That Time I Got To Rate-A-Record

One of the most memorable features of American Bandstand was Rate-A-Record.  Two “typical” teenagers were chosen “at random” from the studio audience, and they listened to a new record while the rest of the kids did their best to dance to the music.  The two teenagers would pick scores from 35 to 98, after which Dick Clark would ask them to comment on why they picked their score.  The apocryphal answer was, “It has a good beat and you can dance to it,” but I can also remember records getting lower scores with comments such as, “The dancers seemed confused.”  Dick would write the scores down on a grid and then average the two scores (originally a third teenager would record the scores and calculate the averages, but perhaps that turned out to be too much of a challenge).  The participants would then rate a second record, and Dick would ask them if they thought either of the two records would be a hit.  There are lots of videos of Rate-A-Record online, but most of them seem to be for records I don’t remember at all.

I never got to go to see American Bandstand in person, mostly because Philidelphia was more than a simple train ride away.  I did, however, have my own opportunity to do a Rate-A-Record in 1966.

One of my father’s friends, Bill Stegmeyer, had written A Symphony For Susan and the stong had been recorded by the Arbors, a group that up to that point had only one non-hit record to their name.  Bill not only wrote the song, he arranged it as well.  Columbia Records was impressed enough by the recording that was ready for release on Carney Records that they somehow acquired rights to the record.  Columbia being the label it was, after they got rights to the record they (of course) determined that the record wasn’t quite up to their standards. Columbia added an unnecessary string section behind the existing recording.  The resulting record was pressed on a subsidiary of Columbia, Date Records.  The release of the record had a secret purpose: Bill’s goal was to make enough money off the record to buy his daughter (Susan) a horse.

Before the record was released to radio stations and record stores, my dad and I visited the Stegmeyer’s and I was afforded the opportunity to sit and listen to the record.  After which, of course, I was grilled about my reaction to the record.  For once I understood how those poor teenagers felt about being put on the spot!  The record had nice harmonies (similar to Lettermen records…and the Lettermen would later record the song themselves).  There was also a very lush string section, but the net effect was to sound very not top-40 for the mid-sixties.  I suggested that it was too similar to Cherish by the Association; not that they sounded alike, but that it was too soon for another record like that to be a hit. I was ignoring, of course, that both I’ve Got You Under My Skin by the 4 Seasons and Born Free by Roger Williams were in the top ten of the charts at the same time already.  I was sure that record buyers already had string fatigue.

I was no longer popular in the Stegmeyer household, but as it turned out I was correct.  The record dented the charts on WMCA, lasting all of three weeks and peaking at number 40.  WABC, of course, simply ignored the record.  Nationally the record stuck around for ten weeks, reaching #51 before disappearing.  The record did better on the Adult Contemporary charts when it got up to #18, but I’m not sure that resulted in very many sales.

You can compare the original version of the song with the updated version I heard and decide for yourself if the record would have been more successful without the strings.

Little did I know at the time that just a few short years later I would be playing new Arbor album cuts on my own radio show in Nashville.  A Symphony For Susan would subsequently be included on albums by the Arbors, and no doubt those sales resulted in additional word on whether the total royalties added up to a horse for Susan.

That’s Mall, Folks

March first brought us news about the death of an old friend here in Anderson, Indiana: our only mall is closing effective April first.  Sure, there may be a Wal-Mart and a Meiers and a lot of strip centers lining the road between the interstate and the Race Track/Casino, but closing the mall leaves a wound that I’m not sure can be healed.

The mall apparently already owes over $400,000 in unpaid property taxes, and the loss of its last major anchor (Carsons) meant that it probably didn’t have enough rental income to even cover the expenses of salaries, security, and utilities.  There has been an announcement that the mall will examine options to repurpose the mall.  A large number of malls all over the country have already faced similar problems and either closed or changed how their space was being used due to the rapidly decreasing utilization of shopping malls by shoppers.  We all know the internet is at least partly to blame.

While Anderson may have a downtown area, there isn’t much in the way of shopping there.  And parking downtown is still a nightmare.

The closest the town gets to a having center was found in the mall.  This month the mall is quickly closing down, but it is still playing host to a student art exhibit and the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, two events that will be hard-pressed to find a home in the future.  Any given month there were nearly a dozen such events taking place that will now move into hiding in smaller, hidden, less accessible locations.

