New Year (2013) Edition
And so it came to pass that the legendary British record company EMI Records is no longer a stand-alone, independent organization. It was purchased a few months ago by Vivendi-owned Universal Music Group, thereby bringing to a close its British ownership, the roots of which date back to 1897 when what was known as the Gramophone Company was founded. EMI, which stood for Electric And Musical Industries, was created when the Gramophone Company merged with its competitor, the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1931, the year that EMI’s fabled Abbey Road Studios first opened its doors.
To many, the sale of EMI is just another takeover in the music industry but to those of us who worked for the company for any length of time, it’s a sad page in the story of the history of once major player in the record industry. I was lucky enough to be employed at the company’s Manchester Square head office between 1961 and 1968, a period during which British EMI was not only home to such local superstar talents as The Beatles and Cliff Richard but it was also at the forefront of the exploding singles market and the beginning of the independent producer movement. Whereas The Beatles and Cliff were produced by in-house A&R men, many hits came from outside producers such as Mickie Most (whose artists included The Animals and Herman’s Hermits) and Giorgio Gomelsky (The Yardbirds).
To the left of this article, the 1963 poster (one of the countless promotional aids which were sent to record dealers for in-store display) shows how regularly successful the company was in those days. All the singles listed there are releases of British product along with one by Ray Charles whose ABC-Paramount recordings were licensed to EMI outside the US.
This was also the period when EMI took over the British representation of Motown Records, known over there as Tamla Motown. Prior to Motown being given its own its own label identity, its product was released on EMI’s Stateside label and I vividly remember the excitement throughout the building in 1964 when “My Guy” by Mary Wells became the very first Motown record to enter the New Musical Express chart.
Indeed, the Manchester Square offices were an exciting place to work partly because you never knew who you might see in the halls or in the elevator. For instance, one day in 1965, I walked into the office of Rex Oldfield (head of the licensed repertoire division) and he introduced me to three cute young girls who turned out to be The Toys whose hit single “A Lover’s Concerto” was released in the UK on EMI’s Stateside label.
The American jewel in EMI’s crown is of course Capitol Records which was founded in 1942 in California by songwriters Johnny Mercer and Buddy De Sylva along with music store owner Glenn Wallichs. British Decca originally handled the UK releases of Capitol product until in 1955, EMI purchased a controlling interest in the west coast-based company and eventually, it took over the entire operation. EMI’s ownership of significant American masters was further enhanced in 1979 when it bought out United Artists Records which included the catalogs of the Blue Note, Liberty, World Pacific, Imperial, Aladdin and Sue labels. In later years, EMI acquired both Virgin and Chrysalis Records.
EMI was once an international powerhouse within the industry both in recorded music and in music publishing. The publishing arm has been acquired by an investor consortium led by Sony and Universal will be divesting itself of certain overseas masters to a third party.
From a personal point of view, it will be fascinating to see how Universal markets the legendary back catalog masters of Capitol and the other inherited American labels. As the saying goes ‘There’s gold in them thar hills”!
Bert Weedon and Jerry Lordan
British guitarist Bert Weedon died last April at age 91. His how-to book “Play In A Day” was published in the UK in 1957 and many young rock musicians (including Paul McCartney and George Harrison) used it to learn the basic steps for playing the guitar. Signing with Top Rank Records, Bert cut a string of successful singles which began in 1959 with “Guitar Boogie Shuffle”: a remake of “Guitar Boogie” which had been a 1948 seller for American guitarist Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith. In 1960, Bert cut a tune written by a young singer-songwriter called Jerry Lordan and titled “Apache”. Bert’s version made the UK chart but was beaten out two years later by a cover version recorded by Cliff Richard’s group The Shadows, namely Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris & Tony Meehan. In the US, “Apache” was a huge hit via a version by a guitarist from Denmark called Jorgan Ingmann.
Jerry Lordan not only wrote “Apache” but two other Shadows hits namely “Wonderful Land” and “Atlantis”. He also wrote “Diamonds” and “Scarlett O’Hara”, the first two instrumental hits by Jet Harris & Tony Meehan when they left The Shadows and recorded under their own names on British Decca, plus “I’m A Moody Guy” which was the debut charted single by Shane Fenton & The Fentones on Parlophone in 1961. (The singer known as Shane Fenton later changed his name to Alvin Stardust).
As a singer, Jerry was produced by George Martin for Parlophone. His “Who Could Be Bluer” 45 reached the UK Top 20 and was released here by Capitol.
