Saturday, November 15, 2014

What are "auto-generated by YouTube" music videos?

Update (March 22, 2016):

When I wrote this blog post a year and a half ago, no information about YouTube's auto-generated videos existed online. As a result, this post was part research and part speculation. Over time, some new information has come to light, but I never revisited the topic. In brief, YouTube obtains these audio tracks from digital music distribution services like CD Baby. When you sign up for CD Baby and similar sites, you're given the opportunity to choose which streaming sites (or which kinds of streaming sites) your music will be sent to. YouTube is now one of the sites where your music might end up.

When I—any many other people, apparently—signed up for these services years ago, YouTube wasn't considered a "streaming music site" like Spotify, and YouTube also wasn't creating its own videos that incorporated other people's music. So when these videos first appeared, a lot of people were surprised and even upset. To me, a site like Spotify that streams audio tracks seems different from a site that streams videos and might elect to embed your audio within a video. But regardless, YouTube has become one of the most popular sites for music listeners. If you check your CD Baby (or whatever) account, you'll see the revenue from the auto-generated YouTube videos alongside the revenue from Spotify, iTunes, etc.

I was surprised recently when I saw that several of my recordings had appeared as music videos on YouTube. All of the videos look the same: Each one, in addition to the audio of a song, includes an image of the album art and some text that provides the artist name and album title. The bare-bones descriptions that accompany the videos provide composer and copyright information and the statement "auto-generated by YouTube." What are these auto-generated music videos on YouTube, I wondered, and how are they created? 

A few years ago, YouTube introduced auto-generated channels, which are automatically created collections of videos related to specific topics. Google's support pages say that the auto-generated YouTube channels are created by algorithms that "collect trending and popular videos by topic." As with any other user channels, you can subscribe to the auto-generated channels "and stay updated on new videos" within a topic category.

YouTube has had these auto-generating channels since at least 2011, because WebProNews reported in 2012 that the channels had been around for over a year.

Auto-generated videos take the auto-generated channel concept a step further: Instead of simply compiling existing user-uploaded content by topic, YouTube is now creating the videos themselves—automatically. So far, YouTube has auto-generated videos for four of my recordings, all of which are taken from the 2014 February Records EP Way Last June.

How does YouTube select the content for these auto-generated videos?


The Google support pages say that that the auto-generated channels are "created when YouTube algorithmically identifies a topic to have a significant presence on the site." Presumably, the algorithm for creating the auto-generated videos also might be based on search terms and web traffic patterns, but not necessarily. It appears that all of the music for the auto-generated videos has been taken from Google Play, iTunes, and Amazon. 

The channel in which these music videos appear is blandly named "Various Artists – Topic," which doesn't seem like a topic that many viewers would subscribe to, but almost 500 people have subscribed to one of the two auto-generated YouTube channels that has this name. The second, identically named channel has about 50 subscribers as of this writing. The "about" section of the second channel even provides a helpful definition of the term "various artists," in case someone doesn't know what that means. 

Although a "subscribe" button appears below the name of the channel (which appears below the video), it didn't work for me. When I clicked on it, I got a message that said, "This channel is not available." I had to perform a Google search to find the landing page for the channel. It's pretty boring. It looks like something that was automatically generated.

There are now approximately a gazillion of these auto-generated videos on YouTube, many of which have received no views. The prospect of an endless proliferation of automically generated videos reminds me of the Jeff Carlson novel Plague Year, in which self-replicating, flesh-eating nanobots spread inexorably and nearly wipe out humankind. Just like these videos might do! If content is king, as Bill Gates said, then the king has become a mindless automaton.

Is it okay for YouTube to do this? 


I don't really mind that these videos of my recordings exist, but not everyone will feel the way I do. Artists could have a number of legitimate objections to the videos. For example, if artists had created or intended to create videos of their own, these auto-generated videos would compete with the official videos. Artists might also object to the design aesthetic of the videos or the song selection.

But the biggest potential issues are copyright and compensation. Artists receive no royalties from these videos, and YouTube posts the videos without permission from the copyright owners. It's strange that YouTube—which suspends users' accounts and deletes videos if it detects copyright infringement or receives complaints from copyright holders—now trawls the internet for music and posts it without permission on an increasingly massive scale. Class-action suit, anyone?

To its credit, YouTube has a program called Content ID that reportedly has paid out $1 billion to copyright holders. The Content ID program requires copyright holders to locate infringing content and then file claims in order to delete it or monetize it. It's hard to imagine that people would accept a rights-management model like this one in other areas, such as the publishing industry. What if you could reprint authors' books with impunity until they noticed it and said something?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Hula-hoop songs of 1958-59

When the hula-hoop craze took off in 1958, the ensuing marketing (and buying) frenzy was compared to the Davy Crockett craze of 1955, which had every child in the nation wearing coonskin caps. In the grip of hula-hoop mania, county fairs held hula-hoop contests, novelty toy manufacturers sold wind-up hula-hooping monkeys, and recording artists piled on with records that were designed to cash in on the public's hunger for anything related to the hula hoop. The hula-hoop craze in music lasted only a few months, but hula hoops have been a standard item in toy stores ever since.
Although hoops like the hula hoop had been around for millennia, the Wham-O toy company introduced the plastic hula hoop in the summer of 1958. The toy's name coincided with a surge of interest in Hawaiian music and reflected the similarity of hoop users' gyrating hips to those of hula dancers.

Hula hoops were an instant smash and quickly became a benchmark of success in marketing. In 1959, a number of manufacturers optimistically touted their products as "the next hula hoop." In 1960, in advertisements for Ray Bryant's hit "It's Madison Time," Columbia Records described the dance of the same name as "the biggest epidemic since the hula hoop." Rolf Harris' "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" was also advertised in 1960 as the biggest thing since the hula hoop. None of these things was as big as the hula hoop, but the claim made for good ad copy.

