Friday, September 26, 2014

Pig Latin in music

What influence has Pig Latin, the children's language game, had on popular music, you ask? 

Not much, but a little more than none. Jazz vocalist Anita O'Day took her last name from the Pig Latin word for "dough." In Wikipedia's article on Pig Latin, the "in popular culture" section lists a few songs that are sung in Pig Latin. Some songs have "Pig Latin" in the title, like Todd Rhodes and LaVern Baker's "Pig Latin Blues," but aren't sung in Pig Latin.

Today on Music Weird, we'll survey almost 50 years' worth of songs that feature singing in Pig Latin.

Nellie Lutcher – "Pig-Latin Song" (1947)


This song registered on Billboard's "race" chart in 1948 when it appeared as the B-side of Lutcher's "Fine Brown Frame." In a review, Billboard said, "Nellie imparts [her] own peculiar vocal pattern to her own tune." Maybe it's the poor audio of the video, but Lutcher's vocal performance seems very weak to me here. 




Johnnie & Jack – "Pig Latin Serenade (Pa Won't Know and Ma Won't Care)" (1953)

On "Pig Latin Serenade," Billboard wrote, the "duo gets together on Pig Latin clambake. Could be an attention-getting gimmick." I used to use a weird Johnnie & Jack instrumental, "Yeah," as the theme of my rockabilly radio show on WFHB-FM.

Lead Belly – "Pig Latin Song" (1953) 

Lead Belly recorded this song more than once. 



Johnny Brooks – "Pig Latin" (1960) 

No audio for this one. "Pig Latin" was the B-side of Brooks' "Help Me Somebody."



Bob Luman – "The Pig Latin Song" (1961)

"The Pig Latin Song," the B-side of Luman's "The Great Snowman," was also recorded by Holland's Magic Strangers in 1964. This might be the best-known Pig Latin song. Bob Luman had a some pop hits as a rocker in the early '60s (including the Top 3 hit "Let's Think About Living") and then notched a lot of country hits in the late '60s and 1970s.


Zoom – "Ig-pay Atin-lay" (1977)

The cast of the television children's show Zoom cut an album, Playgrounds, in 1977 that includes a song in pig Latin, "Ig-pay Atin-lay." No audio sample.


The Hemmer Ridge Mountain Boys – "Red Neck Mother (in Pig Latin)" (1977)

This record is a version of Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Red Neck Mother" sung in Pig Latin. YouTube has a video of Wrecks Bell performing this version live.  



Ben Stiller – "The Pig Latin Lover" (1990)

Even if you're not a fan of Ben Stiller, you have to admit that this is impressive, especially when he gets to "American Pie." Taken from Stiller's sketch comedy show, The Ben Stiller Show, this sketch parodies those old television ads for records, like the ads for Slim Whitman's albums.




Mr. T Experience – "Pig Latin" (1990)

From their album Making Things with Light. You can hear a sound sample here.  


Black Maddness – "Igpay Atinlay" (1993)

Features rapping in Pig Latin.



Dillinger Escape Plan – "Pig Latin" (2002)

Some hardcore in Pig Latin. 

Bonus track: Louis Jordan – "Ofay and Oxford Gray" (1945)


This song about racial harmony uses the word "ofay," a derogatory African-American term for white people. The origin of the word is unclear, but one popular theory is that it originates from the Pig Latin word for "foe." Whether or not "ofay" is Pig Latin, it's the only (potentially) Pig Latin word in this song.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Mary Had a Steamboat" AKA "Miss Susie"

The cover of Alf Danielson's "Mary Had a Steamboat" single

"Miss Susie" is a schoolyard rhyme like "Bang Bang Lulu," "Miss Lucy Had a Baby," and Benny Bell's "Shaving Cream" that uses a crafty rhyme scheme to make listeners expect swear words that the song humorously fails to deliver. I learned this song in the 1970s as "Mary Had a Steamboat."