For those with strong trivia appetites, another of Jerry Lordan’s songs namely “Love Where Can You Be” was recorded byJulie Rayne on HMV in 1959. Julie was a British singer who never hit the big time though she garnered some attention in 1961 with her cover of an American song by Philip Springer and Jonas Schroeder with the ridiculously long title “Green With Envy Purple With Passion White With Anger Scarlet With Fever What Were You Doin’ In His Arms Last Night Blues”!
Here are links to YouTube postings containing audio of APACHE by Bert Weedon (http://youtu.be/wQX5DXsp3e4), WONDERFUL LAND by The Shadows (http://youtu.be/zzCj_429FtI) and WHO COULD BE BLUER by Jerry Lordan (http://youtu.be/TBkL3qlhhDk)
Hollywood of yesteryear
Here’s a Hollywood landmark that has gone through various changes during its storied lifetime. A beautiful Art Deco structure on Sunset Boulevard just east of King’s Road, it was designed in 1929 by architect Leland A. Bryant and initially opened as an elegant apartment building called Sunset Towers where Hollywood stars resided. By the 1980’s, it had fallen into disrepair, suffered from flood damage and was boarded up giving the shabby appearance of an unwanted and discarded property. Luckily, the London-based St. James Club purchased the property in the late 80’s and spent millions renovating it as the first American branch of the club. These days, the building houses the Sunset Tower Hotel, the interior of which was re-imagined by designed Paul Fortune and its restaurant is regularly populated by Hollywood power players.
Old songs in American TV commercials
There’s a great use in a recent commercial here for HP Office Jet Pro of the 1939 hit favorite “Tain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It)”; the song was written by trumpeter Sy Oliver along with James Young; watch the ad here: http://youtu.be/BduCTDh0SRY
“Tain’t What You Do” was originally made popular by two versions: one by Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra and the other by Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb & His Orchestra.
A much newer song caught the imagination of the folks producing a 2012 commercial for Target stores; written by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, “Fallin’” was a 1958 best-seller by Connie Francis. An extract from Connie’s version is used on the soundbed of the TV spot; watch it here: http://youtu.be/KHBU7BiIBoU
Old songs in British TV commercials
An extract from “The Bee Song” (Kenneth Blain) by Arthur Askey (HMV: 1938) was recently used on the soundtrack of a UK TV commercial for Rowse honey; around the same period, Danny Kaye’s 1952 record of Frank Loesser’s “The Ugly Duckling” was heard in the commercial for the Audi A5.
Did they really say that?
You can usually rely on PEOPLE magazine for editorial accuracy but an article on Macaulay Culkin in their September 24th2012 issue contained the line “He Was The Most Successful Child Star Ever”. Does nobody on their staff remember Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland?!!!
Movie song of yesteryear
Written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, “Smoke Dreams” was performed by Penny Singleton (of ‘Blondie’ fame) in 1936’s “After The Thin Man”, the second of MGM’s series of “Thin Man” pictures which famously starred William Powell andMyrna Loy as Dashiell Hammett’s sleuthing couple Nick & Nora Charles. Among the commercial recordings of “Smoke Dreams” was one by Benny Goodman & His Orchestra featuring vocalist Helen Ward (on Victor) and another by Red Norvo & His Orchestra featuring Milded Bailey. In the photo above, that’s Mildred standing in front of the microphone with Red Norvo standing to her left. Here’s a link to their version of the song, released in 1937: http://youtu.be/krwW6uwE9_g
Another Singing Actor
In “Door To Yesterday” #36, I wrote about some movie & tv actors who also made vocal records such as Robert Mitchum andRichard Chamberlain. More recently, to tie-in with the release of a boxed DVD set of the early 1960’s TV show “Route 66”, the New York Times ran an article on the program along with quotes from one of its stars, George Maharis. New York-born Mr. Maharis was another actor who had a significant recording career; signed to Epic, he released seven albums and even scraped into the Top 30 singles chart in the spring of ’62 with his version of the Sammy Cahn/Gene De Paul ballad “Teach Me Tonight”, arranged and conducted by Robert Mersey.
Movie Quote of yesteryear:
“Damn the torpedoes…Full speed ahead!”
Spoken by Charles Coburn as the lovable old gentleman Benjamin Dingle who tries to find a boyfriend for Connie Milligan, played by Jean Arthur, in George Stevens’ comedy “The More The Merrier” (Columbia: 1943)