Not sure how this fascinating production – written and arranged by Van Dyke Parks and sung by Skip Battyn in the magical year of 1967* – came to my attention originally.
“High Coin” Skip Battyn 1965
[*Wrong – recorded in 1965! See comments attached at the end of this history piece]
Kim Fowley and Skip Battyn would co-compose “Mr. Responsibility” for the flip side. Was this, in fact, the only release on Los Angeles-based Record Records?
High Coin: $50 paid for this 45 last Christmas
In his profile of Van Dyke Parks from this past April, Elyadeen Anbar wrote that “despite his unfavorable opinions on anglo-pop music [i.e., during Beatlemania’s first wave], Parks did become more interested in songwriting and landed a hit with his composition ‘High Coin,’ when it was recorded by San Francisco beat group The Charlatans” – i.e., on their 1969 debut album — two years after Battyn’s version.
As it turns out, “High Coin” had already been recorded by a handful of artists going back as far as 1965 with Bobby Vee, who, by the way, appears to have muscled his way in on the songwriting credits. Note that the song, however, got passed over for A-side when released in Australia.
Rick Jarrard‘s jangly version on the Los Angeles-based Chattahoochee label (recorded in November 1965 at Hollywood’s Gold Star Recording Studios, according to YouTube’s Anthony Reichardt) from 1966, followed by Harper Bizarre and the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band‘s versions (as well as Battyn’s) in 1967, and Jackie DeShannon‘s version in 1968 (on August 20, 2016 Parks would tweet
“Jackie deShannon, born August 21, sang my first written song ‘High Coin.’ I was 21, and legal tender”).
Van Dyke Parks revealed to UK’s Songwriting Magazine in 2014 the back story behind the creation of his first song, “High Coin” (a “very California musical expression,” notes William Stout in his online journal):
“Well, I was working for a group called the Brandywine Singers, playing guitar, and I was earning £3,000 a week playing at this casino in Reno, Nevada. That was a lot of money then… it’d be a lot of money now! And we had a two-week job there, and I got in a Mustang convertible with Hal Brown, the bass player – who went on to become the Supreme Court justice of Alaska – and we drove to this almost ghost town, an old wild west town with a few dozen people left living there, and we got out of the car and walked into the saloon. Hal had his double bass and I had my guitar, and in the saloon there were four guys in the corner, in a crowd of smoke that smelt funny.
“They were the house band, The Charlatans, and they all looked like Neil Young on a bad day! One of them was Dan Hicks. And we asked if we could play a song or two, and they were derisive because I looked like a little square, but I got on and I sang ‘High Coin‘ and they fell on the floor and asked if I’d mind if they recorded it. I was just delighted. They took the song, I went back to Los Angeles, and I was broke… but then I got the news that ‘High Coin‘ was on the radio in San Francisco. And that established me with the counter-culture.”
HowlinWuelf reveals that Ruthann Friedman (third female songwriter to compose an American Number One record without the help of a male cowriter) had also recorded a version of “High Coin” in 1967, with Parks himself playing his “unmistakable tack piano” that “sounds like a magnificent lost track from Song Cycle,” for her unfinished debut album (eventually issued in Europe in 2013, along with “Candy Apple Cotton Candy” as a bonus track — check out the single version recorded by Pat Shannon for Warner Brothers). Carolyn Soyars, in her April 26, 2014 review for Los Angeles Beat, in fact, affirms “High Coin” as “one of the highlights of the album.”
Battyn’s preceding single release, interestingly enough, would feature a go-go instrumental version of Chuck Barris’s “Dating Game Theme” as the B-side.