Saturday, May 18, 2019

Late 1950s Pat Boone Teen Tote record holder by Aristocrat

Pat Boone was the second biggest rock 'n' roll hit-maker of the 1950s after Elvis Presley and, like Elvis, his name and image were heavily merchandised on items such as this late 1950s Teen Tote record holder, which was manufactured by Aristocrat Leather Products, Inc., of New York.

Paper sleeves
This vinyl matchbook-style record tote has an illustrated image of Pat alongside a teenaged girl who is dreamily listening to the notes that issue forth from her portable record player. Pat is wearing a shirt with a wild print underneath his red sweater vest. The tote was made in at least three colors: white, blue, and pink.

Aristocrat began using the "Teen Tote" brand name in 1957 for "purses, wallets, pocketbooks and ladies handbags." I suppose that this record holder falls under the definition of "wallet," like the CD wallets that became common decades later.

The Pat Boone Teen Tote held fourteen 7" 45 RPM records in paper sleeves and included a blank index so that teens could write down which records were stored inside.
Record index

The numbered index provided fields for not only the title and artist of each record but also the record company's catalog number, which I'm guessing is something that few teens had previously given much thought to. But it could be fun to meticulously document a growing collection with such attention to detail, right?

Pat, it's worth mentioning, charted almost 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1955-59, but so many of them were double-sided hits that teens would need to buy only two Pat Boone Teen Totes to hold all his hit records through the end of that decade.

A similar tote from approximately the same time that seems to be more common, perhaps because it didn't have a licensed image, is the Ponytail® Tune Tote® by Standard Products of Plainsfield, New Jersey. With 14 paper sleeves and an index, it was nearly identical to the Pat Boone tote but featured a generic image of music-loving teens and the "Tune Tote" brand on the front instead of Pat's recognizable face and name. The Tune Tote was available in several different colors and designs.

The competitor: Tune Tote
Another version of the Tune Tote was configured as a vinyl box that could hold more records than the wallet and had a somewhat less teen-oriented image.

Tune Tote box

Despite their limited capacity, these record totes were a much better storage solution for 45s than those awful metal racks that many people kept their records in without even the protection of a paper sleeve.

Wire record rack

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Ira B. Wilson, composer of "Make Me a Blessing"

Ira B. Wilson

I was surprised to see that Ira B. Wilson, a prolific composer of hymns in the first half of the 20th century, has no biography on Wikipedia and not much biographical information

I noticed this when I was thinking about writing a Mother's Day post about his Mothers of Men: A Mother's Day Service, a sheet music anthology of songs for Mother's Day that was published in 1925. It was one of the earliest musical tributes to Mother's Day, which became a national holiday in the US in 1914.

Wilson's name was familiar to me from browsing sheet music and hymnals. His best-remembered hymn is probably "Make Me a Blessing," which has been recorded by a number of artists and continues to be included in hymnals and sung in churches today.

Ira Bishop Wilson was born on September 6, 1880, in Bedford, Iowa, a town of fewer than 1,500 people just a few miles from the Missouri border. He spent most of his life in Dayton, Ohio, where his publisher, Lorenz Publishing Company, was also located. Founded in 1890 by E.S. Lorenz, Lorenz Publishing still exists in Dayton under the name the Lorenz Corporation.

When Wilson was a youth, his sister taught him to play organ and violin. In the early 1900s he attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago before moving to Dayton, where he began working for Lorenz in 1905.

The Volunteer Choir
In addition to writing and arranging many songs under his own name, he also composed under the pseudonyms Fred B. Holton and Chas. Francis Lane and edited a number of hymnals as well as the magazine The Volunteer Choir. His publisher estimated at one time that more than 1.5 million copies of sheet music for his songs were in circulation.

