Friday, July 21, 2017

Songs A Day: A Motley Bunch of Herman's Hermits Cash-in Records



JULY 21, 2017

A MOTLEY BUNCH OF HERMAN’S HERMITS CASH-IN RECORDS

RELEASED 1965 ON 7” 45

I’ve written previously about Herman’s Hermits. Today I'll share some evidence of just how popular they were.

When the British invasion began in early 1964, several Beatles songs were on the music magazine charts at the same time. This is mostly because the rights to their first few singles, which were not issued by Capitol—their right-of-first-refusal company in the US—were picked up by other labels…

...and when the Fabs hit it big in this country January 1964, these other labels--Swan, MGM, Vee-Jay and its sub-label Tollie--gleefully issued these older Beatles records, hoping to catch a trend. Therefore, the group’s new releases on Capitol were now competing with their own previous hits from 1963.

So this has to do with Herman's Hermits how?

Herman’s Hermits, fronted by the barely 17-year-old Peter Noone, really took off in the US in early 1965. Their second chart hit, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” went to #2 in the late winter. Their next 45, “Silhouettes,” a cover of the late 1950s doo-wop classic, was issued in late March.

But their record label, MGM, suddenly had a problem. The problem was “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” a song on the band’s first album, Herman’s Hermits.

The sentimental, very British “Mrs. Brown” had been introduced two years earlier by an actor named Tom Courtenay in a British TV play. The original was a bit more folk-flavored, with banjo and acoustic guitar, and found immediate acceptance.

During 1964, Herman’s Hermits recorded it, in just two takes, as album-filler material. With the song already known in the UK, the group did not want it issued as a single, feeling that it would peg them as a novelty act. But the following year, public reaction to the song in the states would force it onto the airwaves.

By mid-March, even though "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat" was still in the top five and “Silhouettes” was being pressed and readied for release, American radio DJs began to play “Mrs. Brown” in earnest. Listeners in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Toronto, Boston, Seattle, Milwaukee, et al., fell hard for the song even though it was unavailable as a single. Teenage girls simply loved it, and some of their mothers must have too.

Within two weeks, it was #1 in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Boston despite being only an album track, meaning that requests for the song must have gone absolutely through the roof. Even Beatles album tracks hadn’t seen this kind of listener reaction.

And why not? It's a sweet little recording, with a sincere one-off quality that even includes some muffed notes. Lead guitarist Derek Leckenby's muted string work provided an immediate hook; many thought he was playing a banjo. Peter Noone and Keith Hopwood's vocals were just the right side of innocent.

MGM, now faced with a strange dilemma—Do we risk cannibalizing the sales of “Silhouettes,” or do we miss out on a huge opportunity?—chose to issue “Mrs. Brown” as a single, putting it out a mere two weeks after releasing “Silhouettes,” which hit the Billboard chart on April 3 and within three weeks was the #19 song in the country.

But the week that “Silhouettes” jumped from #44 to #19, “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at #12, making that huge leap solely on advance sales from record distributors all over America. This was, at the time, the highest debut in the history of the Billboard chart and it gave the Hermits three songs in the top 20.

Two weeks later, on the May 1 survey, "Mrs. Brown" was the #1 song in America, remaining at the top of the charts for three weeks. “Silhouettes,” on the other hand, peaked “only” at #5.

(In 1968, the group made its second film, Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter, in which the "daughter" is a racing greyhound.)

In the grand, bandwagon-hopping tradition of pop music then and now, the overnight success of “Mrs. Brown” sparked several imitators, all of which must have been recorded shortly after the announcement that the song would be issued on a single.

The first single “inspired” by “Mrs. Brown” was cut by The Detergents, a New York studio trio including Ron Dante, who several years later was the lead singer on the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar.” Just as “Mrs. Brown” began making its climb up the charts, "Mrs. Jones (How About It)" hit the stores.

The Detergents had enjoyed a 1964 hit with “Leader of the Laundromat,” a pretty successful parody of the Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack.” But “Mrs. Jones" just sounded slapdash.

Though it contained elements of “Mrs. Brown," the Detergents' attempt at a cash-in was successful neither on the turntable nor on the charts. Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, who’d “written” “Leader of the Laundromat,” took the credit on this one too.



Also issued at the same time was an “answer” record to “Mrs. Brown,” purportedly by ‘Mrs. Brown’s Lovely Daughter Carol,’ entitled “(Mother, It’s a) Frightful Situation.” Recorded and released in southern California, it too used a singer with a fake British accent to little positive effect. The vocalist, apparently a Carol Crane, sounds more like someone imitating the overtly posh tone of Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins.”

“Frightful Situation” got some airplay in San Diego, but apparently little attention anywhere else. Interestingly, the new lyrics were written by Nancy Mantz, who’d later collaborate with Annette Tucker on the Electric Prunes’ hits “I Had too Much to Dream (Last Night)” and “Get Me to the World on Time.”

 


A little-known label called RIC (Recording Industries Corp.) also put out, a week or so later, its attempt at a cash-in. The credited aggregation was known as ‘Lynn and the Mersey Maids’ (Herman’s Hermits weren't from Liverpool, but no matter).

This song had a slightly different conceit—it was called “Mrs. Jones, Your Son Gives up too Easy.” RIC was largely an R&B label, and these singers may well be African American. The “songwriter,” a Bob Montgomery, also produced this.



Finally, going right for the jugular were Marty & the Monks, whose dopey “Mrs. Schwartz You’ve Got an Ugly Daughter” at least credited Trevor Peacock, the writer of the original, although on this record, the action has been relocated from London to New York City.



Amazingly enough, I have not exhausted the well of “Mrs. Brown” cash-ins. But you’ve probably had enough for today, and I know I have! That none of these records made it much beyond the factory before being forgotten certainly puts some faith in the judgment of the American radio listener.
 

3 comments:

  1. Don't forget that "ENN-ER-REY" also cut "Wonderful World" off shortly after this. It happened the whole year of 65 with the Errmits. "Must to Avoid" cut off by the forced release of "Listen people" due to demand from a soundtrack album. 1965 (singles-wise) was as amazing as the Monkees' 1967, but not in LP sales or airplay. WLSClark

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  2. Yes! MGM found itself in a weird position with their songs. I do enjoy the 45 version of "Listen People" more than the soundtrack one (which you shared with me), but I like the LP version of "Leaning onthe Lamp Post" better than the 45...weird, right? What about you?

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  3. Hey there,

    Great little collection and fun information! I disagree with you on your take on a couple of these, both of which I find to be significant improvements on the original (although, I should add that I find the original fairly horrible).

    The detergents record sounds great - I love the sound of the track, and it doesn't strike me as slapdash at all - and a genuinely funny lyric, too. By a wide margin the best of the bunch. And the "Ugly Daughter" record is funny, as well, and the concept is handled quite well.

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