Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Sounds of Charlton: Record Riot!


Every Charlton fan, unless his or her collection lies outside the range of these ads, has seen one or more of the  "Record Riot" offers.  This one ("60 Smash Songs $2.98") hails from the Feb.-Mar., 1966 Billy the Kid (#43, last page), and it includes the iconic (hate that word) twisting couple:


Wow--less than 5¢ per song!  Awesome deal, no?  Well, we'll be exploring that question momentarily.

In 1963, you could get 96 songs ("a complete record library--amazing priced") for $3.49, which was less than 4¢ per song!.  From the inside front cover of the Dec., 1963 Strange Suspense Stories (#68):

Here's an earlier "96 Smash Hits" offer (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #44, Dec., 1962) with the titles in a different order.  Same songs, otherwise?  Dunno--I'm not OCD to do a title-by-title comparison.  (Is there any scanning software that will do it for me?  Hmm.)

In my (hasty) search through my Charlton boxes, I didn't encounter any pre-1962 examples of this ad, but they may very well exist.

My best guess on the date range for these discs: 1959 to 1966.  In the absence of a complete discography with release dates, I can't be sure, but since the series starts with Pink Shoelaces and The Happy Organ (plus four more tracks), 1959 is the logical conclusion for the kickoff year, given that the series focused on the latest hits (or, more precisely, on adequate to awful copies of the latest hits).

What did these things look like?  Like this:


As you can see from my scans, these "L-O-N-G playing records" were, in real life, 45-rpm EPs with six tracks (the standard count for the sound-alike EPs of the day).  The labels, needless to say, were named after Charlton Publications' Hit Parader and Song Hits magazines.

I cannot account for the "Hits of the Week" slogan on the sleeves, unless they were actually churning these out every week (which would mean there were 364 in all--don't think so).  Cool, campy labels, sixties-tacky sleeves.  And I just realized that, at 69¢ a disc (see printed price sticker), the tracks were actually a whopping 11.5¢ each, not 4 or 5¢!!  What gives?

I know that when I order hits for 4 or 5¢ apiece, I don't want to end up paying 11.5¢ a pop, and I wonder if any of the customers back in the day complained when they saw the label price?  That's a 100 to 200 percent increase over the ad quote!!   Then again, maybe these discs were sold in stores as well as by mail--I've seen a Hit Parader/Song Hits mailing box that could have doubled as a store display, so I wonder.  69¢ might have been the store price.  Will we ever know?

Hopefully, pop culture scholars around the world are working on this issue as we speak.  But now it's time to cover...


It would certainly be cool--in fact, awesome--if Charlton had recorded its own sound-alikes.  I don't mean in the sense of Bill Molno or Sal Trapani on lead vocals (and Joe Gill on typewriter), but, say, in the sense of Charlton having had masters recorded for its own exclusive use.  Imagine that.

But, of course, that's not how the cheapo labels operated--alas, none of these recordings were unique to this brand.  Despite the "Capitol Distributing Co., Derby, Conn" (Charlton) credit on the label and the Hit Parader and Song Hits tie-ins, these exact same tracks also came out on a host of other cheap labels, including Tops, A.R.C. (Allied Record Co.), Promenade, Hurrah! and Bravo.  (I've verified this with my own collection.)  By the late 1950s, the dime-store labels seem to have been leasing all of their tracks from one or two companies, master-wise.  (Exceptions included Bell.)  This made for endless overlapping of material from one label and/or LP/EP  to another--much more so than in the pre-1957 period, when four or five different budget-label versions of a given hit might be found.  (A great example would be the 1955 ((but recorded by Bill Haley in 1954)) hit, Rock Around the Clock.)

But, of course, now we want to hear some of...


Luckily for the sake of this post, I own nearly every one of the Song Hits and Hit Parader discs, their condition ranging from NM (near mint) to PDA (please don't ask).  So I was able to put together an 8:30 sound file containing portions of twenty-four tracks.  (Just what the die-hard Charlton fan has always dreamed of, I'm sure.)  You can download (or listen on-site to) the file here:

Hit Parader and Song Hits samples

The smash-hit titles, in order:

Summer in the City
Good Vibrations
Leader of the Pack
You Really Got Me
Baby Love
Sounds of Silence
Get Off of My Cloud
I Know a Place
Positively 4th Street
All Day and All of the Night
This Diamond Ring
My Girl
She Loves You
Surfin' Bird
Blue Moon
Who Put the Bomp
Take Good Care of My Baby
Surf City
Dang Me
A Fool Such as I
Help Me Rhonda
I Want to Hold Your Hand 

Cough, and you might miss a snippet.  I don't have the energy to list all the original artists, but all can be easily Googled.  (Imagine saying "easily Googled" in the days before cyberspace.)


Yikes.  There are some adequate imitations in the mix, but quite a number are something less than same, with the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Rolling Stones numbers especially awful (it's a toss-up between Help Me Rhonda and Good Vibrations).  Not bad at all are Surfin' Bird, Summer in the City (a tad under-produced, but what can we expect?), This Diamond Ring, and My Girl.  Overall, lousy, but not as lousy as we might expect.  (Faint praise, you say?)

So why did I hunt these down?  Because I love sound-alikes--don't ask me why.  I love all the tracks here--good, bad, and I-want-my-$3.49-back dreadful.  Sound-alikes make up about 1/10 of my collection, so I guess I'd better like the things.

What do you think, dear listener?  Anyone dying for complete tracks, maybe I can manage that in a future post.  Just give me a holler.  (Sound of crickets chirping.)



  1. Lee,

    Thanks for sharing this. I never heard any of these copies, and, as you noted, they run the gamut, but fascinating nevertheless. I still like the idea of the Charlton staff producing these ditties. Imagine, Joe Gill and the Gillettes; The Four Molnos; Nicholas and Alascia (replacing Simon and Garfunkle) and The Santangelos!

  2. Nick--Glad you enjoyed! And I love your suggestions. I'm trying to think of a pun on Ditko. (Ditko-theque?) Rocco's Rockers. "The Molno Mash." The RAM-ettes? (Too suggestive, maybe.) The Moltra Men.

    A great missed opportunity. By the way, I just now discovered what appears to be a Canadian version of this series--the label is "Bestseller" (looks to be one word), with the subtitle, "6 Top Hits of the Week." Maybe Charlton was repurposing this series (or vice versa)? The mysteries keep coming!

  3. The hits keep coming! Johnnie and the D'Agostino's! Vinnie's Ink-Spots! Richie Giordano! The Beach Boyettes! And Pat Masulli sings the hits of Al Martino!

  4. Excellent! I especially like the "Ink-Spots." (Had to think about it for a moment.)

    Charlton could have used series titles, too--how about a psych-rock band called Unexplored Worlds? The Blue Beetles? (Rim shot) More psych-rock: Atomic Bunny. Punk rock: Lawbreakers. Noise rock: Racket Squad! Proto-punk: Teen-Age Love....

  5. Lee, is there a way Roy Thomas can contact you, in reference some material for Alter Ego? I have a possible phone number for you, but didn't want to invade your privacy. Have you an email?

  6. Grandpa--Sure! It's Hartsfeld (at sign) I'd love to hear from him. Thanks.