The highest-profile hoop records were also among the first ones to appear. Georgia Gibbs recorded "The Hula Hoop Song," which gave her one of the last Top 40 hits of her career. The song was practically an advertising jingle for hula hoops and asserted that even 110-year-old people could use them. When I interviewed Gibbs, she was dismissive of "The Hula Hoop Song." "I had no say" in recording the song, she said, and expressed a dislike of novelty material in general. (She preferred to sing ballads.) Teresa Brewer covered "The Hula Hoop Song" and siphoned off some of Gibbs' sales. In France, Billboard reported, Gibbs' record was used "as an instruction guide to using the hoops."

Betty Johnson, who'd had an earlier novelty hit with "The Little Blue Man," cut "Hoopa Hoola (With a Hula Hoop)," which referenced a number of other hit songs of the day and reached Billboard's Hot 100. Steve Allen recorded a song called "Hula Hoop" and premiered it on his NBC-TV show in a lavish choreographed production. Maureen Evans gave hoop songs a whirl with her own version of "The Hula Hoop Song" and included a cover of Johnson's "Hoopa Hoola" on the flip side for good measure. 

Pop vocal music wasn't the only genre in which hula-hoop songs could be found. Johnny McDowell and Grady Boles recorded the instrumental single "Hula-Hoop Boogie" b/w "Beat of the Hoops." The recordings were probably given those titles to capitalize on the craze rather than to reflect any real connection with hula hooping. J.D. Orr and the Lonesome Valley Boys entered the ring with a country boogie that was also titled "Hula Hoop Boogie" but was a vocal number; the lyrics said that the hula hoop was overtaking rock and roll in popularity. The Platters, an R&B group, recorded "Hula Hop," and the Frank Woharowski Orchestra served up some hula-hooping polkas on the album Hula Hoop Polka (pictured at the top of this post). David Carr Glover wrote a beginner's piano piece, "My Hula Hoop," that was sold as sheet music in 1958.

The hula-hoop craze wasn't confined to the United States, either. A number of hula-hoop songs appeared around the world in 1958. In Germany, Angèle Durand recorded a German-language version of "Hoopa Hoola" as "Hula Hopp," and rocker Ted Herold offered "Hula Rock (Roll, Rock 'n' Roll That Hula Hoop)." Austria's Hedi Prien (later a member of the Honey Twins) recorded a version of Teresa Brewer's "Hula Hoop Song" that was titled "Hula Hup." In France, Annie Cordy recorded "Houla Houp." In Finland, Olavi Virta released a two-sided hula-hoop single that included the song "Hula Hula Hula Hula Hula Hoop." And in Italy, Teddy Reno released a two-sided hoop disc that included the song "Tempo Di Hula Hoop."  

As Christmas 1958 approached, the inevitable hula-hooping holiday novelties hit the shops. The Pixies (with Thurl Ravenscroft!) had "Santa's Too Fat for the Hula Hoop," which was released in December, with Thurl providing the booming voice of Santa. In the Chipmunks' chart-topping hit "The Christmas Song," released the same month, Alvin the Chipmunk expressed his desire to receive a hula hoop for Christmas. 

The fad for hoop songs had mostly run its course by the end of the Christmas season, but a handful of hula-hoop records trickled out in early 1959. Hal Singer released "Hula Hoop Rock" on Time Records in the U.S., but most of the remaining hoop records appeared in other countries. Ana Maria cut "La Canción del Hula-Hoop," and Giorgio Gaber cut a version of "The Hula Hoop Song" for Italy. Thereafter, hula-hoop records were few and far between. Dave "Baby" Cortez released "Hula Hoop (Shoop Shoop)" in 1967, but—musically as well as thematically—it seemed like a song that had been recorded years earlier.

I can't immediately think of another popular toy that inspired such a rash of novelty songs. Neither the Slinky, the Frisbee, pet rocks, nor lawn darts made appreciable dents in popular music (although Ed's Redeeming Qualities recorded a great song about lawn darts). The actual "biggest epidemic since the hula hoop" in music would be the Twist craze, which dominated music from 1960-62 and continued to generate the occasional hit for two years thereafter.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Traits' "Nobody Loves the Hulk": An interview with Rosalind Rogoff

"Lucky is the collector today who finds a 45 copy of the obscure 1969 garage/psych record, 'Nobody Loves the Hulk' (QNS 101)," writes Mark McDermott in the book Web-Spinning Heroics: Critical Essays on the History and Meaning of Spider-Man. Music Weird recently tracked down the song's composer, Rosalind Rogoff, to find out the story behind this sought-after comic-book novelty record. 

Recorded by a band called the Traits (not Roy Head's band), "Nobody Loves the Hulk" is surprisingly well remembered when you consider that Rogoff sold it exclusively through an ad in the back of Marvel comic books, and that only a few hundred copies sold during its initial run.

A few videos of the song appear on YouTube (one of them is below), and the record is featured in Kirk Demarais' extremely entertaining book Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!. It’s also included in two anthologies of '60s psychedelic and garage rock: volume 21 of the Pebbles series and volume 4 of the Glimpses series.

The song was later recorded by at least two other bands. Swedish garage rockers the Maggots recorded it in 2006 for a single that was issued with two different sleeves, one of which is very similar to the Traits' original single. A free-jazz group, the Tight Meat Duo, recorded the song in 2007. 

The song is actually quite good for a comic-related novelty. It tells the Hulk's origin story, describes his physical appearance, and finally portrays him as a victim of the Establishment. The song even takes a subtle swipe at racism with the line "We don't allow no green skin people in here." For fans of the Hulk, it really captures the underdog status of the Hulk, whose uncontrollable rage made him more of a force of nature than a conventional superhero. The Traits' performance is great, and the overall quality of this mail-order item was much higher than that of the typical fare that was offered through comic-book advertisements, like X-Ray Spex and Sea Monkeys

Rogoff lived in New Rochelle, New York, in the late '60s and hired the Traits, a local garage band, to record the song. Around that time, the Traits also contributed a song called "High on a Cloud" to the compilation album Ran-Vell Records Presents Battle of the Bands Vol. 1. Ran-Vell was a label/studio in White Plains, New York. The album says that the Traits were from Pelham, not New Rochelle, but Pelham is only a couple of miles away from New Rochelle. The album lists the members of the Traits as:
Mike Carrol, vocals 
Don Chicherchia, guitar 
Bob Creaturo, guitar 
Jim Klieforth, organ 
Bobby Williams, drums
After giving up on the music business, Rogoff became a technical communicator and wrote a book about instructional design in the 1980s. Today she writes the blog San Ramon Observer and seems like someone I'd enjoy hanging out with if I ran into her at a Society for Technical Communication meeting. 

