Thursday, August 30, 2012

Polydor, Odetta, and "Hit or Miss"

Since the advent of the recording industry, it has been fraught with mergers and acquisitions. Often competing trademarks existed in different companies due to the spinning off holdings overseas. I first noticed this in the late sixties that labels such as Decca and Columbia were no longer operated by the same organizations in the US and the UK.

Because of this, you would find newer labels such as London in the US being the arm of the Decca Records, Ltd., and artists on UK’s Columbia (owned by EMI) appearing in the US on EMI’s American arm – Capitol Records and not on CBS' Columbia label. Even the famous record listening fox terrier Nipper, who was known as the icon of RCA Victor in the US and Canada, is a trademark owned in much of the world by EMI's HMV (His Master's Voice) label.

I really became fascinated with all of the intricacies of the music business when Crawdaddy!, in 1971 or '72, featured an article on whom owned what in the recording industry.  Inside the newspaper a fold-out chart indicated that (at that time) less than a dozen corporations controlled the majority of the music business worldwide. Since the 1980s, the major labels brought on even larger conglomerates and that pool shrunk. In recent years, I’ve lost touch with who owns whom these days – and frankly do not care to know. I think it’s better that way.

An early player in the in music business was the German company Deustsche Grammophone, which utilized the Polydor imprint in other markets to export its recordings outside of Germany. The label eventually took on its own identity and particularly had success in the UK; however, until 1969 it had no presence in the US. Most UK Polydor releases in the US were licensed to other labels. Depending on the artist, you might find Polydor artists on the various Atlantic and MCA labels.

With the incorporation of Polydor in the US, the label struggled during its early US years. Its financial stability was based on a number of subsequent events including a 1972 merger with Philips' Phonogram holding company that created PolyGram. There were two other significant events in the history of US Polydor.  One, it acquired James Brown’s back catalog from King Records in 1969; and two, the license deals with other US record companies began to expire and their music catalogs in the US reverted to Polydor.

Most notably during this period was the redemption of the Eric Clapton related material (Clapton, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek & the Dominos) which had for years been issued in the US under license to Altantic’s ATCO subsidiary. That began to change in 1972 when new compilations emerged on Polydor and eventually the original albums were released as ATCO stopped producing these recordings.

While this influx of back material was a shot in the arm, the years of 1969 to 1972 were interesting ones for Polydor, Inc. and Polydor Records Canada Ltd. (as the North American arms of Polydor International were officially known). Besides bringing in artists such as John Mayall in 1969, the label signed a number of artists including Chick Corea, Arthur Fiedler, Roy Buchanan, Mandrill, Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys, and Odetta.

While Odetta only recorded one album for Polydor, “Odetta Sings” released in December 1970, the album’s single release of “Hit or Miss” is our TV Thursday selection. While one of two original compositions from the album, “Hit or Miss” is gaining in popularity these days as the backing track to a current commercial for Southern Comfort.

This unusual commercial features a 60+ old man with an obvious paunch walking on a beach. If that weren’t enough, he is wearing a Speedo and dress shoes. His swagger exudes confidence. The commercial screams individualism and Odetta’s song is perfect with the hook – “I gotta be me – hit or miss.” I had never heard this cut before its debut as a TV commercial backing track, but I love it.

“Hit or Miss” is departure from her folk music of the 50s and early 60s, but it is great; however, since it is not like her earlier recordings – her fan base probably didn’t appreciate the change in direction. Since she had already been typecast as a folkie, it was difficult for Polydor to market Odetta to a new audience. It was her only album with the label and "Hit or Miss" was, unfortunately, a chart failure. 

Extended Southern Comfort Commercial

I plan to end this blog on September 26, 2012. If you would like to see it continue after that, let me know by registering your feelings in the survey found at

No comments:

Post a Comment