The Great Beatle Cash-In

We can’t fathom, at a distance of 50 years, just how all-encompassing was Beatlemania during the middle of the 1960s. The Beatles charted a staggering 30 songs in the States between February 1, 1964, and January 2, 1965. And beginning in January 1965, the Beatles would score nine straight #1 albums over the next four years. Nine albums in four years is a lot by modern standards. What’s even more astounding by modern standards is the dozen Beatles albums that charted in 1964 alone. Six of them are relatively famous: Meet the Beatles, Introducing the Beatles, The Beatles’ Second Album, A Hard Day’s Night, Something New, and Beatles ’65. But what about the six other Beatles albums to land on the album charts that year? With one exception, they represent attempts by record labels other than Capitol, the Beatles’ main label, to cash in on the phenomenon. Here they are, in chronological order:

—The Beatles With Tony Sheridan and Their Guests. An MGM release with four songs by Tony Sheridan, backed by the Beatles: My Bonnie, Cry for a Shadow, Why, and The Saints, a version of When the Saints Go Marching In, all dating back to Hamburg. The album contains other tracks by Sheridan with the Beat Brothers—who are not the Beatles on these recordings, although My Bonnie was released as a single in some countries as Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers—and filler from a band called the Titans.

—Jolly What! The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage. This was one of several attempts by the Chicago label Vee-Jay, which had released the first Beatles records in the States, to cash in before its rights expired. It’s an insane coupling of four Beatles tracks already released as singles by Vee-Jay with eight songs by Frank Ifield, a British singer who had scored a couple of minor American hits. Despite the title, none of the songs are live performances.

—The American Tour With Ed Rudy. Like several others, Ed Rudy, reporter for something called Radio Pulsebeat News, claimed to be the Fifth Beatle. He also said he was the only reporter to accompany the Beatles for all of their first 1964 tour, which he probably was not. His album is a broadcast documentary consisting of “interviews” with the Beatles, often Rudy shouting questions in the various press gaggles the band held on the road. A second documentary album failed to chart.

The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons. Another Vee-Jay cash-in, “The international battle of the century . . . each group delivering their greatest vocal punches.” The gatefold album package contained a score sheet and was emblazoned with the words, “You be the judge and jury!” It was Introducing the Beatles, Vee-Jay’s lone Beatles album, packaged with Golden Hits of the Four Seasons, without changing the labels on either disc to reflect the title of the album package.

—Songs, Pictures, and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles. Yet another Vee-Jay reissue of Introducing the Beatles, in yet another cover. Charted three weeks after The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons.

—The Beatles’ Story. An official Capitol release, this is a two-disc documentary album about the band featuring interviews, press conferences, and bits of music.

There’s one other early release of note before Beatles’ releases settle down into a more consistent pattern. In the spring of 1965, Capitol charted with The Early Beatles—their own reissue of the Vee-Jay material that had been put out so many times before.

One wonders how many people bought Jolly What!, Introducing the Beatles, The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons, Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles, and The Early Beatles, getting the same music over and over again. Anyone who did, and who has kept the albums may be having the last laugh today. The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons and Songs, Pictures and Stories have become pricey collectibles. Pressings of Jolly What!, with a drawing of the four Beatles on the cover, are among the most valuable collectibles in recording history. A sealed copy was offered for sale a few years ago at $25,000.

(From the archives of my work for the now-defunct WNEW.com, slightly edited.)

The Mad Streaker

What follows is a reboot of some stuff I’ve posted previously about the streaking fad, along with some new stuff.

The craze began almost exactly 40 years ago, early in 1974. A small item showed up in papers around the country late in January explaining that “streaking” had become a fad at Florida State University. United Press International defined it as “a male running nude across campus.” Although there would eventually be female streakers, the fad was largely gendered—or at least the reportage was. Within a couple of weeks, more streakers were reported, from the University of Maryland, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Gonzaga University in Seattle, plus North Carolina, Maine, Auburn, and Alabama. At Western Carolina, 138 students held a mass streaking in mid-February and claimed to set a world record, although later in the spring, over 1200 showed up to streak at the University of Colorado. From the end of February and all through March, rare was the day when a newspaper somewhere didn’t report a streaker somewhere.

