“Wildsville”: All in the Family (part 1)

A good ten years before The Beatles pioneered the concept of “double A-side” singles, The Loreleis – two young ladies from the Detroit area, Gail Menefee and Peggy Reinagle – were knocking it out of the park with their two-run homer, “You’re So Nice to Be Near” b/w “Wildsville.”

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “You’re So Nice to Be Near” by The Loreleis.]

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Wildsville” by The Loreleis.]

Menefee, as it turns out, is my aunt, and the fact that my dad’s brother’s wife was once in a “singing group” – before marriage and family changed the course of history – has always added a bit of luster to our family lore.  However, the fact that this 45 hit the Billboard Top 100 – reaching the #91 spot during the week of November 12, 1955 – somehow eluded the attention of our family’s East Coast contingent until recently rediscovered by my brother, thanks to information provided by the 45Cat website.  Further probing would also reveal Cash Box, in its October 22, 1955 edition, to have selected this single as one of their “Best Bets” deemed “most likely to achieve popularity,” with “Wildsville” lauded as a “cute little zany novelty” number, “pertly styled” and with “a catchy bounce beat and lyrics.”

Peggy Reinagle                  Gail Menefee

Loreleis-3a    Wyandotte’s Own Joyland Record Shop                  Peggy & Gail sing for you

Loreleis-2aLoreleis-1a

Images of the vinyl record itself reveal this single to have been released both as a 45 and 78.

original compositions on both sides – in the great Beatle tradition

Wildsville 78 rpmMore intriguing than the record hitting the national charts is the fact that “You’re So Nice to Be Near,” a dreamy ballad, was designated the A-side while “Wildsville” – an infectiously upbeat number with a clever geographically-themed lyric – strikes me as the obvious song to lead with.  Or, to use a Beatles analogy, “Wildsville” is the “Hello Goodbye” to “You’re So Nice to Be Near”‘s “I Am the Walrus.”   I would love to know if the radio DJs were flipping the record over and playing the “B-side” — perhaps at least a few of them were, given the record’s performance in the marketplace.

But wait!  A piece from the Wyandotte News Herald directly contradicts 45Cat’s assertion that “Wildsville” was the single’s B-side:  “‘Wildsville,’ a clever novelty, is the main side of their record, which is really going places.”  The reporter adds that the song was written “along with Bob Cordell, their road manager, on the way back from a club date in the East.”  This same article also points out – something I learned only yesterday – that “after they won a talent contest at school that they got a contract making singing commercials.”  From there, things took off quickly:

Joe Siracuse, of Spotlight Records, heard them and they started making records for the new company.  Their first was ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ (again their own composition); followed by ‘Certainly Baby,’ which did very well for them.”

Fascinating to see The Loreleis share the stage with such heavy hitters as LaVern Baker, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, the Johnny Burnette Trio and future MBE, Lonnie “King of Skiffle” Donegan, in a special show organized by legendary CKLW disk jockey, Robin Seymour, who spent his first 18 years at Detroit’s WKMH (see ad below):

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to hear a vintage ID from radio station WKMH]

Loreleis-6aLoreleis-4a

Check out this German roots rock chatboard thread devoted to The Loreleis!  Chatboard contributor Gerd Miller helpfully posted this 1955-57 Loreleis discography:

DOT
01 55 …. 45-15268 …. THE LORELEIS..Run Around / Now I’m Broken Hearted
SPOTLIGHT
?? 55 …. 385 …. THE LORELEIS..Tears Of Love / 386 …. I Will Not Let You Go
?? 55 …. 388 …. THE LORELEIS Arranged and Conducted by George Annis .. Certainly Baby / I’ll Be There
10 55 …. 390 …. THE LORELEIS Arranged & Conducted by George Annis .. Wildsville / You’re Nice to Be Near
BALLY
12 56 …. 7-1024 …. THE LORELEIS With LEW DOUGLAS & His Orchestra = Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy / Your Love
04 57 …. 7-1032 …. THE LORELEIS With LEW DOUGLAS & His Orchestra = Leave The Door Open / But Why?
BRUNSWICK*
?? 64 …. 55271 …. THE LORELEIS..A Strange Way / Why Do I Put Up With You

Miller notes the interval between Bally and Brunswick releases and asks* – on behalf of music history – “Is this really the same vocal group?”   Fortunately, Zero to 180 can clear all this up with a phone call to Gail Menefee Richardson herself.   Zero to 180’s subsequent phone interview would yield lots of relevant new information:

