Sunday, April 20, 2014

Classic Album: The Staccatos & The Guess Who - A Wild Pair

I remember when I was in grade four, when the mini bags of chips you would buy at school had these little plastic cards in them. If you found the required 4 cards, you sent them in for your prize! Sure enough, 50 bags of chips later, I got the ever so rare fourth card and quickly sent it away for my luxurious MC Hammer VHS.

Apparently this promotional gimmick has been around for decades. Back in 1968, if you collected 10 plastic liners from Coca-Cola bottles and sent in a dollar, you got this great split release by The Staccatos and The Guess Who. There is quite a bit of history behind this promo LP!

First, let’s get caught up to date with each of these bands:

The Guess Who

The members who would eventually become The Guess Who began as the backing band for singer and guitarist Chad Allan in 1962. Called Chad Allan & the Reflections (later Chad Allan and the Expressions), they were signed to Quality Records and recorded numerous singles including a cover of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ song Shakin’ All Over. This particular single was credited to “Guess Who” as Quality was trying to build some mystery around the single, hoping to get some hype with listeners thinking it was other star musicians in disguise. The single went to number one in Canada. After a few lineup changes, including the departure of Chad Allan and the addition of Burton Cummings, the band officially changed their name to The Guess Who. They continued to release singles in Canada, but failed to get any full support from their label Quality Records. Around this time they also ventured to the UK to chase an opportunity, which failed to prosper. They then returned to Canada with a huge financial loss from this trip. Luckily, they quickly landed a great gig with CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) as the house band on the television show Let’s Go. Here they started gaining some popularity and caught the eye of Toronto producer Jack Richardson. Jack believed in the band and put up a great deal of money to support them, paying for the recording session which resulted in their big hit These Eyes (which was released after A Wild Pair).

Jack decided to partner with three friends and start the label Nimbus 9. They made a deal with Coca-Cola to release a promotional LP that people could get by sending in plastic liners from Cola bottles. They gained permission from Quality Records to record this promotional split LP with The Staccatos called A Wild Pair. They allowed this believing that any publicity would only benefit their sales.

The Staccatos

The Staccatos was a band from Ottawa, ON initially consisting of members: Dean Hagopian on vocals, Vern Craig on guitars, Brian Rading on bass and Rick bell on drums. Hagopian was replaced by guitarist/vocalist Les Emmerson prior to their first album, and Les became the band’s main songwriter.

They released the initial single, It Isn’t Easy, on small indie label Allied Records, and eventually got signed to Capitol Records where their first hit Small Town Girl was recorded. They followed with several other singles, usually landing on the top 40 charts and gaining them some recognition in Canada. They released their debut album Initially in 1966, mixing their hit singles with a handful of new recordings.

They eventually added a second drummer, Mike Bell, and released a new personal best single called Half Past Midnight. It was around this time that brand new label Nimbus 9 records contacted Capitol Records looking to record and release a promotional split LP for Coca-Cola with The Guess Who called A Wild Pair. Like Quality Records with The Guess Who, Capitol Records allowed this assuming that any publicity would only benefit their sales.

A Wild Pair

Being an early release for both bands, this album has a fresh sound completely unique to their later releases. Each band still seemed to be in search of their own signature sound that would later bring them both success.  
This was a real turning point for The Guess Who particularly since they were getting little backing and promotion from their current label Quality. Nimbus 9 saw something in this young band and through a lot of passion and support towards them, this was the beginning of a long relationship.

A Wild Pair sold 85,000 copies in Canada. Think about that for a second…this was a promotional record through Coca-Cola!!! Hell, gold status was 50,000 albums in Canada at the time, but this album didn’t even qualify for “gold” as it was a promotional item.

Nimbus 9 was ecstatic about the success and particularly excited about The Guess Who. They offered Quality Records $1000 to buy out their contract with The Guess Who, and somehow they agreed. I’m thinking this was probably not the best business decision that Quality ever made.

So, there is a lot of history behind this promotional LP. First record ever by Nimbus 9, as well as a real turning point for the struggling band The Guess Who. All songs were unique to this release only and not taken from other albums. The Guess Who songs reappeared later on the album Let’s Go – The CBC Years but were not the same recordings; instead these versions of the songs were tried out for the Let’s Go television show. A few of The Staccatos songs showed up on some Five Man Electrical Band compilations/anthology releases. After the release of A Wild Pair, The Staccatos went through another lineup change losing Vern Craig and adding Ted Gerow on keyboards. This lineup recorded their next album, but not before changing their name to the better known Five Man Electrical Band.

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