Monday, January 16, 2012

New Oldies - A Letter To Hayley by Billy Kidd

This comes from another category of cool records you'll hear on MusicMaster Oldies, songs about celebrities. This one was written in 1962 by an 18-year old kid named Ivan who then recorded the song under the name Billy Kidd. Of course, there's an interesting story behind the song!

Ivan (aka Billy) had just finished watching a very interesting 1961 British movie called Whistle Down The Wind. It tells the story of a bearded fugitive who hides in the barn at a home in Lancashire where three children live. The police come around searching for the guy, a man named Blakey who is wanted for murder. But the kids mistake the man for Jesus, influenced by Bible stories they'd heard recently in Sunday School. The oldest child, a girl named Kathy Bostock, is determined to help Blakey evade the police, so he allows her to continue thinking he really is Jesus. Word spreads to other children around town that Jesus is living in Kathy's barn. Kathy's father hears about it too, then figures out what's going on and calls the police. About a hundred children from all over town converge on the barn. Kathy believes that she's let Jesus down and sneaks into the barn to apologize to Him. He forgives Kathy, who then begs him to promise she'll see him again. Reluctantly, he makes that promise. Then, realizing he's trapped, he throws his gun out of the barn and surrenders to the police. The children all start going home, but two very young ones ask Kathy to let them see Jesus. She tells them she's sorry, but they missed him, but not to worry because he will be back. The movie is filled with religious allegory and symbolism.

This movie was based on a novel written by Mary Hayley Bell. In the movie, the part of Kathy is played by Mary's daughter, 15-year old Hayley Mills. When 18-year old Ivan Ulz (his last name rhymes with Jewels) saw Hayley in the movie, he fell deeply in love with her. He came up with the idea to write this song about her, hoping she would hear it and fall in love with him. It was the first song he'd ever written, but it would not be his last. The song was picked up by Lar Bell Records, owned by two members of the Four Preps, Glen Larson and Bruce Belland. The Four Preps were no strangers to novelty records about celebrities, having made some themselves.

Here's A Letter To Hayley by Billy Kidd (aka Ivan Ulz) on Lar Bell (no number) from 1962:

Ivan's song got some local airplay, but failed to chart nationally. When the Beatles exploded across the music scene in America in 1964, the Four Preps took Ivan's song and turned it into a song about the Fab Four instead. Most of the old school groups in America held a bit of a grudge against The Beatles, blaming them for making it much more difficult for them to make hit records, and maybe a bit jealous of them for the effect they had on their own girlfriends. You can hear that attitude in many of the songs "about" the Beatles from 1964 and 1965, including this one. This song only peaked at #85 on Billboard and #88 on Cashbox, but it did better in some regions. It showed up at #46 in Canada on 1050 CHUM in Toronto, and #35 in Chicago on the WLS Silver Dollar Survey.

Here's A Letter To The Beatles by The Four Preps on Capitol 5143 from 1964:

Ivan Utz became a folk singer and songwriter. He's also known for making some important connections in the music business. He helped Rickie Lee Jones get her first contract with Warner Brothers. He brought an unknown comic up on stage during an open mic improv at Coffee And Confusion in San Francisco. That man's name was Steve Martin. He introduced a bongo player named Michael Clarke to some friends in Los Angeles, who made Michael their drummer when they formed The Byrds.

In 1980, Ivan turned his talents toward children's music. He's written about 200 songs that have been recorded by folks like Hoyt Axton, Glen Yarborough, Suzy Bogguss, Valerie Carter, Rod McKuen, just to name a few. He and musician-producer Lowell George co-wrote Heartache, which became a 1990's hit for Suzy Bogguss. When he's not hanging around Greenwich Village in New York City these days, you could find him in central California performing for young children and their families. Oh, and he never did get a chance to meet Hayley Mills!

Glen Larson of the Four Preps became a television producer who worked with Quinn Martin on The Fugitive. He helped create The Six Million Dollar Man, and went on to create several other shows including Battlestar Galactica, Knight Rider, The Fall Guy, and Magnum PI. Bruce Belland wrote television scripts, produced several game shows in the 1970's, and eventually became a network executive.

You will hear over 1500 songs about The Beatles and cover versions of their songs on MusicMaster Oldies. There are also about 800 songs about the music industry, either talking about what it's like to be in the business, or poking fun at other celebrities. I'll feature some of the better ones here in the coming weeks and months!

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