It wasn’t long before streakers were no longer confined only to college campuses, or even to the United States. Concerts by Yes and Gregg Allman were interrupted by streakers; Mike Love and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys streaked their own show once. On April 2, 1974, a streaker interrupted the Academy Awards, just as David Niven was about to award the Oscar for Best Picture. There’s some suspicion that the Oscar streaking may have been staged; in the weeks to come, the guy responsible hired himself out to streak Hollywood parties. The very week of the Oscar streaking, Ray Stevens released “The Streak,” which debuted on the Hot 100 during the week of April 13, and went from 84 to 54 to 19 to 6 to 2 for the week of May 11, and to #1 the week after that.

At about the same time, at WCFL in Chicago, even the late Larry Lujack grabbed hold of the fad, recording a novelty called “Ballad of the Mad Streaker.” Credited to B. Whiteside, D. Naylor, and E. Rusk, and billed to “Larry Lujack Superjock,” the record was released on the Curtom label, founded by Curtis Mayfield and located in Chicago. It appeared on WCFL’s surveys for four weeks in April and May. Although ‘CFL charted 40 songs, “Mad Streaker” was shown its first week as #99, then #98, then #97, and finally #96. Although I was listening to WCFL a lot that spring, I don’t remember hearing it until recently. It’s remarkably terrible, and my suspicion is that Lujack may have done it under duress. If you’d like to hear it, go right here.

“The Streak” was the only streaker-themed record Chicago (and most of the nation) needed 40 years ago this spring, and after three weeks at #1, it remained in the top 5 into July. By then, however, newspapers were writing about how the streaking fad had passed. It remained a thing for a few years thereafter, however. During the spring of my sophomore year at college—this would have been 1980—an organized streaking took place on campus. Male residents of my building and the one next door announced plans to streak the all-female dorm across the way one fine spring night. In the runup to the event, it was made to sound like dozens would participate. When it finally happened, there was just a handful.

No. No I did not.

Elvis Presley, Federal Agent

On December 21, 1970, a visitor arrives at the gates of the White House. It is Elvis Presley, who presents the guards with a letter to President Richard Nixon and asks to meet the president in person. Elvis writes:

I talked to Vice President Agnew in Palm Springs three weeks ago and expressed my concern for our country. The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do NOT consider me as their enemy or as they call it The Establishment. I call it America and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help The Country out. I have no concern or Motives other than helping the country out.

So I wish not to be given a title or an appointed position. I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large and I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages. . . .

Elvis also says in his letter that he has a gift for the president. Nixon’s aides are convinced that Elvis is sincere, and they grasp the value of Nixon meeting “bright young people from outside the government” (although Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman responds, “You must be kidding”). A memo is quickly drafted for Nixon containing some talking points, and Elvis is admitted to the White House.

From presidential aide Egil Krogh’s memo describing the meeting:

Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit. He said that the Beatles came to this country, made their money, and then returned to England where they promoted an anti-American theme. The President nodded in agreement and expressed some surprise. . . .

Presley indicated to the President in a very emotional manner that he was “on your side.” Presley kept repeating that he wanted to be helpful, that he wanted to restore some respect for the flag which was being lost. . . . He also mentioned that he is studying Communist brainwashing and the drug culture for more than ten years. He mentioned that he knew a lot about this and was accepted by the hippies. He said he could go right into a group of young people or hippies and be accepted which he felt could be helpful to him in his drug drive. . . .

Elvis presented Nixon with a chrome-plated Colt .45 and some photos. In return, he received a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

Years later, the irony of this meeting is almost crippling. When Elvis said he had been studying the drug culture for more than 10 years, he wasn’t lying—although his studies had mostly involved consuming entire pharmacies while at the same time criticizing drug-influenced rock music. He was probably overstating his personal influence, too. Although he had recently enjoyed a creative and commercial renaissance, many members of the the generation coming of age in the late ’60s were too young to have idolized him in the ’50s. His embrace of Las Vegas glitz also ran against the values of the counterculture. Nixon and his aides were savvy enough to understand Presley’s potential usefulness, although nothing came of the ideas they proposed. There was no Elvis-narrated TV special explaining drug-oriented lyrics to parents and no anti-drug record album or public-service announcements.

All that’s left is the tale of the meeting itself, and the photos taken of it. They are the most-requested items from the files of the National Archives.

(From my WNEW.com archives.) 

Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?

When they call the roll of famous pop-culture events of the 1960s, there’s one that never makes the list, despite the fact that it’s extremely well-remembered by those who were there.

Just after 5:00 in the afternoon on November 9, 1965, lights dimmed all over New York City and then went out. The cause of the problem was apparently human error, although conspiracy theorists love the idea that there were several UFO sightings in Pennsylvania and New York just as the lights went out. The blackout eventually spread to all of New England and into Canada, as well as affecting upstate New York and New Jersey. About 30 million people were affected, although some parts of the region, including some neighborhoods in the New York City area itself, did not lose power.

The blackout knocked New York’s television stations off the air for the night. It was left to the city’s radio stations to report on the event. Most stations were able to get their transmitters back on the air using backup power within half-an-hour. (Thanks to its backup generator, WCBS was off the air for only about 15 seconds.) Backup electricity was used mostly to power transmitters, however—the stations themselves were lit by candles and flashlights so the work could go on. An enormous full moon also helped light the scene.

The Rolling Stones were in New York that night, one week into their fourth American tour, enjoying some downtime between a two-show day in Newark on the 7th and a show in Raleigh, North Carolina, scheduled for the 10th. During their stay in the city, Brian Jones had spent some time in a recording studio with Bob Dylan and Wilson Pickett. (Jones was the only member of the Stones to hit it off with Dylan, and was allegedly offered a spot in Dylan’s band, which he turned down.) On the night of the 9th, undaunted by the blackout, Jones threw a party in a suite at the Lincoln Square Motor Inn. Dylan is said to have remarked as he arrived, “It’s an invasion from Mars! Let’s turn on. What better time? The little green men have landed.” Also on hand that night were Dylan’s friend and collaborator Bobby Neuwirth and Robbie Robertson of the Band. Before the night was over, the four musicians jammed by candlelight. Fellow Stone Bill Wyman later nicknamed it “the lost jam.”

(Many rock history websites claim that the Stones were appearing on the TV show Shindig! that night, but that’s incorrect. The Shindig! appearance, on tape, had been broadcast three days earlier.)

Normal power was restored to the blacked-out areas by early morning on November 10, but it wouldn’t be the last time the Northeast was blacked out. On July 13 and 14, 1977, New York City was crippled by a localized blackout, resulting in looting and arson across the city. The blackout is critical to the storyline of the Spike Lee film Summer of Sam. (The 1965 blackout also inspired a movie, Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?, released in 1968 and starrring Doris Day and Robert Morse, now playing Bert Cooper on Mad Men.) On August 14, 2003, the Northeast was hit by yet another blackout. An estimated 55 million people in the United States and Canada were affected. But neither of those later blackouts captured the imagination of Americans quite like the blackout of 1965.

(From my WNEW.com archives.)

Vintage Virgin Vinyl

In the fall of 1979, two of the biggest bands in the world released long-awaited new albums within three weeks of one another: the Eagles with The Long Run and Fleetwood Mac with Tusk.

Although record buyers loved the Eagles that fall, sending the album and its lead single, “Heartache Tonight,” to #1, one prominent critic definitely did not. In a Rolling Stone review that appeared in newspapers around the country in November, Dave Marsh wrote: “[W]hat can you say about a band which spends three years working on an album whose best song is one the inimitable Joe Walsh wrote for a movie soundtrack (‘In the City’ from ‘The Warriors’), and which contains such inanities as ‘We thought we could change this world—with words like love and freedom.’  The fact that this pack of cliche-mongers is one of the biggest ‘rock’ bands today is perhaps the most pathetic commentary I know about the current state of the musical world.”

Ooh, snap.

The reviewer for a local paper in Ohio was kinder: “The Eagles, consummate musicians that they are, have honed a finely-produced and excellently-executed album into what should prove to be another tour de force.” Contrast “excellently executed” with Marsh’s assessment of Don Henley—“a fine singer, but he’s a lame drummer.”

The Eagles could simply let negative reviews roll off because of all the money rolling in, although the amounts seem tiny by standards of our time. A department store in Madison, Wisconsin, was selling The Long Run on vinyl for $5.67 and on tape for $5.97. Eagles fans in the Philadelphia area could get into the band’s November 18 show at the Spectrum for $7.50 or $10, although the top tickets, priced at $12.50, were sold out.

If it had been up to Fleetwood Mac and its record label, Tusk would not have been out until later in the year. The intent was to release it just in time for it to find its way into Christmas stockings by the millions. But then an advance copy on cassette was leaked to a radio station in Cleveland. The station’s program director told a reporter, “To ensure its delivery, I had to buy a seat for [the tape] on a commercial flight.” He picked it up at the airport, drove it to the station, and put it on the air immediately. In succeeding days, other stations obtained copies of the album. As a result, Warner Brothers decided to release it officially in mid-October. (The title song had come out as a single in mid-September, also probably sped to release by the leak.)

When Tusk was released, I was doing a show on the campus radio station called Virgin Vinyl, on which I would play the week’s new releases. I tracked Tusk in its entirety the very night it came in, just as I was had played the lead track from The Long Run on the day it came in the mail.

Early in 1980, “Tusk” was featured on the TV music show Solid Gold. No way they were getting Fleetwood Mac to appear, but they could get the USC Marching Band to show up in the studio, and their performance was then intercut with the official “Tusk” video.

YouTube commenters are notoriously dim, but not the one who observed, “Stevie Nicks twirling a baton . . . there are probably sexier things on this planet, but none come to mind at the moment.”

(From a pair of posts written for the now-defunct WNEW.com.)

British Band Names Are the Best

Every month, Any Major Dude With Half a Heart does an “In Memoriam” post, noting those who’ve died in the last month. The September feature mentioned one person I’ve written about here a couple of times, Jackie Lomax; a jazz player I listen to a lot, guitarist Jimmy Ponder; and Roger Pope, whose name appeared in a post I wrote for WNEW.com a couple of years ago. Here’s a bit of that:

If you read the early history of Elton John, you bump into a band with an odd name, made up of guys Elton knew when they were all unknowns looking for a break.

Music publisher Dick James hired Elton and Bernie Taupin when they were just starting out, in 1967. When James formed his own record label a couple of years later, he hired a number of young session musicians, who eventually congealed into Hookfoot. The name was inspired by their drummer Roger Pope, whose high-hat cymbal would get away from him while he was playing, so he would use his foot to hook it back into place. Guitarist Caleb Quaye had played with Elton in Bluesology. Both Pope and Quaye would play on Elton’s first four albums; Hookfoot bassist Dave Glover would play on two of them.

After Elton broke in America, Hookfoot backed him on a 1971 tour; they would also tour the States with the Jefferson Airplane. Hookfoot made four albums under their own name between 1971 and 1974, none of which did particularly well anywhere. None charted in the States. And by 1974, the bandmembers’ reputations as session players led to the breakup of the band. According to bassist Fred Gandy, who had replaced Glover, “We were all getting offers to work elsewhere . . . the temptations were just too great.” Pope and Quaye weren’t gone forever, though. Both would eventually join Elton John’s new band in 1975.

On Hookfoot’s 1971 debut, they covered the Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird.” They also covered the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” which appeared on the 1975 compilation Headlines. In 1972, Hookfoot recorded some songs for a radio broadcast at Ardent Studios in Memphis. In 2005, the session was released as Live in Memphis. It contains a smokin’-good version of an original song, “If I Had the Words,” from their album Good Times a’ Comin’. Crank it up here. (Read a lot more about Hookfoot here.)

Before Pope’s death, I was already planning to rerun this Hookfoot post along with part of one about another British band with a strange name. So here’s that bit:

Blodwyn Pig frequently supported major stars of the late 60s and early 70s on UK and European tours. The band was formed by guitarist Mick Abrahams, who had been a member of Jethro Tull only long enough to play on their debut album—but long enough to squabble with Ian Anderson, resulting in Abrahams’ departure. He then re-teamed with bassist Andy Pyle, with whom he’d played in a pre-Tull band called McGregor’s Engine, drummer Ron Berg, and sax-and-flute player Jack Lancaster to form Blodwyn Pig. Their sound was bluesy and progressive on the one hand thanks to Abrahams and Pyle, but also borrowed jazz influences thanks to Lancaster.

Blodwyn Pig made two albums, Ahead Rings Out in 1969 and Getting to This in 1970. Both hit the top 10 in the UK. In addition to extensive gigging over there, the band also toured in the United States. But by the time they reached America, their days were numbered. Not long after a series of dates at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, Abrahams left the band. As his website bio puts it, “the old ogre of musical differences reared its ugly head.” The band attempted to continue for a while, but quickly foundered. But because no band stays dead forever as long as its members aren’t, an edition of Blodwyn Pig, fronted by Abrahams and Lancaster, reformed in the 1990s, and has released several albums since.

About that name: Abrahams says that Blodwyn Pig came from “a stoned hippy friend just back from the Buddhist trail.” It’s thoroughly English, too, and just the sort of thing a group of serious progressive musicians would have adopted for themselves at the end of the 1960s. Their first single, released in the summer of 1969 and also included on Ahead Rings Out, was the hypnotic “Dear Jill.”