Every morning the mall has been host to countless mall walkers, elderly residents of the town who come down to get a small amount of exercise in a safe place that is heated or cooled for their comfort.  They seemed to need to bring their own coffee and donuts due to the lack of any food for sale in the early morning, but the food court tables and chairs gave them a place to sit and socialize before and/or after their walks.

Tony’s pizza has been a fixture in the mall under multiple names for decades, and now it will simply pack up and leave.  While a sister store in Muncie will still be open, many customers have already complained that the food just isn’t the same.

For a few months around Christmas every year the mall has been host to a stream of pop-up small businesses, some of which eventually opened small stores in the mall.  Anybody wishing to do that this year will have to fight for aisle space in the Muncie Mall.

Our only local radio station has a broadcast studio in the mall, and it is likely they will simply close up and move any operations back to their main office in Daleville.  They already seemed to be moving the organ that was used in live shows this morning.

A ring of buildings around the mall has been home to a constantly-changing lineup of restaurants and specialty stores.  Several of them have already relocated closer to the interstate, but the significantly higher rents prevent that from being an option for most of the small businesses dotting the perimeter…or inside the mall.  The bank outside the mall has not announced plans to leave, but the decrease in traffic in the mall area may affect them as well.

The movie theater has announced plans to stay open after moving the ticket office to a new or different outside entrance.  It is worrisome that the theater no longer advertises movie times in the local newspaper or has a phone number you can call for movie times, and instead requires customers to check online.  Worse still, no movies appear to be starting after 7 or 8 pm.  The loss of casual customers from the mall may prove too much of a challenge for the theater (two movie theaters outside the mall have already failed and closed).

The Doctor Tavel that has eye exams and sells eyeglasses in the mall will remain open for now because it has an outside entrance.  They may need some new construction because the inside entrance to the store is closed by a chain fence rather than a wall, and if the mall cuts off heating and cooling a new wall will have to be put in place.

The strip center that our store (Reader Copies) is located in is across the street from the mall and has a lot of empty spaces, but rents are higher here than in the mall.  Even worse, the owners seem reluctant to charge the lower rents that most small businesses need to survive, so it doesn’t look like a good place to move mall stores into.  Many of the chain stores in the mall will transfer their inventory to other stores in the chain instead of relocating.

The loss of a central gathering place in Anderson already seems like a near-fatal blow to the town.  The population in Anderson has already dropped 10% in recent years, and without new jobs in the area, things may continue to spiral downward.  We can only hope that creation of the proposed Greenway Project comes to fruition and helps revitalize our little corner of Indiana.

We aren’t the first town to suffer from unwelcome changes.  Cashman, Pistilli and West wrote and sang and produced a number of hit records that were released by various groups.  Terry Cashman wrote American City Suite about his perceptions of the slow decline of the city he lived in, and the sad recording was a near-hit record for Cashman and West in 1972.  The town he was singing about?  New York City.

The Birth of a Fake News Story

We keep hearing about fake news, but over time the fakery has become more subtle.

Take this recent headline from Newsweek for example:


The capital letters are from the online Newsweek article.  The headline leaves little doubt that Melania ordered the removal of the tree, and readers are left to speculate on what the tree did to annoy Melania.  Too much shade?  Blocking her view from the White House?  A left-over from another presidency?  We can just imagine her continuing her elite demands and even a suggestion of letting the hungry eat cake.

Most of the people who saw that headline probably didn’t read the actual story, leaving them with a less approving opinion of our first lady.

But the headline simply distorts the truth.  Intentionally?  Probably.

I used to live in Nashville, near the Hermitage that served as home for Andrew Jackson (who you no doubt remember from American History class as the seventh president of the United States).  When President Jackson’s wife died, he took a seedling from a magnolia tree at the Hermitage that his wife had loved and transplanted it to the White House grounds.

If you have an old twenty dollar bill you will find a picture of the tree on the reverse side.  The tree has survived a long time, although in the past few decades it has needed a lot of help to stand up.  An intricate system of cables, wires, and steel poles have been helping it remain standing.

Sadly, Time has continued to take its toll on the tree, and the groundskeepers judged that it was time to remove the tree before it split further and fell over to its death.  Mere groundskeepers cannot make major changes without permission from the White House, so papers were drawn up and presented to Melania along with plans for the future.

Melania merely approved the removal of the tree, but she also approved numerous seedlings be saved from the tree the same way a seedling was used to plant the tree in the Capital.  Once the dust settles from the removal, one or more seedlings will be planted to grow in its place, keeping the Magnolia site intact.

