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Updated on November 1, 2011

Elvis in the kitchen with Dinah?

PART TWO: Poor RCA Victor records. Back in 1956, they simply had no idea what to do with an artist they had just purchased from Sun Records in Memphis for $35,000. How exactly do we market Elvis Presley?

Keep in mind, Victor was a label that made its living off of what we now lovingly call "pop" music, with maybe a little country thrown in. Its artist roster was a veritable who's who of Easy Listening. So, before we continue our discussion about what makes a valuable record, let's answer our quiz from last time:

An extremely valuable RCA Victor EP featured Elvis and what other artist?

Perry Como/Dinah Shore/Tony Bennett/Hank Snow

Scratch one of the possible answers pretty quickly: Tony Bennett. Tony recorded for Columbia Records, not RCA, so he and Elvis would never have crossed paths on vinyl. A more likely candidate for the right answer would be another choice, Hank Snow. Hank was a huge country artist, on the caliber of a Kenny Chesney or George Strait today. He recorded for RCA Victor for years, and even toured with Presley when Elvis was just starting out. (Rumor had it that Snow was extremely jealous of Presley's way with an audience. Keep in mind that a concert headliner would usually go on last, with the newbies on first. Elvis would come out, sing "Old Shep," and just kill the audience. Poor Hank would have to follow that.) But Presley and Snow were never record mates.

That leaves the "Singing Barber," Perry Como, and the "Songbird of the South," Dinah Shore (what ad agencies came up with those nicknames?)--both definitely middle of the road and both certainly RCA artists. Since rock and roll was something pretty foreign to RCA Victor, even though they had recorded Kay Starr singing "The Rock and Roll Waltz" (which was much more waltz than rock), the label bosses figured that Elvis would fit right in with the old-timers. Boy, were they wrong, not to mention uninformed, about what they really had.

When Presley recorded the song, "Too Much," shortly after "Heartbreak Hotel," the label decided to continue introducing Elvis to the nation's disc jockeys by sending them an EP, short for "extended play." An EP was longer than a single, but much shorter, and smaller, than an album. Most EP's were available to the public, too, but in this case, RCA decided to keep the record in the DJ's hands only. And who did they decide to put on the flip side of the "Too Much" EP? You got it, Dinah Shore herself. So there's your answer, and another clue as to what makes a record extremely valuable:

Disc jockey copies. That Elvis/Dinah gem (the official number is RCA Victor DJ-56) can bring as much as $500 at auction, mainly because it was such an odd pairing with the King of Rock and Roll, and because it was not issued commercially. Remember what we said last time, scarcity is a big part of making something valuable.

One of the rarest DJ copies, and, therefore, one of the most sought-after, is the radio station copy of "Penny Lane" by the Beatles on Capitol Records. A word here about label color. To differentiate between a commercial and a "promo" copy, a record label would usually use another color for the DJ copy. This approach would also help in the federal tax area, too, when it came time for the record company to ante-up with Uncle Sam. RCA Victor's store-bought label was always black in the early days, with a little silver thrown in. The disc jockey copies were always white.

Capitol issued "Penny Lane" to the public on what is now called the "swirl" label, with yellow and orange colors. But the DJ copy is green. And that certainly is not the only difference, and here is where the record collectors start licking their chops--the end of the song has an extra added attraction that is not on the commercial release: There is a horn solo, lasting only a few seconds, at the end of "Penny Lane" that the record-buying public never heard. At least not for more than 25 years. Capitol, to make money off the Beatles long after they had broken up, eventually issued an album called "Rarities," which had the DJ copy of "Penny Lane" complete with the trumpet solo at the end.

The promotional copy of "Penny Lane" back in 1967 on the green Capitol label is extremely valuable, not only because there were only a few DJ copies to go around, but because it was from the Beatles. The more famous you are, and the harder it is to find your stuff, the more valuable your recordings are.

Social and political pioneers. In early rock and roll, this category usually meant "race." Vintage rock was never segregated or color-conscious, except when it came to album covers (and to versions of Little Richard hits by Pat Boone). By showing a group picture, the record label would let the cat out of the bag--the singers were either white or black, thus pigeon-holing them in a certain category or music bracket: If you were white, you were pop; if you were black, you were "rhythm and blues" (unless you were the Mills Brothers, who had been accepted into the "white" club years earlier). Many times, a label didn't want the audience to know WHO was making the music so as to have the widest possible audience.

The kiss of death for any group, and maybe for its record label, too, was showing a group that had both black and white members. 1950's rock and roll wasn't quite ready to shove an integrated group down the country's throat, especially in certain geographic areas where "that dog won't hunt." So consider the case of the Del-Vikings, known for such hits as "Come Go With Me," and "Whispering Bells." In 1957, their record label--Mercury--released an album called "They Sing...They Swing," featuring the aforementioned hits and others, too. Guess what the picture on the album cover revealed? Heavens above! Black men and white men, too? Singing together? In the same group? On the same album cover? The world would never be the same again--and it wasn't. But no Klan rallies ensued and no crosses were burned on the Mercury Records building's front lawn. The only fall-out was that one of the most sought-after rock albums of all time was born.

Here are some other categories of sure-fire gold vinyl: Hits before they became hits and stars before they became stars. Under the first, you can find Sam the Sham's "Wooly Bully" on the obscure Memphis label XL before the master was purchased by MGM Records, becoming a national top 3 hit--it was actually the exact same record, although the XL original sounds a little louder, if that's possible. Under the second category, you can find the Beach Boys and "Surfin' Safari" on the Candix label before Brian Wilson (really his dad, Murry Wilson) and his brothers and cousin signed a contract with Capitol Records and re-recorded the song for their new label. Both those records on small, long-since-defunct labels can bring hundreds of dollars if found in excellent or near mint condition.

Speaking of condition, which--as I said--is everything, let's go back for a minute to that RCA Victor release to the radio stations of Elvis' "Too Much," with two Dinah Shore songs on the flip side (for the sake of history, they were "Chantez-Chantez," and "Honkeytonk Heart." No, I did not misspell "honkytonk." The Dinah version just goes to show you how little the Victor people at the time really knew about country music). I was lucky enough to find that record, although not nearly in mint condition, at the house of a lady who wanted to get rid of those old 45's that were just taking up way too much space in her basement. So let's have another quiz.








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    • mel hanks profile image

      mel hanks 6 years ago from Holly Springs, North Carolina

      Thank you, Eiddwen. How are things in West Wales?

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting and thanks for sharing.

      Take care