Music Weird's interview with Rosalind Rogoff took place between October 5-7, 2014. 

Tell us about the recording session for "Nobody Loves the Hulk."

The group that recorded the record was called "The Traits.” They were a high school garage band in New Rochelle, where I lived at that time. The high school band teacher gave me the contact info. I don’t remember the names of the guys in the band. There were five or six of them. I recorded the song at a studio in New Rochelle and the record was pressed by Capitol, which gave me the best price for 45s. 

What inspired you to create a Hulk-related novelty record? 

I was a nerd then and still am. I’m not as nerdy as the Big Bang Theory guys are, but I was very much into comics when I was in my twenties. My mother kept telling me to get rid of all the old comics I saved, so I sold them to some guys for $25. I knew they would be worth a lot more in a few years, but it made my mother happy. 

Did you sell the single only through comic book ads? 

I advertised it in Marvel Comics and had about 2,000 copies made. I sold a few hundred and donated a bunch to the Fire Department as Christmas Gifts and sold the remainder to a collectables store. Many were later found in a warehouse, but I don’t know what happened to them after that. I kept one copy for myself. It’s not terrible, but I prefer not to associate myself with it. It’s part of my unsuccessful, entrepreneurial past.

The original ad for "Nobody Loves the Hulk"

The book Mail-Order Mysteries describes the record as an "unauthorized" tribute to the Hulk. Did you get permission from Marvel to use the Hulk name and image? 

You will see credit given to Marvel on the record sleeve for permission to use the Hulk name and image. 

Did you play an instrument? If not, how did you communicate the song to the Traits? 

I wrote the music and lyrics but I didn’t play an instrument in the group. One of the guys in the Traits did the arrangement, but I don’t recall any of their names. I also recorded a song one of them wrote for them to use as a demo. I don’t have a copy of it.

The B-side was another song that you wrote called "Better Things." What's the story with that? 

“Better Things” was an anti-Vietnam war song, but could apply to any of the stupid wars we’ve had since.

"Nobody Loves the Hulk" is often categorized as a psychedelic/garage rock record. Was that the kind of record you set out to make? 

It’s certainly not psychedelic rock, or at least not on my part. I considered it a gag or novelty song and hoped it would catch on with Hulk fans and make a lot of money.

What kind of music were you listening to back then? 
I liked jazz and the great American songbook. I had a big collection of 78s of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong Hot 5 and Hot 7, Red Nichols, Benny Goodman, and Bix Beiderbecke. I wasn’t into rock at all back then. This was strictly an economic venture.

Did you know that other artists had recorded this song? 

I did not know it was ever recorded again. They [the Maggots] did a pretty faithful reproduction. My copyright expired in 1997. I didn’t renew it, so the song is probably public domain now. I received some small royalties from BMI for radio plays after I mailed copies around, mostly to college stations. I didn’t get anything after 1970. I’m not sure if I’m even still a member of BMI. I never renewed that either.


Monday, September 1, 2014

The controversy over cut-out records in the 1960s

How soon do dealers close out slow-selling albums? Billboard, 1966

In the 1960s, the only people who liked cut-out records were the so-called "graveyard merchants" who sold them and the bargain hunters who bought them. Most record labels and regular record stores hated them, and a heated debate over what to do about cut-outs raged throughout the '60s.

In the book industry, deleted titles are remaindered or stripped. In the record industry, deleted titles became cut-outs. Cut-outs took their name from the physical cut on the album cover that indicates that they are deleted titles. Over time, manufacturers also identified cut-outs by drilling holes in records, stamping a message on the covers, or cutting off a corner of the album cover. 45 RPM singles often were randomly repackaged in baggies of three and sold for cheap on racks or at point-of-purchase displays. 

Cut-out marks on LP covers
Cut-outs were sometimes called "dump" merchandise, because record labels wanted to dump this overstock on someone else. In order to dump their merchandise, labels either distributed their cut-outs to retailers along with their regular-priced titles or sold them to the dump or graveyard dealers that specialized in selling out-of-print and overstock records. These dealers often sold cut-outs through nontraditional channels, such as supermarkets and truck stops. 

Why were cut-outs controversial? Cut-outs created headaches for record labels and record stores alike, and provided abundant fodder for conspiracy theories and allegations of unfair trade practices.

One source of confusion for retailers was that cut-outs sometimes couldn't be distinguished from regular merchandise. Despite their name, cut-outs weren't always cut or otherwise marked as such. In 1961, New Jersey record retailers became angry when a distributor in Newark refused to accept returns of EPs that it claimed were cut-outs. The EPs weren't marked as cut-outs, prompting one dealer to ask, "How is a dealer to know which are cut-outs and which are not?" The distributor unhelpfully replied that retailers needed to cross-reference all of their titles with a catalog (which it sold to retailers for $10 a year) to see which titles were current.

Cut-out ads from 1980
Retailers also felt that cut-outs confused record buyers, because the cut-outs were so much cheaper than the regular-priced records. And they believed that cut-outs detracted from the sales of regular-priced merchandise by providing a low-priced alternative to newer records. It's true that cut-outs could be very cheap. In 1960, Capitol Records offered a deal in which retailers got a free cut-out for every cut-out bought at wholesale. (That same year, Capitol Records also claimed that it destroyed all of its cut-out merchandise. Label policies on cut-outs were constantly changing.) Some retailers claimed that cut-out pricing amounted to unfair trade practices, because retailers who paid full price for a given record were unfairly undersold by retailers who paid the cut-out price.