I get that a lot of folks do not like the Twitter-master who currently occupies the White House, but that’s no reason to attack the first lady, especially when she is doing her best to maintain the historical integrity of the White House.  Newsweek quickly edited their original story to more closely match the facts, but they’ve stubbornly kept the misleading headline.

Dorsey Burnett was an early Rockabilly singer who formed a trio named the Rock and Roll trio with his younger brother Johnny and their friend Paul Burlison.  The group broke up before it had any success, and the members went their separate ways.  Johnny was the most successful solo act, scoring hits starting with Dreamin’ and You’re Sixteen.  Dorsey did manage to dent the top forty with There Was A Tall Oak Tree and later had a long string of semi-successful Country hits.

Black Lightning Strikes

I enjoyed the first episode of Black Lighting more than any other comic book-related show so far this season, and I hope it holds up as well the rest of the season.

The best part of the show?  You probably missed it: about fifteen seconds of Isaac Hayes getting read to sing Walk On By (it’s from his best selling album, Hot Buttered Soul).  

Here’s the complete song in case you didn’t catch it on the show:


And the single version if you’re pressed for time:



All Your Secrets Are Belong To Me

When Bevie was diagnosed with type II Diabetes she began to get a lot more serious about exercise and her weight.  Somewhere along that journey she not only started going to Weight Watchers meetings, but she also got hired by Weight Watchers to help run their meetings in Anderson.  No, she still isn’t getting up and speaking in public, but helping people sign up and keeping the paperwork filled out and up to date is firmly in her wheelhouse.

I don’t pay too much attention to the program – I simply cut down to drink only half of a can of soda and have only two double stuff Oreos instead of four when my weight starts to creep up again.  That seems to work for maintaining a reasonable weight.  Bevie apparently needs to be a lot more organized.  She uses her smartphone to count points and record everything she eats and weighs herself quite often and I do my best to never mention weight at all except to congratulate her when she seems happy with an outcome.

The Weight Watcher system appears to be a more detailed approach to half of the “eat less and move more” dieting system that strikes me as the system most likely to succeed.  Each serving of each type of food is given a point value in a huge database and people trying to control their weight can eat whatever they want to as long as they don’t exceed their point value for the day.  Foods that Bevie still turns her nose up at are zero points (mostly good vegetables and fruits). I try to eat my deserts only at the store where she doesn’t have to see them since just a soda and my four cookies add up to 22 points.  To put that in perspective, Bevie is currently trying to stay within 30 points a day.

Even worse?  A movie theater popcorn with butter (yum!) is 40 points.  Even sharing that with a friend doesn’t help very much.

Since she works for Weight Watchers, Bevie has had to go to special regional employee meetings where they explain any upcoming changes in the points system.  The presenters always stress that the material they are being shown is preliminary and should be kept a secret until the official launch date for the changes.  Bevie came home from the most recent info dump very excited, but couldn’t tell me much about the changes.  She indicated that changes were coming that would let her eat more food, and anybody on any diet always welcomes that kind of change.  Because everything was a secret, she couldn’t tell me much more than that since the rollout for the new system was scheduled for December 03.

About two weeks before the rollout she called Wendy (our oldest daughter) to make plans to go out and get breakfast somewhere.  Bevie was a little surprised by Wendy’s reaction: Wendy welcomed breakfast because Weight Watchers was making eggs zero points.

Huh?  How would Wendy know that?

It turns out that the new system was released in November in the UK.  While the system may have different names in the two countries, it is likely the program is essentially the same (if not identical).  Videos starting showing up on YouTube by October 31 that detailed some of the changes.  The number of points allowed each day went down, but a larger number of items were changed to zero points.  The exciting changes in our family seem to revolve around lean proteins now costing zero points, including eggs, chicken (and probably turkey), and beans.

Bevie still can’t discuss the program, but the Internet has no problem talking about it.  Even the official release video from the UK is floating around on the web.  Wendy had simply read up on all the changes about the same time Bevie learned about them and was told to keep them secret.

Weight Watchers has provided an educational moment for corporations everywhere: there are no secrets once you tell any portion of the public anything.  While articles and videos may be listed as “rumors” to avoid potential legal problems, any information put out there is probably available online in a matter of minutes.

The Timex Social Club only had one big hit record, but their release of Rumors was successful enough to get them on Soul Train.