Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ask Mr. Music by Jerry Osborne

DEAR JERRY: It seems there are many hit records with titles inspired by common everyday phrases. A few that come to mind are "How the Time Flies" (Jerry Wallace); "Who Cares" (Fats Domino); Turn Around" (Dick and DeeDee); "Call Me" (Blondie); "Tell Me Why (Bobby Vinton);" and, in particular, "Return to Sender" (Elvis). In Presley's song, those three words are followed by these two: "address unknown."

Has there ever been a recording titled "Address Unknown," whether it be a hit or not?
—Al Clifton, Hammond, Ind.

DEAR AL: My research turns up far more pieces of U.S. mail with "Address Unknown" than record labels, but there are some with that title, and they don't all play the same song.

Chronologically, here are some examples of "Address Unknown" recordings made between 1939 and 1985:

The original "Address Unknown" is by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (Featuring Carmen Lombardo). It came out in June 1939 (Decca 2520), but it was tucked away on the B-side of "Cinderella (Stay in My Arms)." Unfortunately, only the A-side made the charts.

The band's primary vocalist, Carmen Lombardo (Guy's brother), along with John D. Marks and D.L. Hill, wrote "Address Unknown."

The first cover record came out in July, by Red Nichols and His Orchestra (Featuring Marion Redding) (Bluebird 10332), and it too failed to chart.

Next is what would be the only hit version, and it's by the Ink Spots (Decca 2707). Their distinctive rendition topped the charts in November 1939.

Other recordings of the Lombardo-Marks-Hill tune include the Art Van Damme Quartet (1958); Little Jimmy Scott (1958); the Tymes (1964); and the Deep River Quartet (1985).

In 1945, Gene Autry, Denver Darling, and Vaughn Horton, composed a different "Address Unknown," one quickly issued by Gene Autry (Columbia 36840). Later versions are by Hank Snow (1950, re-recorded in 1963), Marty Robbins (1958), and Don Gibson with Los Indios Tabajaras (recorded in 1966, not issued until 1986).

There are still more "Address Unknowns," and each is completely different than the rest:

Roy Acuff (Columbia 20792) (1951); the Baystaters (Capitol 4363) (1960); Johnny & Dorsey Burnette (recorded in 1960, not issued until 1980); and Doug Davidson (Music of America 1003) (1960). Full title is "Letter Returned (Address Unknown)."

There is at least one "Address Unknown" for most of the mainstream genres: big band; small combo; pop and teener male and female singers; R&B; instrumentals; jazz; country; western; group harmony; and even Latin-Brazilian.

Easily the most intriguing of all "Address Unknown" records is a song unique to the Baystaters, a mixed-gender trio with a beautiful blend of voices and instrumentation, similar to the Fleetwoods.

Writing credits for "Address Unknown," and the B-side, "Sing a Little," name Emily Hull, Frank Ventre, and Hector Marchese. It's not a stretch to think these three are also the Baystaters. And how could this bunch not be from Massachusetts, the Bay State?

This is a first-rate recording, perfect for the 1960 music scene, and on a major label (Capitol). So what went wrong?

We do know that Capitol's usually comprehensive list of their latest singles, routinely published in the weekly "New Release Reporter," makes no mention of this record, in 1960 or ever.

It seems no promotional copies were made, and no review copies were sent to any of the trade magazines.

If the existence of a couple of copies were not already known, we would think the quantity made was zero. Regardless, this is apparently the first and last record by the Baystaters.

For about 40 years, every Capitol singles discography simply skipped over No. 4363. Finally, in the 21st century, the mysterious blank has been filled in.

Whether Capitol's reason for disavowing the Baystaters and their music was the result of some legal issues, or just an internal conflict (e.g., RCA Victor's "The Caine Mutiny") is not yet known.

Can we rule out the possibility that their entire shipment of freshly-pressed records ended up "Undeliverable As Addressed," and somehow were never returned to sender?

IZ ZAT SO? Predictably, intrigue and value are directly proportional, and so it is with the Baystaters' "Address Unknown."

Had it become a hit to any extent, its value would likely be about $10.

Now that it's shrouded in mystery, collectors offering upwards of $100 still have an empty space in their file where Capitol 4363 ought to be.

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:
All values quoted in this column are for near-mint condition.
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