High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Midge, Kaye, Debby...and Bonnie Makes Three (Part 1)

The month long second anniversary celebration continues here on Shady Dell Music & Memories. This month I have blogged about The Emperors and The Magnificent Men. Now it’s time to salute another enormously popular Cental PA recording act, our hometown heroines, The Pixies Three!

Debby Swisher, Kaye McCool, and Midge Bollinger, school chums growing up in Hanover, formed a singing act in 1955 and called themselves "The Pixies." The girls competed in regional talent shows, sang at service clubs and fairs, and appeared in Tony Grant's Stars of Tomorrow shows on Atlantic City's Steel Pier and twice on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.

In 1963 The Pixies landed a recording contract with Mercury Records and became Brill Building label mates with Lesley Gore, another leading exponent of the girl group sound.

Around the start of the 1963 school year, the trio achieved their first and highest charting hit with the infectious "Birthday Party."

"Birthday Party" spent a couple of months on Billboard and made it to #40. The Pixies were off to a great start. Like many other fine recording acts, however, the girls wound up as underachievers in terms of record sales and chart performance.

In a way The Pixies Three were too good for their own good. Think about it. Many times when you bought a hit 45 you got one great song backed with a dud - a throwaway song. A disappointing or even atrocious B side did not bother most record buyers in the least. The problem was that The Pixies Three produced consistently fine recordings. When the teenagers from Hanover blended their voices and waxed songs, the result was all killer, no filler! There wasn't any lackluster material available to put on the B sides of their records.

Starting late in 1963, The Pixies Three released a pair of singles that had classic girl group songs on both sides. Quality turned into a liability because all four great songs went to waste.

At Christmas time 1963 the single containing "Cold, Cold Winter," the designated A side, and "442 Glenwood Avenue," the killer bee, fell victim to the phenonenon known as split play in which some radio stations played the A side and others flipped the record because they favored the B side. When split play happens neither side of the record has the backing it needs to take off and become a nationwide hit. "Winter" sustained its chart run through December and into the middle of January 1964, but only got as far as #79 on the Billboard chart. Ever hear of Shady's Law?

The fab flip, "442 Glenwood Avenue," attained regional hit status, cresting at #56.

The Pixies studio writing/producing team of Madara & White came up with the name "442 Glenwood Avenue" because practically every town in the USA has a thoroughfare by that name and they wanted to maximize the song's appeal.

It seemed like a sound strategy - one that should have worked. "442" could have been a nationwide smash if it had been released as the A side of a single backed with a mediocre Pixies song (if they could have found one).

Bonnie - Kaye - Midge
Following the release of the "Cold, Cold Winter”/“442" double-sider, lead vocalist Midge left The Pixies Three.

Midge was replaced by Bonnie Long who took Debby's place on high vocals.

Bonnie - Kaye - Debby
From then on, it was Debby on lead vocals. “But, I am also the third harmony part in the background vocals,” Debby informed me. “So you get a double dose of me, both lead and background harmony.”

Bonnie - Debby - Kaye
In the summer of 1964, The Pixies Three released another excellent single with potential hits back-to-back. In fact, these two songs were so good that they made my list of the 10 Most Exciting Records...Ever!

Mercury strategists picked "The Hootch" to be the A side, while "It's Summer Time, U.S.A." was chosen as the B side. Once again, the single stagnated on the chart because of split play. This time, the problem for radio stations went beyond confusion over which of the two great songs to include on their restrictive top 40 play lists. Program directors coast to coast became jumpy when it was determined that hootch was a slang term for liquor. Anybody who takes the time to listen to "The Hootch" gets that it was the name of a new dance craze imported from Liverpool.

Yet, in their infinite wisdom, jittery radio execs concluded that The Pixies Three, the wholesome, hard working teenage girls who exemplified good clean fun, were doing the devil's work by promoting underage drinking. (Gansta rap was still light years away!)

Fearing a backlash from parental watchdog groups and a loss of ad revenue, some stations flipped the 45 and started playing "Summer Time U.S.A." instead. With so many singles competing against each other for chart positions on Billboard, split play means no way! As a result, one of the finest girl group double-siders ever produced was left stranded in the Bubbling Under basement. "Summer Time, U.S.A.," one of the great killer bees of all time, spent three weeks on that chart, finishing its futile struggle for recognition at #116.

If you lived the Susquehanna Valley in 1964, you probably remember "Summer Time, U.S.A." being played in heavy rotation all that summer on the Mighty 9-10, wonnnnn-derful WSBA. Lucky us!

Over the past eleven years I have had the pleasure of corresponding with the four members of The Pixies Three.
In Part 2, I will bring you some of the stories and comments that the women have shared with me.

Have a Shady day!

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