Wilson's greatest hit, "Make Me a Blessing," was copyrighted in 1924. He cowrote the song with George S. Schuler, who is said to have been a roommate of Wilson's at Moody Bible Institute, although Schuler was about eight years younger than Wilson. Wilson wrote the lyrics and Schuler composed the melody. This article claims that Wilson and Schuler were roommates at Moody in 1924, but we know that can't be true, because Wilson had been living in Dayton and working for Lorenz for almost 20 years by that time. The article tells an interesting story about the song, though:

At first, the song was rejected by musical publishers. Not to be stopped, Shuler [sic] had 1,000 copies printed to distribute on his own. One copy fell into the hands of George Dibble, an outstanding singer who was the music director for the International Sunday School Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Dibble asked permission to use the song, and it was granted. Soon people everywhere were singing it and publishers were wanting to distribute copies.

Although he's remembered as a composer of hymns, Wilson wrote other kinds of music too in his nearly half-century-long career as a songwriter.

He wrote or cowrote numerous songs for holidays. Apart from the previously mentioned Mother's Day program, he wrote cantatas for Children's Day, Easter, and Christmas.

Wilson's grave marker
He wrote a handful of secular songs, such as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," "Rip Van Winkle," and "The Childhood of Hiawatha," that were intended for children's choirs. I saw an announcement of "The Childhood of Hiawatha" being performed by a children's choir as recently as 2018.

Under the pseudonym Chas. Francis Lane, he cowrote a humorous three-act musical play, The Minister's Aunt, that was published in 1945 and continues to be performed occasionally. 

As for his personal life, Wilson married, had three sons, and died in Los Angeles on April 3, 1950. Either he married twice or some of the biographical information that is floating around is incorrect, because at the time of his death he was said to be survived by his wife Louise, but he's interred with wife Myrta Carolyn Wilson, who died in 1944, in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. One of his sons, Roger C. Wilson, followed in his dad's footsteps, becoming a composer and editor for Lorenz and the editor of The Volunteer Choir

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Almost 1/3 of a million page views

The Music Weird, everyone's favorite disseminator of irrelevant and unwanted music information, reached an impressive milestone this week when it racked up over 300,000 page views.

That's quite an achievement for a music blog that specializes in information that no one is looking for about music that few people care about. 

In celebration of this inexplicable milestone, let's look back at some of the least popular posts in The Music Weird's history. 

Rebecca Black's "BFF You Make Me LOL": What happened?

Published in 2015, this incisive work of investigative reporting has garnered only 186 page views. I think that's odd, because I was extremely interested in finding out what happened to the rumored single "BFF You Make Me LOL" by Rebecca Black, who first made pop music history by reaching the Billboard Hot 100 with "Friday," a weird vanity single that was recorded at one of those services where amateurs record hacky songs as part of a vanity package deal.

Victorian-era trade cards: mandolins and lutes

Back in the Victorian era, some companies issued these somewhat interesting trade cards, which were collectable printed cards, kind of like baseball cards but with advertising. I featured some of them that had musical images, like pictures of mandolins and lutes, and the world yawned. This particular post has had merely 177 page views in four years.

Jonathan Winters' brief foray into music (1958)


Jonathan Winters is a pretty well-known comedian. I liked him in the 1963 film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the 1966 film The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! So I thought it was pretty interesting that he recorded this novelty single in 1958, but apparently I was one of the few, because the post got only 243 page views in four years.

Cristy Lane's first record: "Janie Took My Place" (1966)

I'll admit that I don't expect anyone to be as interested in Cristy Lane as I am. I've not only written a few blog posts about her but also produced this CD of her greatest country hits. Nevertheless, I was unprepared for the thundering apathy that met this 2015 post about her debut single, which has had only 191 page views. This is alleged to be a record that went to #1 at one radio station in my hometown of Muncie, Indiana.

Tennessee Ernie Ford on the cover of Holiday Inn magazine, 1971

You'd think that the late, great Tennessee Ernie Ford appearing on the cover of the Holiday Inn's in-house magazine that was given away to people who stayed at the Holiday Inn back in the day would generate more interest, but this post about that fascinating and highly collectible magazine issue attracted only 182 views in four years for some unknown reason.

