Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ask Mr. Music by Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Amongst my old records, I found something very unusual.

I have two singles of "Earth Angel," one by the Crew-Cuts (Mercury 70529) and the other by the Penguins (Mercury 70943).

I know that both versions were high on the charts at the same time, but isn't it practically unheard of for the same company, in this case Mercury, to cover their own hit record?
—Darla Sneed, Columbus, Ohio

DEAR DARLA: I wouldn't go so far as to call it "practically unheard of," but I will say it is rare.

However, that is not what happened with "Earth Angel."

When first issued by the Penguins, in Sept. 1954, the company designated "Earth Angel" (DooTone 348) as the B-side, believing "Hey Senorita" to be the most commercial.

In just a few weeks, most everyone in the industry knew "Earth Angel" was a monster hit, and "Hey Senorita" was merely filler.

Meanwhile, the Crew-Cuts covered "Earth Angel" for Mercury, and by February their version was zooming up the charts. A few weeks later, both the Crew-Cuts and the Penguins were in the Top 10 with "Earth Angel."

During all their success in 1955, the Penguins only label was DooTone. Not until Sept. 1956 did Mercury sign them, and then reissue "Earth Angel."

As you know now, with regard to "Earth Angel" Mercury did not compete with itself at all. The record ran its course for DooTone long before Mercury entered the Penguin picture.

For other examples of times when the label did indeed release competing versions of the same song, we can begin and end with Columbia Records, and Guy Mitchell.

In January 1957, "Singing the Blues" was in the Pop Top 30 by Marty Robbins (Columbia 21545) and by Guy Mitchell (Columbia 40769). Robbins' original also reached No. 1 on the C&W chart, and Mitchell's cover did likewise on the Pop chart.

Columbia repeated the strategy with Marty's follow up, "Knee Deep in the Blues" (Columbia 40815). This too was covered by Guy Mitchell (Columbia 40820).

Each version made the logical chart (Robbins-C&W / Mitchell-Pop), but neither crossed over to the other.

Two years later, Columbia did it again with Guy Mitchell, and this time using Ray Price's "Heartaches By the Number."

Price had the original in mid-'59 (Columbia 41374), and Mitchell's cover soon followed. Both were huge in their own field, but neither crossed over.

Now here's where it really gets weird.

Ray Price's follow-up to "Heartaches By the Number" was "The Same Old Me" (Columbia 41477). Guy Mitchell's follow-up to "Heartaches By the Number" was also "The Same Old Me" (Columbia 41576).

Neither crossed over.

Mitchell's follow-up to "The Same Old Me" was "My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You" (Columbia 41725), a revival of Ray Price's No. 1 C&W hit in 1957 (Columbia 40951). However, because it came about three years after the original, it is not a cover record.

For these few years, when Columbia needed a new song for Guy Mitchell, they needed to look no further than the recent hits by Marty Robbins or Ray Price.

Now that really is practically unheard of.

DEAR JERRY: When rock and roll became the dominant style of music, for broadcasting as well as retail sales, many established country artists jumped on the R&R bandwagon. Especially in the mid'50s, rock, rockabilly, or teen-oriented records by country singers were common.

Just who are the Top 20 country stars of the analog record era who never had a pop or rock crossover (Top 100) hit.
—Elwood Mooney, Knoxville, Tenn.

DEAR ELWOOD: Your question inspired the creation of a very esoteric list, one that heretofore did not exist.

Among our newly-learned trivia tidbits is that roughly 86% of all of the top country artists had at least one of their records, whether vinyl, polystyrene, shellac, or another material, make the Top 100 Pop Hits.

The 20 qualifying non-crossover artists, extracted from nearly 150 of country music's sales leaders, represent approximately 14% of the total.

In order of career singles sales, they are:

Mel Tillis
Mo Bandy
Earl Thomas Conley
Gene Watson
Connie Smith
Janie Fricke
Ricky Skaggs
Vern Gosdin
Eddy Raven
John Conlee
Kathy Mattea
Charly McClain
Ricky Van Shelton
Mel McDaniel
Johnny Duncan
Gary Morris
Pam Tillis
Tommy Overstreet
Ed Bruce

IZ ZAT SO? For three of these country stars, not having a pop-rock crossover hit was not for lack of trying. Mel Tillis recorded three excellent rockers for Columbia.

1957: "Juke Box Man" (40944)
1957: "Hearts of Stone" (41026)
1958: "Teen Age Wedding" (41115)

Eddy Raven waxed "Once a Fool" (Cosmo 101) in 1961

Ed (a.k.a. Edwin) Bruce, like many other rockabilly artists, got his start with Sun Records in Memphis.

1957: "Rock Boppin' Baby" (Sun 276)
1958: "Sweet Woman" (Sun 292)

In 1963, Ed had a regional hit with the R&B flavored "See the Big Man Cry" (Wand 140).

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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