Thursday, September 20, 2012

Vinyl Obscurities - Mercury label

The Mercury record label was formed in 1945 and became one of the major US companies, issuing jazz, country, rock and roll and classical music. In the UK it was initially distributed by Pye before switching to EMI in 1959 and to Philips in 1963 after the parent company was taken over. For my 12 Mercury Vinyl Obscurities from the 1950s and 60s I have excluded releases by some of the bigger names, including the Platters, Brook Benton, Dinah Washington and Jerry Lee Lewis, and concentrated on a few of the lesser names that demonstrate the width of its purely American output. Check out the Youtube links as usual.
1. The Diamonds - The Stroll/ Land Of Beauty. Released in 1957 on 7MT 195. Mint value £25.
The Diamonds were a white Canadian doowop group best known for their covers of the Gladiolas' Little Darlin' and the Rays' Silhouettes. The Stroll was an original song, written by Clyde Otis and designed to create a dance craze, but was based on the popular name for black entertainment streets  popularised by The King Of The Stroll, Chuck Willis. It reached number four in the US but went nowhere in the UK.
2. Gino and Gina - Pretty Baby/ Love's A Carousel. Released in 1958 on 7MT 230. Mint value £30.
This was a one off release by a girl/boy duo and I can find very little information about them, apart from the fact that Gino (and the pair's manager Artie Zwern) apparently wrote Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home) for the Impalas. Anyone have more info?

3. Big Bopper - It's The Truth Ruth/ That's What I'm Talking Bout. Released in 1959 on AMT 1046. Mint value £30.
The Big Bopper (J.P.Richardson) will forever by linked with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens as the victims of that fatal plane crash on February 3, 1959. Brought up in Beaumont, Texas, he became a larger than life DJ before recording his smash Chantilly Lace and writing, and singing background, on his friend Johnny Preston's Running Bear. This Johnny Otis influenced rocker was the third and last of his Mercury singles in the UK.
4. Ben Hewitt - For Quite A While/ Patricia June. Released in 1959 on AMT 1055. Mint value £35.
I was delighted to pick up this double sided rockabilly single this week at a car boot sale for just 50p. Ben was an Elvis soundalike whose recording career consisted of just four late 50s Mercury singles (three of which were released in the UK, along with a rare EP) before being tracked down in the 80s when a Bear Family album was released. He was brought over to the UK to perform, but sadly I missed that show. Good stuff.
5. Phil Phillips & the Twilights - Sea Of Love/ Juella. Released in 1959 on AMT 1059. Mint value £35.
This is probably the most famous swamp pop record ever, reaching number two in the States and being covered frequently since. Phil was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Sea Of love was recorded for the locally based Khoury records and leased to Mercury, but his recording career faded after four Mercury singles. He made an unforgettable appearance at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2005when he performed his big hit, twice, - a spine tingling moment.

6. Clyde McPhatter - Ta Ta/ I Ain't Givin' Up Nothin'. Released in 1961 on AMT 1108. Mint value £15.
Not sure which side is the official A side, but both are great. Some of Clyde's best solo material was recorded for Mercury and this double sider is a classic example. I Ain't Givin' Up Nothing was originally recorded as a rocker by Ben Hewitt, but Clyde gives it his sweet R and B treatment, with typical Mercury strings accompaniment.
7. Johnny Preston - Leave My Kitten Alone/ Do What You Did. Released in 1960 on AMT 1129. Mint value £20.
Johnny Preston, from Port Arthur, Texas, had a huge hit with Running Bear and enjoyed more success with Cradle Of Love and Feel So Fine. This, his fifth Mercury single release (and one for cat lovers), is an excellent cover of Little Willie John's song. The flip is a cover of the Thurston Harris rocker and is also worth a listen. Johnny died in 2011.
8. Joe Barry - I'm A Fool To Care/ I Got A Feeling. Released in 1961 on AMT 1160. Mint value £10.
Born in Cut Off, Louisiana, Joe Barry sounded like Fats Domino, but was in fact white. This, his biggest hit, was recorded for the local Jin label but was picked by Mercury subsidiary Smash. Joe died in 2004.
9. The Angels - My Boyfriend's Back/ (Love Me) Now. Released in 1963 on AMT 1211. Mint value £20.
This is one of the best girl group records of the era. They sound like a fairly raunchy black group, warning the guy who's trying his luck with a girl while her boyfriend's away, but in fact The Angels were a demure looking white group from New Jersey. Recorded originally as a demo for the Shirelles, the Angels had a number one US hit with this and the song went on to be covered by numerous others.
10. Lesley Gore - She's A Fool/ The Old Crowd. Released in 1963 on AMT 1213. Mint value £10.
After crying at her party and then getting her own back on Judy, Lesley Gore's third Mercury single was another burst of teenage angst, this time about a boy being treated badly by his girlfriend, and another top five hit in the US. Born in New Jersey, she had a string of hits during the sixties and recorded an album as recently as 2005.

11. The Hondells - Little Honda/ Hot Rod High. Released in 1964 on MF 834. Mint value £25.
This Brian Wilson/ Mike Love song was the biggest hit for California surf rock band The Hondells - a homage to the Honda mopeds that was a US craze at the time. When the song was recorded by former Castells member Chuck Girard, the Hondells didn't exist, but producer Gary Usher quickly assembled a band to tour and the song reached the US top ten.
12. Junior Wells - Girl You Lit My Fire/ It's A Man Down There. Released in 1968 on MF1056. Mint value £15.
To round off my Mercury selection here's some funky blues from blues harmonica player Junior Wells. Born in Memphis (a cousin of Junior Parker) Wells recorded for Chess and had success with Messin' With The Kid and It Hurts Me Too, before joining up with Buddy Guy and performing with him on and off until his death in 1998.


At 3:32 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting selection.
"I Ain't Givin' Up Nothin'" was not originally out by Ben Hewitt but was originally out in 1956 on CELESTE 3005 by The Hi-Liters (one of many groups using that name). Worth may hundreds of dollars now apparently. It's a nice version, but has no composer credits on the label.
Gordon F

At 6:17 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Interesting. I don't know that version and I can't find it on Youtube. There's a version by Sonny Wilson which isn't bad. I will have to check out the Hi-Liters track.

At 9:07 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd heard there was a version before Ben Hewitt's. Not heard it either.

john s

At 9:38 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Gordon - thanks for letting me have the Hi-Liters version on CD - an excellent 50s R & B track!


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