the craze, but it wasn't the end of Pet Rocks. In fact, Pet Rocks are still available today. A record label called Pet Rock was active in the 1990s-2010s. Teenage Fanclub had a song called "Pet Rock" on their 1991 album Bandwagonesque. A band called The Pet Rocks released a couple albums. Some children's books about Pet Rocks have been published. And if you'd like to have an authentic vintage Pet Rock, they sell on eBay for around $40 these days. 



Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Four Coins and Four Coins Drive in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania




Like Perry Como and Bobby Vinton, the vocal quartet The Four Coins came from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, where a street is named in their honor: Four Coins Drive. 

It's not the most impressive street—it winds past a cemetery and through a commercial zone—but it's a nice gesture in recognition of the group, which charted 16 hits from 1954-1960 between the Billboard, Cash Box, and Music Vendor charts.

Cousins Jimmy Gregorakis and George Mantalis and brothers George and Michael Mahramas originally formed the group as The Four Keys and recorded a couple records for the independent Corona Records label under that name before changing to The Four Coins when Epic Records signed them. 

“Shangri-La," a million seller, was their biggest hit on the Billboard chart, peaking at #11 in 1957, but if you follow the Music Vendor pop chart, they had one hit that charted even higher: "Memories of You" reached #9 in 1955, giving the group its only Top 10 entry. 

Michael Mahramas left the group in 1959 to pursue an acting career and was replaced by brother Jack Mahramas, and The Four Coins soldiered on, recording two albums of Greek songs in the 1960s and continuing to release singles into the 1970s.

Four Coins Drive was named in their honor in the late 1980s, and the group reunited in the 2000s for a some local performances and the PBS special Magic Moments: The Best of '50s Pop, in which they sang "Shangri-La."