“Fireproof Money Belt”: Joan Harris, Non-Fictional

Around the same time the fictional Joan Harris was battling the corporate wolves at Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Price in the Mad Men television series, the real Joan Harris was battling fellow artists for her place in the pantheon of pop music.  Harris may or may not have realized all her artistic ambitions, but she did leave us a nicely rocking slice of country that goes by the curious title, “Fireproof Money Belt“:

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play ”Fireproof Money Belt” by Joan Harris.]

“Fireproof Money Belt” is a standout track from what appears to be the first of at least two albums released on Custom, an “economy” imprint of budget label, Crown – itself a subsidiary of Modern Records.  As with The Green Valley Guitars, very little information is known about the elusive Joan Harris or the song itself (as the label doesn’t believe in songwriter credits – see below).  However, based on the discography provided by the indispensable Both Sides Now Publications, I would guess Country Girl and Other Country & Western Favorites to have been released in 1968.

Joan Harris LP b

Based on the matrix number and title of Joan’s next release, Harper Valley PTA, my guess is that Custom also released this follow-up album in 1968 to capitalize on Tom T. Hall’s six-million-selling, international smash hit (and first song by a woman to top Billboard’s pop and country charts at the same time).

Would be curious to hear “Whose Ox is being gored”

Joan Harris LP cParent label, Crown, would also release both Joan Harris albums, apparently:

Joan Harris LP aJoan Harris LP aa

Crown:  King of the Junk Labels – A Brief History from Both Sides Now

Crown Records was a budget label for the Bihari Brothers, who ran the Modern and RPM labels.  Crown started in December, 1953 with four artist signings (including Joe Houston), as the Bihari Brothers’ R&B label, but they didn’t release albums on Crown until 1957.  In March, 1957, Saul Bihari announced that Modern and RPM albums would be discontinued and reissued on the Crown label at $1.98 per album.  Later in the year, the price dropped to $1.49 per album to compete with budget labels like Tops.

As a label, Crown has a mixed reputation.  Many of their albums contain early rock and roll or jazz and are sought after by collectors.  On the other hand, Crown put out a lot of schmaltz, knockoffs, and otherwise forgettable music, all packaged in cheap covers, giving Crown the “other” reputation as the King of junk labels.

Crown albums started out by reissuing the material from Modern and RPM, which was often excellent and sought-after.  After running out of Modern and RPM reissues, Crown soon settled down to become another of the low-budget labels putting out generic music, knockoffs of current hits, or deceptive artist names meant to confuse the undiscerning buyer, much like Tops or Pickwick’s labels.  And Crown became one of the earliest labels to start hawking music with a famous artist’s name in huge letters, but the music inside was by “members” of their former orchestra.

As the Bihari budget label, Crown quickly earned itself a reputation as a junk record label, and by sheer volume of issues and reissues became known as the King of junk record labels (yeah, they even have a crown…).  Cost savings measures (= “cutting corners”) were obvious everywhere.  The covers were cheaply made, and fell apart almost instantly. The back slicks were the only thing that held the two slabs of cover cardboard together, and the paper didn’t last long; finding a Crown album today without a seam split is indeed unusual.  The back and front slicks themselves were often recycled unused slicks from old records; on many you can see the pictures from old front covers right through the paper.

The records themselves often sounded worn out right out of the package, with all kinds of bumps and wrinkles or other vinyl anomalies.  The preference for material for release was public domain tunes so no royalties need be paid (check how many times the song “Ida” shows up – scores of times.  How many other labels have that song?).  Other songs were purchased outright for a few bucks from the artists used for recording, who were paid a flat fee for recording, with no possibilities of future royalties.  Songs were recycled, too, with generic artists’ names rotated so the same recordings could be used again and again under different names.  Some masters were even “traded out” to other budget labels, who renamed the artists and provided Crown in turn with their generic recordings that Crown could name for themselves.  For this reason, the same recordings would show up on several labels under different artists’ credits, and even under different song names.