Some retailers alleged that the cut-out market allowed the labels to engage in pricing shenanigans, such as offering temporary price cuts for alleged cut-outs that were actually stock titles. One industry critic said in 1964, "It seems to me some manufacturers are manufacturing cut-outs the whole year-round." This conspiracy theory persisted, and retailers alleged throughout the '60s that the record labels would press more titles of a particular cut-out if a cut-out merchant requested more. This allegation might seem ridiculous at first, because it doesn't seem like a profitable scheme, but artists received no royalties from the sale of cut-outs. Similarly, artists received no royalties from the sale of records sold through record clubs. If the labels could profit from selling royalty-free music dirt cheap through record clubs, then it's at least conceivable that they could profit from selling royalty-free music dirt cheap through cut-out distributors.

Many retailers didn't want to sell cut-outs at all but felt that they had to sell them to compete with the "rack jobbers," the dealers who supplied records to businesses that weren't primarily in the record business, like the aforementioned truck stops and supermarkets. Some rack jobbers sold new product, but many sold cut-outs exclusively.

Record labels complained that the rack jobbers who sold new product turned everything that wasn't a current hit into a cut-out, because the rack jobbers' limited inventory led them to stock only the best-selling titles. 

Record labels also didn't like to compete with the graveyard merchants when the labels tried to sell their own cut-outs. The labels wanted to have their cake and eat it too; they wanted to recoup some of their losses and get rid of overstock by selling cut-outs for pennies to cut-out dealers but then complained when the cut-out dealers sold the cut-outs for less than the labels sold their own cut-outs directly. The whole cut-out situation was pretty ridiculous and reared its head at practically every industry meeting, such as the National Association of Record Merchandisers (NARM) conference.

Even if you didn't take into account the small inventories of the rack jobbers, who were a marginal force in the music industry (Billboard market research in the '60s showed that most music buyers weren't even aware that some supermarkets sold records), the shelf life of a record was brief in the 1960s. The chart at the top of this page, which was created from Billboard market research data in 1966, shows that nearly half of all retailers closed out slow-selling titles within six months, and many retailers closed out slow sellers even sooner than that. 

In 1963, Columbia Records ran a test for nine months in which it destroyed all of its deleted product instead of dumping it on the cut-out market. As a result of the test, Columbia claimed that the value of its current offerings had increased. Columbia also said that the absence of cut-outs eliminated the competition to its full-priced offerings and bolstered Columbia's "firm price image." Epic Records, a Columbia subsidiary, announced that it would follow Columbia's lead in destroying cut-outs.

1995 ad from a latter-day "graveyard merchant"

The plan to destroy deleted records didn't catch on or last for very long, though, and cut-outs have continued to be available to the present day. In the 1990s, I used to drive an hour to Indianapolis to browse the cut-out bins at the record store in the Castleton Mall (Coconuts?), because it had the biggest selection of cut-out CDs and laserdiscs that I'd ever seen. For a while, the store devoted a lot of shelf space to cut-outs. In 1999, the now-defunct Cyber Music Plus started as the first online store devoted to cut-outs and deleted product.

Today, labels usually avoid overstock by pressing fewer copies of CDs and LPs and then repressing the titles as needed. Print-on-demand technology eliminates the possibility of cut-outs. You can still find new remaindered CDs on Amazon, but they usually aren't cut or drilled. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Felix Garcia and His Guitar – "Chili Beans" (1959)

This "Tequila" copycat record almost became a hit in 1959. 

"Chili Beans," by Felix and His Guitar, was breaking in New York, Pittsburgh, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, according to the distributor's ad in BillboardBillboard also reported that the single was getting airplay in Oakland, California. The record made the Top 30 at WINE in Buffalo, New York, and XEAK in Tijuana, and got a bit of airplay in San Bernardino, California too. 

Credited only to "Felix and His Guitar," the record actually featured Felix Garcia, the composer of "Chili Beans." The recording was produced by Joe Saraceno, who produced the Ventures and the Marketts and is considered one of the all-time greatest producers in instro rock. ASCAP is listed as the publisher of Garcia's compositions, but the ASCAP database has no record of Garcia or his songs, so they're probably in the public domain now.

Despite all of this regional action, "Chili Beans" didn't chart nationally. It was covered by two major labels, though. The Coo-Coo Rachas, a studio group that released only one record, covered it for Capitol Records and got some airplay in Chicago.

And Boots Brown and His Blockbusters, a real group who'd had some success with the similar "Cerveza" in 1958, covered it for RCA Victor. Billboard reviewed the Boots Brown single and said that it had "a touch of the Tequila feeling." 

This competition from the majors prompted the distributor of Felix's record, Nation Wide Enterprises, to advertise its version as "the original." 

Nation Wide Enterprises distributed Aut Records, which doesn't appear to have released anything other than "Chili Beans." The ad above lists Lee (Lenora) Rupe as Nation Wide's contact person. Rupe was once married to Art Rupe of Specialty Records and used her divorce money in the late '50s to start Ebb Records, which released about 60 records, including the Hollywood Flames' hit "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz."

Garcia was identified by his full name on his other two records. In 1958—before "Chili Beans"—he recorded "Two Tacos" b/w "Summer Love" for the R-Dell label. In 1959—after "Chili Beans"—Rosco Records reissued "Two Tacos" with a different B-side, "Crazy Fingers." Billboard described "Two Tacos" as a "Latin instrumental, with danceable beat" but erroneously gave the title as "Two Tangos."

The short-lived R-Dell label, previously known as Aardell, also issued some recordings by Thurl Ravenscroft—the voice of Tony the Tiger in the Frosted Flakes cereal commercials—and Ken Curtis from the Sons of the Pioneers. In 1960, a Rosco Records issued a single by Dick Marsh, the future lead singer of the Seeds, but I don't know if it's the same Rosco that reissued "Two Tacos."

