Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Great Vinyl Meltdown – Welcome! Who Am I?

(Versión en español: http://granfusion.blogspot.com/)

Welcome to the first post of a blog that is designed to explore one year’s worth of music. My name is Seán Dwyer, and I have been writing about music for more than ten years. I never thought I would blog; I can’t even maintain a journal for more than three days.

Recently I discovered music blogs, and I read several each day. These bloggers all do superb research and share interesting facts I can add to my store of knowledge. I learn from them, but I didn’t feel an urge to write on topics they probably covered before I began reading them.

A couple of days ago (I’m writing on October 17, 2007), I awoke with an idea for a music blog. It would let me elaborate on music topics I have discussed on my website (http://www.sdwyer.net/). I liked the idea of keeping the blog’s scope finite by talking only about old vinyl I own.

So, I am going to talk in these pages about my collection of 45 rpm records, songs recorded mostly from 1956 to 1965. Special circumstances allowed me to amass a collection of very obscure 45s, many of which deserved their obscurity. If you are reading this blog, you probably find obscure recordings intriguing, so I look forward to bringing you some new sounds.

I will post twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday. The remainder of this first post will serve as background for the blog project and discuss the inaugural single.

When I was two years old, I demanded to hear music so often that I drove my parents crazy. They taught me to use the record player to get me off their backs. I asked the name of each record, committed the label to memory, and could thereafter pull a specific song from the pile and carefully drop the needle on the vinyl. You can listen to my reaction to a Christmas present of new records and a record player here:


My parents’ music collection got me started. They had a bunch of LPs, including The Fabulous Johnny Cash by—well, never mind—and a stereo sound-effects record designed to show off the owner’s new stereophonic sound system. (We didn’t have stereo then.) They had a small pile of 45s, including some Elvis, Patti Page and the Chordettes. Elvis doesn’t matter to this blog, but the other two 45s have stories I’ll tell later despite their status as Top 40 hits.

My mother’s brother, Tom, bought me 45s at the Big Top department store on Broadway, just a few feet south of Gary, Indiana. There he could buy twenty singles for a dollar. I never got tired of receiving the records, and he seemed never to grow tired of buying them.

I wound up with more than 300 45s, most by people you’ve never heard of. I would document all of them here, to keep their obviously sincere artists from oblivion, were it not for the Great Meltdown.

One day around 1972, I was ordered to put my cardboard box of vinyl on the enclosed back porch. The box sat under a window that allowed direct sunlight to hit the records. Virtually all of the LPs and about two hundred of the singles warped beyond repair. I tossed them, never thinking that I could more easily reacquire the songs at some point if I had the names.

Since the mid-1990s I have been finding the melted songs either on 45s or reissued on CD. The tricky thing is that I had to remember titles of 45s I had not seen for more than twenty years. I have remembered maybe fifty of the melted titles, and another hundred are locked deep in my memory. Considering that the Meltdown occurred 35 years ago, I’m not too upset with myself. Over the course of the year, I’ll tell a story or two about how I remembered titles I reacquired.

My 45s fall into three categories. One is “Ground to Dust,” the 45s I played until the groove was no longer a groove. When I post them, I will post listenable versions if they’re available. A second bunch of songs are the Rescued, those I have reacquired since their loss in the Great Meltdown. The third group is the Survivors, songs on 45s that were at the bottom of my box when the Great Meltdown occurred. It’s strange, but many of the Survivors were favorites of mine, and a few were Ground to Dust. You would think all of the best songs would be on top of the pile for easy access, and thus melted, but good 45s must have guardian angels.

Since 1972, all of the Survivors are still with me. They have survived my years in college, life in six different cities, and a couple of pets who might have enjoyed gnawing or scratching the vinyl.

And now, a song. This first tune (of at least 104 to come) fits the Ground to Dust category. The 45 survived the Great Meltdown, but it was pretty crackly even in 1972. Though my Uncle Tom bought most of my 45s, I’m sure my mom bought “The Gypsy Rover”/“Cotton Fields,” because I remember her singing the song when I was little. It was too big a hit for Uncle Tom to have given it to me. The song is not extremely rare, but its story can be kept short, so it suits my needs today.

