Monday, August 16, 2010

It Was Five - Not Four, Not One

(This post is being uploaded here by request; it appears now on a website that does not archive its posts.)
Since the publication of The Kingston Trio On Record in 1986, many if not most Trio fans became aware (if they had not been before) that our favorite group established a milestone in entertainment history in 1959 when they had four albums simultaneously in the Top Ten of Billboard's Top LPs chart, now known as the Billboard 200.

The note about this in KTOR on p. 37 mentions the date of December 7, 1959 and lists the albums and their chart positions. Nowhere do Allan Shaw & Co. say that this was the only week for the Trio achievement (and achievement it was; even the Beatles only ever managed to place three) - but dozens and scores of commentators have inferred that KTOR's meaning was just that - one remarkable week, but that's all. You'll see allusions to that all over the internet - AllMusic, Amazon, many many more.

In the months after I finished my KT Wikipedia article, I've continued quietly to refine it, rewrite it to overcome some of the edits that were forced into it by evaluators, and to provide more definitive sources. In the process of doing so, I discovered - so I thought - that the KT had accomplished the four albums thing in four consecutive weeks, not one, and I rewrote the Wiki accordingly and mentioned the fact here.

Well, pride goeth before the fall, and I have been done in by my own hubris. I just didn't check thoroughly enough. Unlike Allan and Co in '86 - we have Google Books today and every single issue of Billboard from the 1930s forward online and complete. The tale it tells is even more impressive, as the correct number of weeks is five. Rather than make anyone click away to see - take a look, with dates:







These, of course, are .pdfs of the pages from the actual magazine - not summaries.

I'm not sure that this seemed as big a deal at the time as it does today (or should). Why not?

1) The country was not as statistic-maniacal as it is today;

2) The guys were young and weren't making much $$$$$ off of this: the record company got most of it, and successful records were mainly a springboard to successful $$$$-making concert tours;

3) The album charts themselves were pretty new, relatively.

4) 33 1/3rpm albums were pretty new and sales of them were not yet the hallmark of a performer's success that they would become. The KT had a lot to do with making that so.

Before you can change a public perception, you have to say something - even a factual something - over and over and over again before it roots in the public consciousness as fact. So let's all get busy setting the record straight on this. Tell someone. A neighbor. Your mother-in-law. Strangers on the street. This was a remarkable thing to happen, and it's now all but forgotten.

I only hope that when the committee to secure a place for the KT in the Grammy Hall of Fame next meets with the brass that they do so armed with the correct facts. Tell 'em that you saw it here.

Addendum, 12/29/10

And someone apparently did.
Happy to report that on December 22, 2010, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS - the Grammy people) announced that the Kingston Trio was to be given the Lifetime Achievement award on 2/13/11 - and this is essentially the Grammy HOF.