Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: While working in radio in the 1950s and '60s I picked up quite a few records. Most have special labels (usually white) marked as for “Promotional Use Only,” or other wording to that effect.

Common sense indicates there would be a much smaller quantity of these promos in circulation than of their commercially-issued for retail sales counterparts.

Even if they made one for every radio station in the country, that would only be a drop in the bucket compared to a million or more for a top-selling hit.

In general, how to the promo pressing values compare to standard and more-plentiful retail copies?

Also, when did the record companies make the switch from 78 to 45 rpm for their promo singles?

The latest one I have is “Sincerely” (Chess 1581), by the Moonglows.
—Howard Wiltshire, Milwaukee

DEAR HOWARD: When it comes to the big hits, your basis for comparing relative values of commercial (a.k.a. store stock, or just stock) versus promotional copies of the same record is true more often than not.

However, only a tiny percentage of records released become hits of any size, with far fewer selling “a million or more.”

For records selling from very few to not at all, promo copies may be much more common than commercial issues.

As we have stated many times, value is always based on two things: scarcity and demand.

An item can be 100 years old, but if no one wants it, the value will be low. Merely being an antique does not necessarily make it valuable. There must be a demand for it.

Just as true, an item of recent vintage can have a high value if it is scarce and the demand for it is high.

By the time “Sincerely” came out, virtually all the record labels had either completed the transition to the 45 rpm format for promotional singles, or were in the process of doing so.

In the summer of '54, all of the major labels notified the broadcast and print media of their intention to drop promo 78s and make only 45s for promotional purposes.

Among those announcing that changeover date are: Columbia; RCA Victor; Decca; MGM; Mercury; and Capitol.

Not surprisingly, exceptions exist. We do know of promotional 78s by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps (Capitol) and Elvis Presley (RCA Victor), both from as late as 1957.

DEAR JERRY: I finally gave in and bought my first computer, along with a Net connection.

This new technology has helped answer many music questions, but there is still one unsolved mystery I'm hoping you can solve.

Before Eric Clapton's “I Shot the Sheriff,” were there any other No. 1 songs in the Rock Era wherein someone is killed by another person?
—Janet Hunter, Lakeland, Fla.

DEAR JANET: Following your parameters, we will eliminate death by accident (e.g., “Running Bear”); stupidity (e.g., “Teen Angel”); suicide (e.g., “Ode to Billy Joe”); old age (e.g., “The Three Bells”) war (e.g., “Ballad of the Green Berets”); fatality unconfirmed (e.g., “Mack the Knife”); or unexplained phenomena (e.g., “Honey”).

Still we have at least seven No. 1 hits before the 1974 shootout that claimed the life of Sheriff John Brown.

Regardless of circumstances or justification, each tune tells of someone dying at the hands of another:
1958: “Tom Dooley” (Kingston Trio). “There I took her life, met her on the mountain, stabbed her with my knife.”
1959: “Stagger Lee” (Lloyd Price). “Stagger Lee shot Billy. Oh he shot that poor boy so bad.”
1960: “El Paso” (Marty Robbins). “The handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor.”
1961: “Big Bad John” (Jimmy Dean) “A huge right hand sent a Loosiana fella to the Promised Land."
1964: “Ringo” (Lorne Greene). “A dozen guns spit fire and lead. A moment later he [Ringo] lay dead.”
1973: “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” (Vicki Lawrence). “That's the night that they hung an innocent man.”
1974: “The Night Chicago Died” (Paper Lace). “'Bout a hundred cops are dead!”

IZ ZAT SO? Though the period specified above is the Rock Era, curiosity got the better of me.

I had to know how many No. 1 killed-by-another hits came before 1955.

From 1930 through '54, I found only one: “Pistol Packin' Mama,” a 1943 smash by Al Dexter and His Troopers.

Unlike any others we've listed, here the singer identifies himself in the third person as the decedent:

“Now there was old Al Dexter. He always had his fun. But with some lead she shot him dead. His honkin' days are done.”

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