During the first half of the sixties, car songs, or hot rod music if you like, were largely a Southern California phenomenon. They were a byproduct of the region's active hot rod scene. Apart from the subject matter, there was not much difference between hot rod music and surf music, both being aimed at more or less the same audiences. Some groups, most notably the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, recorded both kinds. Hot rod songs were essentially surf songs that happened to be about cars.
There were also instrumental car songs. The first record to chart in this genre was "Stick Shift" by the Duals. Henry Bellinger (lead guitar) and Johnny Lageman (rhythm guitar) lived on the same street in Los Angeles and were both 19 years old in 1961 when they set out to make a record. They approached H.B. Barnum, but he was too busy with other projects and didn't have much faith in the songs they had written. Barnum introduced the boys to his friend Ron Barrett, who had just started his own record label, Star Revue. Born in 1937, Barrett was the older brother of Fanita Barrett (later Fanita James) of the Dreamers, Blossoms and Bob B. Soxx and the Bluejeans. Ron had been a member of the Meadowlarks (Don Julian's group) and the Dootones, among others. More info on him (in 5 parts) at http://www.spectropop.com/RonBarrett/index.htm
Barrett liked the fresh, clean simple sound of the Duals. After much rehearsing, two songs were recorded, "Stick Shift" and "Cruising", the first one being the intended A-side. Barrett felt that the song needed something extra and he asked the engineer if he had a library of sound effects. This happened to be the case and Ron listened to car sound after car sound until he found what he was looking for. I think it's fair to say that the sound effects were the real selling point of "Stick Shift". The spluttering engine at the beginning, the screeching tires, the squad-car pullover at the end : without them this would have been a pretty ordinary guitar instro. "Stick Shift" was originally released on Star Revue 1031, but soon became too big for Barrett's small label to handle. A deal was struck with Sue Records from New York City. They bought the master for national distribution and rereleased "Stick Shift" on Sue 745. The record peaked at # 25 in Billboard in the autumn of 1961. Ron Barrett , Star Revue and the Duals never received any money from Sue Records. After a long legal battle, and with the assistance of Barrett's son, Ron Jr., the first paycheck (from EMI) finally arrived in 2004. More details at http://www.starrevue.com/TheDualsSaga.htm Henry Bellinger was deceased by then.
But back to 1961. An LP's worth of material was soon recorded and released on Sue LP 2002. Two of the twelve tracks were vocals, which was not a good idea. "Cha Cha Guitar"/"Travelin' Guitar" was released as the follow-up (Sue 758), but sank without a trace. The Duals' next 45 featured them in a back-up role to Ron Barrett, who, as producer, song- writer and vocalist on "The Big Race" rocks along on this hot rod number. Ron wrote the flip, "Oozy Groove", with Henry Bellinger. This was first released on Juggy Murray's Sue-affiliated Juggy label (321), eventually to be reissued, with the Duals' name featuring more prominently, on John Marascalco's Infinity label (032). And that was the final single by the group. The Duals on Fury (1958) and Arc (1959) are not the same group. Surprisingly, The Duals are absent from Wayne Jancik's excellent "One-Hit Wonders" book.
More info at http://www.starrevue.com/TheDuals.htm
CD : The "Stick Shift" LP was reissued on CD in 1996 (Collectables COL-0680).
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