A Twilight Top Ten
Exploring You Tube's Lost 45s UniverseExploring You Tube's oldies universe can go far beyond mere nostalgia if you get the fever. My You Tube trek reminds me of an accident some years ago with a very transient roommate. The poor guy got so overwhelmed by New York City that he split on me, behind my back, after only three days. To compensate me for his abrupt departure, he left behind a suitcase of dusty old 1960's 45's, all non-hits he stumbled upon in an abandoned warehouse. I rifled through the forty-odd little records and couldn't find one hit. I had to play them and find my own hits: "Nina Kocka Nina" by The Dinks; The Exceptions' "Down By The Ocean" and The Roosters' take on "Shake A Tail Feather" stayed in my Twilight Top Ten for weeks, all fitting into the "shoulda-been-a hit" category. Lesser lights offered low camp value such as the moronic "let's-cash-in-on-the-fad" "Chubby Isn't Chubby Anymore" –he did the Twist too much, etc.
By Jim Rader
These seemingly worthless, scratchy plastic shards came in handy for entertaining guests. Suppose my odd friend stuck me with a bunch of hackneyed hits? That would've been no fun.
Recently another friend dropped by with a DVD of the antiquated "Donna Reed" sitcom; one episode guest-starred James Darren, early '60's Pop/Movie Teen Idol. Darren portrayed Biff Something, also a Pop/Movie Teen Idol. He didn't perform his smash "Goodbye Cruel World" but an earlier forgettable ballad.
I got my oldies spaceship in gear and headed for the James Darren planet. There I unearthed another early miss "Pin A Medal On Joey," a teen soap opera sung by a jilted guy whose jilter girl gets jilted by another guy named Joey. This obvious "spinoff" of Del Shannon's top 10 "Hats Off To Larry" recalled another period music biz trend from rock n' roll's "innocent" days.
"Joey" was another new one on me. I pondered if there was any justice in the You Tube oldies universe perhaps I could find cooler non-hits that I liked and remembered.
A blurry alien figured appeared on my monitor and solemnly announced: "'Tell Me Mama.'"
"Yes friend," I replied. "I remember that rockin' non-hit well! The artist--please!"
"Christine--" bellowed the blur as a sudden meteor shower cut off transmission leaving me stuck for the last name.
But all I needed was "Christine" to beam up the 1964 hidden treasure by Brit teen belter Christine Quaite. Sung in a smoky voice somewhere between Dusty Springfield and Helen Shapiro, the sappy lyric relates Christine seeking Mama's advice on boys. But the banal narrative is sideswiped by driving drums and the unknown Christine's panache.
Underpromoted, on the cusp of Beatlemania and rife with suddenly dated strings, "Mama" came in at #86 on Billboard's 1964 chart. I heard it exactly once on trendy NYC AM station WMCA. Only the You Tube Master of Time recalls this uptempo pop gem!
Now I envisioned other astonishing space travels ahead. Will the You Tube Master remember Vito & the Salutations' ill-fated follow-up ("Extraordinary Girl") to their 1963 speed-doowop classic "Unchained Melody"? Through my ship's porthole, I spotted the yellow "HERALD" 45 label/asteroid with its eye-catching graphic of royal banner hanging from a long ceremonial trumpet. I made contact and heard the Salutation's "Extraordinary Girl" for the second time in my earthly existence: a painfully labored, off-target, typical "Let's-repeat-the-hit-formula" travesty.
Win some, lose some. Unfazed, my next stop was the red "CRIMSON" label/asteroid with its slashed fake-black paint letters against a bold red background. Doo-wop also-rans The Parktown Squares' exhilarating shoulda-been-a-hit "That Day Will Never Come" is classic revved-up ‘60s doo-wop with pounding drums and breathless vocals drowning out the other instruments.
Feeling too far from home, I backtracked to The Man-In-The-Moon, whose boyish features crystallized as I came closer: Gene Pitney. Gene's early ('61) too-strange-to-click "Little Betty Falling Star" could neatly fit into a David Lynch flick. Burt Bachrach wrote the music, but lyric partner Hal David is preceded here by vet Tin Alley wordman Bob Hilliard, author of the Disney Mad Hatter opus "I'm Late (For A Very Important Date)." The confessional lyric ("I put you up there/way above me") concerns teen boy overidealization of teen queen who somehow disappoints him. Gene's reverbed overwrought performance and the stellar trashy production (thickly tremoled guitar, windchimes) take this otherwise routine ditty to the Outer Limits; lesser versions by The Cascades and cheeseball actor George Hamilton are mere black holes.
In a similar twilight mode, The Majors' overlooked follow-up to their '62 hit "Wonderful Dream," the buoyant "Tra La La" out-reverbs "Betty Falling Star." The happy-go-lucky-boy-who gets-the-girl sings tra la la--Routinesville, right? Wrong. The insistent chorus, underscored by cowbell eighth notes, chunky rhythm guitar and otherwordly falsetto grant this obscure number universal status.
At this juncture of my trek, my ship overheated from too much rock n'roll weirdness. I spotted cardigan-wearing toothpaste-grinning Joe Dowell on the lighter side of the moon—most assuredly a safer haven. His ‘62 "Little Red Rented Rowboat" went Top 20 but airplay has been scarce since then. Joe's smoothie baritone relates a cutesy tale about a dude who outclasses a yacht and a motorboat by getting chicks (then snubbing them) with his little red rented rowboat. But even Joe rocks some, backed by a groovy whacka whacka rhythm Strat right in there with the snare drum.
A deceptive site, though. Joe's so-normal-he's–weird vibe compelled me to trek on. Maybe it's time to get back to earth--and what could be earthier than Rockabilly?
But earthy Bob Center's misogynistic/anti-mentally-challenged raver "Flea Brain" reminded me how alienating my fellow humans could be. In a snarl that crosses Johnny Rotten with Jethro Bodine Bob declaims: "She's gotta hole in her head/ If she weren't good-lookin'/ She'd be better off dead!" Accompanied solely by raw acoustic guitar, this two-minute tirade concludes on a faintly charitable note, citing "Flea Brain's" carnal knowledge: "Flea Brain knows more/ Than I thought she did."
Badly in need of hope, I trekked on to the sky-blue "Hope" label to check out 1958's "You and Johnnie Smith"; two Hope artists, Ray Melton and Lee Estes, offer very different versions of this bouncy caught-you-cheatin'-with-another-guy epic. Melton's is better, awash in Sun-drenched reverb and more whacka whacka rhythm guitar. Sounding like Elvis crossed with Charles Starkweather, Ray tells his ex-girl: "Johnnie's been getting' wise/Wonder how he'd look/with two black eyes?"
"Hope" dashed, I turned my ship Northward, all the way to Toronto, home of Shirley Matthews. Shirley's "Big Town Boy" took off in Canada in late '63 but only enjoyed spotty regional chart action on planet U.S.A.. I heard this one a few times, then it too dematerialized. The You Tube Cosmic Jukebox features muddier sound on this single-of-singles but the letter-perfect Spectoresque production (big Hal Blaine drums, rollicking 6. do-ron-ron piano) and Shirley's voice (a tougher Mary Wells) cut through the cosmic debris. The unusually placed modulations, a muted trumpet solo and rah-rah chickie chorus ("The Big Town Girls") launch this sorta-hit into the stars.
My Twilight Top Ten Trek done, I'd say the reward was worth the peril. Get your own ship in gear, fellow explorer--but remember: you might not come back.
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