Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Summertime? Summertime?

Now that this blog is developing a history, it’s time to update an open issue: the Mystery 45 has not yet been named. I’ll give it a couple more weeks, then it will be time to shop the recordings around to pop musicologists. Doesn’t someone here want the honor of having solved a 40-year-old mystery? I know you can do it . . .

I’d like to note as well that I was pleasantly surprised at the positive reception the Five Whispers tunes earned. Comments both on the blog and via email show both sides to be listenable, and so I’m glad I hunted down a copy of the 45. Thanks for caring about the music. Today’s song is another true obscurity. Here we go.

When the Great Meltdown took two-thirds of my 45s away from me, one of the non-aerodynamic Frisbees I remembered well was by a band I thought I had never heard before. By the time of the Meltdown, though, I was hearing this vocal group a lot on WIND in Chicago, the oldies station my stepmom played in the car.

The group was the Jamies. Ah! Of course. “Summertime, Summertime.” It hit #26 in 1958 and #38 in 1962. Are they a One-Hit Wonder? Is their second foray into the Top 40 a One-Week Wonder? There is an awful lot of music philosophy wrapped up in the chart history of the Jamies.

The history of the discovery of the Jamies is wrapped up in a lot of music philosophy as well. Skip this story if you’ve heard it. If not, it’s a good read.

Tom Jameson and his sister, Serena of Dorchester, Massachusetts, formed a church quartet with Jeannie Roy and Arthur Blair. A Boston DJ, Sherm Feller (1918-1994), heard them sing, and he worked up a ditty with Tom Jameson that they called “Summertime, Summertime.” Some of you will know that Sherm Feller was the Boston Red Sox PA announcer for 26 years. (See http://www.shermfeller.com/.)

The Jamies recorded a demo of “Summertime, Summertime,” and Feller took it to Cadence Records. The label head, Archie Bleyer, played it for his kids, and they liked it enough that he brought the Jamies into the studio. Unimpressed with the results, he threw away the tape in Sherm Feller’s presence. Feller offered to buy it from him, but Bleyer told him to take it. No charge.

Feller took it across the street to Epic, and they snapped it up. Despite a late release in July, this first of all summer songs sold 250,000 copies. If you listen to anything other than a pure hip-hop station, you will run into this tune every year during months with no R in them.

So, how could Archie Bleyer, who signed the Chordettes, the Everly Brothers and who knows how many other harmony-laden acts, decide to pass on a song his kids loved? How did Epic Records give Sherm Feller a $2000 advance without even seeing the singers? It’s quintessential music business: this hit-and-miss approach has ruled the labels, and the airwaves, for decades. Just think what music you might have heard if every decision were the right one. By the same token, think about what songs you would not have been subjected to. After all, there would have been no “Ice, Ice Baby” if the labels didn’t pump out the occasional plagiarized retread.

With the big summer hit under their belt and winter approaching, the industry philosophy said: “Sequel!” And so it was. The Jamies recorded “Snow Train” (written by Feller) and “When the Sun Goes Down” (Feller/Jameson) for Epic 45 5-9299 in 1958. How big was the splash?

The splash was about the same as the difference between jumping into a pool and into a snowbank. No Top 40 activity for “Snow Train.” Not even Hot 100 activity. The 45 reached my collection precisely because it tanked; my copy sat somewhere for five years, and Uncle Tom got it for a nickel in 1963. But three-year-old caithiseach, like Archie Bleyer’s kids (his wife was Janet Ertel of the Chordettes, and his daughter, Jackie, married Phil Everly), found the Jamies’ perky tunes worth a number of spins. I listened to the flip side (wait till Saturday) a lot more often, but I didn’t think “Snow Train” was too bad back then.

Was “Snow Train” really a sequel? Considering that Feller wrote a cascading break of “Summertime, Summertime, Summertime, Summertime” into the song, yes, it was a sequel. Should the kids of America have given it more attention? The lyrics are more repetitive of the theme words and far less saucy than those of “Summertime, Summertime.” I would even venture a guess that the younger Tom Jameson wrote the best bits of the Jamies’ big hit, and Feller couldn’t quite match the tone in “Snow Train.” I may well be wrong about that lyrical dynamic, of course, but I have reasons for my opinion, which I will discuss Saturday.

Give it a listen, and let me know if you would have bought “Snow Train” or even played it when you were a kid. I’m about the only kid who did play it. I even remembered it for 34 years after the Great Meltdown until I could find a replacement copy. See you Saturday on the flip side!

Confirming source for this post: www.onehitwondercentral.com

Jamies, Snow Train

Snow Train label with Epic sleeve


Girasole said...

As a mom, I would have bought it for my kids to add to their collection of happy tunes. Eventually, I would have tired of the lyrics repeating in my head long after the record player, and the kids, were tucked in. "Snow train, snow train..." For now, it is a pleasant reminder of the simplicity of kids, music, and playtime. :)

Yah Shure said...

Thanks for posting "Snow Train," which was new to me. It's a catchy tune. Songs relating to winter, however, have never kindled much musical excitement, whereas summer songs resonate with everyone.

A wintry record which borrowed VERY heavily from "Summertime, Summertime" was The Ran-Dells' (of "Martian Hop" fame) "Wintertime" (RSVP 1104) from 1964:

"Wintertime is here again
It's wintertime, that good time
When the the snowflakes fall
And all the air is clear..."

Like the earlier "Snow Train," "Wintertime" couldn't break through the ice on the hit pond.