Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Lucky Find?

When I began last October to write posts for this blog year, I didn’t know what would happen. Would I get tired of digging around for info on obscure artists and give up mid-year? (Answer: No.) Would I have so few readers that I would feel stupid for continuing? (Answer: I have enough readers that I don’t feel embarrassed, so thanks.) Would I stick to the premise or the schedule of songs I had set for myself? (Answer: Yes.)

And that leads me to this final month of caithiseach’s childhood 45s. As of now, it looks as if readers are comfortable with a couple of new directions for when I run out of home-grown vinyl. I have settled on these topics for 2009: ROM (Really Old Music, like Paul Whiteman and Billy Murray) for some Wednesdays, alternating with Women You Don’t Know on the others; Saturdays will recap the Billboard charts 1955-1959, which is a much more complex set of data than the Joel Whitburn books would indicate.

If you want to make a belated pitch for some of the other topics I offered a couple of months ago, I’ll consider rotating over three Wednesdays, but I intend to hit all of those topics eventually.

I am reflecting on where I’ve been and where I’m going because, from here on, every 45 is either the last or the almost-last of its kind. Today, we’re looking at the next-to-last 45 that I have (so far) recovered after losing it to the Great Vinyl Meltdown. This is a single I remembered from the day of the Meltdown on; I didn’t have to burrow through memories to find the label image. However, I remembered the label in one part of my brain, and I remembered the title of Saturday’s song in another, and it took an internet search to match the title to the label.

A couple of times this year, I noted that very common names (Michael Allen, Johnny Cooper) made research difficult. Also, having a mildly unusual name and no success (Davi) could lead to a big zero in search-engine hits. Today’s guy, by my reckoning, should have been discernible by name (Lennie or Lenny LaCour), though a listen to his 45 would make me wonder if people talked about him much.

It was gratifying, then, to learn that there were plenty of pages that refer to Lennie, gratifying both for research purposes and because he seems like an okay guy who deserves a bit of a nod from all of us. So, here goes.

My Uncle Tom would have brought me “No Privacy” by Lennie LaCour (Lucky Four 1001) in the first stack or two of cutout 45s I ever received. Lucky Four was a Chicago label, and I can get from my childhood house to the Chicago city limits in half an hour, so it didn’t take three years for this March, 1961 release to wend its way to the Big Top department store in Merrillville, Indiana. I owned the 45 for ten years, and I played the B-side with fair regularity at certain times of the year. “No Privacy” was a bouncy rocker in the caithiseach wheelhouse, but it faced a lot of competition and stayed in the lower rungs of the caithiseach playlist.

Then, it disappeared from the world in 1972. Rather, it disappeared from the above-ground world; I’m sure it’s sitting deep in a landfill, where in a thousand years it will be excavated, and the archaeologists will wonder what kind of complex device was used to play a piece of vinyl shaped like a Möbius strip.

The Lucky Four single, however, did not disappear from my mind. The label had four, um, lucky symbols: a wishbone, a horseshoe, a rabbit’s foot and a four-leaf clover. The label is tasteful, with a splash of red to set it apart from all those black labels. “No Privacy” didn’t stick with me; the title of the B-side did, and I’ll get to that Saturday.

“No Privacy” didn’t stick with listeners, either, despite a mention in Billboard, as Terry Gordon indicates. Lennie believed in the recording, it seems, as he jumped right back on that particular horse and released Lucky Four 1002 as “No Privacy” plus different B-side and different artist name. For 1002, from April, 1961, Lennie billed himself as the Big Rocker. (The Big Bopper was not long enough deceased to recycle that name.)

How did Lennie gain enough pull to get his single remarketed and himself renamed? Well, he founded the label. I think that’s pretty cool, by the way. I have wanted to found a record label for maybe thirty years, and I still haven’t gotten around to doing it.

Lennie actually has had a very interesting career as an artist and mini-mogul. I’ll give you some of the history today, and some Saturday.

Born in 1932 in Bayou Bredelle, Louisiana, Lennie wandered up to Chicago, where he recorded four singles in 1957, three for Academy, and one for Spin. He did a good portion of his own songwriting from the start. “No Privacy,” however, was a J. Richard-J. Burgess composition for which Lennie got some of the publishing. A fairly lengthy search produced no further information on these two songwriters. Lennie himself seems to have let his BMI compositions go to Database Heaven, which surprises me, considering his continuing role in music.

After some more Lucky Four releases, three as artist and as many as fifteen as owner/producer, Lennie moved on to Milwaukee to do more production work and songwriting. I’ll bring that part of his story to you for Saturday. Now, the song itself:

“No Privacy” is perhaps not the song one would lead with in an attempt to sell you on Lennie LaCour. Snippets of other material present him in a better light, but this is what I have available to work with, and it’s what I owned in 1962.

There are a couple of points to ponder about “No Privacy.” Messrs. Richard and Burgess essentially wrote new lyrics to the tune of “Little Brown Jug.” Granted, “Little Brown Jug” is a traditional tune, so there was no infringement that I can see, but then there’s the lyrics . . .

“No Privacy” is, as you may deduce, a tale of two lovers who can’t get any alone time. In that sense, it fits in the long line of such songs that eventually leads to Tiffany singing “I Think We’re Alone Now.” That’s fine. But it’s clear from Lennie’s voice that he’s not seventeen, or even nineteen. Ricky Nelson should have been singing this song, not a guy who sounds every bit the 29-year-old he is. Lennie is suitably expressive, and the song is fun in some ways, both intentional and unintentional, but when the 29-year-old protagonist is dodging the girl’s “old man,” we’re talking about an “old man” who is not old enough to be the singer’s father. Unless the girl is also 29, in which case, I think, she should move into an apartment of her own.

This guy and girl like sodas and shakes; she has brothers at home; her mother comes into the room to do some dusting; her old man “don’t nothin’ miss.” Someday, they’re “gonna live alone.” But he’s 29!

The song sports a very clean, perky guitar break that makes the song for me. I’m guessing that it’s Lennie playing it. In fact, Lennie put together a far better band than most tiny labels do. No out-of-tune sax like on “Motorcyle,” which came from Amy, a label that had some hits. You may not have as much trouble as I do with the lyrical premise; I’ve said before that I don’t suspend disbelief as easily as some, like when thunder and lightning occur together, in the distance, in movies.

I have to note that, just as with other singles that flopped, came to me, melted and reappeared via vinyl salesmen in this decade, I greeted the return of Lucky Four 1001 with great joy. If I could open my head with a can opener and have someone I trust peer in and read all the little memories of 45s I can’t remember, so I could look for them online, I would do it. 45s are just that much fun, and I just wish I had been smart enough to keep mine out of the sun in 1972.

For Saturday, expect the B-side of “No Privacy” and, with it, the ushering-in of a season you should have seen coming after I spent two weeks counting down to Halloween. See you on the flip side!

Lennie LaCour, No Privacy

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