Friday, July 11, 2014

The Year's The Thing: 1900

Probably best known as the label of The Turtles, White Whale Records hit dire financial straits when their flagship act disbanded in 1970. In an effort to reinvigorate sales, White Whale signed Liz Damon’s Orient Express to the label and licensed their recordings from Makaha Records in Hawaii.

This Hawaiian based band fronted by Liz Damon was making waves on the islands, and White Whale hoped to ride the crest to financial stability. Their single “1900 Yesterday” did quite well, as this relatively unknown band was able to land the #33 slot on the Hot 100 in early 1971.

Liz Damon’s Orient Express’ best response came via easy listening audiences where “1900 Yesterday” charted at #4 on that specialized chart. Unfortunately, the album failed to make a dent, as it only peaked at #190. After only two weeks on the album charts, it drifted into nothingness. A follow-up single, “But for Love”/“You Make Me Feel Like Someone,” failed to chart and did not repeat the performance of “1900 Yesterday.”

The album and the two singles were among the final releases for the label. It was essentially too little, too late for White Whale to capitalize on Liz Damon’s only chart success; the label folded in 1971.

That same year, White Whale owners Ted Feigin and Lee Lasseff began another recording venture with Anthem Records. Distributed by United Artists, Anthem was home for a number of White Whale alumni including Liz Damon’s Orient Express. The band, however, never achieved the success that they experienced with “1900 Yesterday.”

Liz Damon’s Orient Express’ version of “1900 Yesterday” was a cover of the original 1969 recording by Betty Everrett. John Cameron wrote the tune for fellow Chicagoan Everrett; however, her version was relegated to the Uni Records’ flipside of “Maybe.” That particular single only made it to #116.

While I prefer Everrett’s soul tinged version, Liz Damon’s cover is the one that is familiar with most audiences. Damon’s recording became an unexpected gift to Cameron who reaped more benefit from her single than did White Whale Records.

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