Various Artists – Bubbling Under Volume One: 32 Tracks that Bubbled Under the Billboard Charts from 1961 to 1964

January 01, 1970

(Rare Rockin’ Records) (import)

 

www.rarerockinrecords.com

 

 

It used to be, in the early 1960s, that the key drama in
caring about rock ‘n’ roll was following the weekly Top 40 on AM radio,
wherever you lived. Like miniature lives moving from birth to death, songs
debuted, rose, fell and disappeared. If their recording artists were lucky, or
big enough stars, they came back quickly with another hit. If not, they could
spend months – or years – in oblivion. Or, worse they became condemned as
one-hit wonders. They ceased to exist on Top 40 radio…so they ceased to exist.

 

The Wizard of the “star making machinery behind the popular
song” – to quote maybe Joni Mitchell’s best line ever – started lifting the
curtains later that decade, when FM radio set out to educate its
ever-more-curious audience about rock culture and its creators. And ever since,
there’s been a market – via books, Websites, magazines, reissues, festivals –
for those who want to learn more, retroactively, about rock from the era before
it began to be taken so seriously.

 

But how much more is there to learn? The import Bubbling Under Volume One really pushes
that question. We’ve known for some time now that, while local radio stations
only played about 40 songs at any given time, the national (American)
music-industry publication Billboard charted 100 “hits” weekly. But Rare
Rockin’ Records, the Australian reissue label, now has collected 32 songs that
“bubbled under” the Hot 100 – as low as 130 – during 1961-1964 on a
supplemental chart that Billboard ran. None of these 32 ever rose to hit status
– the ” bubbling under” chart was their graveyard.

 

Those years are telling. Post-rockabilly and pre-Beatles,
they’re considered the nadir of rock, when Brill Building songwriters and
producers/arrangers tried to turn too many pretty boys and girls into stars
with artificial-sounding “teen-idol” material. There were, of course, plenty of
great songs then (there always are), but how many good ones could there be this
far down the food chain? How many of these did program directors, etc., get
wrong at the time?

 

Maybe ten or so on this collection were good enough to
deserve to be hits, although not classics: The Murmaids’ “Heartbreak Ahead” was
a decent follow-up to “Popsicles and Icicles”; Rick Nelson’s “There’s Not a
Minute” was better-than-average for him in this fallow period; Jackie Wilson’s
“Baby That’s All” was a worthy harbinger of a hit that followed a year later,
“Baby Workout”; and a girl-group called the Elektras showed dynamic energy with
the stop-start, Shirelles-style melody of “All I Want to Do Is Run,” which
switches from minor-key verse to a rip-roaring chorus. And there are a few more
good ones, including one by a Bernadette Castro, who gave up the music business
to run her parents’ Castro Convertibles company.

 

But more, this collection is insightful in showing how the
Top 40 – and the pop-music business – worked in this era. Everyone wanted a
Brill Building hit – far more than such star songwriters as Mann & Weil,
Goffin & King, Leiber & Stoller and Howie Greenfield could manufacture
on order. They also wanted the superbly crafted pop arrangements – the
swinging, punctuated string sections, the snazzy little guitar runs, the
intuitive balance of major and minor chords – of Bobby Vee’s or Gene Pitney’s
hits of the era, which featured consummate craftsmanship and set a standard.

 

But the songwriters show more perspiration than inspiration
on “Just Another Fool” (a Goffin-King composition for Curtis Lee, a singer with
little range) or Mann & Weil’s corny “I Wanna Thank Your Folks” for Johnny
Burnette. Too often, in order to make these songs slightly different than the
hits they seek to imitate, the writers/producers/arrangers insert a false
sounding chord change – going major or minor where your ear wants to hear the
opposite.

 

Sometimes the problem is the performer’s. Del Shannon – who
wrote his own material and could evoke scary desperation with his falsetto howl
– seriously compromises himself imitating Vee with his fussy “I Won’t Be
There.” Dion hadn’t yet found the swaggering courage (or good material) when he
recorded the wimpy “Somebody Nobody Wants” in 1961. Timi Yuro, as forcefully
dramatic a singer as the Top 40 ever had (“What’s a Matter, Baby”), suffered a
momentary hammy moment when choking up at the end of Willie Nelson’s
“Permanently Lonely,” thus harming an otherwise-strong performance. Not awful,
mind you, just off enough to betray weakness in an unforgiving competitive
environment. 

 

To be fair, the album’s liner-note researcher/writer, Mike
Edwards, believes these songs to be lost gems. And Rare Rockin’ treats them
like that with the sumptuous layout, photos and well-written information for
each selection. To that, we can thank them for their anthropological-level
work.

 

This album’s greatest value is in letting us see into the
process by which hundreds – thousands – of young singers, all trying
desperately to have careers rather than make enduring art, put their faith in a
system they hoped would provide them with the right stuff to keep going.
Somehow, it makes you appreciate the songs that hit big all the more to also
hear the ones that tried hard but didn’t.

 

DOWNLOAD:  Bernadette Castro – “His Lips Get in the Way”;
The Elektras – “All I Want to Do Is Run” STEVEN ROSEN

 

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