Monday, May 30, 2016

Songs about S&H Green Stamps

A number of songs about green stamps were released around the same time in the late 1950s to mid 1960s for some reason, even though the S&H Green Stamps rewards program ran from the 1930s-1980s in the US. 

Customers collected green stamps at department stores, supermarkets, and gas stations and then redeemed them for items in the Sperry & Hutchinson catalog. A number of competing stamp programs existed from other companies, some of which had their own signature colors, such as Blue Chip Stamps and Gold Bond Stamps.

Here are a number of songs about—or songs that mention—green stamps, mostly from the early 1960s. The Wikipedia article on S&H Green Stamps has a section on green stamps in music, but it lists only the Allan Sherman and Pat Boone songs as examples. 

Allan Sherman – "Green Stamps" (Warner Bros. 1964)

Included on the album Allan in Wonderland.

The Goldcoast Singers – "Green Stamps" (World Pacific 1962)

Included on the album Here They Are!

Ben White & the Darchees – "Nation Wide Stamps" (Algon 1246, 1962)

This is the song that inspired this blog post. I heard it on the 1996 compilation CD Brooklyn's Doo-Wop Sound (Dee Jay Jamboree Records).

Freddie Flynn & The Flashes – "Green Stamps" (Lyric 107, 1959)

Jimmy Norman – "Green Stamps" (Josan 711, 1959)

This record was picked up by Dot Records and released nationally as Dot 16016.

T-Birds – "Green Stamps" (Chess U-10567, 1961)

Pat Boone – "Speedy Gonzales" (Dot 45-16368, 1962)

Mel Blanc, the voice of Speedy, mentions green stamps at the end.

Kingston Trio – "Them Poems" (Capitol 1964)

From the album Back in Town. The middle song in the medley, "Stamp Lickers," is about "lickin' them green stamps."

Archie Campbell – "Green Stamps" (Starday 1962)

This song is included in the 1962 album Make Friends with Archie Campbell and the 1966 various-artists album Stars of the Grand Ole Opry. The song begins at 18:00 in this video. 

Magnetic Fields – "The Desperate Things You Made Me Do" (Merge 1995)

From the album Get Lost, this song includes a line about "pilfered love and green stamps."

Unknown Artist – "S & H Green Stamps"

A radio ad for Sperry Huthison's S&H Green Stamps that was cut for WPTR in Albany New York. 

Green Shield Stamps were a thing in the UK, and a number of UK artists performed songs about them.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Robots of vaudeville: the "automatic" and mechanical minstrels of the 1900s

A Variety ad for Byron Monzello's Mechanical Minstrels

Vaudeville's so-called "automatic" or "mechanical" minstrels were dummy acts. The minstrel part of the dummies' act—the singing and joke telling—was provided by phonograph recordings. These automatic or mechanical minstrels, which appeared in vaudeville in the 1900s and possibly even earlier, were kind of like a low-tech precursor to the animatronic characters that later featured in places like Chuck E. Cheese, Showbiz Pizza, and Disneyland.

I first read about the automatic minstrels in the books of Joe Laurie Jr., a former vaudevillian who wrote or cowrote two histories of vaudeville in the mid-20th century: Show Biz: From Vaude to Video (1951) and Vaudeville: From the Honky-Tonks to the Palace (1953).
Gane's Manhattan Theatre

In these books, Laurie mentions a couple of automatic minstrel acts. In Show Biz: From Vaude to Video, he says that "William Gane introduced the first (and last) All-Automatic Minstrels at the Manhattan Theatre in 1908." Laurie describes the act thusly: "Outside of one live interlocutor, all the minstrels were dummies with gramophones concealed inside, telling jokes and singing songs upon cue."

In Vaudeville: From the Honky-Tonks to the Palace, Laurie elaborates a bit further on Gane's act: 
"The Automatic Minstrels ... played at Gane's Manhattan Theatre (where Macy's is now). This one had a live interlocutor; the rest were dummies, whose jokes and songs were done via phonographs. Didn't do so good."
In the same book, Laurie describes an additional automatic minstrel act, despite his previous book's claim that Gane's minstrels were the only one of their kind. This other act is identified as Monzello, "a minstrel show with dummies on the stage and the gags done via phonograph." Laurie added, "Kinda crude but a novelty."

Monzello was actually Byron Monzello. The 1908 ad for Monzello's Mechanichal [sic] Minstrels at the top of this page describes the act as "ten life size mechanical figures; three live principals and two assistants." The ad also describes the dummies: "They have false teeth, false hair, the mouth opens, and closes, they get up, sit down, bow, the heads turn, shake hands, make gestures." The ad claims that the dummies "talk any language." A photo of the minstrels is included, but it's too dark to reveal many details.

Also in 1908, Variety printed a letter from Byron (misspelled as "Bryon"), who wrote in reply to a review of Gane's act that Variety had published in a previous issue. Monzello's letter read:
I see in Variety (August 22) under "New Acts" a review on "William Gane's Automatic Minstrels'" at the Manhattan Theatre, New York. This is a direct steal of my act. I will furnish affidavits I originated "The Mechanical Minstrels" in September, 1904, at Indianapolis. Not then satisfied with results, I continued experimenting until September, 1906, when my act was completed, but other business matters prevented me placing it in vaudeville. 
Enclosed you will find correspondence from prominent managers showing the act has been played at Riverview Park, and in existence over one year.
Despite Monzello's claim of being the first to create a mechanical minstrel act, earlier mentions of similar acts can be found in late-19th century newspapers. The phonograph was invented in 1877, so it's possible that these early mechanical minstrel acts incorporated phonograph recordings too.

Even if it's true that Gane stole Monzello's act, vaudevillians stole each others acts, jokes, catchphrases, skits, and gimmicks constantly. In those days, a performer could steal another performer's act wholesale and take it to another part of the country without anyone easily finding out. In Vaudeville: From the Honky-Tonks to the Palace, Laurie gives a number of examples of well-know television and movie personalities of the post-vaudeville era who "borrowed" from earlier vaudeville performers.