Originally posted July 07, 2009:
Last week, as I was digging through my dad’s records, I shared cover versions of three Beatles songs pulled from the 1968 Reader’s Digest box set Popular Music Hit Parade. I was sure that one of the three – versions of “Michelle,” “Yellow Submarine” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Hank Levine Singers and Orchestra – would qualify as the fourth entrant in our Train Wreck Jukebox. (The fifth, if one counts the instrumental B-side of the Swingers’ Bay-Hay Bee Doll.) I invited comments from readers.
As it turned out, only two readers weighed in, but they were long-time visitors Yah Shure and Oldetymer (whose handle I misspelled the other day. Sorry!). And they were in agreement that Levine’s treatment of “Yellow Submarine” was, in fact, a train wreck. I concurred. As I told Yah Shure in a note, not even a dissent written by Antonin Scalia (the best writer on the U.S. Supreme Court, though I rarely agree with his views) would save the track.
I also listed a few of the other covers included in Popular Music Hit Parade, noting that, having never listened to the entire set, I had no idea how difficult they might be to hear. Oldetymer said he wouldn’t mind hearing a few. So we’re going to dig into some 1960s pop hits and the Reader’s Digest covers of them this morning. And we may find a train wreck or two.
The fourth Top 40 hit of Roger Miller’s career was the first one not tabbed a novelty hit by the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Miller’s previous entries in the Top 40 had been “Dang Me” (No. 7) and “Chug-A-Lug (No. 9) in 1964 and “Do-Wacka-Do” (No. 31) in 1965. I’m not entirely sure I’d classify “Dang Me” as a novelty hit; that seems a bit unfair to Miller and the record. In any event, his fourth hit, which reached the Top 40 in February of 1965, was the enduring “King of the Road,” with its wryly happy celebration of the hobo life.
“King of the Road” by Roger Miller, Smash 1965 
Our Reader’s Digest cover version sounded promising when I cued it up, but I’ll let you decide its fate:
“King of the Road” by Nashville Sounds & Jerry Reed (Guitar) 
Next comes an odd record that was seemingly inescapable for a few weeks. In fact, for one evening, it was literally inescapable. Drawing for some reason on the style of Rudy Vallee’s hits in the 1920s, “Winchester Cathedral” jumped up the charts in November of 1966 and spent three weeks at No. 1. The song was credited to the New Vaudeville Band, which, according to the Billboard Book of Number One Hits, didn’t truly exist until after the record went to No. 1. The record was essentially the creation of British songwriter and producer Geoff Stephens, who – after the record hit – scrambled to put together a group of musicians to be the New Vaudeville Band. It didn’t help. “Winchester Cathedral” was the group’s only hit.
And the evening when the record was inescapable? It was New Year’s Eve 1966. As was our custom at the time, Rick and I spent the evening at his place, playing pool and board games and just hanging around. At the same time, one of Rick’s sisters had friends over, as well, and from the record player in those precincts came the strains, repeatedly, of “Winchester Cathedral.”
“Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band, Fontana 1562 
And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover of the song:
“Winchester Cathedral” by Marty Paitch, His Orchestra & Chorus 
One of the cheeriest-sounding pop hits of the mid-1960s was the Seekers’ “Georgy Girl,” with its whistling introduction. The tune was the title song from a film starring Lynn Redgrave and James Mason, but one wonders from the first line of the film’s description at the Internet Movie Database just how cheery the movie is: “A homely but vivacious young woman dodges the amorous attentions of her father's middle-aged employer while striving to capture some of the glamorous life of her swinging London roommate.” These days, that sounds like a lawsuit or an addiction – or perhaps both – waiting to happen.
Anyway, the song was quite cheery, and it entered the Top 40 during the last week of 1966, eventually reaching No. 2, the third and final hit for the Seekers. The first two, both in 1965, were “I’ll Never Find Another You,” which went to No. 4, and “A World Of Our Own,” which peaked at No. 19. (Then there was the group called the New Seekers, an offshoot, but that’s a topic for another time.)
“Georgy Girl” by the Seekers, Capitol 5756 
And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover version with a familiar name in the credits:
“Georgy Girl” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra 
I’m not sure how frequently these things happen these days, but every once a while during the 1960s, a record that was clearly designed for the middle of the road would take off and find itself in the Top 40, or maybe even the Top 10. When it happened with a Frank Sinatra song – “Strangers In The Night” (No. 1, 1966), “That’s Life” (No. 4, 1966) and “Something Stupid” (No. 1, 1967, with his daughter, Nancy) were the biggest – that was understandable. But Ed Ames? He was the lead singer of the Ames Brothers, who had ten Top 40 hits between 1954 and 1960, with the biggest of them being “The Naughty Lady Of Shady Lane,” which went to No. 3 in 1954. And in 1967, Ames had an unlikely No. 8 hit with a song from the off-Broadway musical I Do, I Do.
“My Cup Runneth Over” by Ed Ames, RCA Victor 9002 
And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover of Ames’ hit:
“My Cup Runneth Over” by Bill Lee with Nelson Riddle & His Orchestra 
So there we have them. Let me know if you think there are any train wrecks in here.