Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Little Jimmy Osmond discovers Top of the Pops!

There I was, casually ignoring the TV set tonight, when my attention was suddenly grabbed by a familiar sight: the sleeve of Top of the Pops volume 28...

What was it doing on BBC TV? You'll never guess - so I'll tell you!

The show was Celebrity Antiques Road Trip. The basic idea is a couple of celebs hook up with a couple of antiques experts, and travel from town to town hunting bargains to sell - hopefully at a profit - at auction. The whole thing is filmed of course. In tonight's gripping head-to-head, (no longer Little) Jimmy Osmond was pitting his wits against fellow popster, Tony Christie.

What happened next was quite unexpected. Jimmy and antiques expert Catherine Southon arrived in a second-hand shop in the town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire. They chanced upon a stack of old LPs, and out of the pile emerged this one. Jimmy Osmond was impressed to see an old Osmonds hit, "Crazy Horses" listed on the sleeve (he didn't seem to know it was a cover version though!):

Of course he had to buy it - and even more so when Catherine Southon pointed out another hit - Jimmy's own "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" also on the LP!

Turns out 'Little' Jimmy is a 'big' deal when it comes to bargaining. He managed to get half a dozen LPs, a vintage Marconiphone record player, and even a wire record rack for a fantastic all-in price of £25. Great bargain lot to take to auction.

And Jimmy had more tricks up his sleeve. He autographed the LP, and then proceeded to lead a chorus of "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" from the auction floor!

Bidding started at £50 and edged up to £56 - a £31 profit on the day. To be honest, if I'd been there I'd have raised the stakes considerably to secure this one - the record player alone was worth the price, never mind that LP.

Some lucky person took this gem home with him, and has a fantastic tale to tell. How often do you see one of the original recording artists proudly holding a Top of the Pops LP, let alone an autographed copy? (If the winning bidder is reading this, please get in touch and tell us about your day!)

If you're quick, you may be able to catch the whole episode on BBC iPlayer

Sunday, November 20, 2016

More Flags...

Clive Hetherington has sent us a couple of images of some rare Flag EPs which he's managed to pick up. These aren't cover version EPs, but are important in plugging hitherto unknown gaps in the Flag discography.

Clive has discovered EP 14, a collection of Tijuana Hits, and EP 20, with Classical Greats on. These are most likely spin-offs from other Flag/Boulevard LP projects.

These non-cover version records can be added to the other two we know of, EPs 15 and 17 in the set:

So now, we're down to just four EPs to still identify (assuming we're right that EP 10 was the first, and that EP 26 was the last). So our label discography now looks like this:

  • EP 10 - cover versions 
  • EP 11 - cover versions
  • EP 12 - cover versions
  • EP 13 - cover versions
  • EP 14 - Tijuana Hits
  • EP 15 - Hawaiian Hits
  • EP 16 - cover versions
  • EP 17 - Dixieland!
  • EP 18 - ?
  • EP 19 - ?
  • EP 20 - Classical Greats
  • EP 21 - cover versions
  • EP 22 - ?
  • EP 23 - cover versions
  • EP 24 - ?
  • EP 25 - cover versions
  • EP 26 - cover versions

Please let us know if you can identify any of the missing EPs.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Way ahead of the rest...

This post is a bit of a departure from the usual, but serves to document an important feat achieved by Britain’s anonymous cover version industry. What we are referring to is the brilliant spot by Allan Crawford back in November 1962, of a little-noted record by a new group called the Beatles, and his decision to nail a version of his own.

Crawford was the brains behind the Cannon record label, launched in 1961 with the aim of packing in six hit songs onto one EP disc, retailing for the price of just one regular single. Towards the end of 1962, Cannon had four releases to its name, and was about to make a fifth EP. Here it is:

Home in on the first track on side 2 – instantly recognisable of course, with Lennon and McCartney’s names in the brackets. What makes this disc special, is that this was the first time anywhere in the world that the Beatles, and Lennon-McCartney, had been covered. And what makes it all the more remarkable is that “Love Me Do” had arrived without a splash, and had not even scratched the top 30 yet, making it an unlikely choice, but one which we are now discussing, more than half a century on.

Putting together a brief timeline underscores the matter. “Love Me Do” had appeared in Record Retailer’s listing for the first time on 17 October 1962, and scored successive chart placings as follows.

