Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne

FOR THE WEEK OF April 5, 1999

DEAR JERRY: What with all the new technology floating around, is it possible to take old monaural recordings and convert them to real stereo? Of course I'm not referring to that fake reverb stereo that the record companies pawned off to unsuspecting consumers for many years.
—Penny Crosley, New Haven, Conn.

DEAR PENNY: Since the industry-wide introduction of true stereo, in the late '50s, the labels have played every conceivable high-tech game trying to enhance mono to simulate stereo.

Buyers, as a whole, turned out to be more aware of the stereo swindle than the companies anticipated, and soundly rejected fake stereo.

Though just about everyone preferred true mono to false stereo, a body of buyers and even a few industry moguls (i.e. Phil Spector), fancied true mono over true stereo.

Thankfully, simulated stereo pretty much went the way of the 8-track. Which brings us to today.

Some software packages allow one to add a stereo effect to mono tracks, but this is nothing more than a slightly improved version of the fake stereo we had in the '60s.

Never say "never" is a wise writer's rule, but I suspect we will not see the body of knowledge necessary to turn mono music into true stereo for many years, if ever. Maybe around the same time as when we possess transporter beam technology.

DEAR JERRY: Are all 45rpm records from the '50s and '60s made of vinyl, or are some polystyrene?

I am asking because I don't know if some polystyrene records that I have from that period are originals or reissues.
—Ronald Lees, via the Net

DEAR RONALD: Answering your question will only allow the possibility that your records may be originals. In determining originality, there are many other factors to consider.

Circa 1954, Columbia began using polystyrene for certain releases. They still made records using vinyl, but many mid-'50s styrene singles from the Columbia family of labels (Columbia, Epic, Okeh) do exist.

For those left wondering what we're talking about here, why it matters, and how to tell the difference, here's the cook's tour:

Vinyl records usually have a sharper, or tapered edge. Some could even cut you. The plastic is shiny and flexible. Vinyl does not break easily and is far more durable than styrene. Dee jays can cue (play the beginning few seconds forward and backwards in rapid succession) a vinyl record hundreds of times without damaging it.

Polystyrene makes for a very rigid disc. There is no give and they break easily. Their look is dull compared to vinyl and their edges are usually squared off, which means they won't cut your skin. Cueing a styrene disc just once can permanently damage the opening few seconds of the disc.

DEAR JERRY: I remember seeing the late wrestler Sylvester "Junkyard Dog" Ritter on American Bandstand performing his theme song, "Grab Them Cakes."

Did "Grab Them Cakes" ever make it on the charts?
—Willie Homes, Chicago, Ill.

DEAR WILLIE: The only Ritter found on any of the charts is Tex, and if he engaged in any cake grabbing, chances are they were of the 'hot' variety.

What's it Worth? Get fast appraisals by e-mail!

DEAR JERRY: This is one of those Settle the Argument questions: Was "Wonderful Wonderful" released first by Johnny Mathis or by the Tymes. I opted for the former because I think his "Greatest Hits" album included it, and that had to be about 1959. I think the Tymes came later.
—Bo Stauffer, Lancaster, Pa. (

DEAR BO: This is one of those Settle the Argument answers:

Right on all counts. In fact, in early 1956 "Wonderful Wonderful" kicked-started Johnny's career, becoming his first hit and peaking at No. 14.

The Tymes' summer 1963 remake actually reached a higher chart spot, No. 7, but it only remained on the Top 100 for 11 weeks. The Mathis original hung around for 39 weeks, a record for longevity not broken for 22 years (see below).

Answer to last week's question: For each of the past five decades, here are the two most successful groups, from the singles charts, in order of "combined" sales:

1. Beatles and Supremes ('60s)

2. Ink Spots and Mills Brothers ('40s)

3. Bee Gees and Chicago ('70s)

4. Tony Williams & the Platters and Bill Haley & the Comets ('50s)

5. Kool & the Gang and Huey Lewis & the News ('80s)

IZ ZAT SO? Looking at the 30-year span from 1950 through 1979, only "I Go Crazy," by Paul Davis, from 1978, remained charted longer than "Wonderful Wonderful." Paul Davis eclipsed Johnny Mathis by just one week, as "I Got Crazy" survived 40 weeks.

Return to "Mr. Music" Home Page