Tuesday, April 29, 2008

D-Day for Gee-Week

Before I settle in, I need to note the very kind mention of my blog on the exceptional music blog run by Any Major Dude with Half a Heart. You can always find a link to him below the polls and the counter. For the few readers who know me and not him, Any Major Dude is a deservedly popular blogger who treats his fans to a wide range of music and brilliant thoughts on the songs. If you’re an Any Major Dude reader who followed his link here, please accept my thanks for checking out this place too.

Now I am settled in.

Every once in awhile, my Uncle Tom brought me a second copy of a 45 he had already found in the discount bin at the Big Top Department store. I don’t remember complaining, as there were always 19 other 45s in the pile he bought for a dollar. But I remember shaking my head and wondering why he didn’t notice that he had bought a duplicate.

Right about now, I’m thinking that the reason could be that it wasn’t his collection to keep track of. He was just my supplier.

On at least one occasion he brought me a second copy of a song, but the artist was different. At the time that my second version of “Gee” showed up, I may not have even known that two artists could record the same song. I also learned then that there was more than one way to record a song. In the case of “Gee,” both boys and girls could record the same song. The boys sang, “I love that girl,” and the girls sang, “I love that boy.” Intriguing.

My first version of “Gee” was by the Roomates (sic) on Philips 40105. It came to me at the same time as my Marlin Greene single, “General of Broken Hearts” (Philips 40103). They were both cutouts, perhaps punched through the label by the same machine operator after a Philips executive said to delete a specific sequence of unproductive records. Three-year-old caithiseach liked this record; it’s doo-wop that starts very slowly and cranks up to a nice peppy tempo. I played it a lot more than the second version I got, which was actually too peppy for my four-year-old tastes. This version is nearly Ground to Dust, whereas the second 45 is pretty clean.

The Roomates (sic) were comprised of Steve Susskind (lead), Bob Minsky (bass) and later additions Felix Álvarez and Jack Carlson (tenors). Note that AMG refers to Carlson by that name, as do other sources; Joel Whitburn calls the group the Roommates (not sic) and calls Jack either Sailson or Salison, depending on the volume.

Just as Marlin Greene had a surprising career apart from his non-starter singles, the Roomates (sic) show up in unexpected places. Susskind and Minsky wrote some of their own songs, but they didn’t get anywhere with them. They managed to catch the ears of music entrepreneurs Gene and Jody Malis, who first farmed them out to Promo Records for a 1960 release, “Making Believe.” The couple then signed them to a label they started, Valmor Records.

The Roomates (sic) deemed the next turn of events a negative one, but it led to their only Top 40 hit. They added backing vocals to a track by another artist to sweeten it, and the results horrified them so that they tried to pay for the recording session so the Malises would wipe their vocals. But it wasn’t their voices that had them worried: they were singing background for 15-year-old Cathy Jean Giordano on a sappy song that had been a #61 hit for Tommy Edwards. Cathy Jean’s voice sounds like a cat left out in a hailstorm at times, but Valmor thought the single would chart. The guys were stuck.

“Please Love Me Forever” (Valmor 007) entered the Hot 100 on February 27, 1961, hit the Top 40 on March 6, and climbed to #12. They took a solo recording, “Glory of Love” (Valmor 008), to #49 almost simultaneously. Maybe nobody wanted to have too many Roomates (sic) around at once. Given their success with Cathy Jean, Susskind and company recorded more sides with her. None was as successful as the record they tried to destroy.

The quartet moved on to Philips and Canadian American after Valmor folded. They had no other chart success, but their recordings, solo and with Cathy Jean, are compiled by Morval (sic) Records on CD 68924. The CD seems to be available still, but I just learned of it, so it won’t be in my collection by posting time to tell you if it came from master tapes or vinyl dubs.

The group’s choice of songs is interesting. Benny Goodman took their hit “Glory of Love” to #1 in 1936. Their 1960 debut, “Making Believe,” had been a hit for Kitty Wells in 1955. Today’s song, “Gee,” dates to about 1953. It once squeaked up to #14, in 1954, but this song is no standard. It somehow still managed to attract the attention of vocal artists in 1960, 1963 and 1964.

