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Consuming Passions: Top Of The Heap

Perhaps because I was imprinted in my youth by the stentorian announcers of "Cee Key Ell Double You" in Windsor, the concept of the Top 10 has always been of interest. This, of course, is not just my personal fetish as is shown by the lists of "Golden discs" we see from time to time. But the problem seems to be that the titles in these lists bear absolutely no relation to the records which we find with depressing frequency at the lawn sales and the bins at the Salvation Army store.

In fact, I have seen only one list which even slightly coincides with this collector's reality. It appears in John Batten's Book, the interesting, but rather disjointed memoirs of English Columbia‘s artist and repertoire man from the 'twenties to the fifties. At any rate, his English best sellers list correct to December 1954 goes like this (English catalogue numbers, of course):

1. O Mein Papa Eddie Calvert Col. DB 334 1,120,000
2. Warsaw Concerto London Symphony Orch Col. DX 1063 1,025,000
3. Hear My Prayer Ernest Lough HMV C1349 740,000
4. Jealousy Boston Pops HMV C2861 480,000
5. Moonlight Serenade Glenn Miller HMV BD5942 460,000
6. Oh, My Beloved Daddy from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" Col. DB 2052 430,000
This continues down to last but not least:
13. Vesti la giubba from Pagliacci Caruso HMV DB 111 110,000

Now this is more like it. English though it is, it reflects the Toronto 'Sally Ann' more faithfully than anything in Golden Discs. It also indicates that early so-called million sellers did in no way reach that figure. Vesti la giubba being a case in point.

But let's go way back to the early years and make up our own list for the Canadian market in the period before 1920. What I am hoping is that having read my suggestions you readers will respond with your own versions of the listing. Ed Moogk in Roll Back the Years makes some suggestions for titles that were popular with the Canadian public, but again his ideas don't always agree with my experience as a collector.

Here, then, are my suggestions - in no order - and a prosaic lot they are. Remember too, that at this time it was titles that sold rather than specific artists, so I often give the catalogue numbers of two firms.

Hornpipe Medley/Medley of Old time Reels Charles D'Almaine Victor 16393
Robin's Return/Spring Song Charles Gorst-bird imitations & Victor Orch. Victor 18019
Beautiful Isle of Somewhere/Christ Arose Harold Jarvis/Hayden Quartet Victor 16008
The Jolly Coppersmith/Don't Be Cross Pryor's Band Victor 16396
The Whistler & His Dog/Warblers' Serenade Pryor's Band VI 17380
Preacher and the Bear Arthur Collins Edison BA 1560, Vl 4431, HMV 216109
Humoresque Mischa Elman 74163
Carry Me Back to Old Virginny Gluck 74420
The Holy City/The Palms Harry Macdonough Victor 16408
The Herd Girl's Dream/Happy Days Neapolitan Trio Victor 16967
I Love a Lassie Harry Lauder Victor 60001, Edison BA 1821
Whispering Hope Alma Gluck, Louise Homer Victor 87107
Somewhere a Voice is Caling Elizabeth Spencer & Vernon Archibald Edison BA 2453
Just a Baby's Prayer at Twilight/On the Road to Home Sweet Home Henry Burr Victor 18439
"La Derniere Lettre" Hector Pellerin HMV 253021
Father O'Flynn/Chip Off the Old Block Ruthven McDonald HMV 216062
Medley of Reels/Clog Dance R. Gagnier HMV 216013
Open the Gates of the Temple Evan Williams Victor 74198

And, of course, Cal Stewart as Uncle Josh. But what title? No single title seems to predominate since he made so many, although "The Village gossips" with Byron G. Harian and "Uncle Josh Buys an Automobile" would be my suggestions, on every label known.

I know there will be those who will say that I have missed key artists such as John McCormack whose records sold in such inundating quantities, but he like Caruso and Kreisler and Ada Jones and Billy Murray made so many that no one title predominates. In McCormack's case I would suggest '‘Berceuse"” from Jocelyn with Kreisler not "I Hear You Calling Me". Remember too, that this list only goes to December, 1919. So most of those red seals by Galli-Curci, Caruso, Farrar and the gang may have been recorded in the 'teens, but they sold in the 'twenties. Red Seals weren't double-sided until 1923. It was then that they really began to move.

But if pushed, I will admit that the Caruso side I would add to the bottom of the list is "Dreams of Long Ago" (Victor 88376) not "Vesti La Guibba" nor "O Sole Mio" as both are commonly in the double-face versions. Galli-Curci might just hit best-seller status before 1920 with the "Bell Song" from Lakme, but I still think that her day was after 1920.

The Dance Craze of 1913 to '16 did sell a lot of records, but again there is no overwhelming title.

Much as these titles may not set the collector's heart aflame with desire, they are, I think, what the public bought in those happy times. I used to puzzle, though, over the lack of popular titles in the Canadian home; I mean, why six copies of "Beautiful Isle of Somewhere" to one of "I'm Afraid to Come Home in the Dark?" The answer is to be found in the piles of sheet music, not in the record bins. There one finds the popular hits by the ream. So it would seem that these were rattled off by the domestic pianist while the gramophone reserved for "selections of real interest..." was value and enduring to quote the record sleeves, such as the "Robin's Return..."