The Wikipedia article on "Miss Susie" provides lyrics that were collected from different states at different points in time, and all of the versions are different from the version I heard in Muncie, Indiana, in the 1970s. In these many versions, the lyrics of "Miss Susie," "Miss Lucy Had a Baby," and "Bang Bang Lulu" are often jumbled together. Here's the version that I learned: 

Mary had a steamboat
The steamboat had a bell
Mary pulled the wrong cord
And blew us all to hell-

O, operator
Give me number nine
If you disconnect me
I'll kick your behind

The 'frigerator
There is a piece of glass
Mary sat upon it
And cut her little

Ask me no more questions
I'll tell you no more lies
The boys are in the bathroom
Playing with their

Flies are in the city
Fleas are in the park
Boys and girls are kissing in the
D-A-R-K dark 

This rhyme was archaic even in the 1970s. Its references to steamboats and switchboard operators were ones that I recognized only from black-and-white movies and television shows. Even as a kid, I questioned Mary's ability to sit on a piece of glass that was behind the refrigerator.

As a kid, I was also struck by what I perceived as the sentimental final couplet. After all of these almost-dirty jokes and unpleasant images of things blowing up and people getting cut, the rhyme ends with boys and girls kissing in the park. That couplet made the song seem almost profound. The song seemed to be saying: Despite all of these trials and tribulations, love goes on. At least, that's how I interpreted it, but I was a sentimental kid. 

I don't know how far back this rhyme goes, but folklorists have collected it throughout North America from the beginning of the 20th century. "Bang Bang Lulu" seems to be derived from a British rhyme called "Bang Bang Rosie," so it may be even older than the others. In 1925, The Catalina Islander newspaper in Avalon, California, ran a poem by a 9- or 10-year-old kid that included references to Mary and her steamboat. 

These songs—"Miss Susie" and "Bang Bang Lulu"— were largely confined to the schoolyard, but a number of recorded versions exist. Emilie Autumn recorded a version of "Miss Susie" called "Miss Lucy Had Some Leeches" that was included on her 2007 anthology A Bit o' This & That. Doug Clark & the Hot Nuts recorded "Bang Bang Lou Lou" for their 1963 album On Campus, and Lloyd Terrell recorded a reggae version in 1968. Here's the Doug Clark recording: 

And here's a much older version—from 1936—by Roy Acuff, recorded under the name Bang Boys. It's called "When Lulu's Gone." 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Radio's first filibuster" gave Art Mooney an unlikely hit in 1948

The story of Art Mooney's 1948 hit "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover" is one in which a disc jockey's ridicule inadvertently turned a record into one of the biggest hits of the year. 

The 1940s and '50s were a time when personality disc jockeys could make or break a record; these deejays were tastemakers who could turn even old and obscure records into current hits. Al "Jazzbo" Collins was one such disc jockey. His Jazzbo Jamboree was broadcast from Salt Lake City, Utah's KNAK beginning in 1946. 

Collins was a zany character who pulled many promotional stunts in his career. He used to broadcast from a barber's chair, he once participated in a public wrestling match with a rival disc jockey, and he even cut a few records of his own: some children's singles and a 1967 album for Impulse!, A Lovely Bunch of Al Jazzbo Collins and the Bandidos. The album title refers to his early '60s television show, The Al Collins Show, on which he would force his celebrity guests to don a Mexican bandit costume and say to the camera, "I don't got to show you no stinkin' badges!" If you're familiar with that phrase, then you can thank Collins for helping to popularize it.

In 1948, while Collins was still at KNAK in Salt Lake City, MGM Records sent him a promo copy of the new Art Mooney record, "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover." This old-fashioned recording features the banjo of Mike Pingitore, who had previously played with Paul Whiteman, on a tune from 1927 that was associated with Al Jolson. Mooney's recording also has a mixed choir that sings in unison, not harmony, like a community sing-along. It's a pretty goofy record. 

"Collins's short-fused temper exploded because such a disk was sent to an established jazz deejay,"  Arnold Shaw wrote in his 1974 book The Rockin' 50s. Collins proceeded to play the record for hours while ranting about it and ridiculing it. 

Billboard reported on the stunt, describing Collins's act as "radio's first filbuster" and "a heroic effort" to sink Mooney's record. The stunt backfired though, and the show turned into—as Billboard put it—"chaos" and a "clambake for the hapless Collins."

Collins expected his jazz listeners to join him in protesting MGM's ridiculous offering, but instead, Billboard wrote, "phone calls poured in from pleased listeners who added insult to Collins's injury by praising him 'for playing something good for a change.'" 

The show reached a crescendo with Collins broadcasting his callers' "delighted screams," and then the police got involved somehow. Afterward, Collins said, in reference to his misguided listeners, "I never knew they were so square!"

The stunt helped to stoke an interest in Mooney's tune that spread across the nation. The record went to #1 on the Billboard pop chart and became one of the 10 biggest hits of 1948. Many competing versions were released, some of which charted. Russ Morgan, Alvino Rey, and the Three Suns had versions that reached the Top 10. Versions by the Uptown String Band and Arthur Godfrey just missed the Top 10, peaking at #11 and #14, respectively. In Australia, a version by George Trevare topped the pop chart. 

Apparently unbeknownst to Collins, the real instigator of this "Four Leaf Clover" revival was not Art Mooney but the Uptown String Band. The Uptown String Band was a long-running ensemble that started performing at Philadelphia's Mummers Parade in 1938. 

In 1947, the group released a recording of "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover" on the independent Krantz label. When the record started to make some noise, Mercury Records picked it up for national release, and the cover versions—including Art Mooney's—began to pile on. Krantz advertised the Uptown String Band's version as "the original" and billed itself as "the originators of the country's best selling string band records," but to no avail. Mooney's version, with an inadvertent assist from Jazzbo Collins, soared to the top of the chart.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hezie Johnson, an American original

Hezie Johnson is ready to tour the world in his 1931 Rolls Royce, according to this 1973 ad in Billboard magazine. Who is Hezie Johnson, you ask? He was an ambitious country singer from Spartanburg, South Carolina, who released a total of one record, which has captured the imaginations of literally dozens of collectors of oddball private-label country recordings. 

"Muddy Mississippi River" b/w "Wedding Bells Are Ringing in My Dream World" was released on Hezie's own Hezie Johnson Record Co. and is a real humdinger, as they used to say. Hezie had a great hillbilly voice, kind of like a mumbling Wayne Raney, but Hezie was on his own plane, musically speaking. He rushes through his unmetrical lyrics apparently oblivious to the rhythm of the band playing behind him. Hezie's singing and the Shaggs' drumming share a certain aesthetic.

"Wedding Bells" unexpectedly changes from a song to a recitation and back again. Dick Spottswood played this song on his popular country music radio show last year. 

Hezie's Billboard ad said, "Thousands and Thousands of Records sold Coast to Coast," but it isn't clear if those sales figures were for Hezie's record or for Echo Hill Music Promotion Co.'s records. The only other record I know of that Echo Hill Music Promotion promoted was Tommy Barnes' country remake of Tommy Sands' 1957 pop hit "Going Steady," on Big 5 Records out of Hickory, South Carolina. Big 5 was affiliated with Hickory's Southern Sounds Studio, which also recorded and/or released records by Billy Napier and gospel singer Randy Miller. (Was Tommy Barnes the same Tommy Barnes who co-wrote Tim McGraw's hit "Indian Outlaw"? Was Billy Napier the same Bill Napier from the Stanley Brothers who partnered with Charlie Moore?)

Someone must have been buying Hezie's record, because he ran an ad the following year in The Spartanburg Herald to thank everyone who bought it. The ad also posed the rhetorical question, "If a man, a dog and a bird can get along, why can't everybody?" Kind of a non sequitur, but that was part of the Hezie Johnson mystique.

John "Hezie" Johnson died in 2009, and you can read his obituary here. It includes a latter-day photo of Hezie (below). Hezie was born in 1941, so he was about 30 years old when he waxed "Muddy Mississippi River." He apparently remained in Spartanburg all his life.

The endearing thing about Hezie's short recording career was his audacious promotional campaign. Photographs of a dapper Hezie standing next to Cadillacs and Rolls Royces projected an image of the success to which he aspired. Pronouncements of his readiness to tour the word reflected the wishful wanderlust of a small-town boy who dreamed of making it big as a country singer. 

Hezie's two recordings are available on Hello Hell, a fan-made compilation of offbeat country singles that features a few known artists and a number of weird vanity singles.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sure Records of New Jersey: A discography

I recently wrote a post on Joan Rivers' obscure comedy record "Adam and Eve," which was released on Linden, New Jersey's Sure Records label around 1960-61. I couldn't find a complete or accurate discography for this label, so I created one.

