The Great Unwanted 45s

Girl with Columbia single, circa 1961. I fear it’s a Russ Conway single

You can flick the LPs in the cardboard boxes in charity shops and know in two seconds that it’s all worthless. Budget label classical, budget label easy listening, most musicals, James Last, Mantovani, military bands, old light opera, new light opera. Serious opera. Italian. German. English. Any opera. Box sets of opera. Box sets of anything ordered via Readers Digest or Time-Life. This could go on forever, so what the aim is here is to categorize the unwanted secondhand market in 45s and EPs.

Most of the stuff in the general boxes in charity shops and car boot sales is in picture sleeves. Seventies and eighties stuff abounds. You start looking for company sleeves, because you’d assume sixties stuff would be better, but there are the same heaps of unwanted artists in every one. They’re the ones that secondhand record stores dump, that dealers sift through and count as without any musical or commercial value. Sometimes, as with Bert Kaempfert or Herb Alpert LPs, their judgment is harsh and mistaken. Often, as with James Last LPs, they’re right. Mantovani records sold for years.

The EP Film Encores No. 1 came out in 1957. The copy illustrated was pressed in 1964. Mantovani’s saccharine strings are not desirable. On the other hand, Mantovani had some great sleeve designs. A touch of trivia; Mantovani, Max Bygraves and J.R.R. Tolkien lived about 400 yards apart on the Bournemouth / Poole border.

The artists and records currently in the straight-to-the-skip category are the high-selling middle of the road stars of the sixies. Englebert Humperdink, Frank Ifield, The Bachelors, Russ Conway, Val Doonican, Ken Dodd, Cilla Black, Jim Reeves, Des O’Connor, Harry Secombe, The Seekers. With some of them, their older less successful stuff is listed in the Rare Record Price Guide. Des O’Connor’s Thin Chow Min (Piccadilly 1962) is said to be worth a fiver in mint condition. No, we haven’t heard it. And if you’ve got one, we wouldn’t give you a fiver for it. But Val Doonican and Ken Dodd can’t muster a single collectable record between them. Jim Reeves long before he got successful is listed, but Jim Reeves LPs and later singles are essentially worthless. I hate Jim Reeves. Nothing personal, but in the sixties Jim Reeves on the jukebox meant that before you’d slurped down half your tea or beer, someone was likely to mention “feckin’ hippies”, your hair length, and cast aspersions on your sexuality. To me the sound of Distant Drums means much what it meant to people on Wagon Train. Danger. He’ll have to go.

gallery … looking a prat never helps … click to enlarge

Nina & Frederick are easy to find. Their excuse was being Danish aristocrats and looking like a pair of minor British royals … Gloucesters or Kents. They would be related, no doubt. The EP cites the stately Grace Kelly-like beauty of Nina coupled with the handsomely beared good looks of Frederick.

Mike & Griff (she was Scots, he was Welsh) have no excuses for being sartorially-challenged and hirsute in all the wrong places. They were both graduates from the George Mitchell Choir, and specialized in bland cover versions. They had four hit singles between 1959 and 1963.

Mr. Reginald Dixon might have had a mighty organ and displayed it daily at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool, but it’s not how big an organ is, it’s what you do with it that counts. By 1964, Reg’s organ was past its sell-by date. Solo organ playing cheesey standards rates with solo barrelhouse piano. Zero.

Piano tinklers gallery … click to enlarge

Piano tinklers from Winifred Atwell to Russ Conway through Mrs Mills to Bobby Crush are not rated. I was part of an argument at a folk club once, when someone suggested they should get an upright piano. ‘This is a folk club!’ they protested, ‘we don’t have pianos!’ We argued that by the early to mid 19th century most pubs (certainly in urban areas) had pianos, and that maybe the singalong music hall songs bashed out in a pub were the true British folk music. In this case, these people are the true folk musicians. Russ Conway liked to picture himself at a piano in a pub. They valued familiar tunes, high speed and medleys too. PARTY was their buzzword … Make it A Party, More Party Time and so on. EPs seemed to be their favoured form, but Bobby Crush who arrived just after the main EP era went for LPs like 36 Solid Gold Piano Party Hits.

