Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Song A Day: A.C. Ducey, "Beer, Beer Bottle Beer"



JULY 12, 2017

“BEER, BEER BOTTLE BEER” (WRITER: HENDLER–ROGERS)

ARTIST: A.C. DUCEY

RELEASED 1962 ON 7” 45

Today’s selection is a shout-out and salute to Bob Purse, my friend of nearly 40 years, who heard this record way back in the 1970s on the Dr. Demento show. The Good Doctor was a big part of opening our ears to new ways to hear music.

Bob and I both fell in love with this record, and years later we both found copies. It’s a fairly treasured possession.

It was only after World War II that the idea of “arranging” music for phonograph records became an art. Thanks to improved equipment and to overdubbing techniques pioneered by master guitarist and engineer Les Paul, one could create a work of art that could not be duplicated on stage—and did not need to be.

Some credit for implementing this strategy should also go to Mitch Miller, Director of A&R (ARtists & Repertoire) at powerful Columbia Records, who masterminded many pre-rock hits that depended more on arrangement and recording than quality material. Unfortunately he also deserves demerits for forcing artists such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett to sing novelty music that 1) they didn’t like, 2) the public didn’t like, and 3) nearly destroyed their careers—careers that only revived when they went back to singing what were good at.

Anyhow, one big movement in mid- and late-1950s record production was altering the speed of a voice or instrument. In 1956, a bunch of adults with their voices sped-up via tape manipulation had a #1 hit with a corny gospel tune, “Open Up Your Heart (Let the Sun Shine In),” under the name Cowboy Church Sunday School. The voices sounded less like children (which was the obvious intent) than aliens.

Ross Bagdasarian (better known as David Seville) had a monster hit the following year with the indelible “Witch Doctor,” which also featured a sped-up voice. He went on to create The Chipmunks, further extending the idea of quickening recorded voices to create child-like characters.

So it only took so long before people began to use tape-speed technique to slow down voices. That’s the conceit of the 1962 novelty 45 “Beer, Beer Bottle Beer,” which features an impossibly low voice “singing” over a hot-jazz combo. The music really moves, in a sort of amphetamine Dixieland way, while the lyrics seem to refer to tipping a few in honor of your favorite sports team, even though they lost (“What do you mean, wait ‘til next year?”).

Although I really have no idea. It’s not about the words; it’s really about the track, the weirdness of the stretched-out vocal, and the time they took to overdub clinking beer bottles. Catchy as all heck, and totally odd.

This song was written by Herb Hendler (a longtime big-band and ballad writer whose biggest hit was “Hot Toddy,” a standard back in the 1950s) and someone named Rogers. Perhaps Herb Hendler had some sort of connection with Warner Brothers, as he collaborated on some other odd novelty records on the label around the same time under names like “The Dancing Panther Danceband” and “U.B.’s Group.”

Some people have asserted “A.C. Ducey” to be a nom de disque for Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Tony the Tiger, singer of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and longtime sessioneer on records by the likes of Elvis Presley, Rosemary Clooney, and Andy Williams.

But “Beer Beer Bottle Beer” is NOT Thurl Ravenscroft, whose basso profundo was entirely unaided by studio trickery. In fact, Ravenscroft had a record out, “Big Paul Bunyan,” under his own name at the time. Who is the person whose altered voice became “A.C. Ducey”? The world will probably never know.

Warner Brothers issued "Beer, Beer, Bottle Beer" in spring 1962. None of the music trade magazines even bothered to review it, and few—if any—radio stations ever played it. The big open secret, even at the time, of the record business is that the major labels, such as Warner Brothers, did not expect most of the records they issued to sell or get radio play, and in fact only promoted a chosen few.

The labels believed they needed to release a large quantity of records, if only to try and keep other companies from getting more space in warehouses of record distributors and the minds of radio programmers. 

But as is often the case, genius can lurk in the strangest, darkest corners. 


2 comments:

  1. Funny record, Stu. I can imagine you as a kid listening to this. Altho maybe not the guy, it made me think of this very low vocal novelty. WLSClark

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cX4BfrSWK8Q

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  2. Thanks for the shoutout! Absolutely one of the best records ever made - currently holding in the top tracks 150 ever, in the spreadsheet I'm getting close to completing. Dr. D surprised me the last time he played it by stating that it IS Thurl, but I doubt there's any evidence of that - I agree with you that it's a regular bass slowed down. I'll have to ask him.

    Bob

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