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Cool 78 of the Month

April 2009

The Eagles
Exodus - Main Theme
Pye PYE-214 (Philippines)
The Eagles
Scarlett O'Hara (mislabeled as Sukiyaki)
Pye PYE-248 (mislabeled as PYE-265) (Philippines)

At first glance the average person might think that what you see here is two 78 rpm records by a country-rock group from the 70s that featured some guys named Don Henley and Glenn Frey. Well, you'd be wrong there, because these Eagles are from the late 50s and early 60s.

That fact established one might think that in the one case they are getting a 78 of a cover of the only Japanese language hit to reach number one in the Billboard charts. You might even think that said song's real title was Sukiyaki! To tell the truth, it was really entitled Ue o muite aruko. Except that this is not what's on this 78. April Fool!

What we have here are two 78s by a quartet from Bristol in the UK. The Eagles, formed in 1958, consisted of a standard line-up of twangy guitars and a drummer modeled after the Shadows. Terry Clark was the lead and supplied his own homemade guitar while Johnny Payne and Michael Brice were armed with Fender guitar and bass. Rod Meachem rounded out the group on drums. The foursome set on the name, The Eagles, after bumping around the bingo halls and local clubs, one of which was called The Eagle House Club. During this time that they built up a repertoire and sound that in 1962 saw them named Rhythm and Blues Group of the Year in a competition at the Royal Festival Hall. It was there that they caught the ear of Ron Grainer. He was putting together the music for a teen oriented film called Some People. As it was to be filmed around Bristol, Ron thought that local talent would be just the ticket to selling more tickets at the box offices.

Grainer had the boys signed to Pye records, and even got them parts in the film. In July of 1962 an EP (Pye NEP 24158) with 6 songs was released as the film soundtrack, and it featured the Eagles not only as backing musicians on the title track to a girl named Valerie Mountain, but as leads on two of their own tracks, Bristol Express and Johnny's Tune. While the record would hit number 2 on the EP charts in the UK, a single release (Pye 7N-15451) of the Eagles two solo tracks would not chart.

Ron Grainer saw the group's potential and moved them to London for their second single. This is where we get into one of our 78s. It was to be an arrangement of the theme to the 1960 film Exodus, the epic story about the founding of the state of Israel. The Eagles handled it with all the seriousness that those events of 1948 encompassed. The flip side was a rendition of an equally serious work; Wagner's Under the Double Eagle, retitled and rocked up as March of the Eagles. Oh, but if you think that this is opera's own Wilhelm Wagner, you're wrong, for it was the work of Austrian Josef Wagner who wrote Unter dem Doppeladler or Under the Double Eagle in 1902. While the single (Pye 7N-15473) didn't chart in the UK, Pye still released it as 78 in Philippines, as catalogue number PYE-214 in 1962.

Grainer was a master at film music, and started work on what he is best remembered for, the theme to Doctor Who. The Eagles continued releasing singles that focused on themes from TV and film, one of the most notable being a the March 1963 EP called Newsound (Pye NEP 24166) featuring Old Ned, the theme to Steptoe and Son, a TV series that would be remade in the USA as Sanford and Son starring Redd Foxx. They would also keep busy as a support act at the London Palladium where they supported Roy Orbison.

By the end of the summer of 1963 the group released a full Lp. It was titled Smash Hits (Pye NPL 18084) and featured more cover versions. Among the tracks on the record were an instrumental of Sukiyaki and Pipeline as recorded by American surf group, the Chantays. As was common for record companies in the Philippines, Lps would be released as series of 78s. If they had printed more labels for one track than the actual number of records produced, they would simply use the old labels and place stickers with the correct title over the old title. With any luck, those stickers wouldn't fall off. Except that they did just that. And so we have what appears to be Pye PYE-265, which really is Sukiyaki backed with Pipeline, both Lp tracks not released as singles in the UK. Except that it's not that, for the record is actually Pye PYE-248, Scarlett O'Hara backed with Hava Nagila. Scarlett O'Hara, whose complete name of Katie Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler would no doubt not fit on a record label or the sticker, was a 1963 hit for former Shadows Jet Harris and Tony Meehan. Hava Nagila, a Hebrew folk song, was oft recorded by guitar groups including the Shadows and Sweden's own Spotnicks. In English the title means, Let Us Rejoice and soon there would be rejoicing as The Eagles would finally land in the USA.

Again via Ron Grainer, The Eagles found film work with a role in the 1964 BAFTA nominated comedy film Nothing But the Best. They had three numbers in the movie and appeared playing two of them. The soundtrack Lp managed to escape via Colpix in the states on catalog number (S)CP 477, the S being for stereo.

With chart action eluding them in both at home and abroad, Ron Grainer and the group continued working to the point of exhaustion. Grainer lined up more TV theme work for them, but he was suddenly struck blind. Recording ground to a halt and the single, the theme to a TV series called The Eagle's Nest, as well as the series, never came about. Acetates of the recording are known to exist, but have yet to surface.

The Eagles set off on a cruise ship, The Queen Mary, as the house band while Grainer recovered. Once back in port they managed to record 2 more singles and tour Germany with a substitute for drummer Rod Meacham who was suffering from exhaustion, before calling it a day at the end of 1964. The group's last single (Pye 7N 15650) would see them taking on a bit more of a beat sound with two vocal tracks, Write Me a Letter and a cover of Dusty Springfield's Wishin' and Hopin'. Had it not been a B-side, it may have been The Merseybeats that were Wishin' and Hopin' when their version was released on Fontana (catalogue TF-482) a few months later. The Merseybeats won out and their version charted at a respectable number 13 in UK.

The drummer Rod Meacham never returned to the music world. John Payne and Mike Brice would return to Bristol and stay abreast of the local scene. Only Terry Clarke would continue, eventually making it into the UK charts with 3 hits in the 1970s as a part of the group Pickettywitch, also on Pye, whose number 5 record That Same Old Feeling (catalogue 7N 17887) was certainly not what it felt like for his career. Their second hit however, (It's Like a) Sad Old Kinda Movie (catalogue 7N 17951), would be more a theme to the story of The Eagles.

It is also worth noting that Pye's 78 RPM output in the Philippines was manufactured by Dyna products, the same company that made 78s for EMI there, including the Beatles 78 RPM records on Parlophone.

When all was said and done, The Eagles had produced some cracking good instrumentals and been a success in the films. One thing is sure; the high fidelity made possible by spinning at 78 rpm makes twangy groups sound great. The Eagles body of work serves as undiscovered gems on a par with the work of more chart successful groups such as The Shadows. Their releases on 78 show that trusting what it says on the label can be an April Fool's joke!

B Side
The Eagles
March of the Eagles
B Side
The Eagles
Hava Nagila (mislabeled as Pipeline)