There are so many Russ Conway records in charity shop boxes that he must have made a fortune back in the day. Some of the sleeves are so charmingly naff though, that they might one day gain nostalgia value. Winifred Atwell had twelve titles in the 2008 Rare Record Guide, but only four in the 2012 edition, at £5 each, and none in the 2014. A quick poll of more than a dozen dealers reveals that none thought any one of them worthy of inclusion in their stock. Straight to skip or the cheap box.

Scots & Irish gallery … click to enlarge

Scottish and Irish stuff is fine if it’s genuine folk. Not so good if it’s jigs and reels, and an accordion is the kiss of death. Decca (Beltona) and EMI (Waverley) both had dedicated Scots and Irish labels. They were combined in both cases. One accordion is a problem, Jimmy Shand Junior & His Scottish Band had THREE. Plus tartan jackets.

Being hugely popular in 1960s Ireland (Jim Reeves, Val Doonican, The Bachelors, Frankie McBride) is definitely negative. Val Doonican had three minuses … the cardigans, the teeth and the choice of material. Nothing by singers in comfy cardigans or pullovers is collectable, even if not knitted and sent in by loyal fans.

Australians and Austrians gallery … click to enlarge

Vaguely folky sort of things haven’t dated well. The Seekers and Frank Ifield both had a penchant for traditional songs (We Shall Not Be Moved, Waltzing Matilda) on B-sides, maybe it was an Australian thing. But The Bachelors had it too.

A cowboy hat worn with a formal suit is generally a bad sign (unless you’re Larry Hagman). Yodelling is something to be strictly confined to Swiss mountains; Frank Ifield’s She Taught Me How To Yodel (B-side of Lovesick Blues) is deeply misguided. As far as the 1960s goes, it might be my choice of the worst song ever recorded in a decade.

Austrian yodelling songs are bad; Australian ones are worse. Austrian Minna Reverelli was billed as “The yodelling prima donna” and her songs were advertised as “infectious gaiety.”

singing comedians … click to enlarge

Many people feel suspicious about comedians who become truly and honestly and genuinely sincere (trust me) as soon as they start singing. Morecambe and Wise made so many Des O’Connor singing jokes that we’ve learned that he’s supposed to be regarded as crap. Happiness for Ken Dodd appeared to be given the bumps by girls clad in black knickers. I worked backstage on the Ken Dodd Show for half a summer, and my task was to escort him in the dark up a long flight of steps for his finale entry … Happiness it was. He couldn’t see at all in the dark and we always had a two minute wait during the dance number before. The first night he said, ‘Look, son. I’ll tell you a joke that’s too blue for the show every night, and if I repeat myself I’ll give you a quid.’ He never repeated himself. He was a comic genius and a nice bloke … with a taste for the worst pop country songs.

Sincerity doesn’t sell well, witness Liberace’s Sincerely Yours EP.  His florid playing style and love of popular classics takes him out of the party piano tinklers grouping.

Sincerely Yours: Liberace, Philips EP

Religion doesn’t sell either. Anything remotely connected to Christian rock is disastrous. The Salvation Army’s pop group The Joy Strings (Regal Zonophone) arouse no desires in collectors, be they carnal or acquisitive desires. The Sally Army looks out of place on a tram too. When it doesn’t even rock, forget it. Perhaps there’s a closet eBay area where Sacred Songs by Scottish Junior Choirs are valued, but basically, if the artist isn’t big and black with a loud voice, the religious stuff isn’t worth a penny.

Religious … click to enlarge

Actors who can’t sing intoning deeply over a backing track and swelling chorus only last as long as they’re on screen regularly. Telly Savalas and Lee Marvin, both number one, are worth zilch secondhand. On the other hand, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s efforts are so appalling that they’re highly collectable. But Shatner’s Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds is the funniest record I’ve ever heard.