An ongoing source of confusion about Sure Records is that two labels by that name existed less than 100 miles from each other. The Sure Records at 20 East Elizabeth Ave. in Linden, New Jersey, operated in care of G&S Productions, and George Stalter—presumably the G and/or S of G&S Productions—arranged, conducted, and/or co-wrote many of the label's releases. Many of the songs on the label were published by Candasa Music. An hour and a half away in Broomall, Pennsylvania, a different Sure Records was run by Leonard "Len" Rosen's Sure Music and Record Company. Rosen also ran Cedargrove Records. I'm going to refer to the two labels henceforth as NJ Sure and PA Sure.

Rosen's PA Sure label released the Virtues' 1959 hit "Guitar Boogie Shuffle" and a number of Mummers Parade recordings by string bands such as the Aqua String Band. The label was active through the 1960s; Billboard reported in 1967 that this Sure was starting to market 7-inch LPs for jukeboxes. 

Stalter's NJ Sure label issued a handful of pop recordings by Bobby Valo, Julie Stevens, the Hollywood Playboys, and the Fascinations, and appears to have ended its run circa 1960-61 with the Joan Rivers record.

How can we be sure that these were two different labels? It's certainly bizarre that two labels named Sure existed so close to each other, but they had different addresses, different label designs, different artists, and different distributors. (The NJ Sure was distributed by Adonis Records, and some of the PA Sure records were distributed by Mercury Records.) The two labels issued releases concurrently, and their catalog numbers don't line up with each other. 

NJ Sure used a plain blue label after its first release, which had a black label, and the logo changed from cursive to block letters after a few releases. The PA Sure labels often pictured a rocket or an archery target and came in many colors. 

Billboard listed NJ Sure as a new label in its May 18, 1959 issue, but the label had existed since 1957, when it released the Golden Bells' "Bells Are Ringing." Billboard itself had reviewed NJ Sure's Bobby Valo single three months earlier in its February 9, 1959 issue.

The PA Sure label was incorporated on March 5, 1959. Its principle place of business was registered as Philadelphia, but many of its records bore a Broomall address. Also in 1959, Rosen incorporated Sure Music Talent, Inc., at his Broomall address. This company booked string bands for the Mummers Parade.

I can only guess why these two labels tolerated having another label in the area that went by the same name. NJ Sure existed first and released one single in 1957, but it doesn't seem to have done anything else until nearly two years later, which was the same year that PA Sure was incorporated. When NJ Sure reactivated with its Bobby Valo single, George Stalter was heavily involved, but he doesn't appear to have been involved in the Golden Bells record from 1957. Even though the address on the label of the Golden Bells record is 20 East Elizabeth Ave. in Linden—the same as G&S Productions—I'm guessing that this single was not issued by George Stalter. Maybe Stalter took over that location and label in 1958 or early 1959?

S-1001/1002 The Golden Bells – "Bells Are Ringing" b/w "Pretty Girl"

The blog Doo-Wop has a post on the Golden Bells. You can listen to "Bells Are Ringing" here. Jerry Osborne's 1998 book The Official Guide to the Money Records valued this single at $1,500. 

 S-103 Bobby Valo – "Hey Lover Girl" b/w "With All the Love I Have" 

Notice that the catalog numbers went from S-1001/S-1002 to S-103. These songs, like many songs on Sure NJ, were published by Candasa Music and were co-written by George Stalter. Stalter co-wrote "Hey Lover Girl" with someone named Gottfried. It might have been Joe Gottfried of New York's Adonis Records, which was NJ Sure's distributor. Billboard spelled his name variously as Gottfried and Gotterfried. The ASCAP database has no record of any George Stalter songs.

Billboard's February 9, 1959 review 

S-104 Julie Stevens – "Don't Worry About Me" b/w "Please Forgive, Please Forget" 

Stevens' single was released about a year after Valo's. The publisher of the A side, Mills Music, ran an ad for the single in Billboard's March 7, 1960 issue. That might be why Billboard reviewed the single the following month! Mills Music was a huge ASCAP firm that represented famous songwriters such as Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, and Leroy Anderson.

