Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ask Mr. Music by Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Years ago you identified the first two No. 1 disco songs as "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)," by MFSB Featuring the Three Degrees, and "Rock Your Baby," by George McCrae.

Both are from 1974, which leads me to ask, how long was it before there was a separate disco sales survey, and radio stations began specializing in disco music?

As Aretha Franklin once suggested, I want to "Get It Right."
—Jorge Silva, Kenosha, Wis.

George McCrae
DEAR JORGE: You and the Queen of Soul need not fret.

Five weeks after "Rock Your Baby" ended its 17-week stay on the Hot 100, Billboard introduced its "Disco Action" Top 10 (Oct. 26).

Actually it was three separate Top 10 lists, each from a different N.Y. source (record stores, phone surveys, etc.). Each report differed slightly from the others, but they all agreed on No. 1: "Never Can Say Goodbye," by Gloria Gaynor — interesting since this record was not yet in the Hot 100. It would debut there a week later, eventually peaking at No. 9.

Meanwhile that fall, one major market radio station on each coast jumped on the disco bandwagon: KRLA (1110 AM) in Los Angeles and WPIX (102 FM) in New York.

KRLA introduced their disco-soul oriented "Spirit in the Dark" format, which accounted for nearly half of their broadcast day, airing nightly from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.

KRLA is now KDIS, bought in 2003 by the Disney organization, and provides Radio Disney programming.

WPIX-FM began their dance music foray with an experimental Saturday night (8 p.m. to midnight) show titled "Disco 102."

It seemed like an idea whose time had come, so they switched their regular programming to current disco and dance tracks, plus oldies with the disco sound.

In mid-1976, Disco 102 gave way to a Top 40 oldies format.

Today FM 102 is the New York home of the CBS Sports Network, and operating as WFAN.

On all fronts, 1974 provided a powerful beginning for the disco era.

DEAR JERRY: I had a big laugh over the examples you gave of songs that, for seemingly absurd reasons, were banned by some ultra-conservative radio stations.

I know you couldn't mention them all, but one I am especially curious about is "Poon-Tang," by the Treniers.

Even though there really isn't anything objectionable in the lyrics, the media might have been scared away by the title alone.

What do you know about this?
—Josh Bleeker, Pasco, Wash.

DEAR JOSH: Saying a song was banned usually implies that, despite some stations choosing to play it, others refused to do so. Another type of ban refers to when a station plays a record that results in listener complaints, whether warranted or not. Management can either restrict it to night time only play, or give it the axe altogether.

Compared to many mid-20th century tunes in Race Music, "Poon-Tang" is not very racy. Right up front, the Treniers offer their innocuous definition of the compound title: "the 'poon' is a hug, the 'tang' is a kiss; a huggin' and a kissin', that's poon-tang."

Despite the wink-wink attempt to sugar coat the message, the market for this and other potentially offensive songs remained juke box play, and definitely not radio.

Billboard concurred, as evidenced by their Dec. 27, 1952 New Record Review:

"Poon-Tang" is a contrived ditty, chanted well to stunt backing. Juke patrons who place a different interpretation on the title, than that given in the lyrics [huggin' and kissin'], might pump nickels in the boxes."

Since it wasn't being broadcast in the first place, "Poon-Tang" was never banned.

Now let's flip the record over and talk about the B-side, "Hi-Yo Silver," and the headache it caused for Okeh. Not because of the double-entendre reference to being "in the saddle," but the title itself.

Okeh's display ads in the trades for "Poon-Tang" and "Hi-Yo Silver" (Okeh 6932) came to the attention of the Lone Ranger Inc., whose legal department informed Okeh that "Hi-Yo Silver" was a copyrighted slogan and it must not be used as a song title.

Lyrically challenged overall, the Treniers pad the time by repeating that simple phrase nearly two dozen times.

Having no desire to litigate the matter, especially over a B-side, Okeh withdrew the offending title and reissued "Poon-Tang" in January 1953, this time backed with "The Moondog" (Okeh 6937).

Moondog, the jazz performer, didn't object, so it replaced "Hi-Yo Silver," who rode peacefully off into the sunset.

IZ ZAT SO? Here are two other noteworthy versions of "Poon-Tang":

One is a sensational Big Band Jazz-Swing instrumental, by Barney Bigard (clarinet) and His Orchestra, featuring Georgie Auld on tenor and alto sax. Recorded December 29, 1944, this bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Treniers single.

Then along comes Deke Dickerson's "Number One Hit Record" album, a 1998 collection that includes a remarkable revival of the exact same version as waxed by the Treniers in 1952.

Jerry Osborne answers as many questions as possible through this column. Write Jerry at: Box 255, Port Townsend, WA 98368 E-mail:   Visit his Web site:
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