My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Harlow Wilcox

Revelations from Music Vendor/ Record World

Hit_Country_RecordsAs the ‘last man standing’ Billboard‘s country charts have taken on an almost mythical importance, yet for most of the 1940s and 1950s, Billboard did a relatively poor job in recording the history of country singles in that their various country charts only went 10-15 places deep.

Music Vendor (later Record World) started tracking country music in 1954 and immediately started tracking 55 chart places for country records, a depth of country charts Billboard wouldn’t approach until 1964 when Billboard went to 50 places. For purposes of simplicity, I will always refer to Music Vendor/ Record World as ‘Record World‘.

Joel Whitburn’s new volume Hit Country Records 1954-1982: Music Vendor/Record World performs a valuable service in restoring to the known discography of country music a staggering 1700 songs and 200 artists that Billboard failed to chronicle.

I always thought that the Wilburn Brothers had a relatively thin representation on the Billboard charts with 31 chart entries from 1954-1972, with many songs that I knew to have been at least mid-level hits not being tracked by Billboard. Turns out that the Wilburn Brothers were the poorest served of all country artists by Billboard with a staggering 30 songs not tracked by Billboard. Other artists with huge holes in their Billboard chart discographies include Hank Snow (26 songs), Eddy Arnold (23 songs), Kitty Wells (21 songs), Hank Thompson (21 songs), Johnnie & Jack (20 songs) and Ernest Tubb, Marty Robbins, Ferlin Husky and George Jones (each with 19 songs).

Among Bluegrass artists, Flatt & Scruggs pick up an extra 15 chart entries, Mac Wiseman (13), Jimmy Martin (6), Bill Monroe (4), and the Osborne Brothers (4).

There were also apparently differences in how artists were classified. Country audiences always loved Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, George Hamilton IV and Conway Twitty, a fact Billboard somehow failed to acknowledge. After missing “Jambalaya”, Billboard tracked “One Step At A Time”, and then missed the next eleven consecutive Brenda Lee songs including such monsters as “Dynamite”, “Sweet Nothings”, “Fool #1” and “Break It To Me Gently”.

The track record on Elvis was worse as Billboard failed to track “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “Blue Suede Shoes”, along with 15 more songs.

Record World tracked six George Hamilton IV singles before Billboard got around to recognizing “Before This Day Ends” as a country single. Ditto for Conway Twitty who Billboard picked up as country with “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, after ten singles had already been tracked by Record World.

While most of the songs that Music Vendor/Record World picked up were second tier hits, there were some surprising Billboard misses uncovered such as the George Jones favorites “Tall Tall Trees”, “Eskimo Pie” and “Nothing Can Stop Me (Loving You)”. A very famous song from 1955 was Bobby Lord’s 1955 hit “Hawkeye”; Billboard missed the song entirely on any of its charts, whereas Record World had it charting for twelve weeks, reaching #16.

I mentioned that approximately 200 artists show up in this book that Billboard never tracked on its country charts. These include Carl Dobkins Jr (three songs including “My Heart Is An Open Book” which Record World has as a #2 country hit, and Billboard had reach #3 pop), Pete Drake (three instrumental singles), and Buddy Holly (four singles including “Peggy Sue” and “Maybe Baby”).

I’ve only had this fascinating book for two days and I will probably report further as time permits, but it would be remiss of me not to further examine the song that initially got me interested in charts. Yes – I do mean “Groovy Grubworm” by Harlow Wilcox and The Oakies. Cashbox had the record reach #1 on its country chart (#24 pop) for two weeks whereas Billboard had the record stall out at #42 on the country chart while reaching #30 on the pop charts. This was the biggest chart disparity ever between singles that reached #1 on either the Billboard or Cashbox country chart but not the other chart.

The record was hugely successful, selling a million copies between the US and Canadian markets (it was a top ten hit on several Canadian regional pop charts), so I was curious to see how Record World treated “Groovy Grubworm” on its country charts, recalling that Record World had the song chart higher on its pop chart (#23) than did either Cashbox or Billboard.

Drum roll please :

Record World had the song reach #3 for one week on its country chart during its thirteen week chart run.

