Baja Benny Rides Again

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(Pictured: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page at the first performance of the New Yardbirds, September 1968.)

Fifty years ago this week, an edition of Billboard magazine landed on the desks of radio, music, and vending industry people around the country. Here’s some of the news inside.

—Dot Records is making a significant push to increase its appeal to younger record buyers. The label has signed the following acts: Bugsy Maugh, lead singer of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band; San Francisco blues band Mount Rushmore; City Zu, “a Seattle quintet being groomed for the teeny-bopper audience”; and Life, a quartet from Columbus, Ohio. For newly signed singer Val Stecklein, producer Ray Ruff says he already has a plan. Ruff “will emphasize the vocalist’s words by stopping all the instruments and underscoring phrases with one instrument.”

—For the Chuck Barris Syndicate, which has already recorded its first Dot single, “Baja California,” the label has created a character to appear in advertising and direct-mail pieces: Baja Benny. A Baja Benny ad appears on page 27 of the magazine. He is what white readers of 1968 would have expected a Mexican to be, although to a reader in 2018, he hits every offensive stereotype: a sleepy-eyed, overweight man with a big mustache and an even bigger sombrero, a sash over one shoulder, a pistol on his hip, a bottle in his hand, and a cigarette in his mouth. He is seen on the front porch of a tumbledown shack, accompanied by a scantily dressed young woman and a child wearing only a diaper.

—RCA is warning that cassette recorders are a potential threat to both the pre-recorded tape and record businesses. RCA is worried about people recording music off the radio, and has criticized an ad for a Harmon-Kardon stereo system that suggested users could borrow records from friends and record them on blank tapes.

—Record labels are planning to distribute certain classical 45s to easy listening, pop, and rock radio stations. They’re mostly, but not exclusively, themes from popular movies, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Elvira Madigan, and Rosemary’s Baby.

—A news item says that the reorganized Yardbirds are planning a fall college tour. Billboard says “the group will be billed as the Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page. John Paul Jones and Robert Plante [sic] are new members of the act.” In the same news column, it’s reported that “Van Morrison, who is not presently associated with any personal management firm, can be contacted at 610 Green St., Cambridge, Mass.”

Billboard‘s Hits of the World feature shows the top singles in Europe, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Argentina. In Britain, “Fire” by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown takes over the #1 spot from “Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells, which falls to #2. “Mony Mony” is #1 in Spain. The Ohio Express takes the top spot in Malaysia and Singapore with “Yummy Yummy Yummy.” In Australia, the #1 hit of the week is “The Orange and the Green” by the Irish Rovers, the group that hit around the world earlier in 1968 with “The Unicorn.”

—On the charts, the #1 song on the Hot 100 is “People Got to Be Free” by the Rascals. “I Can’t Stop Dancing” by Archie Bell and the Drells and “Stay in My Corner” by the Dells (the #1 R&B single this week) are new in the Top 10. Two Aretha Franklin songs debut in the Top 40: “The House That Jack Built” (#21) and “I Say a Little Prayer” (#39). Other debuts include Deep Purple’s “Hush” (#38). Cream’s Wheels of Fire is #1 on the Top LPs chart, just ahead of the Rascals compilation Time Peace and Aretha Now, all of which have been on the chart seven weeks and are in the same positions as last week. (“Wheels of Fire” also appears on the R&B album chart.) The Doors’ Waiting for the Sun blasts to #4 from #29 last week. Also making a big move is Feliciano!, up to #6 from #28. On the Hot Country Singles chart, “Already It’s Heaven” by David Houston is #1, knocking “Heaven Says Hello” by Sonny James to #2. The Easy Listening chart is led by Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” which is #1 for a second week. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Mama Cass is at #2, and the Vogues’ “Turn Around Look at Me” is #3. The lone new song in the Easy Listening Top 10 is “The Fool on the Hill” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. An older Sergio Mendes hit, “The Look of Love,” is hanging around at #14.

And then, in the blink of an eye, half of a century goes by.

One thought on “Baja Benny Rides Again

  1. mikehagerty

    The Dot records rock and roll strategy and Baja Benny tell you pretty much everything you need to know about how out of step some folks in the business were as late as ’68. This was one year after Randy Wood left and took his masters with him. Could have been a fresh start under Gulf+Western/Paramount ownership, but no. No surprise it became largely a country label before eventually disappearing into ABC Records, which five years later, disappeared into MCA.

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