The provenance of “Gee” is difficult to pin down. The label of the Philips 45 says it was composed by V. Watkins, D. Norton and W.E. Davis. Saturday’s version confirms that information. Wikipedia says the authors are William Davis (fine) and Viola Watkings (well, okay). BMI calls it an Award-Winning Song and attributes it to William E. Davis and . . . Morris Levy (darn).

Well, Levy co-wrote “My Boy Lollipop,” a 1964 hit for Millie Small, and “Ya Ya,” recorded by Lee Dorsey (#7, 1961), the Steve Miller Band and John Lennon. But did he co-write “Gee?”

I suspect an administrative error on BMI’s part, but I will probably have to find sheet music before I can tell you more.

The recording of “Gee” by the Roomates (sic) is a “Jo-Mal Production,” which would indicate that Jody Malis was responsible for this gem. And it is a gem, more so than the B side, “Answer Me, My Love,” a 1954 hit for Nat “King” Cole, written by Winkler-Sigman-Rauch. If you listen to “Please Love Me Forever,” you can hear a good backing track being mishandled by the young lady. There was a good ear, if a blind eye, in Jody Malis’s production choices.

Now for the “where are they?” segment. Steve Susskind made it into the movies, including Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. He appeared in six episodes of Married with Children as Barney, and he did a surprising amount of other film work between 1982 and 2005, when he died in a car accident. Bob Minsky died of cancer in 2006. The other two singers seem to be around still.

As for the Malis couple, they gave up on music labels after Canadian American shut down, and Jody went to work for Golden Records and Peter Pan. They went on to write a 1977 book called Stan Lee Presents the Mighty Marvel Superheroes Cookbook with Stan Lee and Joe Giella. So, between the Star Trek fans and the Marvel Comics fans, this post should get a lot of non-music traffic, eh?

I started this essay knowing that the Roomates (sic) might be the same guys who sang with Cathy Jean. I knew nothing else. Really. And now, just ten hours later (really), I know what I know. A lot of my info came from Both Sides Now Publications. If you don’t know their website, which includes a superb LP discography, you should check out the link. You could spend years there.

I am offering you both sides of today’s 45, “Gee” and “Answer Me, My Love.” They are from my 45, but I used the new trick Yah Shure taught me to cut the crackles. Even so, you’ll know they sat in my box of 45s from 1963 till the Great Vinyl Meltdown nine years later. It’s too bad I don’t have the group’s compilation yet. “Answer Me” is actually pretty clean, because I hardly played it. The first 15 seconds sound hissy because of something stupid I did when I transferred it, but the rest sounds fine.

I am also giving you as much of “Please Love Me Forever” as I can take before I hit the stop button. You may have a higher tolerance, but you may thank me for the quick cutoff.

Thanks, as always, for reading. I’ll have much more “Gee” for you Saturday!

The Roomates (sic), Gee

The Roomates (sic), Answer Me, My Love

Cathy Jean and the Roomates, Please Love Me Forever (snippet)

1 comment:

Yah Shure said...

The Roomates? Where's Rolf Harris when you need him??

I thought that both sides of the Philips 45 were quite good. I'm not surprised to see Morris Levy's name listed as a late-to-the-party credit. It seemed that George Goldner would sell his record labels (Tico, Rama and Gee, then End and Gone) to Mo in order to cover his gambling debts; no doubt, music publishing interests came right along with them.

Seán, you're being far too kind in likening Cathy Jean's voice to that of a cat in a hailstorm. The opening "puhleeese" is bad enough, but Cathy's, um, rather unique approach to vowel coloration gives The Swingers' "Bay-Hay Bee Doll" a real run for the money. Sa-a-a-y.... could it possibly be that Cathy just might have been an uncredited Swinger? :)

As always, I'm thoroughly enjoying the Meltdown parade.