Classic Rewind: Harlow Wilcox and the Oakies – ‘Groovy Grubworm’

Here’s a live version of the instrumental mentioned in today’s discussion:

The case of the ‘Groovy Grubworm’ (and other chart confusion)

History is written by the victors” – often attributed to Winston Spencer Churchill but of unknown origin.

Thanks to the many fine volumes of Billboard charts compiled by Joel Whitburn, and the fact that Billboard is still published today, most fans tend to think of Billboard as being the authoritative source for charting the success and/or popularity of recordings. In the year 2011 that undoubtedly is true, but for much of the history of country music and the country music charts, that was not the case. From 1952 until the late 1980s, Billboard and Cashbox battled it out as the national authority for charting records. In the realm of country music, Billboard and Cashbox were of equal importance with as many country radio stations basing their weekly countdown shows on the Cashbox charts as on the Billboard charts. Normally this presented little controversy as most Billboard #1s made it to #1 on Cashbox, and vice versa. Even when such was not the case, a song reaching #1 on one chart usually would be a top three record on the other chart, or occasionally top five.

The Billboard and Cashbox charts did not measure popularity in quite the same manner. In his fascinating autobiography Me, The Mob and Music, rock artist Tommy James had the following to say:

“…The big three trade papers were Record World, Cashbox and Billboard. Billboard was always the most difficult to deal with. Cashbox had a slant toward retail. It focused on the money generated from records. Record World had a slant toward radio airplay. Billboard claimed to be in the middle. The problem with that was that when you put out a record, back then things happened fast.

In six weeks you needed a new record, that’s how quickly the turnover was if you wanted to stay constantly on the charts. If you put out a record and it generated some excitement, it immediately went on the radio. That would be reflected in Record World. But it would take two or three weeks after you heard a song on the radio before the sales figures would start to hit and the stores would start to report it. That was when your record would start charting in Cashbox. So there was a lag time between those two papers. Billboard claimed to chart records between radio play and sales. But you would always be two to three weeks further ahead in airplay than you were in sales …

… And now because the other trade papers collapsed over the years, Billboard, by attrition, became the keeper of the flame. When young researchers and historians go back to check the archives for a record’s history, they inevitably get a skewed sense of how popular it really was.”

I’m not sure I completely agree with Tommy James, but there is considerable truth in his observations. While the charts usually charted records in approximately the same range, sometimes there were outliers, with a record sometimes making a much bigger impression on one chart than the other, such as Johnny Darrell’s original recorded version of “The Green Green Grass of Home” reaching #12 on Cashbox (it also charted on Record World) but not charting at all on Billboard’s Country Chart. This phenomena normally would occur on songs not reaching the Top 10 on either chart. The most noteworthy outlier to reach #1 was that of the instrumental hit “Groovy Grubworm” by Harlow Wilcox and the Oakies. More about that record a little later.

During the 1970s more traditionally based artists seemed to fare better on the Cashbox charts than on Billboard (the same could be said of the Record World charts as well, but we’ll discuss Record World at another time). Both of the country radio stations I listened to during my high school and college years, WCMS in Norfolk, VA and WHOO in Orlando, FL presented their own local charts that seemed to track more closely with Cashbox than with Billboard.

When you attended a stage show for a country artist from the 1960s, 70s, or 80s, the artist will often introduce a song as a song “that went #1 for me in year 19xx…”, yet when you check on Wikipedia or one of the Joel Whitburn compendiums you’ll see that Billboard did not have the record reaching #1. That doesn’t mean the artist was lying to you – it could mean that the song reached #1 on Cashbox or Record World.

Below you will find a partial list of records reaching #1 on Cashbox but not Billboard. My Cashbox sources are complete only for the years 1958-1982 so there are undoubtedly other records that reached #1 on Cashbox, but not on Billboard. Some of these records were huge hits indeed and it is puzzling that they did not get to #1 on Billboard. Sometimes it was a matter of timing. For instance, Gene Watson’s “Love In The Hot Afternoon” reached #1 in virtually every market but topped out at #3 in both Billboard and Cashbox. Released originally on the small Resco label, the record was picked up by Capitol after it had topped the charts in Texas, California and the southwest and was already sliding down the charts in those areas.

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