As an aside here, Dave Yorko—the lead guitarist of Johnny and the Hurricanes—recorded a tune called "Chili Beans" as Dave and the Orbits in 1965, but it's not the Felix Garcia number. (You can hear both sides of the Dave and the Orbits single here.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's a terp tempo?


If you read old Billboard magazines from the 1940s-1960s, then you'll sometimes run across the phrase terp tempo in its record reviews. 

In fact, if you Google the phrase terp tempo, almost all of the results will be from old Billboard magazines. Those old Billboard record reviews practically had their own vocabulary, and terp tempo was a bit of jargon that Billboard's anonymous reviewers liked to throw around

But what does terp tempo mean?

Terp is short for terpsichore, which refers to dancing and choreography. In short, a "good terp tempo" is a good tempo for dancing. 

In Greek mythology, Terpsichore was one of the nine muses. As the goddess of dance and chorus, she was often depicted—as in the illustration above—with a lyre. In Greek, the literal meaning of the word terpsichore is "enjoyment of dance." 

Over time, Terpsichore's name came to be synonymous with dance. The earliest example of this usage, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was in 1825. Charles Dickens, in 1865, used the phrase "Terpsichorean art." In 1869, the derivative terpsichoreal appeared. The word is rarely used today, although Wesleyan University in Connecticut has a dance program called Terpsichore

The only instance of terp tempo that I've run across outside of Billboard was a reference to a 1954 article in Variety about Perez Prado. The subtitle of the article was "Puerto Rican Terp Tempo Is Spreading." Variety was probably copying Billboard's lingo.

Here's a smattering of Billboard album and single reviews from 1946-1961 in which the phrase terp tempo is used. I could have doubled this sample if I had also included the phrases terp beat and terp rhythm. Billboard continued to use the phrase terp rhythm until 1964. 

Will Osborne – "They Say It's Wonderful" (May 4, 1946)

"Sticking to an easy terp tempo, ork furnishes smooth support for Eileen Wilson's soothing singing."


Tex Williams – "Tulsa Trot" (Feb. 17, 1951)

"Williams hands a danceable ditty his usual virile rendition while the ork maintains a fine terp tempo via swinging strings."


Bobby Smith and Orchestra – "Dash Hound Boogie" (Feb. 24, 1951)

"Smith ork essays a boogie instrumental in okay terp tempo with neat keyboard and baritone sax solos."


Bob Dewey Orchestra – "Villa" (Mar. 10, 1951)

"The Guy Lombardo-Sammy Kaye ork does the Lehar standard in smart terp tempo with soprano Sweetland giving the lyric a sweet-voiced reading."


Ramon Marquez Orchestra – "Mambo O.K." (Nov. 22, 1952)

"The ork pounds it out with verve and at a fine terp tempo." 


The Commanders – "Cornball No. 1" (July 2, 1955)

"A bouncy instrumental with an amusing theme and an okay terp tempo."

Rebo Valdez Orchestra – Hot in Haiti (Jan. 14, 1956)

"Tasteful merengue instrumental in a pleasant Latin-American ditty with a good terp tempo."


Benny Strong Orchestra – "You Call Everybody Darling" (Feb. 23, 1957)

"A danceable version of the tender oldie with catchy group vocal work by the Mellomen and a strong swingy terp-tempo."


Budd Morro  – Buddy Morrow and His Golden Trombone (Apr. 29, 1957)

"Morrow deserts his usual rock and roll dance groove on this LP, which features a group of dreamy instrumentals, spotlighting a smooth terp tempo and topflight trombone solo work by Morrow."


Guy Lombardo Orchestra – Berlin by Lombardo (Jun. 16, 1958)

"Interesting photo of bandleader on cover gives LP display value, while contents should appeal to Berlin fans and lovers of Lombardo's bouncy terp tempo." 


Eddie Platt – "Chi-Hua-Hua" (May 12, 1958)

"Eddie 'Tequila' Platt serves up another good version of the provocative instrumental theme with a solid terp tempo."


The Quarter Notes – "Record Hop Blues" (Jan. 19, 1959)

"Swinging instrumental side with fine rockin' terp tempo."


Edmundo Ros – "Shall We Dance-Conga" (Jan. 26, 1959)

"Swinging congo-tempo version of the 'King and I' standard. Interesting jockey side with infectious terp tempo."


Alden & the One Nighters – "Theme from Love-O-Meter" (Mar. 30, 1959)

"Raucous rocker-instrumental with eerie space music effects and good terp tempo." 


Gloria Matancera – The Soul of Cuba (Mar. 7, 1960)

"The group (trumpets, rhythm section and vocalists) features and easy terp tempo and play Guajiras, San Montimas, Guaraches and Guaguagances all with a cha cha or mambo beat."


Strangers – "Young Maggie" (Mar. 14, 1960)

"Lively rocking instrumental version of 'When You and I Were Young Maggie,' with a solid terp tempo."


Tony Pastor – Let's Dance with Tony Pastor and His Orchestra (Sep. 5, 1960)

"The veteran ork leader provides bouncy, verveful treatments of listenable oldies — all with a bright terp tempo, with pleasant vocal stints by Pastor's son Guy and Beth Harmon." 


Andy Rose – "The Bootie Green" (Dec. 4, 1961)

"Showmanly chanting by Rose on bouncy rocker with solid terp tempo." 


Donnie Charles – "Jumpsville, U.S.A." (Dec. 25, 1961)

"Exuberant reading by Charles and group on a happy, rocking tune with lively terp tempo."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Radio's singing canaries craze of the 1920s-1950s

From the 1920s through the 1950s, radio stations across the country aired "singing canaries" programs. These shows featured canaries—the actual birds—singing over organ music or orchestral music. 

The show that started the craze was American Radio Warblers, a program that was created by Arthur C. Barnett of the Chicago ad agency Weston-Barnett Inc. for American Bird Products, which sold birdseed. The program featured organist Preston Sellers performing with 10 canaries who were billed as the "original feathered stars of the air." The "air," of course, referred to the radio airwaves, not the troposphere in which wild birds fly.  

