Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ask Mr. Music by Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: One of the oldies stations recently played "Beechwood 4-5789," by the Carpenters, after which the dee jay asked how many of the listeners remembered telephone exchanges, such as Beechwood.

Well, having been born in the early 1970s I have never used an exchange name to make a call.

Were there more songs with exchange names in the titles?

How about ones with phone numbers in general?
—Bonnie MacGregor, San Diego

DEAR BONNIE: Hope you didn't think I would just phone this one in.

Telephone exchange words were created in the belief that it was easier for subscribers to remember a supposedly common name (most but not all of them were common) and either four or five digits, than to memorize six or seven numbers.

Of course one only needed to know the first two letters of the exchange name, since only those needed to be dialed.

For example, to call BEechwood 4-5789, you would dial BE4-5789. With the all digit dialing system we have been using for decades, you would connect by hitting the very same buttons, but thinking of it as being 234-5789.

Phasing out exchange names and replacing them with digits began in 1958, but the transition was slow going and took many years to complete, especially in rural areas. Ironically, a trend in recent decades to turn some or all of the digits into letters has been very popular with businesses. Makes sense, as HOT-DOGS is easier to remember than 468-3647.

Spanning 60 years, each of these recordings has a telephone number in the title, either with or without exchange names. To qualify, the number must be in the format of a realistic phone number (five or six characters). An area code or dial-1 (for long distance) is optional.

Excluded are songs with an authentic phone number in the lyrics, but not part of the title. One in this category is "Promised Land" (Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley), in which a call is placed from Los Angeles to Norfolk, Virginia, to TIdewater 4-1009.

Titles are chronological with occasional commentary:

1940: "Pennsylvania 6-5000" (Glenn Miller and His Orchestra)
On early pressings, the title is shown as "Pennsylvania Six-Five Thousand." As it was in 1940, dialing PE6-5000 will still connect you with the main desk at the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York. I just called them to be sure.

1956: "Bigelow 6-200" (Little Brenda Lee)
Backed with "Jambalaya," this was Little Brenda's very first record. The label says she was nine years old, but we know she was really 11. Either way, she was too young to be giving out her number.

1962: "Beechwood 4-5789" (Marvelettes)
A Motown original that was revived 20 years later by the Carpenters.

1963: "LOnesome 7-7203" (Hawkshaw Hawkins)
A No. 1 C&W hit.

1966: "634-5789" (Wilson Pickett)
The first digits-only phone number title. Interesting in that the last five numbers are the same as on "Beechwood 4-5789." Some copies of this record have the sub-title "(Soulsville, U.S.A.)," presumably where you would be calling.

1971: "Echo Valley 2-6809" (Partridge Family)
Yes, 1971 was mighty late for an exchange name; however, in this tune David Cassidy is reminiscing about long ago when he used to dial that number. Album track.

1981: "766-2623 (ROM-ANCE)" (Henry Paul Band)
ROM-ANCE is definitely easier to remember than 766-2623, and potentially more appealing than HOT-DOGS. Album track.

1982: "777-9311" (Time)
Q: "Baby, what's your phone number?" A: "Seven seven seven, ninety-three eleven." Sometimes all you gotta do is ask.

1982: "867-5309" / Jenny (Tommy Tutone)
"Jenny, I know you think I'm like the others before, who saw your name and number on the wall." Tommy Tutone is actually a group whose lead singer is Tommy Heath.

1987: "853-5937" (Squeeze)
Quoth the answering machine: "Angela can't make it to the phone. If you'd care to leave your name and number, please speak clearly after the tone. She'll give you a ring when she gets home."

1989: "(619) 239-KING" (Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper)
The first on the list to include an area code, coincidentally in San Diego and a local call for you, Bonnie.
Mojo is hoping Elvis is still alive and hears this song and sees the music video, and will call him at a real number created just for that purpose. I dialed it and found that it's no longer a working number. Regardless, the video is very amusing. This is an album track, but in 1987, Nixon & Roper had a single (and video) of "Elvis Is Everywhere," indicating a theme of sorts.

1989: "1-900 LL COOL J" (LL Cool J)
Album track.

1993: "1-800 BODY BAGS" (Boss)
Album track. This Boss is a female duo.

1993: "1-900 2LONELY" (David Grey)
The second country tune on the list, and also an entertaining video. Regionally successful, this fine single should have been more of a hit than it was.

1994: "1-800 SUICIDE" (Gravediggaz)
Album track.

1999: "528-CASH" (Project Pat)
Album track.

2000: "1-900 HUSTLER" (Jay Z)
Album track.

IZ ZAT SO? How do the phone number titled singles stack up with each other?

All things considered, especially sales and chart success, this is how we rank them:

1. "867-5309" / Jenny (Tommy Tutone)*
2. "Pennsylvania 6-5000" (Glenn Miller and His Orchestra)*
3. "634-5789" (Wilson Pickett)
4. "Beechwood 4-5789" (Marvelettes)
5. "LOnesome 7-7203" (Hawkshaw Hawkins)
6. "853-5937" (Squeeze)
7. "777-9311" (Time)
8. "Bigelow 6-200" (Little Brenda Lee)
9. 1-900 2LONELY (David Grey)

*Gold Record Award Winner 

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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