Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Oldies - Our Little Tragedy by Lawrence And Johnson

In 1956, a couple of guys in New York City had a cool idea. Let's write a script that uses short samples of famous songs to answer questions from a narrator. The Break-In record was born. Those guys were Richard Dorian "Dickie" Goodman and Bill Buchanan, and their idea raised legal issues that resurfaced later when hip hop records started using samples of musical hooks in them, like when a piece of Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie ends up in Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice. Does using a small piece of someone else's song in your song infringe the other person's copyright? Good question! In the case of Buchanan and Goodman, the issue was settled out of court.

Dickie Goodman got his fun side from his dad, Saul Goodman, who worked for General Electric as an attorney. His dad was all business at work, but he got crazy funny when work was finished. Dickie attended New York University, but he dropped out to write and sing his own songs, and hear them played on the radio.

Bill Buchanan was struggling as a music publisher in New York when Dickie met him. He shared the same golden voice with the top radio disc jockeys. Dickie and Bill worked on some songs together and tried to get publishers interested in them. They hung out at Hanson's Drug Store, a place in the Theater District that was a famous meeting place for aspiring comedians at the time. In 1956, Dickie had an idea to do a disc jockey show that was interrupted by reports of a flying saucer invasion, just like the infamous War Of The Worlds radio show Orson Wells directed and narrated for a Mercury Theater Of The Air episode that aired on Halloween, 30 October 1938, over the Columbia Broadcasting System network. The difference, however, would be that the folks being interviewed by the news reporters would be represented by excerpts from hit songs.

Using the War Of The Worlds broadcast as a guide, they crafted a script that ran about four minutes. Dickie would play the part of news reporter John Cameron Cameron. Bill would play the disc jockey in a tounge-in-cheek parody of Alan Freed. Bill's part was punched up by having him screw up the names of the artists. The samples came from hit records, so everyone already knew the artists' names. Hearing Bill botch them on the air would be fun. For instance, he follows a sample of The Great Pretender by The Platters referring to them as The Clatters.

They shopped the record around to the radio stations in town but nobody seemed interested, until they played it for Jack Lacy at WINS radio. He gave it a couple of spins, as did Alan Freed himself, who came on the air right after Jack signed off. The next day, the two were sitting in producer George Goldner's office at Roulette Records, waiting to play their novelty record for him. Before he had a chance to hear it, someone who worked for George came bursting in asking about this cool record they played last night on WINS that talked about Elvis and men from outer space. Demand was building fast, and George knew exactly what to do next.

The record was called The Flying Saucer by Buchanan And Goodman. It was split into two parts spanning both sides of the single. George decided to put the record out on a novelty label called Universe Records and let Roulette's distribution chain get it out across the country. After the first couple thousand singles had been pressed, they learned of a conflict with that label name. Dickie, Bill, and even George and several of his staff members, sat up all night hand printing the letter "L" on the records, changing the name to "Luniverse" records. Subsequent pressings were printed with the new name, but you can still find some of those hand-repaired pressings out there if you search hard enough!

Here's The Flying Saucer (Parts 1 and 2) by Buchanan And Goodman on Luniverse 101 from 1956:

The Roulette distributors started shipping it, but it ran into trouble when both NBC and ABC radio decided not to play it. They were concerned that listeners might mistake it for an actual invasion, just like what reportedly happened in the original 1938 Orson Wells broadcast. In parts of the country where the novelty was played, supply was unable to keep up with demand. In some cases, the scarcity of available pressings almost doubled the retail price.

The copyright issue became a really big deal for the publishing companies, but not so much for the record companies involved. They were actually enjoying increased sales volume of the sampled songs. Audience demand for the sampled songs actually forced DooTone records to reissue Earth Angel by The Penguins, which had been out of print for a while when Flying Saucer was released.

The solution to the problem grew out of the fact that all songs sampled were licensed by BMI or ASCAP. A settlement was reached where the publishing houses would divide equally a 17 precent share of the 89 cent sale price for each copy sold. This cleared the song for play across the country on radio stations and jukeboxes.

The publishers assumed this would be a one-time fad record that wasn't likely to be repeated anytime soon. They were wrong. The Flying Saucer sold over half a million copies in just three weeks. It became a #1 hit in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Louisville. It peaked at #3 on both Billboard and Cashbox, even reaching #4 on the R&B charts. With a smash record like that, imitators are sure to follow - and they did. In fact, Buchanan And Goodman themselves cashed in with several follow-up Break-In records of their own. Disc jockeys all over the place started making their own versions. This prompted the publishers to demand higher royalties and put the whole matter back in the hands of lawyers. Distribution of another Break-In called Dear Elvis, credited With Love From Audrey, on Plus 104 in 1956 had to be halted after the royalties were increased. Some 30,000 copies had already been sold, and the song made it up to #87 on Billboard, before Plus Records was forced to give the masters to the publishers who promptly destroyed them!

When Buchanan And Goodman released their first follow up Break-In, Buchanan And Goodman On Trial, which was clearly an inside joke referring to the legal troubles they were forced to endure, things really heated up - big time! The pair were sued by four record companies this time, Imperial, Chess, Modern, and Aristocrat. They were also sued by two of the sampled performers, Smiley Lewis (aka Overton Lemon), and Antoine "Fats" Domino. In a Hail Mary play by Dickie's attorney, who was actually his father Saul Goodman, the judge was persuaded to take a copy of the record home and listen to it. It worked like a charm. The judge, Henry Clay Greenberg, came back to court and denied the injunctions sought. He wrote that he was not able to determine if the defendants had exceeded the bounds of fair competition. He'd later say that the record was simply satire, a comic parody of the record business.

Here's Buchanan And Goodman On Trial by Buchanan And Goodman on Luniverse 102 from 1956:

The story ends sadly, however. On 6 November 1989, Dickie Goodman shot and killed himself at the home of a relative in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He'd gambled away all of his money, lost his wife, and was being chased relentlessly by bill collectors. Bill Goodman, who later worked in the Brill Building with Howard Greenfield, and who wrote the hit song Please Don't Ask About Barbara for Bobby Vee, ended up working in a jewelry store in Texas. He died on 1 August 1996 of complications from cancer.

But I didn't set out to tell you about Buchanan And Goodman. There are two things I wanted to tell you about today. The first is that it's very possible that Buchanan and Goodman were not the first guys to make a Break-In record. They were certainly the first ones to have a HIT Break-In record, for sure. I've found at least one from 1956 that might pre-date The Flying Saucer. I can't know that for sure, and I haven't been able to find anything at all about the origin on this record.

Here's The Trial by Jumpin Judge And His Court on Jumping 5000 from 1956:

We have to fast-forward to 1963 to find today's New Oldie, which is yet another example of a Break-In record. This one was a mystery to me until recently, when I finally uncovered some good information about the guys who made it.

It was the creation of Phil Jaglowski (aka Phil Lawrence) of Grand Rapids, Michigan, along with friends Denny Johnson, Russ Selby and (I think his brother) Bill, along with a couple of girls, 12 year old Lin Otherlyn and her 11 year old friend Mary. They recorded songs in Phil's parent's living room on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. This is a great example of a "home brew" Break-In record, which gives you some idea how big this craze got to be back then. This record features samples of some rather obscure songs, some of which were made by small local bands. Most of these kids ended up in local bands. It was pressed on Carol-Ray, a label created by Phil. Little Lin ended up singing with Tom Carter And The Ramrods, then in her own band, Lyn And The Invaders. It's really a lot of fun digging up information about local bands from the 1960's!

Here's Our Little Tragedy by Lawrence And Johnson on Carol-Ray 1204 from 1963:

Here's the flip side, an instrumental called Washtenug:

These guys cut an earlier record, a rough garage rocker that's also a lot of fun. It's been noted by some that this song bears some resemblance to Flying by The Beatles, a song that was made many years later.

Here's Moon Beams by Lawrence Company on Carol-Ray 1201 from 1963:

You'll hear 144 Break-In records on MusicMaster Oldies, with more being found every so often. Check it out! There are lots more "novelty" records as well. I'll feature some other types in the coming weeks.

1 comment:

  1. I'm probably wrong about Jumpin Judge being issued before The Flying Saucer. Thanks again to Gary Myers for some good background info! It may not have been first, but there's a very good chance it was the first Break In released after The Flying Saucer. The timing had to be very close!

    Gary Myers wrote: "Hi Joe. 2 comments: #1: I looked up a few things and "Let The Good Times Roll", as used in "The Trial", first charted on 8/11/56. "The Flyer Saucer" charted on 8/4/56, so it appears that the former could not have preceded the latter (esp when you consider that LTGTR must have been out for at least a couple of wks before they would have sampled it for the break-in). #2: You know where they ask the saucer man (in "Flying Saucer") if he has come to conquer the earth and the answer is gibberish? That's actually "secretary of defense" (from elsewhere on the record) backwards. Funny story about how a friend and I discovered that circa 1957.?