  • The Loreleis brief time on Dot (founded 1950, acquired 1957 by Paramount Pictures) was a miserable one, as the label sat on their original recording of “Run Around” until another arrangement of the same song appeared in the marketplace, thus conspiring to make The Loreleis appear, unjustly, as “copycats.”
  • The Loreleis had, at one time, three people each serving as manager:  George Annis, their arranger, Bob Cordell (former-Detroit-disk-jockey-turned-label-owner, who also managed The Hi-Lo’s and The Four Freshmen), and the owner of Spotlight Records, Joe Siracuse.
  • 45Cat validates the fact that, based on catalog number, The Loreleis were the inaugural release for Spotlight Records (“I Won’t Let You Go” b/w “Tears of Love”), a label also significant as a launch point for singer/songwriter and producer Bob Crewe.  Did Crewe and The Loreleis intersect, artistically, I wondered aloud?  Indeed they did, replied Richardson, who pointed Zero to 180 to “I’ll Be There” by The Loreleis (flip side of “Certainly Baby”), a song composed “in the studio” — i.e., United Sound Systems, the Detroit recording facility (that hosted the first session for Berry Gordy’s Tamla label in 1959) whose asking price, according to this June 15, 2018 news item, is $1.5 million.  [Detroit Free Press reports in its January 11, 2019 edition that “the Michigan Department of Transportation has purchased the historic recording studio for $1.7 million and plans to relocate it.”]

“MENAFEE-REINAGLE-ANNIS-CREWE”
COMPOSED AT Detroit’s UNITED SOUND SYSTEMS

  • George Annis, key to the success behind popular singing group, The Gaylords, also enabled the two singers, Menefee and Reinagle, opportunities to pen material outside The Loreleis — including “Honey Baby,” a song that would enjoy release in far-flung Australia, thanks to Mercury’s worldwide distribution [Lead singer, Ronnie Gaylord, Richardson informs Zero to 180, was not only the manager of the Club Cliche, where The Loreleis performed, but a Mercury solo artist, as well].

1955 Gaylords EP – USA                            1955 Gaylords EP – Australia

  • Yep, it’s really true:  The Loreleis’ next (and final) recording label, Bally, would be the same company that makes pinball machines prized the world over!  Bally would release a pair of Loreleis 45s in 1956-57, neither (unwisely) containing any Reinagle/Menefee originals.  Cash Box, in its April 6, 1957 edition, would once again pick The Loreleis as a ‘Best Bet’ for “I’ll Leave the Door Open” (“pretty blend that comes over well on this touching tune – could create some noise”) paired with “But Why” (“Here the gals rhythm thru an interesting, tearful ballad with today’s popular rock and roll beat”).

The Loreleis on Bally Records in 1956 – with Lew Douglas & His Orchestra

July 28, 1956 issue of Cash Box — includes Lew Douglas, of Loreleis fame

  • Zero to 180 was initially puzzled why searches of the 45Cat database for “Menefee” were yielding too few songs, until it quckly became apparent all the variant (incorrect) spellings, such as “Menafee” (as it is mis-transcribed in Discogs) and (my favorite) “Mennafee” — or is it “Menasee“?

“Mennafee” on the label both here in the US, as well as Down Under

“Menasee” as mis-spelled on The Loreleis debut  45

  • Reinagle and Menefee’s ended up having a hand in writing five of the songs recorded by The Loreleis [“Now I’m Broken Hearted“; “I Won’t Let You Go“; “I’ll Be There“; “Wildsville“; & “You’re Nice to Be Near“] plus “Honey Baby” for The Gaylords — recordings for which the songwriters were “never paid,” Richardson informs Zero to 180.
  • Finally, in response to Gerd Miller’s query that launched this discographical quest, that 1964 Brunswick 45* (as you probably already deduced) belongs to a different singing group that shares the name, The Loreleis (someone will need to notify Discogs).

U.S. Place Names Cited in “Wildsville”:
From Asheville to Zanesville

– Steubenville, Ohio

– Asheville, North Carolina

– Louisville, Kentucky

– Nashville, Tennessee

– Jacksonville, Florida

– Knoxville, Tennessee

– Evansville, Indiana

– Brownsville, Texas

– Charlottesville, Virginia

– Greenville, South Carolina

– Belleville, Michigan

– Northville, Michigan

– Fayetteville, Arkansas

– Zanesville, Ohio

– Meadville, Pennsylvania

– Gainesville, Florida