Posts Tagged ‘Maxine Starr’

Toppers, Maxine Starr & The Inmates

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 27, 2009

Who were the Toppers? Who was Maxine Starr? And who were the Inmates?

Good questions all, because those are the artists on the three 45s that I pulled out of the mystery box this morning. Yes, it’s time for another Grab Bag!

The Toppers were a 1950s R&B vocal group. And either they or their producers – or perhaps both – had a penchant for risqué material, keeping in mind that what seems slightly risqué in 2009 could very likely have been near the acceptable edge in 1959 or earlier.

How do we know that? One of the songs that All Music Guide credits the Toppers with recording is “(I Love to Play Your Piano) Let Me Bang Your Box,” a ditty that shows up on two CD anthologies of bawdy R&B.

That penchant for naughtiness is one of the few bits of useful information about the Toppers at All-Music Guide. The names of the group members are not listed. There are a few credits from recordings currently included on CDs, and one of those CDs gives us a hint about the group’s origins. That CD is Mama Don’t Like It! 1950-1956, a collection of recordings by Smiley Lewis, a New Orleans artist. That’s not proof, but it’s a large hint that the Toppers were based in New Orleans as well.

That previously mentioned penchant for naughty titles also seems to account for the title of one of the sides I found in my mystery box: “It Was Twice As Big As I Thought It Was.” What was twice as big? Well, it isn’t what folks might think, but that’s the point of a risqué song title. The song itself is mild, and the mystery is solved in the final verse. The other side of the record – Decca 30297 – is a tidy little calypso tune called “Pots and Pans.”

“It Was Twice As Big . . .” was written by Tommie Connor and Jack Jordan, while “Pots and Pans” came from Diane Lampert and John Gluck, Jr. Both sides of the record were directed (produced, in today’s parlance, I imagine) by Jack Pleis. And that’s all the label can tell us.

So when was the record released? There’s no clear indication. One of the difficulties with 45s of this vintage – mid- to late 1950s or so – is that the labels rarely have copyright or issue dates on them. Those folks who are label design mavens could likely look at the records and know about when the record came out. But I am not one of those, so I have to rely on brute force and Google.

Just the name of the group and the title “It Was Twice As Big . . .” finds several copies of the record for sale. Adding “Jack Pleis” to the mix gets a few listings, but also begins to include the word “toppers” in the phrase “chart toppers.”

But Googling just “Decca 30297” by itself brings us some information. At a music forum at Mombu.com, we learn from a poster named Roger Ford that Decca 30297 “dates from 1957.”

Ford continues: “Doesn’t seem to have been mentioned in Billboard so here’s two clues
that help date it more accurately: Kitty Wells’ “Change Of Heart” on Decca 30288 was reviewed in [Billboard] May 6, 1957. And “Pots And Pans,” which was the “A” side, was released in England (with a different flip taken from an earlier Toppers record) in June 1957. I’d say it was an April 1957 release.”

So here you go:

“Pots and Pans” by the Toppers
“It Was Twice As Big As I Thought It Was” by the Toppers
Decca 30297 [1957]

Next up is Maxine Starr and her rock ’n’ roll version of “(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” backed by “Love Is” on New-Hits records. The record label was kind enough to include A- and B-side information on the label, but interestingly enough, a Web search brings up – among very little else – a U.K. based record shop called Rare Northern Soul that’s offering the record for sale based on the B-side, “Love Is.”

I’m guessing, simply from the sound and style, that the record was issued in the early 1960s. But throwing the catalog number into the Web search brings no more information. The record exists, the ’Net tells me, and is for sale a number of places. There’s nothing at All Music Guide. And a ’Net search for Maxine Starr alone brings up a great number of results; some of them might be the Maxine Starr on the record, but I don’t know.

“(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” was, of course, an old song by the time Maxine Starr recorded it. The best known version might have been the one recorded by the Andrews Sisters for Decca in 1940, and the song itself – written by Albert Von Tilzer and Neville Fleeson – dates to 1920, so Googling the title and writers won’t help us much with a record from what seems to be the early 1960s. But the B-side, “Love Is,” might not be as widely recorded a song, so we might glean something from Googling the song’s writers, Ralph Romano and Joe Burke. Well, we learn that the two men co-wrote the book Elbo Elf, but that’s all. And there’s no producer credit on the record label.

So we don’t know a lot about this one, not even a recording date. But I’m going to guess around 1962, just on a hunch. [A check at discogs.com, a site I did not know about when this piece was originally posted, verified that Starr’s record was in fact released in 1962.]

“(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” by Maxine Starr
“Love Is” by Maxine Starr
New-Hits 3009 [1962]

Our third 45 for today is of a more recent vintage. In fact, the label tells us all the basic information. A group called the Inmates released “(I Thought I Heard A) Heartbeat” and “Show You My Way” on the Polydor label in 1980. So is there more information out there?

Well, yes, a little bit. The band’s entry at All-Music Guide is a little slender, but we learn that the members of the British group were Bill Hurley, Ben Donnelly, Peter Gunn, Barry Masters, Tony Oliver and Jim Russell. And the tracks on the 45 in question – both written by Russell – show up on the group’s 1980 album, Shot in the Dark.

But the single didn’t go anywhere: The Inmates’ only presence on the charts was for a cover of the Standells’ “Dirty Water,” which went to No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980. At the same time, the group’s first album, First Offence, went to No. 49 on the Billboard album chart. That first album was originally released in 1979 on Radar and later came out on Polydor, just as Shot in the Dark would be in 1980.

But even if the single didn’t get any attention when it came out, it’s a decent new wave/pub rock single.

“(I Thought I Heard A) Heartbeat” by the Inmates
“Show You My Way” by the Inmates
Polydor 2152 [1980]

A Note From Maxine Starr

March 3, 2010

Last July, I opened a post by asking, among other questions, “Who was Maxine Starr?”

All I knew as I typed the question was that she had recorded one of the 45s I’d pulled out of the mystery box that morning, “(I’ll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Time” b/w “Love Is.” And some digging around on the ’Net that morning brought me no more real information (beyond finding a few copies of the record for sale at various online outlets).

Well, today, I know that Maxine Starr is living in Colorado and still sings and teaches voice.

How do I know? Because she stopped by the Echoes In The Wind archives blog last week and left a note. She wrote:

“Believe it or not, Maxine Starr is alive and well and living in Colorado! While searching for my recording of ‘The Wishing Star’, a friend of mine came across your blog and forwarded it to me. I’m not sure how he found it, but he did.”

In July, when I wrote about Starr and the single on the New-Hits label I’d found in the box in my study, I could find no real clue as to when the songs were recorded: no date on the record, no hard information online. The sound was that of the early 1960s, and I ended that portion of the post by saying, “So we don’t know a lot about this one, not even a recording date. But I’m going to guess around 1962, just on a hunch.”

I feel pretty good about that, as Starr said in her note this week that: “Love Is” and “Apple Blossom Time” were recorded in June of 1962. She added, “The record received ‘split airplay’ on the radio stations which diluted the chance for one side to really take off.”

“Apple Blossom Time” was tagged as the A Side of the single, but as I noted in my post last July, I found one record shop in northern England selling the single on the basis of the B Side, which it tagged as a “Northern Soul” record. (That’s a description that sometimes baffles me, as deciding what’s Northern Soul and what isn’t seems to be dependent on the judgment of the audience more than on any intrinsic qualities of the record.)

Starr noted that the New-Hits label also released the previously mentioned “The Wishing Star,” which was the theme from the 1962 film Taras Bulba, a tale of Cossacks in Ukraine that starred Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis. That record was backed with “Sailor Boy.” Starr added that New-Hits was a subsidiary of Newtown Records, which she noted was Patti LaBelle’s first label: “She recorded ‘I Sold My Heart to the Junkman’” for Newtown, Starr said.

As is the case with “Apple Blossom Time/Love Is,” there are a few copies of Starr’s version of “The Wishing Star” available out there. One copy that she has in her collection is intriguing: “I happen to have an unplayed demo version of ‘The Wishing Star’ which was pressed on the London Label as they were interested in distributing it, but nothing came of it. I don’t think they ever mass pressed it and I think my copy is a ‘one of a kind’ recording.”

Here’s a YouTube video of Starr’s version of “The Wishing Star.”

And we’ll close this with a repost of the single from my mystery box. Thanks for the note, Maxine. It’s truly a pleasure to hear from any of the performers I write about.

“(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time” by Maxine Starr
“Love Is” by Maxine Starr
New-Hits 3009 [1962]