Billboard's April 11, 1960 review

Mills Music's Billboard ad from March 7, 1960



S-105 The Hollywood Playboys – "Ding, Dong, School Is Out" b/w "Talk to Audrey" 

This record saw some regional action. The A side reached the Top 15 at WNDR in Syracuse and received some airplay at KFXM in San Bernadino, California. The blog White Doo-Wop Collector has a post about the Hollywood Playboys that includes some great photos. You can listen to "Ding, Dong, School Is Out" on YouTube



S-106 Fascinations – "Midnight" b/w "Doom Bada Doom" 

This white doo-wop tune might be Sure Records' best-remembered release. The Fascinations' lead singer was Jordan Zankoff from West Akron, Ohio. After one record with the Fascinations, he moved to New York and performed in the Boulevards and Jordan & the Fascinations under the name Jordan Christopher. Several videos of the song can be found on YouTube. An article about Zankoff from the Akron Beacon Journal can be found here, although it mixes up NJ Sure and PA Sure. Both of these Sure sides were included on a bootleg anthology of Zankoff's groups.


S-107 Sandy Baron & Joan Rivers – "Adam and Eve" b/w "Little Mozart" 

Music Weird has a whole post about this record here. Around this time (1961), Baron also appeared on the Sickniks' "Wadja Say, Mr. K? II" on Amy Records, a parody of a Russian press conference, which charted in Syracuse and Philadelphia. 


Sure Records of Missouri and Tennessee

Adding to the Sure Records confusion is this Missouri label that released a couple of rockabilly singles by Austin Wood in 1957-1959. These labels have the same logo as the NJ Sure. This must have been a standard font that pressing plants used.

And a Sure Records in Jackson, Tennessee, released a record by Wayne Williams in 1958 that had almost the same catalog number as the first release on NJ Sure: 1001. 


Adonis Records

Adonis Records distributed Sure Records. Adonis was a New York label run by Joe Gottfried (or Gotterfried), Ivan Ellis, and Sylvan Epstine. Some of the label's artists included the Four Coachmen, Jean Martin, Frank Simone, Johnny Saber, and Wayne & Ray. The label also had a children's imprint called Peekaboo Records and distributed the Tommy Heck Quintet's "The Lost World" on Chariot. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Joan Rivers' foray into novelty music, c. 1960

Comedian Joan Rivers died today, so I thought I'd write about her brief and little-known foray into novelty music in the early years of her career. 

Around 1960-61, Rivers and fellow actor/comic Sandy Baron released this odd novelty record on Sure Records. At this time, Rivers was an unknown comic playing Greenwich Village comedy clubs. She wouldn't gain national attention until she appeared on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in 1965. 

Both sides of the single featured music and dialog. "Adam and Eve" is a dialog between Rivers and Baron and is based on the biblical Adam and Eve story. It's similar in concept to David Seville's 1959 hit "Judy," which I wrote about a while back. Seville's song features dialog between a man and woman who are dancing, and in "Adam and Eve," Adam and Eve eventually start dancing while talking.

The B side of the Rivers and Baron single, "Little Mozart," features only Rivers. In this bit, she scolds a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for playing the bongos and being too "far out." A 1996 anthology, Beat Beat Beatsville!: Beatnik Rock 'n' Roll, collected a bunch of beatnik parodies like this one, although it didn't include "Little Mozart."

Sure Records was a Linden, New Jersey, label that operated in the late 1950s and early 1960s and was distributed by Adonis Records of New York.

The label's address was in care of G&S Productions at 20 East Elizabeth Avenue in Linden, New Jersey. In the late 1940s/early 1950s, this address had been the site of David and Jules Braun's famous R&B labels DeLuxe and Regal Records, and in the mid 1960s it became the site of Linden Radio and Appliance Co.

George Stalter, who co-wrote the two "songs" on the Joan Rivers and Sandy Baron single, must have been either the "G," the "S," or the "G&S" of G&S Productions. He also arranged, conducted, and co-wrote Bobby Valo's 1960 Sure single "Hey Lover Girl" with Joe Gottfried, one of the owners of Adonis Records. 

Stalter wrote a number of songs in the late '50s and early '60s that were recorded by obscure artists such as the Hubcaps, Ray Arlo, and Stel Stevens, and even recorded a single under his own name for Pam Records in 1959 ("Just One More Chance" b/w "Soft Touch"). It's credited to "George Stalter, His Piano & Orchestra."

Although many of these songs that Stalter wrote were supposedly registered with ASCAP, neither the ASCAP nor BMI databases have any record of Stalter as a composer.

Sandy Baron, Rivers' partner on "Adam and Eve," recorded a handful of comedy albums and singles in his career and wrote Lou Rawls' Grammy-winning 1971 hit "A Natural Man." Before Baron died in 2001, he played a recurring role on the sitcom Seinfeld as Jack Klompus.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Yodeling in reggae, R&B, classical music, etc.

Reggae, classical music, prog rock, R&B.... If you think that these genres are immune to the influx of yodeling, then think again. 

Alpine yodeling originated in Europe, but in the United States we associate it almost exclusively with country and western music. From the lazy "blue yodel" of Jimmie Rodgers to the Alpine-style yodeling of singing cowboys like Roy Rogers and Elton Britt and country singers like Kenny Roberts, yodeling has become a part of the country music tradition. 

Yodeling isn't confined to country music and traditional Swiss music, though. Today on Music Weird, we'll look at some examples of yodeling outside of country music and traditional European music. 

If you're interested in reading more about yodeling than you ever thought was even possible, the book Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World (pictured above) by Bart Plantenga is pretty exhaustive. It's out of print, but you can still find affordable copies floating around. 

Classical music yodeling

On her album Yodelling the Classics, Mary Scheider yodels tunes such as the William Tell Overture. 

Reggae yodeling

"Country reggae" is an actual thing. In 1997, Trojan Records released a limited-edition 3-disc box set of reggae artists performing classic country songs (Trojan Country Reggae Box Set). A similar single-disc collection called The Reggae Country Collection followed. 

Several reggae recordings feature yodeling. One example is Leroy Gibbs' "Yodel Reggae" from 1987 and another is Ashton "Peanuts" Davis' "Jailhouse Yodel" from the 1970s.  

R&B yodeling

R&B singer Billy Williams, who had his biggest hit with "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" in 1957, was also a yodeler. He recorded this version of "Cattle Call" in 1953. (Music Weird previously featured this recording in a post on Western recordings by African-American artists.)

Rock and roll yodeling

Johnny Wildcard recorded "Rock and Roll Yodel" in 1962. The song was written by Billy Barton, who also wrote the 1953 country chart-topper "A Dear John Letter" by Ferlin Husky and Jean Shepard. This appears to be Wildcard's only record.

Prog rock yodeling

The Dutch prog rock band Focus had a hit in 1971 with "Hocus Pocus," which features yodeling. 

Club/dance yodeling

The Austrian group Edelweiss recorded this club/dance tune, "Bring Me Edelweiss," in 1988. It prominently features yodeling. The chorus is similar to ABBA's "SOS."


Pop yodeling

Many pop artists over the years have known how to yodel, even if they didn't do it very often. Patti Page, for example, could yodel, as heard on her 1951 recording of the Patsy Montana song "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart."

Ronnie Ronald, the British music hall artist, was a whistler and yodeler who combined the two on his 1958 recording "The Whistling Yodeller." He does some yodeling on this 1949 recording of "The Windmill Song."

Occasionally, pop artists sang about yodeling without actually yodeling. The Andrews Sisters' 1947 recording "Toolie Oolie Doolie (Yodel Polka)" contains no yodeling and isn't a polka. 

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. Cut-out 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 merchants 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 were sometimes indistinguishable 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 said 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 their titles with a catalog (which the distribuor 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 had paid full price for a given record were unfairly undersold by retailers who later 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, so for manufacturers, the cost of selling cut-outs was much lower than the cost of selling new titles. Similarly, artists received no royalties from the sale of records through record clubs like Columbia House and BMG Music Service. If 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 a small assortment of new product too, but many sold cut-outs and budget titles 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 situation was pretty ridiculous and reared its head at practically every industry meeting, such as the annual 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 discontinued 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 discontinued 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 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. Some outlet malls had music retailers that, like the rack jobbers of old, stocked a lot of budget and cut-out titles alongside a smaller selection of new titles. Even today, if you see directly selling a major-label CD for dirt cheap, it's probably a discontinued or overstock title even though it won't have a cut-out mark.

In recent years, labels started avoiding the overstock problem 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 altogether. And streaming is a record label's dream come true, from an inventory standpoint, because a title can sell as much or as little as the market demands without incurring any additional manufacturing cost or leaving behind any pesky unsold merchandise.