  • 17 Oct – position 49
  • 24 Oct - position  46
  • 31 Oct - position  41
  • 7 Nov - position  32

On the day the single reached the lofty heights of number 41, it finally received its first broadcast by the BBC. What drew Allan Crawford’s attention is unknown, but around now the track was selected for the next Cannon EP (right around this time of year, in fact). Maybe he had seen something special in this fledgling act – something others around him were somewhat slower to catch on to.

To put this in context, check out the other five tracks on the EP, and who the original artists were. We have:

  • If A Man Answers – original hit by Bobby Darrin
  • I Got Plenty O' Nuttin' – original hit by Kenny Ball
  • Devil Woman – original hit by Marty Robbins
  • Lonely – original hit by Acker Bilk
  • Reminiscing – original hit by Buddy Holly

Of these, only “Devil Woman” had gone top 10 in the UK, but look at the pedigree of the hit artists – stars of the day, all. By contrast the Beatles had never had a record out before (excluding an obscure German recording from 1961) and so were generally unknown.

Beatles fans will know all about Mark Lewisohn’s magnum opus, All These Years, the most epic project ever undertaken in pop music journalism, which is still ongoing. Thanks to Lewisohn’s sterling work, we know more about this one cover version than practically anything else in soundalike cover version history!

Lewisohn provides us with the following (the group name, the Sparrows, is of course a nom de plume):

“The singers were John Shakespeare (the higher line, Paul McCartney’s part) and Kenneth Hawker (lower, John Lennon’s)... Shakespeare thinks the harmonica on their version of Love Me Do was played by Harry Fitch (he played on Frank Ifield’s ‘I Remember You’), with Alan Weighell on bass, and possibly Vic Flick on acoustic guitar. (He is best known for his fast lead guitar work on the James Bond Theme.) The drummer isn’t remembered.”

It’s ironic that the identity of the drummer on Cannon’s version of “Love Me Do” is unknown, echoing the problems which beset the Beatles themselves when they recorded it – first with Pete Best at the kit, then with Ringo, and then again with session man, Andy White, before producer George Martin was happy. (And interestingly, Andy White would later drum on a similar Beatles cover himself – as noted here.)

As the personnel had to be recalled from memory during Lewisohn’s research, it’s safe to assume that no actual session logs exist. Nevertheless, Lewisohn established that the musicians were on a flat rate for the session, not a royalty deal, and that the recording was made at Lansdowne Studios in Notting Hill Gate. The producer was Alan Moorhouse, the studio engineer Adrian Kerridge.

Here is the result in all its historic splendour:

Lewisohn was also able to confirm the timing of the release – “late November”. This means we can safely place the recording inside that month, and prove it was both recorded and released before the Beatles had ever dented the top 20, or even cut an album.

The first ever Beatles cover version, consequent of its status as a budget recording, has suffered the fate of being overlooked by most pop historians. What has falsely passed into folklore is that Kenny Lynch was the first performer to tackle a Beatle tune – for example, as of today, you can read on his Wikipedia entry, “Lynch is also known for a single, also issued in 1963, which flopped. That was ‘Misery’, the first cover version of a Beatles song to be released.

Sorry, Kenny, but you were beaten to it by several months - another good reason to acknowledge the mark the anonymous cover version has made on the British music scene. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Flag EP number 10

The latest addition to my collection is one of the difficult Flag EPs - they are not easy to find at all! I've featured them a couple of times before, so won't go over the details again. Back in 2013, I did an overview of the EPs known to me at the time - see here - eight of them containing anonymous cover versions. In 2014, another surfaced - see here - expanding the known discography to nine discs.

I have just chanced upon this one, which while known previously, was not in my personal collection until now:

I can now count the following in my collection:

  • EP 10
  • EP 11
  • EP 12
  • EP 16
  • EP 21
  • EP 23 
I am missing numbers 13, 25 and 26. I also don't have (and nor do I need) EP 15, which is not related to the others and does not contain cover versions like these. On which note, we can add another unrelated disc to the label listing:

This makes a grand total of 11 EPs known to us, catalogue numbered between 10 (preumably the very first) and 26. We're getting there ... slowly!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bill Wellings - did he start his own label??

