I suppose I’m of the age that I should know something about Lou Reed. But, hey, babe, I never really took a walk on the wild side, so pretty much the some total of my Lou Reed-iana is summed up by “…and the colored girls go doo-do-doo-do-doo-do-doo…”
But, hey, babe, this didn’t stop me from reading an obituary or two when Lou died last week.
In reading up, I found that, when Lou wasn’t inhabiting his Velvet Underground, he worked for a while at an outfit called Pickwick Records.
Pickwick’s niche was coming up with knock-off songs, either follow- on versions of hits or sound-alike “covers” that tricked folks into thinking they were buying the real thing. They also, of so I learned in a wonderful post on budget record labels that appeared on History’s Dumpster, sold cheaper versions of original recordings, and licensed use of these back catalog tunes from the original record companies, including Elvis albums – like the soundtrack from Frankie and Johnny - and Motown hits by singers like Mary Wells.
But Pickwick – along with many other low-end record companies – produced a lot of knock offs that were sold in drug stores, grocery stores, and other venues. They often featured names that were similar to the “real” thing, as well as similar cover art. Here’s the Surfsiders singing the Beach Boys Songbook.
Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass were apparently a major target of knock-offers, going under names like Mexican Brass.
Can you imagine the embarrassment of a 16 year old in the '60s at their birthday party when he/she opens their birthday present from their musically clueless parents and instead of a REAL Beatles or Beach Boys record, THIS appears? Happened quite a bit as you might imagine. "Well go on dear, play your new record for your friends!" And suddenly their friends realize they have to really have to do their homework.....NOW. (Source: History’s Dumpster)
Well, yes I can easily imagine this.
What I can’t imagine is that my parents never fell into this particular “it’s the same thing/it’s just as good as the other thing” trap, given that we grew up in the land of substitute goods which, as any child can tell you, is just not the same damned thing!
Sometimes the Rogers’ household knock-off choices were driven by cost.
As in, why pay $60 for a John Meyer of Norwich suit in a pretty color, when Anderson Little sells the exact same thing – except with a less sharp cut and in a cruddy color that looks terrible on you – for $40?
Sometimes the knock-off decision was driven by availability.
As in, Morris Market stocks Hydrox instead of Oreos. (Of course, in that case, the decision to go with Hydrox was likely enhanced by the cost factor. It wouldn’t have bothered my mother that the cookies didn’t taste the same. Or that Hydrox sounded more like an acne cleanser than like a cookie. They were the same size, shape, and color. How can they not be the same? I did read somewhere that the Oreo was actually a knock-off of the Hydrox. Who knew that knock-offs could be so infinitely superior? The original is not necessarily the greatest.)
Sometimes the choice to go knock-off was prompted by the desire (a perverse desire in the minds of the Rogers children) to have something different, to not be like everybody else.
As in having Keyword instead of Scrabble, and Easy Money instead of Monopoly. After all, we could always play those normal, pedestrian games at someone else’s house. Didn’t it make life more interesting if you could play Easy Money and buy the Kit-Kat Club as an excellent alternative to buying the boring old Reading Railroad on Monopoly? My parents were, of course, on to something here, but as kids we sure didn’t appreciate it.
But for some reason, we didn’t go in for knock-off records in our house.
We had the originals, like the Broadway cast of Sound of Music, Vaughn Meader’s The First Family, and all those Sing Along with Mitches. (Thus I know all the words to “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?” and “In the Good Old Summertime”, but next to nothing about the Velvet Underground.)
We also had a good number of old-fashioned 78’s – think Blue Skirt Waltz, Charlie Was a Boxer, and the collected oeuvre of Nelson Eddy - some of which were supplied by a friend of my aunt and uncle’s who worked for a company that put records in jukeboxes.
As for more popular (i.e., kid-oriented music), we bought our own – my first 45 was Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire; my second (it took a while to get over that first purchase) was Johnny Horton’s Sink the Bismarck. We saved up to buy albums (they were only $3), or, when a birthday or Christmas came around, provided exceedingly explicit instructions to our parents. Judy Collins 3. Accept no substitutes! Mostly, though, when it came to record buying for current music (as opposed to family-friendly fare like Mitch Miller), we were on our own. (It’s hard for me to imagine either of my parents picking up Jethro Tull for my brother Tom or Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan for my sister Kath.)
So we were blessedly spared musical knock-offs, fakery like Trudy Hollins 4, or Freewheeling Bob Dolan.
But what an interesting business the knock-off record industry was, no?
Unless you were Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass…