Though exploitation knows no era, the 1960s was truly the decade of the cash-in. Americans of a certain age recall that in the wake of the Beatles’ initial stateside success (beginning with a filmed show in Washington D.C. and a series of broadcasts on The Ed Sullivan Show), countless ripoff albums seemed magically to appear. Beatle Mania! in the U.S.A. by The Liverpools was one; Beetle Beet by the Buggs was another; The Manchesters’ Beatlerama was yet another. What all had in common was a cynical approach to capitalizing on the popularity of something else.
They were also uniformly dire records.
But sometimes—on quite rare occasions, actually—one of the era’s cash-in records would manage the amazing feat of being Not Terrible. That’s exactly what happened in the case of a curious 1964 LP called The Munsters, and subtitled The Newest Teen-age Singing Group.
The Munsters, of course, was one of two monster-themed situation comedies on American television in 1964. The other, of course, was The Addams Family. But they didn’t make a rock ‘n’ roll record.
Well, to be fair, neither did the Munster clan. But a pair of enterprising L.A. producers secured the rights to make a record using their name and likenesses, and set about doing just that, rush-releasing the LP in time to separate some unsuspecting teenage fans from their allowance money.
None of this makes The Munsters particularly noteworthy, nor more than remotely interesting. Certainly none of it would justify the first-ever CD-era reissue (on CD and “Herman green” vinyl!) of the 1964 long-playing record. But there’s a reason why decent-condition copes of the long out-of-print album change hands for upwards of $50.
That reason is simple: it’s a pretty good record. Though the sleeve wouldn’t reveal much of anything about the personnel involved in the making of the 12-song album, today we know that the musicians on this quickie session included a guitarist of some renown called Glen Campbell. And on keys was another rising star, Leon Russell. There’s more than a hint of irony in the fact that in 1965, the prime-time competition for The Munsters on Thursday nights was a musical variety show called Shindig!; the ranks of the show’s house band—The Shindogs—included both Campbell and Russell.
There’s a lesson of sorts here: If you can’t beat’em, capitalize on ‘em.
The songs on The Munsters are relatively standard-issue surf and stock-type numbers, but they’re enlivened by always solid (and sometimes inventive) musicianship and arranging. And the vocals are pretty good too, in a sort of garage-band-meets-Jan-and-Dean sort of way.
The producers of the record—Joe Hooven and Hal Winn—didn’t bother trying to enlist female vocalists to sing the parts of Lily and Marilyn Munster; instead they hired the singers from a group called the Go-Gos.
No, not those Go-Go’s. This was 1964; Belinda Carlisle was only six, and likely too young to stay up and even watch The Munsters, let alone sing on an album. The Go-Gos who sing on The Munsters’ sole Decca LP included Roger Yorke, Jim Infield and Bill Wild.
It might be fun to take a quick trip down Memory Lane with those guys, chatting about their experience working in the studio with legends like Russell and Campbell, and being regaled with stories about the handful of live gigs they did—in rubber masks, so the story goes—to promote The Munsters’ release.
Alas, that’s not happening. In the course of my research for the album (I wrote the liner notes for Real Gone Music’s reissue of The Munsters), I reached out to Yorke and Infield. To begin with, they were none too easy to track down. And when I did find them, their responses via email were short and direct. As I write in the new liner notes:
“I really don’t do interviews,” Yorke wrote in response to this writer’s query. “I am concerned about maintaining my … anonymity and privacy.” He deferred instead to his former band mate Jim Infield, who, in response, had only this to say: “Thanks very much for your interest in our recordings of 54 years ago. There is really no additional info to add which has not already been post[ed].”
The info I was able to dig up without their assistance is included in the CD and LP packages.
One assumes neither man made a fortune from his quick session for Decca, though today Yorke remains active on, let’s say, some level in the music business (he prefers I not elaborate, and I will honor his wishes). Most all of the other personnel involved in the making of The Munsters: The Newest Teen-age Singing Group have long since left us. But the music—a curio of its era, and one that is well worth hearing—lives on in both the compact disc format as well as on lovely green vinyl.
UPDATE October 2019: Tony Thaxton’s Bizarre Albums podcast did an episode on this LP, drawing (with my cooperation) from my research and writing. Dig it here: