The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

5 June 2005

From Allen's Alley (part 2)

Philadelphia's Cameo label was a newborn at the beginning of 1957 and was all but dead by the end of 1967. Still, Cameo and its Parkway sibling sold a few zillion records in those years, and the majority of them have been out of print ever since.

The biggest help to the company in its early years, no doubt, was the fact that it was in Philadelphia, about three miles from WFIL-TV and American Bandstand, and if Dick Clark happened to need a guest star one afternoon, Cameo/Parkway was more than happy to supply one of its acts. As Bandstand grew, so did C/P, and the show's ability to break teen idols nationally paid off handsomely with C/P's Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker.

It couldn't last, of course. By 1964, Rydell was off the charts, Checker was recording folk music, and the airwaves were full of invading Brits. Worse, Bandstand had moved to Los Angeles. And founder Bernie Lowe, wondering what had gone wrong, sold out. The new management fumbled for awhile, then started to click again, but the glory days were over, and in 1967, the labels were sold again, this time to Allen Klein, who had better things to do than to run a record company, fercrissake.

The new Cameo/Parkway 1957-1967 box, on Klein's Abkco label — which, history records, is the legal successor to Cameo/Parkway — attempts to give an overview of the eleven years when the labels were active, and while it's possible to gripe about some of the bigger hits that were excluded (none of Checker's folk tunes made it), the emphasis is sensibly placed on the smaller acts. Besides, the big names will presumably have their own compilation discs eventually.

In 1964, C/P, like every other American label, was anxious to tap into the British Invasion, and they chose to do so by licensing tracks from the Pye label in England. They got early tracks by the Kinks (who were later signed to Reprise), the Ivy League, ex-Beatle Peter Best (represented here by "Boys," a Shirelles tune which the Fab Four themselves had recorded with Ringo on lead, which should fulfill your minimum daily irony requirement all by itself), but scored only one actual hit: "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" by Sounds Orchestral.

Perhaps less well-known was C/P's mid-1960s dabbling in what became Philly soul. Eddie Holman and the Delfonics both cut early sides for C/P before moving on to greater success elsewhere, and Bunny Sigler, one of the Gamble/Huff organization's main acts, made his reputation with a couple of Parkway tracks.

And Neil Bogert, when he took control of C/P in late 1965, headed to the Midwest in search of music; he brought back the Rationals, Bob Seger, Terry Knight and the Pack, and the ineffable ? and the Mysterians, whose "96 Tears" was Cameo's last-ever Number One.

Drooling collector geeks (whose number certainly includes yours truly) have been pestering Abkco to get this material out for years. Decades, even. No one knows for sure why it took so long; there were rumors that tapes were missing, that royalty disputes had gone unresolved, that Klein was waiting for certain individuals to die off. And this is the one question that Jeff Tamarkin doesn't answer in the liner notes. At this point, though, it's more important that the stuff is available at all, and the sound is definitely better than you'll find on bootleg versions, though there's only one stereo track (a Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles version of "You'll Never Walk Alone") in the bunch. (Which means, I suppose, that "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," which has appeared elsewhere in stereo, is making its first-ever mono CD appearance.) And the price — $60, but not hard to find for ten bucks or so below that — is within reason. Besides, where else are you going to find Cool Ghoul John Zacherle's "Dinner with Drac"?

Posted at 8:41 AM to Tongue and Groove