Case Study: Chi Mai

Chi Mai: Ennio Morricone, BBC Records 1981

Is Ennio Morricone’s Chi Mai the ultimate unwanted 45?

Chi Mai was the theme from the TV series The Life and Times of Lloyd George and was a number two UK hit in April 1981. It stayed in the chart for three months. Chi mai means ‘whoever’.

The single says © Private Stock 1978. It’s distributed by PRT (Precision Records & Tapes) who took over the Pye label. Then it says courtesy of EMI Records … BBC … Private Stock … PRT … EMI … that’s the involvement of four labels.

Were the BBC commissioning Ennio Morricone? Only in their dreams. The tune was borrowed from his 1971 soundtrack Maddalena. It also appeared in Le Professionel in France in 1981, and the TV series An Englishman’s Castle in 1978, which may be where © Private Stock 1978 comes from. The BBC version says clearly ‘from The Life and Times of Lloyd George‘ and that was when it was a hit.

Chi Mai was also #1 in France and #2 in Switzerland, #4 in Austria around the same time, but those are not the BBC version. In France it was mainly thought of because of its use in a TV commercial.

My son collects Ennio Morricone, so when I saw a single in a crisp, pristine BBC company sleeve at 49p well over ten years ago, I picked it up. Five minutes later in a different shop, I saw another at 29p. I picked that up too, for the crisp BBC sleeve … it was also mint condition. It really appeared unplayed. Untouched by human hand.

Chi Mai: Oxfam, Bath 2010 at 49p

Then Chi Mai started appearing everywhere, at prices ranging from 29p to £1.99. Always in mint or near-mint condition. Always looking unplayed. Always in BBC company sleeves, although there was a picture sleeve issued originally too. That did not turn up often at all. I bought one out of curiosity.

Chi Mai: BBC picture sleeve … this is NOT the sleeve that turns up

I started counting. I saw more than fifty copies all over Southern England by the time I stopped counting that first year in 2008. I saw five in a week in 2011. I’ve seen it at least once or twice a week since. So, the value has to be nil.

Chi Mai: Hospice shop, Poole, 2017. Still around, as ever mint / near mint

It was the early 21st century ultimate unwanted single. Short of a mass plague timed to kill every purchaser, the only explanation is that someone had tens of thousands of the things. So why do they turn up singly in such good condition? I’ve never seen multiple copies, but I was still seeing odd ones early in 2020. I could understand someone at the BBC going mad and pressing 200,000 instead of 20,000, but that would be landfill.

There are stories in the book trade about barn in Somerset where charity shops meet publishers for remaindered books. Was it something like that, with every charity getting a box full and putting them out one at a time?

If you know the answer, please contact us and tell us!

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