In 1952, Sales Management magazine summarized the history of the show:
Twenty-odd years ago a Chicago advertising man landed a birdseed account, and got an idea—a radio program of singing canaries with organ music. It's still going over Mutual, coast-to-coast. Like other radio stars, these canaries take time out in summer—that's their molting season. 
The Wikipedia article on American Radio Warblers says that the program ran from 1937 to 1952, but Broadcasting magazine reported in 1948:
Singing canaries of the American Radio Warblers 15-minute Sunday afternoon show on MBS, under sponsorship of American Bird Products Co. (Bird Seed), Chicago, returned to air Oct. 31 for its 22nd consecutive year.
If Broadcasting is correct, then the show began in 1926.

The American Radio Warblers crossed over from radio to recording with a series of phonograph records that were produced and distributed by Barnett. One of these records, "Skaters Waltz," can be heard in the video link above. Barnett didn't restrict his efforts to the canary; he also released a bird-related instructional record, How to Teach Your Parrakeet to Talk, in 1951.

Singing canaries programs quickly became ubiquitous on the radio. In 1946, the book The First Quarter-Century of American Broadcasting remarked that singing canaries programs appeared "over too many stations to be listed here, affording hours of delightful entertainment to millions, particularly shut-ins."

One of the copycat programs that appeared in the wake of American Radio Warblers was called The American Warblers, a Sunday-morning show on Chicago radio that featured organist Edna J. Sellers.

At WWDC in Washington DC, morning man Art Brown played traditional and popular tunes on the organ to the accompaniment of singing canaries. Sam Smith claims that Brown could control when the canaries sang "because they would only warble in the key of A flat."

John B. Gambling's morning show on WOR in New York, which ran from 1925-1959, featured singing canaries and the orchestra of Vincent Sorey. Gambling's popular radio show was turned into a television program on WOR-TV, Get-Together with Gambling, in the late 1940s. A Billboard review of the TV show complimented Gambling's "blandly paternal" manner but said, "Talentwise...the show was literally for the birds. Gambling's telegenic aviary showed far more sales-savvy than the humans on the bill."

Hartz Mountain Products, an animal products company that later became known for its flea collars, sponsored a 15-minute singing canaries program called Master Radio Canaries on WGN in Chicago. Like the American Radio Warblers, the Master Radio Canaries (sometimes billed as the Hartz Mountain Master Canaries) also appeared on phonograph records. You can hear one of their recordings in the video link below.

The singing canaries programs appear to have died out in the 1950s, but if anyone knows of any examples that ran for longer, let me know in the comments.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The first use of drums on the Grand Ole Opry

In its September 30, 1967, issue, Billboard reported that "a full set of drums was used on the 'Grand Ole Opry' for the first time in history" when Jerry Reed performed the previous week. (Billboard also misspelled drummer Willie Ackerman's name.) But was Reed really the first?

For decades, the Opry famously refused to allow performers to use drums, and many artists over the years have been credited with being the first to bring drums to the Opry.

The no-drums rule adversely affected country artists who added rock and pop elements to their music in the late 1950s, which many artists did to remain commercially viable as traditional country waned in popularity. When they performed these crossover country songs on the Opry, they were forced to sound more traditional than they really were.

The rule also adversely affected rock and rockabilly performers who appeared on the Opry. When Carl Perkins' rock 'n' roll classic "Blue Suede Shoes" became a hit on the pop, R&B, and country charts in 1955, he was invited to perform it on the Opry but wasn't allowed to use drums. 

Today, Music Weird will look at some of the artists who claim to be—or are claimed to be—the first to use drums at the Opry. 

Bob Wills (1944)


The Billboard reporter who wrote about Jerry Reed apparently forgot that Bob Wills used a drummer on the Opry in 1944. Western swing star Bob Wills was scheduled to appear on the Opry for the first time on December 30, 1944, and was told that the Opry didn't allow drums. Wills told the Opry that he would perform with drums or not at all, so the Opry allowed his band to go on with its drummer. 

Richard Carlin's book Country Music: A Biographical Dictionary, says that Wills' drummer used only a snare drum and was forced to stand behind a curtain. But Charles Townsend's book San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob Wills says in a footnote:
The story has been told that Wills agreed to hide his drums behind the curtain before the Opry officials would allow him to use them. According to Bob and Betty Wills and every musician I have interviewed who was present that night, the story is not true: the drums and horns were "out in the open."

Pee Wee King/Harold "Sticks" McDonald (194?)


Pee Wee King is also said to have used drums at the Opry in the 1940s, but accounts vary on whether he followed or preceded Bob Wills, and whether the drummer was made to stand behind a curtain or not. The All-Music Guide to Country's entry on Pee Wee King says that he "introduced electric instruments, drums, and horns to the notoriously conservative Grand Ole Opry."

Grand Ole Opry historian Byron Fay wrote about Pee Wee King's experience with using drums on the Opry and about this business of hiding drums behind a curtain:
They used the drums for a couple of weeks but were not allowed to announce on the radio that they were using them. After those couple of weeks, George D. Hay told Pee Wee to take the drums home and to leave them there. In a final comment regarding drums, Bud Wendell was quoted in 1985 as saying, "That story about hiding drums behind a curtain is just one of those tales around here. As long as we remained at the Ryman, though, we never used anything other than just a standing snare drum. But that had as much to do with space restrictions as with the purity of country music. You just couldn't fit a whole set of drums on the stage at the Ryman; it just wasn't that big."

The Everly Brothers (1957)


The Everly Brothers' booking agency claims that the Everly Brothers, in 1957, were the first to use drums on the Opry and that the Everlys are credited with introducing drums to Nashville. That's a lofty claim. The Everlys appeared on the Opry in 1957 to perform their hit "Bye Bye Love," which topped the country chart and was covered by country star Webb Pierce.

Carl Smith/Buddy Harman (1959)


Carl Smith, far left; Buddy Harman, center

In the early '50s, Carl Smith—who is seen as a traditionalist today—was one of the first country artists to feature a full drum kit in his band. His drummer, Buddy Harman, became one of the top session drummers in Nashville. Bluegrass Drummer claims that Harman "became the first regular drummer on the Opry in 1959."

