Showing posts with label Bowzer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bowzer. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection Has Arrived

Happily, Time-Life’s new Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection box set, graciously sent to me from the compilation’s producer, Joe Sasfy, arrived late last week. I would like to say that I am now ready to present my informed opinion of the recently-released box set, but I simply didn’t have the time this weekend to sit down and gather my thoughts on it—three days is neither time enough to fully assess the contents nor fully assess the presentation. I most certainly will offer my considered judgment as soon as I’m able, very soon. I suspect that many of those who have come across my blog as the result of a web search already have seen the amusing infomercial being hosted by former Sha Na Na member Bowzer, and want to know, frankly, if the collection is worth the money: it is currently listed on Time-Life’s website at $149.95 (with free shipping), which works out to less than $.99 a song, the current price of a download at Apple’s iTunes. I can’t say I’m ready to pronounce my final judgment on the collection at this point—whether it is worth paying $150 for (although I have seen it for sale on eBay for much less), that is to say. I can say, though, that the box consists of five jewel cases tucked within a handsome, sturdy case that imitates in miniature the old portable LP caddy with a latch and handle in which one would cart around one’s vinyl records. And like the old portable caddy, the case lid hinges at the top rear so that you merely tip the lid back to open it up. Snugly tucked inside the case are five individual jewel cases each holding two discs, the first CD in each labeled Side A and the second Side B; each disc contains 16 songs for a total of 32 songs in each individually titled unit—except for the fifth, the one titled “The Ultimate One Hit Wonders Collection,” which, for some mysterious reason, contains only 15 songs on each of the two discs (surely there were more than a mere thirty songs from this period qualifying as “One Hit Wonders”). Hence, just as the promotional advertisements claim, there are 158 songs included in the collection. Each individual jewel case has been allotted its own accompanying 8-page booklet containing liner notes on various songs and/or artists contributed by critic John Morthland.

The song selection ranges from 1954-1962, with the vast majority of them, as one might expect, from 1956-59. Nineteen of the songs date from 1960-61; only one (The Corsairs’ “Smoky Places”) dates from 1962. Rather than being organized chronologically (my own preferential form of organization), the songs are (loosely) grouped thematically. Hence each of the five 2/CD cases is given a title: the aforementioned “Ultimate One Hit Wonders Collection,” plus titles derived from the name of a song included in the individual subset: “Teen Beat,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Raunchy,” and “Sh-Boom.” Whether a thematic (or perhaps lyrical) form of organization is optimal in this instance is debatable, as each disc contains songs from different years and consisting of different styles. For instance, “Teen Beat” intersperses instrumentals throughout the two sides—e.g., “Tequila,” “Honky Tonk (Part 2),” “Teen Beat”—but these songs are placed side-by-side with songs such as Larry Williams’ “Short Fat Fannie” and—oddly—The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley.” Why not a whole disc (“side”) devoted to instrumentals? The argument might be that such as presentation imitates the format of Top 40 radio, when commercial programming would have dictated such heterogeneous presentation. Perhaps, but then why not organize the songs by year of release, and then in turn present them in order of release, when the information on the songs' chart position (available in the booklet) would make a bit more sense, contextually speaking?

At this point I’m still working my way through the selections and the way they are sequenced on the individual discs, so again, I’m not ready at this moment to present my final assessment. But I wanted those many individuals searching for information on the collection to have my initial thoughts. I’m loath to delay further, but there’s currently too much at the moment on my proverbial plate. I hope this information is useful to those considering purchasing the collection. More in a few short days.

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 (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.


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.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Grease For Peace

Joe Sasfy, who created Time-Life’s 50-album, 1, 100 song, Rock 'n' Roll Era series some years ago, emailed me in connection with my March 13 blog entry, in which I discussed Art Laboe’s Oldies But Goodies series of compilation albums. I’m quite sure that Time-Life’s Rock 'n' Roll Era is the biggest and biggest-selling oldies series of all time.

Mr. Sasfy reports that Time-Life has just inked a deal with Art Laboe and will issue a new, 10-CD collection titled The Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection, to be sold primarily as an infomercial. The host of the infomercial will be Bowzer (Jon Bauman, pictured) of the group Sha Na Na. Readers are invited to review my earlier blog entry, in which I linked Art Laboe and the Mothers of Invention album Cruising With Ruben & the Jets (1968) to the formation of Sha Na Na in the late 60s, an “oldies” act that very early in its performing history appeared, somewhat improbably, at the Woodstock Festival (August 1969).

Like many people did, I first saw Sha Na Na in Warner Brother’s documentary of the Woodstock Festival, Woodstock (1970), performing "At the Hop." For some reason, although my parents primarily listened to swing music, they always seemed for some reason to have on Sha Na Na’s television variety show (1977-81) at the appropriate time--episodes of which, surprisingly, have never appeared on DVD. During those same years, in 1978, Sha Na Na appeared in the hugely successful motion picture version of the musical Grease, under the name of Johnny Casino and the Gamblers; their songs can be heard on that movie’s very popular soundtrack. The group still performs to this day.

Regarding the Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection, Mr. Sasfy says, “You might say that, as we teeter here at the edge of rock ‘n’ roll history, all the remaining players in the oldies 'game' have joined together for one last un-ironic nostalgia fest.” I have written Mr. Sasfy asking him to keep me posted regarding the availability of the forthcoming Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection; I will let you know as soon as I hear something.

In the meantime, to quote Bowzer's parting message that closed each Sha Na Na television show: “Grease for Peace!”