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.