Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I have an old MGM album produced by the late Otis Blackwell, who we know is one of top songwriters in music history.

Among the notes on the back cover is this brief introduction of Blackwell, probably not written by him:

“Otis Blackwell is a writer of many, many hits in the past few years, among them Elvis Presley's biggest record-seller of all time “Don't Be Cruel” which, during its five month span on the top of the lists, sold over 5,000,000 records in the United States, and an additional 2,500,000 throughout the rest of the world.”

Then comes this somewhat ambiguous statement:

“Within three years, the song was revived by the Bill Black Combo [1960], and for the first time in the history of Broadcast Music, Inc. [BMI] a song was in the Top 10 with two different versions within the space of 36 months.”

To me, this claim seems wildly inaccurate. Surely there are dozens of times before 1960 when “two different versions,” or more, of the same song reached the Top 10.

What is your take on this?
—Jay Browning, Sheboygan, Wisc.

DEAR JAY: Before responding I needed to verify the text from those liner notes. This album is “We Wrote 'Em & We Sing 'Em” (The Writers of These Million-Sellers Sing Their Big Ones … and Introduce Their Newest Songs) (MGM E-3912), a 1961 release.

Other than some meaningless little discrepancies, your quotes are very accurate. This leaves us with a supposed statement of fact, attributed to Goldie Goldmark, that is seriously flawed.

Glodie's most glaring flub involves counting the years from the summer of '56 to the summer of 1960, making the time between the two hits four years, not three. This could have been tallied using the fingers on just one hand.

As for two different versions of a song reaching the Top 10 within 36 — er, 48 — months, there are too many to list since the founding of BMI in 1940.

One tune, “Harbor Lights,” even held Top 10 positions for six different artists. Five of these came in 1950 and '51 (Sammy Kaye; Guy Lombardo; Ray Anthony; Bing Crosby; Ralph Flanagan), the sixth in early 1960 by Tony Williams and the Platters.

Even if Goldmark meant to eliminate cover versions from the equation, and simply forgot to say so, “Harbor Lights” still invalidates the claim.

DEAR JERRY: Compared to Christmas and other holidays, songs about Thanksgiving are few and far between. Unfortunately, information about them is equally as scarce.

I would be thrilled if you would identify the only two Thanksgiving tunes I ever heard. I would then hope to buy them.

Both have been played on the radio but without mention of either artist or a title.

First is by a woman with a 1960s folk style, apparently recorded at a concert. The primary line is “aren't you glad you're not a turkey on Thanksgiving day.”

The other by a male, in a Joe Cockerish '80s mold, might be titled “This is my Thanksgiving.”

Help me with these and I will indeed be thankful.
—Carrie Clayman, Las Vegas, Nev.

DEAR CARRIE: Awaiting the forthcoming flood of gratitude fills me with anticipation.

Mystery tune No. 1 is “Happy Thanksgiving” by Debbie Friedman, by far the most popular track on her Sounds Write (SW-607) album, “Live at the Del” (Recorded June 3, 1990 at the Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego).

Debbie, very much influenced by '60s folk stars Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell, also wrote this cute little number.

The other song is “My Thanksgiving,” a cut on the easily available Don Henley CD, “Inside Job” (Warner Bros. 47083).

“Inside Job” did very well for the former Eagle, flying into the Top 10 in the summer of 2000.

IZ ZAT SO? The folks at Cashbox magazine asked me to invite our readers to visit their site and take advantage of a free download of “I Love Christmas,” by Tommy James.

Get it from:

This marvelous tune, first issued in 2004, is now the title track of Tommy's first Christmas album.

This is of course the same Tommy James who, with and without the Shondells, charted 32 singles between 1966 and '82, and is one of the Top 100 Rock Era acts.

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