The Highwaymen, college friends at Wesleyan University, rode the crest of the early 1960s folk craze to #1 with “Michael” in 1961. Based on typical music-industry thinking, they were told to follow up that whistling song with another. “The Gypsy Rover” (United Artists 370) almost made the Top 40, peaking at #42, but DJs stalled it by playing its intended flip, “Cotton Fields,” which did reach #13 in 1962.

Leo Maguire (1903-1985) wrote the song as “The Whistling Gypsy.” He was a singer and Dublin radio broadcaster, one devoted to maintaining the heritage of Irish music. He wrote this song in response to the notion that all Irish ballads end with the death of a lover. The Highwaymen’s version leaves out a couple of verses from the middle of the story, no doubt to keep the song a radio-friendly length. You can find more lyrics here: http://www.mudcat.org/@displaysong.cfm?SongID=2460 and an even longer set of lyrics here: http://ingeb.org/songs/thegypsy.html.

The producer of the recording was Don Costa (1925-1983), a major force in 1960s pop. He arranged vocals for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, produced Paul Anka and Lloyd Price, and became Frank Sinatra’s arranger at Reprise. He got his daughter, Nikka Costa, into the business, and he died when she was ten. She sang with Sinatra, and she still has a substantial music career going.

Thirty years after the single’s release, I started asking the manager of Tracks, my favorite record shop in Bloomington, Indiana, to let me know if a Highwaymen compilation ever made it to CD. After several months, she flagged me down and told me their compilation had just arrived in the store. She said she had never expected it. We played “The Gypsy Rover” on the store’s CD player. Despite the charm of 45s, this remastered stereo version of the song was a far superior listening experience.

The source of “The Gypsy Rover” is “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore”: The Best of the Highwaymen. United Artists (EMI) 0777-7-96334-2 5. The copyright date of the CD is 1992. I hope you will enjoy this beautiful song and purchase the CD, which is full of cleanly recorded and historic if somewhat tame folk recordings.

As a side note, I should mention that Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings released two albums (1985 and 1990) under the name “Highwayman.” Confusion ensued, and a lawsuit brought the Highwaymen and Highwayman together on stage on October 1, 1990 in Los Angeles. The performers on “The Gypsy Rover” are Dave Fisher, Steve Butts, Bob Burnett, Chan Daniels and Steve Trott.

A comment on the labels shown is in order. You can see, by looking at my original 45 and the replacement I found a couple of years ago, that the typesetting and the information provided varied as additional pressings were ordered. The name of Leo Maguire is misspelled as well. If you look at both scans, you can see that the surface of my original 45 is gray—a sign that the record was Ground to Dust by a multitude of plays.

Give the song a listen, and let me know what you think of these guys via the poll module. Next time, we leave Ireland for Mexico. See you Saturday!

The Highwaymen, “The Gypsy Rover”
Label-My 45
Label-Newer 45


stackja1945 said...

whiteray said "Go Take A Look! My friend caithiseach"
I did.
Highwaymen Gypsy Rover a real blast from the past.

Girasole said...

This is a great tune! Thanks for the background info, too. Looking forward to the next one. xo

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the blogosphere. I'm looking forward to reading about and hearing the stuff from your collection.

whiteray said...

Nice start, my friend!

caithiseach said...

A nice start, thanks to your kind endorsement on your own blog, and thanks to your readers who were generous with their time to stop by.

Stephanie said...

I love this song!

Congratulations on the new blog...I'm very proud of you!

Peter Hammill said...

Hello Good People.....

W E L C O M E to the Blog-Music Space.......

I'm looking forward the great single: Johnny Rivers - RIGHT RELATIONS..

Wouldn't you please post this true sunshine psych gem, if you can???

Cheers from BRAZIL

dont forget:
"Life Gets Sweeter Everyday"

Peter Hammill

stackja1945 said...

Further to Semann Deine Heimat Ist Das Meer I forgot to mention "Sailor" Petula Clark.