A short while ago, we were contacted by Clive Hetherington about an album he had chanced upon, called "Top Hits of '72". here are some images of the LP in question:

If the model on the sleeve looks vaguely familiar, it's because we've seen her before, on the Deacon label's "Top Hits of the Year" for 1971:

So what have we here? Initially, this looks to be a typical LP of soundalike cover versions on some obscure label - International Hits Series London - so maybe this is an overseas release? The tracks on the album look familiar to us, even if the label does not - all of them were also included in the "Hot Hits" series - ranging across volumes 9 (January 1972) to 12 (July 1972).

Clive kindly did some sound checks to compare, and was able to confirm that these are the very same recordings. Of course, we didn't realise at first, but this could be one of our most significant finds for a long while.

What Clive has found is a previously unknown compilation from mfp's "Hot Hits" series, which appears in fact to be a UK release, as we shall see. This is amazing enough to a seasoned collector like myself, but is just the tip of an iceberg or two, which we need to explore in more detail.

First of all, there is a Canadian edition of this in existence too. This was released on the Arc label:

Highlighted above is the small print on the back of the sleeve (not stated on the UK edition) - "A BWD Production". This is the more obvious clue that these recordings are from the mfp stable. So is Clive's LP really a hitherto unknown UK album? I think so!

The International Hits Series London released several others which look very much like editions or compilations of Bill Wellings' mfp material. Here are some more examples:

"Soul Hits", "Million Seller Hits", "Smash Hits Presley Style" and so on - this could be mfp itself, in some parallel universe! More significantly, Clive's album is catalogue-numbered BW 012 - while the other six examples above are numbered BW 004; BW 005; BW 016; BW 018; BW 023; BW 027.

These are clearly Bill Wellings' recordings - and the catalogue numbers starting BW, his initials, surely point to this being Bill's very own label! This being so, how has it escaped our attention for so long???

If I have convinced you, I'm about to throw a spanner in the works. This is bothering me, and I would like to know the whole story...

Check out the last of the images above. "Smash Hits Presley Style" was almost issued on mfp in the UK, but the last three tracks are different. Here's the standard edition we know and love:

The trouble is, Bill Wellings' own edition (if that's what it is) was issued in Italy on the Broadway label:

Why does this matter? Because Broadway issued a long run of albums, many of them nothing to do with Bill Wellings, or mfp for that matter. In fact, we featured one on this blog just a few days ago (here). Broadway, and Broadway International, used the same catalogue prefix BW (presumable short for "BroadWay")... so perhaps BW does not stand for Bill Wellings, and the albums on the International Hits Series London label are just re-issues of Italian albums?

It's impossible to be sure, but my hunch is that they are the creation of Bill himself, and the coincidence of the "BW" catalogue numbers is just that - a coincidence.

Looking at the Italian album above, it has the Broadway logo on the front, but also that of the International Hits Series London label - what's that doing there if Broadway were the original issuers? Surely it implies International Hits Series London were the creators of the album? And similar logic applies to that Canadian press of "Top Hits of '72" - it mentions BWD, but nowhere does it mention Broadway. So in both cases, the overseas editions point back to the UK for their source, and not at each other.

So, we can cautiously conclude that Bill was indeed behind the International Hits Series London label - his own outlet, with his initials given in the catalogue numbers!! Clive's discovery is not just a hitherto unknown compilation, but a hitherto unknown label and whole series of albums containing our celebrated cover versions.

As a point of interest, here is mfp's year round-up for 1972. Only a couple of tracks duplicate Bill's selection (and in fact half of mfp's album is all-new, rather than being compiled from the usual albums - which is perhaps a clue to the fact that two labels were going at once in the UK).

One final thing to note - Clive's album was pressed on the same nearly black vinyl we have covered several times lately, which is in fact coloured when held up to a strong light. Here's an image:

What an amazing new find. Moments like this make me realise how little I really know about all this! Despite the confusion of the Broadway label, I do believe we have documented a Bill Wellings UK label for the first time. Please help us with any info you may have, so we can get to the bottom of it all!

Thanks to Clive for flagging this all up to us.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Those coloured vinyl EPs from Avenue - new images

A week ago we featured some info on coloured vinyl Forest and Avenue EPs from Holger Schoeler (see here). Holger has kindly sent us some scans - quite striking they are, too.

So without further comment, here they are:

6 Top Hits (EVA 2001):

6 Top Hits (EVA 2013):

Tribute to Beatlemania:

The World Top Hits - Six: