Monday, January 2, 2017

Paul Petersen - Hits & Rarities (1961-1968)

I hate to post something and wax negative about it, but this semi-bootleg collection is now selling for over $40 used and it's not exactly worth that -- to put it mildly. It's called Hits & Rarities, but the hits are redundant since it contains every song on the Best of Paul Petersen CD, which anyone who buys this would already have. And as for rarities, it inexplicably leaves off one very conspicuous B-Side, so I added that as a bonus track (keep reading for details).

On top of all that, it also repeats several songs that can easily be found on the 1963 album Teenage Triangle and its 1964 sequel More Teenage Triangle. These are multi-artist albums put out by Petersen's label Colpix that also feature his "Donna Reed Show" co-star Shelley Fabares and singer-actor James Darren. Again, any fan of Petersen would already have these discs as well because they were issued together on one CD about a decade ago.

To backtrack for people unfamiliar with Paul Petersen: He was a child actor who played the younger brother Jeff Stone on "The Donna Reed Show" (1959-1966). When he and co-star Shelley Fabares were both in their teens, the show took a page from the "Ozzie and Harriet" playbook and had the two young actors cut pop songs. Fabares had the biggest hit with "Johnny Angel" (#1 in 1962), but Petersen actually charted more Hot 100 hits than her -- he had six, while she had four.

Petersen wasn't a bad singer either, and his whispery tenor could be effective if given the right setting. Unfortunately, the arrangements he got were are usually very "Hollywood-ish" and overwrought. Most of the problems had to do with the ridiculous-sounding female backing vocals that for some reason were a trademark of his records. The high-pitched chirping makes otherwise good singles like "Girls in the Summertime" and "Lollipops and Roses" seem unintentionally comic.

By the 1980s, Petersen had become famous for an entirely different reason. He founded a non-profit support and assistance program for former child actors called A Minor Consideration. For several years, Petersen was regularly seen on TV talk shows talking about the why child actors often aren't able to navigate the transition to adulthood.

While this was happening, the children's-oriented cable television network Nickelodeon started running "The Donna Reed Show" as part of their adult-oriented evening program block called Nick At Nite. They ran it for several years in the late 1980s in prime time and because of this, the show gained a new generation of fans.

This is what got me interested in the music of Petersen (and Fabares as well). There was no Internet back then, so I spent many hours as a college kid looking up info in old books and visiting oldies record stores. Heck, someone had to research this stuff back then and I elected myself to do it.

Petersen cut two solo albums and eleven singles for Colpix and two singles for Motown. Several single sides never made it onto albums and he also left a few things in the Colpix vaults. Those are what make up the handful of songs that count as rarities here -- and those are the only reason a Petersen fan would want this collection. Since most people reading are familiar with the hits, here's a rundown of the obscurities:

  • "Be Everything To Anyone You Love" is a Doc Pomus song that was the non-LP B-Side to "Keep Your Love Locked (Deep In Your Heart)," an early Gerry Goffin-Carole King tune Petersen took to #55 in the spring of 1962. The A-Side, but not the B-Side, was included on Petersen's debut album Lollipops and Roses.

  • "I Wanna Be Free" was never released officially, but is from the "Donna Reed Show" episode "Slipped Disc," where Petersen's character Jeff Stone gets a pop "combo" together and they cut a record. This song was co-written by future Monkees tunesmith Tommy Boyce, who would re-use the title and one of the lines in a much more successful song he'd co-write with Bobby Hart for the Pre-Fab Four a year later.

  • "Rosie" is not quite a rarity, but we'll count it anyway. It's from a cash-in "soundtrack" to "Bye Bye Birdie" put out by Colpix Records to capitalize on the movie's popularity. Instead of featuring the actual actors from the film, this record featured Colpix's teen stars of the day, Petersen, Fabares, and James Darren. All the other Petersen songs except this one made it onto the Teen Triangle albums. This song was, in fact, rare, until the Colpix Bye Bye Birdie soundtrack made it onto CD as part of a James Darren two-fer ten years ago. But since that release could have been missed by Petersen fans, I'm calling this one rare.

  • "Kids (Folks)" is also from the Colpix Bye Bye Birdie album. It also made it onto the second Teenage Triangle LP and can also be found on Fabares' greatest hits CD. However, the versions on those discs are all in stereo and since the one on here is mono, this one gets by as a rarity on a technicality.

  • "Very Unlikely" is the Non-LP B-Side of Petersen's debut 45 "She Can't Find Her Keys," which hit #19 in 1962. Once again, this is a stray tune that didn't make it onto Petersen first LP Lollipops and Roses. Nor was it ever compiled before as far as I know.

  • "Two Little Boys" is a mystery track. It's an unreleased version of a turn-of-the-century war song that would be revived by Rolf Harris a few years later. This duet sounds like it was sourced from a scratchy acetate. My copy of the CD didn't come with liner notes, so I have no idea what this was intended for or who the woman is who is singing along with Petersen.

  • "Quarantine" and "Quarantine Insert" are recordings of a song that was intended for a "Donna Reed Show" episode but apparently went unused.

  • Finally, "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" is my inclusion. It's a non-LP B-Side that definitely should have been included on this CD. The song was the flip side of his 1963 single "The Cheer Leader," which got to #78 and was his last chart entry. ("Cheerleader" is written as two words on the record label, hence my spelling.) The song, of course, is the Jimmy Van Heusen-Johnny Burke composition that gave Frank Sinatra his first hit with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Petersen rocks it up here, relatively speaking. But again, the female backing singers undercut the mood and make the record hopelessly dated.

Track list:
1. She Can't Find Her Keys
2. Keep Your Love Locked (Deep In Your Heart)
3. Lollipops & Roses
4. My Dad
5. Amy
6. Girls In the Summertime
7. The Cheer Leader
8. Poorest Boy In Town
9. She Rides With Me
10. Where is She?
11. Hey There Beautiful
12. Little Dreamer
13. Happy
14. The Ring
15. You Don't Need Money
16. Little Boy Sad
17. Be Everything To Anyone You Love
18. Mama Your Little Boy Fell
19. I Wanna Be Free (TV)
20. Rosie (From "Bye Bye Birdie")
21. One Girl (From "Bye Bye Birdie")
22. Kids (Folks) (From "Bye Bye Birdie")
23. Very Unlikely
24. What Did They Do Before Rock 'N' Roll?
25. Don't Let That Happen To Us
26. Chained
27. A Little Bit For Sandy
28. Your Love's Got Me Burning Alive
29. Two Little Boys
30. Quarantine
31. Quarantine (TV Insert)
32. Polka Dots and Moonbeams (Bonus Track)



  2. A really interesting post as usual . I didn't know him, he never got to see the Donna Reed show in my country, but I think I can imagine how he will sound based on your description. I like when you post this obscure gems (at least for me).

    1. Thanks -- there are a bunch of "Donna Reed Show" episodes on both YouTube and DailyMotion, if you wanna check the program out. Shelley Fabares was some hot stuff around 1964 or so. That's what got me tuning in when I was a college student in the '80s.

  3. Shelley Fabares was still hot stuff on the TV show "Coach" which ran till the late 1990s. She was the best thing on the program IMHO.