Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why Wait?

This week’s music didn’t reach me on 45, and my Uncle Tom didn’t buy it for me. I bought today’s song myself when I was five, without ever having heard it.

In my dad’s home town, Shoals, Indiana, the Alco Dime Store was the place to shop for everything other than clothing, which you bought from Lawrence “Son” Sorrels at Queen’s Clothing Store. If you wanted to eat, you went to the Dwyer Café, where my grandmother cooked you anything from a hamburger to an oyster sandwich. The Dwyer Café had the best jukebox ever, but I’ll get to that in April.

One day, my dad and I went to the dime store to spend my accumulated allowance. I looked at the toys, but I wasn’t intrigued by anything, so I wandered a bit. I happened upon a stack of records that looked like LPs but had just one song per side. My dad told me they were 78s. I remembered then that my record player had a setting for 78, but I didn’t know what it did. I gathered up the dozen or so 78s I could afford, and off we went.

When we got back to Gary, I started playing the records. I had purchased “Stroll Me”/“Rockin’ Chair” by Kay Starr, a 1957 single that never charted. I also acquired two Jimmy Boyd 78s, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”/“Thumbelina” and “My Bunny and My Sister Sue”/“Two Easter Sunday Sweethearts.” Really, I just grabbed what was there, sort of the way Uncle Tom did with 45s.

One 78 that stood out from the crowd was an Atlantic release. One day I took it to kindergarten, because Mrs. Ballinger let us bring in songs to play during nap time (her favorite time of day, I’m sure). When I brought in my song, she asked if it was slow, as per the guidelines for naptime songs. Five-year-old caithiseach said, “It’s sort of slow,” and it was, compared to “Flight of the Bumblebee.” But the second the needle hit the 78, the kids started rocking and rolling, clapping and swaying in the dim naptime light. I covered my head and waited for Mrs. Ballinger to take me to task for the debacle, but she smiled and let it go.

On the way home from school that day, one of the carpool kids, my friend Glen Fuller, sat on the record and snapped it in two. When I started to complain, the carpool driver, who happened to be my mom, said I had no business griping if I had put the record on the seat in the first place. I shut up. I don’t know for sure which Atlantic release it was, and that irks me, because I really dug that tune.

That 78 wasn’t the only one that broke. Since they were made of lacquer rather than vinyl, they were all prone to chipping or cracking. When the Jimmy Boyd 78s broke, I could see that they were so heavy because they were reinforced with a cardboard center. Knowing how 78s were put together didn’t make me any happier about how fast my stock dwindled.

The background I just laid leads to the focus of today’s post, a song that expanded my musical horizons more quickly than anything else I owned.

The 78 was an RCA release. It fascinated me how fast the little dog spun on this 78. The tonearm ate up the groove so fast you could see it move, unlike an LP, or even a 45. The artist was foreign, perhaps Mexican. These were my first impressions of this new experience of playing 78 rpm records.

And now, I present to you “Why Wait” by Pérez Prado and His Orchestra. Dámaso Pérez Prado wrote the song, and Herman Díaz Jr. (the orchestra's regular producer) produced it with Johnnie Camacho.

I latched onto this side of the 78, even though the A side, “Patricia,” was a fine song and a big hit. I’ll talk about the A side on Saturday.

Even if five-year-old caithiseach had known “Patricia” was the side that had sold the 78 originally, he would have preferred “Why Wait.” I was always a sucker for lively rhythms, and if a song had a horn section, it got high marks for that. This cut had a twangy guitar playing a 1-4-5 progression throughout, and somewhere in the mono mix I heard what sounded like bongos. It was pure sonic heaven. I started drum lessons that year, and I asked my dad to buy me bongos at Sparks Music in Gary, Indiana so I could play along with “Why Wait.”

If I underestimate and say that I played the song just twice a week, by 1978, when I went to college, I played that 78 1300 times. In fact, I often played it three times in a row, so the total plays must top 5000. You can tell from the scan of the 78 that the record got a lot of use. Even so, I treated it with care, and it survived the Great Meltdown, as well as many moves.

I’ll give you some background on the man Saturday. For now, I want to bring up one thing about the career of Pérez Prado that aggravates me. More than almost any other artist, Pérez Prado requires a discography such as this one: www.laventure.net/tourist/prez.htm if one is going to get a representative collection of his work. I’ve heard that his complete RCA recordings appeared in a Japanese box set, but I’ve not come across it. I own 213 of his recordings, and there are still a large number of RCA releases I can’t find on CD. I own 20 CDs of his music, with just two being original albums. One recording, of “María Bonita,” appears on eight of my CDs. “Patricia” appears on several, including one remastered version in stereo.

Here’s what bugs me: The version of “Why Wait” I have on the 78 is not on any of those CDs.

First of all, the song hasn’t been transferred to an official Pérez Prado compilation at all, as far as I can tell. A mono version that has an electric guitar overdub in the chorus appeared in the RCA Space Age Music series, as well as in the Rhino Cocktail Mix series, on the CD I bought that includes “Washington Square.” Perhaps if I had heard the version with the guitar overdub first, I would be satisfied with it, but I grew up with a guitar-free version, and I want it on CD.

“Why Wait” appeared on the Pérez Prado album Dilo (¡Ugh!), which was released in both mono and stereo versions. The LP is regularly available in mono on eBay, but I have yet to see a stereo copy come up for auction. I would love to hear the original song in stereo, even on vinyl. Considering that Pérez Prado’s work was released in stereo far earlier than many artists’, it shouldn’t be that hard to transfer the stereo mix of “Why Wait” to CD.

Oh, I do own a stereo version of “Why Wait” on CD. But it’s a remake he did long after my 78 came out. You have to be careful about his records—he re-recorded most of his repertoire at some point, especially after he left RCA. Very few of these recycled versions rival the originals, though a handful do.

In sum, I own the best recording of “Why Wait” on a mono LP. I own an overdubbed mono version on CD. I own a bad stereo remake on CD. And I can’t get what I want. I can’t even get what I need.

In my quest for the exact recording I want, I have learned that there are several other songs named “Why Wait” that are pretty good. You can find them on Rhapsody. A German group that calls itself Tennessee did a pretty nice job with the Pérez Prado tune. Lots of twangy guitar, but it belongs in their arrangement. I’ll include it here.

Also, I am offering you another tune, “Machaca,” that was recorded around the same time as “Why Wait,” in 1957. “Machaca” was released in stereo, and I envision “Why Wait” with a similar sound if it is ever released in stereo on CD.

End of rant. What I am giving you all to hear is the original version of “Why Wait” I heard when I was five years old. I seem to put it on all my compilation CDs, and I have never skipped over it because I was tired of hearing it. It is one of the few true classics to come from my childhood record collection. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Saturday, I’ll look at the other side of the 78, “Patricia.” See you on the flip side!

Pérez Prado and His Orchestra, Why Wait

Why Wait scan

Tennessee, Why Wait

Pérez Prado and His Orchestra, Machaca


stackja1945 said...

We disagree again. I prefer Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White, to Why Wait.
Not sure if I remember Patricia. When I hear it, I probably will remember it.

Yah Shure said...

I loved "Patricia," and had the 45 as a kid. "Why Wait" was an oft-played favorite on the Grind-A-Groove, too. I'd downloaded "Why Wait" some years back, but hadn't gotten around to listening to it until a year ago. The overdubs ruined it for me, too, so I dug out the original 45 for a spin, and all was right again. :)

It does seem odd that the original version hasn't seen the light of day in so many years. And the wait goes on...

caithiseach said...

Even my 3-CD compilations don't include "Why Wait." I think my only recourse is to license the track from RCA International and press a thousand copies as the inaugural release of my "record label." People who know me know I'll do it.