Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Ultimate Oldies But Goodies

Back in March, I posted an entry on Art Laboe’s first Oldies But Goodies compilation, issued in the fall of 1959 on Laboe’s Original Sound Record Co. label. Peaking at #12 on 28 September 1959, Oldies But Goodies would remain on the charts—according to The Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums—for a total of 61 weeks, that is, well over a year. I noted that Laboe, by issuing the Oldies But Goodies album, accomplished two culturally significant things: one was that he was the first to historicize rock ‘n’ roll, to lend it the dignity and distinction of a “classic” or “golden” era—the album cover boasts the LP contains “The Original Recordings of the Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Hits Of All Time.” The other was that he altered the cultural consumption of rock 'n' roll music in the sense that he demonstrated compilation albums could sell: think of the sheer number of compilation albums released the past fifty years.

About three weeks after posting that initial blog on the Oldies But Goodies LP, I received an email from Joe Sasfy, who created Time-Life’s 50-album, 1, 100 song, Rock ‘n’ Roll Era series some years ago. As I noted in my subsequent blog, I’m very sure Time-Life’s Rock 'n' Roll Era series is the biggest and biggest-selling oldies series of all time. I reported at the time that Time-Life had just inked a deal with Art Laboe for the purposes of issuing a new, 10-CD collection titled The Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection, to be sold primarily as an infomercial. The host of the infomercial was to be Bowzer (stage name of Jon Bauman), former member of the group Sha Na Na.

I’m happy to report that a couple of days ago Joe contacted me regarding The Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection, telling me that the infomercial, hosted by Bowzer, is now on the air and that the collection is available at Timelife.com (shipping around the third week of August according to the website). Joe was pleased to report that the infomercial is “hugely entertaining thanks to Bowzer’s ‘charm’ and lots of great vintage footage.” All signs indicate The Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection will be a big success, evidence, according to Joe, “that the original audience for 50s rock ‘n’ roll music remains faithful even as the music recedes in pop history.”

I wrote Joe a congratulatory note on the release of the new collection, telling him that the vintage footage used in the infomercial sounds great, and asking him if he’d give some thought to putting together a DVD collection of this material. As someone who’s interested in this vintage footage, I told him there's no easy way to gather together this sort of material: some of it is impossible to get (or extremely expensive should you try), is scattered all over the place, and much of it consists of poor, first or second generation dupes. I asked Joe if it were possible to put together an "Oldies But Goodies Video Collection," but alas, he wrote back telling me that it is very difficult to work through all the licensing issues related to compiling this kind of footage, especially when licensing from different sources. “Sometimes it is feasible—for example, I compiled 8 DVDs of live country performances from Grand Ole Opry TV shows of the 50s, 60s and 70s that is selling very well. We are always trying.” I wrote him back, insisting that a DVD collection would be the ticket, but who knows what success I had persuading him. I’ve found that when I watch infomercials advertising old hits—such as Time-Life's “Flower Power” collection of 60s material hosted by Peter Fonda—I’m always more interested in the video footage included in the presentation, since I already have virtually every song in the collection, on vinyl or CD. My personal view is that DVD compilations are the way to go, but then I don’t have to face the daunting licensing issues Joe speaks about.

At any rate, if you are interested (as I am), Joe tells me the infomercial for The Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection will run on CNBC this Saturday (August 2) at 5:30 PM (ET). Apparently Bowzer ends the infomercial with his “Grease For Peace” mantra that he used at the end of every Sha Na Na TV show episode. I’m looking forward to seeing him do that, as I haven’t seen him do so in many years. Come to think about it, Sha Na Na, once an “oldies” act, is now itself an oldies act.

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On an entirely different note, I invite everyone to take a look at Bent Sørensen's comment on my previous blog entry, "Automo-bubbling." Bent discusses a paper he's written and about to deliver on the culturally symbolic capital of the American automobile, in particular the Cadillac. Besides taking a look at Bent's sources, I'd also recommend Greil Marcus's essay, "Elvis: Presliad," in Mystery Train, on the meaning of Elvis's pink Cadillac. Additionally, I thank Bent for his ongoing interest in my blog.

6 comments:

Mr.SHADOW said...

You know I was thinking about the same thing while I was watching the infomercial of Oldies but Goodies :) Why don`t they do the video compilation of the vintage videos. It would be fantastic :) I watched the infomercial over and over and over again. It`s beautiful, fantastic :)

Nashvillienne said...

Just watcht the Oldies infomercial.
Absolutely loved the vintage film clips. Only I wanted more, the entire song by the Originals.I"m with Mr. Shadow.. I"d buy the set in a heartbeat if it were the videos w/the songs. It surely turns back the hands of time,and makes a person feel young again. I
have seen many of the groups on Bandstand, but not all of them. The music is only half of the experience. The films are the 2nd half. You know how you remember where you were and with whom and wearing what when you first heard some of these songs. I lived those glory days and with music videos or DVDs I could relive it all over again.

Anonymous said...

Like the previous poster if a DVD was included with complete video footage of at least the main songs I would be buy the compilation. The audio collection wo video is much less compelling.

Elane in Oak Ridge said...

I would also love to see a video collection of this music- I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

monsterofmud said...

Did anyone record this infomercial? I caught it once by sheer accident and it's impossible to ever know when it'll be broadcast again. I contacted Time-Life and they had no idea what I was talking about!

I'd love a copy, and could pay anyone for their time to make me a copy.

Sweetea said...

I would also like to get my hands on a copy of the vintage film clips I saw on the infomercial for the TimeLife Oldies music. As there seems to be a lot of interest in obtaining these, perhaps the legal departments should get together and get it done.