Jerry Springer sings "Save the Terminal" (1973)

Here's a post that seemingly had it all: Jerry Springer, the host of perhaps the most notorious and salacious daytime talk show, released a weird protest folk song in 1973. I mean, what more could you want? And yet the post garnered only 109 page views in three years' time. I imagine that Springer's final thought on this matter was: WTF?

Way Passed Normal: The "Other" Cassette

If you're looking for reasons to accuse me of selfishly writing articles that appeal to no one but me, then look no further than this post about an obscure Chicago cassette release that I like for perverse reasons and that few other people will ever relate to or care about in any way for any reason.

I'm passionate about this cassette, which is of such intense disinterest to the rest of humanity that my blog post about it—the only blog post in history about this cassette—has received only 101 page views in over two years.

What's the moral lesson?

There is no moral lesson. I'll continue to write stupid blog posts about music that no one cares about, while three of my old blog posts continue to generate almost a quarter of all traffic. I mean, look at my most recent articles: I keep writing about Joe Dowell, a consistently unpopular topic on my blog, and about stupid things like forgotten advertising pamphlets from the 1970s. Seriously, who cares about this crap?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Joe Dowell – "Those Darn Inflation Blues" (1973)

After scoring a #1 pop hit with "Wooden Heart" in 1961, Joe Dowell had a hard time sustaining his recording career. His follow-up singles for Smash Records were minor hits at best, and a move to Monument Records ended after only one single. Although he had some success with writing and recording commercial jingles thereafter, he finally resorted to releasing his own records. His first self-released single, "Those Darn Inflation Blues," was uncharacteristic in every way: It was topical, humorous, countrified, a collaborative composition, and—apart from the chorus—a recitation.

Dowell must have had some faith in this tune, because it was the first commercial release on his own Journey Records label. (He previously used the Journey Records imprint on "Christmas in Ann Arbor," a 1972-73 single that was issued as a freebie for customers of Ann Arbor Federal Savings.) Joe would continue to use Journey into the 1980s as a channel for occasional singles and one album.

Dowell usually wrote by himself, but he wrote "Those Darn Inflation Blues" with a collaborator, James G. Schneider. The song is Schneider's only composition in the BMI database.

Two versions of the single were released, both of which have the same catalog number. One is a promo copy for radio that has "Those Darn Inflation Blues" on both sides. The other is a stock copy with a picture sleeve and has one of Dowell's religious originals, "Jesus in the Midst of My Day," on the flip side. (Joe later re-recorded this song for his religious album, Of Earth & Heaven.)

The photo on the picture sleeve was taken at the Walden S. Fabry studio in Peoria, Illinois. Fabry specialized in photographing country music stars, and many thousands of his photos are now archived in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The extent of Dowell's songwriting collaboration with Schneider is unknown, but one or both of them obviously put a lot of effort into crafting the lyrics, which complain about taxes and the rising cost of living and various other hardships in a very general and good-natured way that carefully avoids taking any political positions or voicing any opinions that listeners might disagree with.

The song's topic was timely, though, because the inflation rate was spiking at the time. And because of the oil crisis, drivers often had to wait in line to buy gas. The economic situation was so dire that even nonpolitical Joe Dowell felt compelled to sing about it.

The song recalls earlier political recitations in country music, like Jim Nesbitt's "Lookin' for More in '64" (1964) and Guy Drake's "Welfare Cadillac" (1970), but "Those Darn Inflation Blues" offers a more middle-of-the-road kind of commentary in comparison to those songs.

Dowell had never styled himself as a country artist before; he began as a teen idol, released a folk album, and then settled into a vaguely folksy adult-contemporary pop style for the remainder of his career.

Dowell also had never exhibited a sense of humor in his original music before. He'd had a moderate hit with the humorous novelty song "Little Red Rented Rowboat" in 1962, but that was a song that his label, Smash Records, foisted on him, and he seemed ambivalent about it in retrospect, even though it was his most successful single after "Wooden Heart." The song was mildly controversial because of its line about girls wearing bikinis "way down to here," and Joe was a deeply religious man who didn't want to be associated with anything that might be considered unsavory.

But "Those Darn Inflation Blues" is meant to be funny. It was produced by John Darnall, who produced a number of Christian records in the 1970s, and the single was picked up by Nationwide Sound Distributors (NDS) in Nashville. NSD was run by Joe Gibson from Chart Records, the label that had put out those political Jim Nesbitt records in the 1960s. NSD handled national sales and promotion for countless small independent labels, and their address appears in the trade ad for "Those Darn Inflation Blues" that is pictured at the top of this page.

The song was published through Pat Boone's Cooga Music Corporation. I wish I knew the story behind that.

Despite all of Joe's efforts, "Those Darn Inflation Blues" didn't give him the follow-up hit he earnestly hoped for (and continued to hope for when I met him in the 2000s). I could find no evidence that it received substantial airplay anywhere, and it didn't reach any sales charts, although it did appear in Record World's "Spins & Sales" list in the October 6, 1973, issue.

The following year, Joe went back to the drawing board and returned with more characteristic material, the original "Two Hearts," which he again released on his Journey label.

Listen to "Those Darn Inflation Blues" and its B-side, the original recording of "Jesus in the Midst of My Day," below: 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

"The Cube," a 1982 country hit about the Rubik's Cube

How popular was the Rubik's Cube puzzle toy in the early 1980s? Forbes said in 1981 that it was "possibly the hottest new toy since the Hula Hoop." Reader's Digest declared 1981 "the Year of the Cube." And in 1982, it even became the unlikely topic of a minor country hit.

The label of "The Cube" promo 45.
A stock copy was issued too.
Credited to Bob Jenkins (& 3 Year Old Daughter Mandy), the song, "The Cube," registered on the lower rungs of the Billboard country chart at the same time that "Pac Man Fever" was riding high on the pop chart. But while "Pac Man Fever" went on to become a Top 10 pop hit, "The Cube" dropped off the country chart after three weeks, peaking at a modest #76. On the Cash Box country chart it fared better, spending seven weeks on the chart and reaching #70.

(Interestingly, Buckner & Garcia, the one-hit wonders behind "Pac Man Fever," also had some country-chart success in 1981 as the producers and songwriters of "Footprints in the Sand," a hit for fellow one-hit wonder Edgel Groves. The song isn't the one that Cristy Lane popularized but a different adaptation of the same public-domain poem.)

"The Cube" took a wry look at the Rubik's Cube phenomenon, humorously commenting on how popular, how frustrating, and what a waste of time the toy was. It also touched on the competitive aspect of the puzzle, as people raced to see who could solve it the fastest. (The world record is a mind-blowing 3.47 seconds.) Three-year-old daughter Mandy sings a single line in the song. The chorus goes:

Big kids, little kids, everybody's kids are trying to solve Mr. Rubik's Cube
Oh, it sure seems funny to see a big old dummy got nothin' better to do
If you ever stop tryin' then you'll go to cryin'—nobody wants to lose
Gonna sit right here till I solve Mr. Rubik's Cube

Jenkins performing "The Cube" at an event
for WPNX in Phenix City, Alabama 

Although he never charted as high as they did, Jenkins did one better than Buckner & Garcia and Edgel Groves in that he scored not one but two hits. His second hit debuted on the Billboard county chart just two weeks after "The Cube." Titled "Workin' in a Coalmine," it was an original song, not a remake of the similarly titled "Workin' in the Coal Mine" by Lee Dorsey. 

This song was released on Jenkins' own Picap Records label, which was based in Jenkins' hometown of Hendersonville, Tennessee. It spent two weeks on the chart, peaking at #86. The song was probably released only as a promo for DJs; I've never heard it or even seen a copy of the 45 for sale online.

Jenkins in the 1970s
Jenkins wasn't new to the music business when these two songs became hits. Back in the 1970s he had recorded an album, Bob Jenkins Sings, for 20th Century Records, in a soft country-rock, singer-songwriter style similar to James Taylor or Jonathan Edwards. The album's single, "South Side of the Rio Grande," didn't chart, but the album itself appeared on Billboard's FM Action chart.

After "The Cube" and "Workin' in a Coalmine," Jenkins continued to run his Picap label, which released songs that he produced and often wrote for other artists, such as Steve Mantelli, who charted four minor country hits for Picap in 1982-83—two on the Billboard chart and two completely different songs on the Cash Box chart.

As a songwriter, Jenkins was prolific. He registered nearly 200 songs with ASCAP and BMI, some of which were recorded by major country artists such as Hank Williams Jr., Lynn Anderson, David Houston, Jack Greene, Sandy Posey, Del McCoury, and Cristy Lane

He also ran three music publishing companies and a production company called Inside Music City and released a self-titled album that was sold through his website Nashville Country Showcase. That site also has a number of photos of Jenkins with various country, rock, and Hollywood celebrities. 

Jenkins later became an author too, writing a children's book and a memoir about his teenage years in Beverly Hills before passing away in in 2017.

For those who lived through the early 1980s and probably didn't hear "The Cube" at the time, listening to it now is a fun reminder of the intensity of the Rubik's Cube craze as well as the brief eruption of novelty songs about games. Listen to "The Cube" below. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

New device makes Blu-rays and DVDs look like VHS?

An ad on Facebook today announced the introduction of a device that makes DVDs, Blu-rays, and UHD discs look like VHS tapes or grindhouse films, presumably by adding fake lines, scratches, and tracking errors to approximate the look of worn film reels and old videocassettes.

Don't groan yourself to death just yet—the ad was only an April Fools' Day joke.

But the idea actually seems marketable when you consider that many indie horror films are filtered to simulate the grindhouse look, many old and new indie horror films are still being released on VHS, and VHS collecting has hit the mainstream.

If you haven't been following the VHS revival, then you might be surprised to learn that VHS collecting has grown in popularity alongside the resurgence of other old physical media formats such as audio cassettes and vinyl. The cult of VHS isn't new, though; the documentaries Adjust Your Tracking (2013) and VHS Massacre (2016) examined the phenomenon years ago.

Clothing chain Urban Outfitters even got into the act by selling random five-packs of used VHS tapes for $40 each to customers who have indiscriminating taste and don't live near a thrift shop, where you can usually buy used videocassettes for a buck each.

The fictional MK1-Ultra device, by making high-quality images look worse than they really are, is essentially the opposite of the Marseille mCable Cinema Edition, which makes poor-quality images look better than they really are. This product is an HDMI cable with a built-in microprocessor that upscales standard-definition video from DVDs and 1080p video from Blu-rays so that it looks smoother and less pixelated on 4K UHD TVs. The resulting video isn't true to the source, since the microprocessor applies an algorithm that predicts and supplies missing information on the basis of the surrounding pixels, but the results are pretty convincing.

I tried out one of these hundred-dollar cables myself and was impressed by the improvement in image quality when I played DVDs. Unfortunately, the cable stopped working after 10 minutes, but it was cool while it lasted.

The idea that consumers would intentionally decrease the quality of their audio-visual content with a device like the MK1-Ultra, especially after investing in UHD technology, might seem silly, but many music fans have done something similar by ripping their 20-bit mastered CDs to 128 and 160 kbps MP3s. Granted, they do that for the sake of convenience rather than for nostalgia or to intentionally produce a particular audio effect, but who knows? Maybe MP3 nostalgia will one day lead music listeners to purposely down-res their audio for aesthetic reasons. It already happened in the 1990s with lo-fi indie rock.

I'm surprised that no one created a device like the MK1-Ultra to add the snaps, crackles, and pops of worn vinyl and the muffled playback and tape dropouts of cheap cassettes to compact discs. It could've been an audio mode on home audio amps, which would not be very different from the arena and cathedral reverb settings that some units already have.

The time for this idea has probably passed, though, since people aren't buying CDs and home audio systems the way they used to. By the time the wave of CD nostalgia hits—and it inevitably will—I assume that people will appreciate CDs for being CDs and won't want to make them sound like records or tapes anymore.