Johnny Horton (1959)



I've read that Johnny Horton was granted an exception to the Opry's no-drum rule when he appeared to perform "The Battle Of New Orleans," which was one of the biggest hits of 1959 and prominently features a snare drum. I can't remember where I read it, though. Maybe in the book that came with Horton's Bear Family box set 1956-1960?

Johnny Cash/W.S. "Fluke" Holland (195?)


Johnny Cash and W.S. "Fluke" Holland

The Las Vegas Sun claimed that Johnny Cash's drummer, W.S. "Fluke" Holland, was the first drummer to use a full drum kit on the Opry, presumably in the 1950s, but the article is vague. Holland's website makes the same claim. 

Jerry Reed/Willie Ackerman (1967) 


Willie Ackerman

See the excerpt from Billboard at the beginning of this post.

Hal Durham (1974+)


Colin Escott's book The Grand Ole Opry: The Making of an American Icon claims that Hal Durham, who managed the Opry from 1974 to 1993, was the first to allow a full drum kit on the Opry: "He was the first to allow a full drum kit on the Opry stage," the book says. But elsewhere in the book, Escott writes that Pee Wee King "probably introduced guitar and drums to the Opry stage." Maybe King had a snare and Durham allowed a full kit, but the Billboard article above says that Jerry Reed used a full kit in 1967. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wimp Factor 14: A retrospective and interview with Frank Boscoe

Pittsburgh's Wimp Factor 14 was included in the final Trouser Press book,The Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock. It said that the band "mixes basic strum-pop with interesting instrumental touches (melodica, toy ukulele, zither, plastic bucket drums and so forth) to achieve an unusually inviting sound." I was obsessed with the Trouser Press back then, but that's not where I heard of Wimp Factor 14.

I mail-ordered the band's sole album, Ankle Deep, from Harriet Records when it came out in 1993. I had never heard anything by Wimp Factor 14; I just liked their name and was interested in Harriet Records, because I had (and still have) the early Magnetic Fields singles on Harriet. Also, the Ajax Records catalog described Wimp Factor 14 as "chamber pop," a term that was sometimes used to describe to the Go-Betweens. I was a huge Go-Betweens fan, so I hoped that Wimp Factor 14 would sound something like them. 

Wimp Factor 14 didn't sound much like the Go-Betweens, but I liked them anyway. There is a kind of brainy, ramshackle indiepop that comes out of the northeast US, and WF14 is an example of that, like Winter Vacation and Pants Yell!

The members of Wimp Factor 14 on Ankle Deep included Kate Glicksberg; Gary Miklusek, who played with Tullycraft; Joelle Levitt, who played in the B-3's; Rob Washburn; and Frank Boscoe. Boscoe went on to form the Vehicle Flips and then the Gazetteers. Rob Christiansen of the Eggs produced Ankle Deep, and the Eggs recorded WF14's song "Rebuilding Europe" for their 1994 album Teenbeat 96 Exploder.

In addition to the one album, Wimp Factor 14 cut a handful of singles and compilation tracks, most of which are included on the anthology The Bric-a-Brac

Today Music Weird talks to Frank Boscoe about this great little band.

How did Wimp Factor 14 come about?

It was a bunch of friends from Carnegie Mellon with ties to the campus radio station, WRCT.


I bought Ankle Deep because I liked the band name. What do you think were the ups and downs of that name?

On the whole, I think it is best to avoid band names grabbed from the day’s headlines [see image below]. That said, I think “The Right to Be Forgotten” would be a good band name.

That reminds me, while the band was active, there was a newspaper story with the headline “Donny Osmond Battles the Wimp Factor,” which could have made for some outstanding album cover art.


Harriet Records had a pretty well-defined aesthetic. Did you find Harriet or did Harriet find you?

I knew Tim Alborn even before I was in a band. I had a fanzine called Cubist Pop Manifesto, and Tim had a fanzine called Incite!, and we became pen pals. As a wedding present, I gave him a song I recorded with Karl Hendricks, which much later made it onto a Harriet compilation. 

Did you feel like you were part of a scene there?

I did think our shows in Boston, both with Wimp Factor 14 and later Vehicle Flips, were among the best I ever had. It was great playing with the Magnetic Fields, Twig and its several related bands, and, later, Prickly. I believe I played in Boston every year from 1990-1997. I can confirm this; I have a list of all the shows I ever played, but it’s on a different computer. 

[Note: There were four Wimp Factor 14 shows in Boston, all at the Middle East: June 1991 with Unrest, Love Battery, and Crazy Alice; December 1991 with Magnetic Fields and Cul de Sac; June 1992 with Crayon, Lotus Eaters, and Naked Lunchbox; and October 1993 with Tiger Trap, Spinanes, and Lotus Eaters.]

The CD version of Ankle Deep had elaborate nontraditional packaging. Was it a pain to put it all together? Did the packaging affect the album's commercial prospects?  

Most of the credit for the packaging should go to Kate Glicksberg and Rob Washburn. Well, I guess I wrote most of the words in the booklet. Kate was a design major and really knew what she was doing. 

If anything, it probably helped sales. Stores couldn’t put it in the usual bins, so some of them put it by the register with other oddities. The really remarkable thing is that a band like Wimp Factor 14 could sell 1,000 albums plus another 500 or so via the German vinyl release and be considered inconsequential. These days, the benchmark for success on a label like Jigsaw is 50 copies. It is mind-boggling.

CDs often had bonus tracks, but the Ankle Deep LP on Little Teddy has bonus tracks that weren't on the CD: "Change of Address Kit" from the ...One Last Kiss compilation, and "Sick Building Syndrome." Were they album outtakes? How did they end up on the LP? 

