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Reading The Label

January 6, 2017

When I was a boy of perhaps 13 or 14 years old, I developed a unique habit of carefully studying the labels on the many 45 rpm records that I owned. Fortunately, I had a girlfriend whose father owned a jukebox supply business and I was set free in an endless inventory of 45’s to pick and choose at a nickel a record. In time, this gave me a large inventory of my own. I spent many a long afternoon dodging my school homework and quietly going through these records and learning the artists, writers and arrangers. The labels themselves intrigued me. Names that have since vanished were the standard stock in those days: Sun, Laurie, Decca and the like. I learned a great deal about their catalogs, artists and writers.

The first great fact that I discovered was that Dion did indeed have a last name just like the rest of us. It was DiMucci, and it was plainly printed on each of the records for which he wrote or co-wrote the song. This great epiphany soon gave way to hours of studying the B-sides of all of his hits and not so hits. I learned that Dion’s B-side hit “Little Miss Blue” actually was anonymous and that the writer’s name had eluded discovery. (It did turn up years later.) Then patterns began to develop as I learned the names of the great songwriters of those days.

Some names and their relationship to the record were obvious at first glance. Neil Sedaka wrote most of his own stuff and it was not unusual to see his name listed as the writer, sometimes alongside that of one of his co-writers, Carole King. Others were less obvious. John D. Loudermilk had a small hit of his own but in fact was a writer of many hit records for other artists. Bobby Vee wrote only a few of his own songs.

Gradually, I honed my mini talent to include learning all of the writers, artists, arrangers, back-up groups and their inter-relationships and histories. Everyone has heard of Richie Valens. However, I actually grew up in the same town in which he lived, San Fernando, California. I taught school at the high school he attended and I learned the intimate details of his life history, including where the parents of his famous girlfriend Donna lived. They were, in fact, customers of mine when I had a paper route as a youth. The line, “I had a girl, Donna was her name” became more vivid to me as I could picture how he may have stood outside his girlfriend’s house on a street darkened by the foliage of heavy maple trees.

There are a lot of unwritten histories out there and I am proud to say that I learned a lot of them by first reading the labels on my old 45’s.

Later in life, my love for writing seduced me into the world of song writing. Because I became a writer of music, I learned even more of the names and the histories. When you are out there on the streets peddling your tunes on Tin Pan Alley, you develop a real empathy for other writers and artists. This is not an easy business. But learning how others had dealt with the same adversity decades before helped to see me through many long days and even longer nights.

Now I have many compiled catalogs in my head. They are much like the old stock lists I had searched as a youth in that back room of the business of my girlfriend’s father. It is of little use to anyone but myself. This nostalgia collection spans from the 50’s to the late 80’s and includes thousands of titles. Perhaps I would make a good Jeopardy contestant if the answer was, “He wrote Bobby Vee’s hit ‘The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.’” (Answer: “Who is Snuff Garrett?”) Right, Alex!

So I leave you with a parting question to ponder on behalf of all of those semi-known artists and writers (myself included). Who sang the 1966 one hit wonder “You’re Gonna Miss Me?” (Answer: The 13th Floor Elevators, of course!)

The photo above is the cover to my book, Three A.M. – The Complete 1970s Song Lyrics, available at Amazon.com. It catalogs the lyrics to my 1970’s music.

 

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Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at Amazon.com

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From → America, History, Humor, Music

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