Winning Opportunity Knocks is terminal. Lena Zavaroni is unmentionable. Peters and Lee are worse, not having youth and pushy parents as an excuse. However, winning the Eurovision Song Contest appeals to the specialist tongue-in-cheek Eurovision collectors, who are legion.

Frankie Vaughan (pre-1959) and Shirley Bassey (on Philips) have some collectable EPs and singles, but many unwanted ones on later labels. Tom Jones is listed as collectable, but enough turn up in the cheap boxes that I have my doubts. You could pick up a good collection without undue effort. 

Cilla Black lost the magic of the Beatles Cavern connection irrevocably during her years as the leering procuress Auntie Cilla on Blind Date  … “Come on, Chuck. You can tell us … how big was it?” But George Martin lavished great love and attention on his Cilla Black sessions, and early 70s Cilla sessions were a role call of the top session players in the land. Most other female singers have fared better. Sandie Shaw has long been forgiven Puppet On A String. Petula Clark is an icon. Once Lulu earned the title of sexiest sixty year old (then seventy year old), the memory of Boom Bang-A-Bang was erased. But while Cilla will beforever Blind Date, her sixties singles still sound superb.

Big hits gallery … click to enlarge

Why should this be? Why should these artists be dismissed to the vinyl skip? They were major stars with several number one records. In 1967, the Summer of Love, Englebert Humperdink dominated the charts with The Last Waltz and Release Me. Des O’Connor, Jim Reeves, Ken Dodd, Tom Jones and Frankie Vaughan all had major hits the same psychedelic year. At the time they were bought by an older audience, sadly the ones whose record collections may have gone to house clearance by now. But these were often the same people who had bought highly collectable rock & roll records ten years earlier.

These artists played seaside summer shows in Bournemouth, Blackpool, Great Yarmouth, Scarborough and Torquay. Frankie Vaughan played Bournemouth for three months and filled a 1750 seat hall, the Winter Gardens, twice a night, six days a week. In other words he played to a far bigger audience that summer than the Cup Final had.

Even then, they were seen as survivors of a past era. Ken Dodd had a pure voice that could hit every note perfectly, but he chose lachrymose country and western material to cover and he was too toothy to be anyone’s idol. Many of these artists were given the best arrangers and musicians to back them. Why not? They were making tons of money for their labels. 

On Parade: The Billy Cotton Band, EP, Phlips …

This Billy Cotton record ticks every box. Really uncollectable bandleader, bad hair and spectacles, silly hat, British showbiz band music, military marches. And guess the date. (see at the end). Billy Cotton will reappear in the LP category.

 Collectibility with artists like Jim Reeves follows a familiar pattern. Essentially, anything Reeves recorded at his peak in the sixties is worthless and available in any bargain secondhand box. But stuff from 1957 to 1960 is quite valuable. Jim Reeves 45s from 1954 to 1956 are valued in the hundreds in mint condition. Then the singles between 1967 to 1969 creep into the Record Collector Guide too. These were the ones when his popularity had waned dramatically so are rarer. The stuff that didn’t sell is the valuable stuff.

If you like something, forget the fashion and enjoy it. This stuff is deeply unfashionable now so it could be tomorrow’s collectable … if it’s absolutely mint and cheap. If nothing else they provide a bank of cheap Decca, Columbia, Pye, RCA and MCA paper sleeves. The illustrated lot all came in a job lot in a full apple box for a fiver, and worked out at about 2.5p each.  I was browsing it at a market stall which sold old paperbacks and selected three singles at ‘three for a pound.’ The stallholder said, ‘I can’t get rid of this stuff. Do you want to give me a fiver for the whole box?’ They were all very clean in good sleeves.

Cliff Richard is collectable up to around the point where his records started coming in picture sleeves. That’s a good guideline, though if you take his Columbia records, he was already becoming uncool when Columbia moved to single colour sleeves. And that gives us around thirty years of uncollectable stuff against twenty years of collectable.

The Billy Cotton Band EP dates from 1966.



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