(New rule: just as we don’t really need a reason to post pictures of Linda Ronstadt, it is now decreed that we don’t really need a reason to post pictures of llamas, either.)
On a slow afternoon recently, I wandered through the edition of The Billboard (as it was known) for the week of October 10, 1960.
Item: WLEU in Erie, Pennsylvania, described as “one of the most outspoken anti-rock stations,” recently presented a public funeral march to a dock on Lake Erie, where 7,000 “so-called rock and roll disks were dumped into the drink.” The station even rounded up a celebrity guest, “gospel thrush” Mahalia Jackson. The story says, “Miss Jackson, holding up some of the ‘drowned’ records retrieved by skin divers, commented that: ‘They’re all warped, just like rock and roll.'”
Comment: Mahalia Jackson, whose voice could bring down walls, was hardly a mere thrush. She died in 1972, and she would been surprised at her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence.
Item: The magazine has over a dozen pages of news and advertising about fairs, festivals, rodeos, and carnivals. The ads are fascinating: fairs seeking carnivals and carnivals seeking fairs, as well as ads for carnival jobs, rides, games, concession supplies, and anything else an operator might buy or sell. A classified ad offers two Bengal tigers ($3,000 for the pair), two male llamas, a kangaroo, and a dromedary camel (“7 years old, docile”). Another classified reads, “Attention Dolores Prest—phone your attorney, Rex Chatterton, Groton 54, reverse charges, very urgent.”
Comment: My guess is that Dolores was among the traveling carnival folk, and putting an ad in the carnival section of The Billboard seemed like a good way to find her.
Item: A small display ad for Tamla/Motown Records, 2648 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit 8, Mich., phone TRinity 1-3340, plugs Tamla releases by Barrett Strong and Mabel John (“Willie’s Little Sister”), with their catalog numbers. Also mentioned are Motown 1002 and Motown 1003, “Custer’s Last Man” by Popcorn and the Mohawks (“A Real Smash!”) and “Bye Bye Baby” by Marv Wells.
Comment: It’s weird that the ad doesn’t mention the Miracles’ “Shop Around,” newly out on Tamla, although Barrett Strong was just coming off the label’s first national hit, “Money (That’s What I Want).” “Marv Wells” was a typo; “Bye Bye Baby” was the first single by Mary Wells. Richard “Popcorn” Wylie and the Mohawks included future Funk Brothers James Jamerson and Eddie Willis and future Motown writer/producers Lamont Dozier and Norman Whitfield. “Custer’s Last Man” was a parody of Larry Verne’s current hit “Mr. Custer,” about which there’s more below.
Also: kids, ask an elderly person to explain the “8” in Motown’s street address and the phone number that looks like a typo.
Item: An ad calls the Kingston Trio “America’s #1 album artists,” and they are. String Along tops the both the mono and stereo album charts, and Sold Out is in the Top 10 of each. On the mono chart, comedy albums are thick: The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart is #2, The Edge of Shelley Berman is #8, and the Top 10 includes two albums by Brother Dave Gardner, Kick Thy Own Self and Rejoice Dear Hearts. Also charting: two albums each by Woody Woodbury and Jonathan Winters, plus one by Bill Dana as Jose Jimenez.
Comment: Brother Dave Gardner’s Allmusic.com biography, written by Cub Koda (which is fabulously entertaining and worth your time), calls Gardner “a Southern Lenny Bruce” and “Billy Graham with a sense of humor.” Gardner was a native of Tennessee, discovered by RCA Records mogul Chet Atkins cracking wise from the stage while working as a drummer. His most famous bit was “The Motorcycle Story,” which he recorded a couple of times, and which has lost something in translation since 1960.
Item: “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne has taken over the top of the Hot 100 from “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” by Connie Francis, which is now #3. “Chain Gang” by Sam Cooke holds at #2. Lining up behind them are “Save the Last Dance for Me” by the Drifters, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, and “Devil or Angel” by Bobby Vee. Slipping out of the Top 10 this week are “It’s Now or Never” by Elvis and “Walk Don’t Run” by the Ventures.
Comment: In a bracket of the worst Billboard #1 hits of all time, “Mr. Custer” would be a top seed, and I am no fan of Connie Francis either. But the top of the chart is more than redeemed by Sam Cooke, the Drifters, and even “The Twist,” and “Walk Don’t Run” might be the best of them all.