Armagideon Time

Time is tight this week, so the second half of the July ’65 hall of shame will have to wait until next Friday.

As a consolation prize, I made a quick dive into the Charlton Comics archive and plucked this tantalizing pitch from the acid-eaten newsprint…

…a Hit Records mail-order ad from the middle of the Swingin’ Sixties. It and its slightly updated kin were fairly ubiquitous staples in the publisher’s line of funnybooks, tying back into Charlton’s real money making gig as the folks behind Hit Parader magazine. Despite the similar names, Hit Records and Hit Parader were two distinct entities, though the Derby address suggests there was some strategic alliance going on behind the scenes.

Sixty currently popular tracks for under three bucks postpaid sounds too good to be true, and indeed it was. Hit Records specialized in recording and releasing their own versions of pop hits, which they’d market to dime stores as a discount option for willing or unwilling dupes looking for the “now sound” on the cheap.

The hustle might seem horrific to hidebound music purists, but wasn’t too far afield from the prevailing status quo at the time. This was a time before “authenticity” assumed an absurd importance and the concept of “the band as a brand” was still in its infancy. Even among the legit scene, the major songwriting savants would pitch their sonic goods to various acts until one of the recordings resonated with the public and became the “definitive” version we all know and love (and have heard way too many times since).

Hit Records took a more industrial — and considerably less ambitious — approach to this strategy by waiting to see what clicked in the pop charts, then rushing out their own budget rendition adequate for the dance floor or wherever else less discerning ears congregated. It also helped that they were based out of Nashville, which sported an exceedingly high concentration of talented session musicians to draw from.

Sporting pre-fab names that suggested some of legitimacy outside a quickie recording session, acts like “The Chellows” and “The Jalopy Five” tried their hand at crafting adequate approximations of familiar hits.

Some bordered on note perfect…

…while others amounted to a mass market variation of outsider art…

…but nearly all of them suffered from thinness on the production side which could be downright disconcerting, and made it sound like one was listening to some remnant of our universe’s “alpha build” pressed to vinyl and slipped into the final product.

The company managed to ride that formula right up until the end of the Sixties, when bargain-priced comps featuring slightly abridged versions of the real deal emerged as a more compelling alternative.

Similar soundalike schemes have managed to maintain a semi-dodgy niche up through the present day. I have a couple of disco-themed ones that came with a bulk purchase of pre-1980 easy listening LPs, and Maura was recently burned by an estate sale CD box set of doo wop classics that turned out to be contemporary re-recordings. As is typical of trash culture artifacts of yore, the original series of Hit Record releases has developed its own dedicated fan and collector scene.

While I totally understand the impulse, it actual manifestation is half a dozen bridges too far for me to ever cross.

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