It would have been mere vulturing (vulching, we called it, in the old days) to put it up for sale right after the great Jonathan Winters died, and, anyway, I couldn’t find it. But it’s around here somewhere, one of the rarest albums he ever made. I understand he made a few white label party records in his time, but I bet this even beats that. It’s an LP of radio spots he recorded for Fiat: no jacket, no liner notes, and they misspell like mad on the label. But it was never meant for release.
Pricing records again? Why, yes. And I have been struck by the large number of records I see that never got any airplay on my local Top 40 station, or even my hardcore rock station (“Rockin’ the Pods Off the Soybeans!”)
The Fiat album came from a lady whose husband had worked for an ad agency, and had dozens of these things, many of them involving ads which never made it onto the radio: they had been recorded simply to play for the client who was being asked to pay for them. A few had checkmarks on the label to show which ones the client had liked.
We also get records of commercials which were sent to the radio stations. In those bygone analog days, in fact, it was the only way to get the commercials there: the DJ cued them up just like anything else that was going out over the air. Last year, there was a 45 which had no fewer than 12 different comedy routines to promote a special brand of shoes, while this year we have a 45 with three different versions of the original Diet Pepsi theme (Music To Watch Girls By, if you have forgotten.) A few of these were actually intended for public sale: the T-Bones album joyfully proclaimed that it included their one hit: No Matter What Shapes Your Stomach’s In, which was done for Alka-Seltzer. And the Mel-Tones, who had backed up Mel Torme in their glory days, produced a number of records featuring a gramaphone with a horn in the shape of a plastic cup. These records were produced for the Solo Cup Company.
Then there are the demo records produced by those souls whose whole profession is either in the writing or performing of music for commercial jingles. Some of these from the 60s feature dance bands whose names appear on records from the 40s, but who had now gone full-time into background music for soup or laundry soap. I kind of like these, because, without a specific client in mind, they have to make up their own brands: Washo Soap or Yummo Soup.
We have a couple of peculiarities mixed in with these (even odd records can have their odder variations.) Purex once released an entire album of the music from its commercials, deleting the plug for the product. (Music Minus Me, they called it.) And I have the soundtrack for a motivational film shown at the Budweiser Sales Convention of about 1963. None of these records made the charts.
But these limited issue goodies are limited to Madison Avenue. We have also been given a dozen records of music recorded specifically for beginning ballet classes, and another rare recording by a composer of wide influence but no renown (she spent her whole life writing those pieces in beginner piano books.) If I had space, I could discourse on all the high school band and chorus albums, which are a genre little studied by music historians. Did you know the singing group of Bishop Ireton High School called itself the Bisons? Yes, it stood for the Sons of Bishop Ireton. B.I. Sons: get it? You’re hard to please: would it amuse you more to learn, as I did, that all the Bisons albums from the 70s are now available on CD?
Better get that Jonathan Winters Fiat record out before someone posts it on YouTube.