They were songs that Andy Freiberger from Little Teddy liked and wanted to include. “Change of Address Kit” made some sense, because it got to be one of our better-known songs since that compilation did so well. “Sick Building Syndrome,” less so. Both songs were taken from the session that generated the last two singles ("Botch" and "Miracle Mile"), not the Ankle Deep session.

I remember that the Ajax Records catalog described Wimp Factor 14 as "chamber pop." How would you describe the band? Did you try to sound like anyone? 
With Wimp Factor 14, we had all—except for Gary—been DJs at WRCT for three or four years, so we were well-steeped in the indie sound circa 1990. Our record collections didn’t necessarily overlap all that much, though. But unless you are explicitly, consciously trying to emulate some particular sound—which some bands do, of course—I think you just end up with a hybrid of what everyone brings with them, not only based on tastes but also on the gear you have as well as your playing ability, even where you are able to rehearse. The end result is still likely going to sound like something familiar and recognizable, but still distinctive. 

I think this relates to how rock/punk/indie is still the default programming on college radio 25 years later, and all of the more narrowly defined specialty shows are still the same narrowly defined specialty shows. There are endless combinatorial possibilities.

Wimp Factor 14 toured with Crayon. What was the tour like? 

It was actually the only tour I ever had. Everything else was just a long weekend. Even the tour with Crayon was pretty short: two weeks. We had a show all but one day, and relatively short drives for the most part, thanks to the great booking of Vicky Wheeler, who would go on to found Autotonic. We got as far west as Iowa. We got to be good friends with Crayon—Gary Miklusek, of course, would later be in Tullycraft—and rode in each other’s vehicles for variety’s sake. 

Crayon had an old VW camper van that required leaded fuel; we had an ordinary sedan with the gear in a clamshell on top. Given that limited capacity, we necessarily borrowed a lot of things. During the longest drive, which I think was Pittsburgh to Richmond, we tried to identify the 64 colors in a standard box of crayons. As I recall, the one we never got was orchid; Jeff from Crayon insisted there was a color called “smoke.” 

During our one night off we got to see Jonathan Richman in Bethlehem, PA. We kept meticulous accounting, and at the end had a net profit of $4: $1 each. 

What were some of your most notable successes with Wimp Factor 14?

Getting included in the Trouser Press Record Guide was possibly our biggest claim to fame, and a big deal for me personally, as in high school this was my bible. We almost got to tour Europe, supporting the Chrysanthemums for a few weeks, but the details were always vague and never quite materialized. I couldn’t convince Gary or Rob to buy tickets, but Kate and Joelle were up for it, and the three of us did end up playing three shows in Germany, thanks to Andy Freiberger, though only one of these was a real show. The other two were more like parties. 

And then you formed Vehicle Flips? Which didn't sound extremely different from WF14.... 

After this experience I was kind of burned out and decided something different was in order, though, as you point out, it wasn’t that much different.

I also wanted to add that we came up with something with the band Eggs that I believe rates a tiny footnote in the annals of music. I was thinking a lot about how set changes were so slow and inefficient. In a world of 35-minute sets, 20 minutes between bands soaks up a lot of time. Of course, that ratio is good for the audience to converse and buy drinks, so maybe it wasn’t even a problem. Anyhow, one way around this was to have one band’s last song be the next band’s first song. Presuming that amps and drum kits are being shared, players could leave and be replaced one by one while the song continued. We selected the song “Hydroplane” by Unrest because it is one chord and can be played as long as necessary. We managed this twice: once with Wimp Factor 14 first, once with Eggs first. I doubt if any recording exists. We weren’t very good at documenting ourselves beyond through the records.

Do you have any band photos? Few photos of Wimp Factor 14 seem to exist.

I asked Kate if she had any unpublished photos. She reminded me of the photos taken during the Ankle Deep recording, which coincided with one of the larger snowstorms to ever hit DC in our lifetimes. There are some great images of us during heavy snowfall. She said they would be in her mom’s basement, so it could be a while until they are found, but eventually we’ll get something to you. As for video, I don’t know of any at all. It’s true that camcorders weighed 10 pounds back then, but that didn’t stop every other band. What were we thinking? 


Train Song 7" (Harriet 005, 1991)
  • Train Song // I'll Send You a Postcard

Botch 7" (Harriet 015, 1992)
  • Botch // Bog / Elvis (actually "Blue Moon of Kentucky")

One for the Record Books 7" (Four Letter Words FLW 006, 1993)
  • One for the Record Books / Rebuilding Europe

Vault 7" (Harriet Records 023, 1993)
  • Infotainted / Miracle Mile

Ankle Deep CD (Harriet Records SPY 1, 1993)
  • Jittery and Wobbling / The Heart of My Stupefaction / I Is for Incomplete / Steam Rolling, But It Wasn't Steam Rolling / How to Avoid Losing Small Objects / Stationery from Work / (It's Okay to Work For) Rockwell International / Role Model Glue / Ankle of Repose / Tale of the Loophole Guy / Stratego / Holiday Park Flyer / 1993 Comeback Player of the Year / Adjustment 

Ankle Deep LP (Little Teddy BiTe003, 1993)
  • All of the tracks from the CD plus "Change of Address Kit" and "Sick Building Syndrome" 

The Bric-a-Brac (No label; CD-R compilation of singles and stray tracks)
  • I'll Send You a Postcard / Rebuilding Europe / Botch / Infotainted / Good Morning to You / Train Song / One for the Record Books / Bog / Miracle Mile / Ginko / Elvis (actually "Blue Moon of Kentucky") / Deep from the Ankle

Compilation appearances

...One Last Kiss (spinART spart-1, 1992)
  • Includes Wimp Factor 14's "Change of Address Kit"

He Didn't Even Draw a Fish on My Shower Curtain (Mermaid MIRABELL 001, 1992)
  • Includes Wimp Factor 14's "Sick Building Syndrome"

A Tribute to Daniel Johnston Vol. 1 EP (Little Teddy LiTe707)
  • Includes Wimp Factor 14's version of "Good Morning You"

Candybars (Little Teddy LiTe 728, 1995)
  • Includes Wimp Factor 14's "Hibachi"