While Granny is Rockin', Grandpa's Gawkin'
By Randy McNutt
Once, there were no “oldies,” except grandma and grandpa. Then in the late 1950s came a demand for records from the beginning of rock ’n’ roll. Oddly enough, the early days had happened only five or six years earlier. No matter. The need was there.
The original term oldies meant something specific: doo-wop singles. Soon the demand for oldie LPs increased, too. As Music Business magazine put it in 1964: “The evolution of the term oldie in recent years is comparable to what has happened to such originally specific terms as folk and hootenanny. They tended to take on a broader meaning than originally and as this pattern developed the trend itself became diluted and less clear-cut.”
In New York, Irving “Slim” Rose opened what is considered one of the first oldies-only record shops in the nation, Times Square Records. Rose referred to oldies as those made from 1953 to 1959. His customers were mainly in their teens to early twenties. Rose sold original 45- and 78-rpm discs. Soon he started releasing original doo-wop masters on his own label. Some DJs started playing them on oldies radio programs. Noticing this trend, the original record labels started re-releasing some of their old hits.
In the late ’60s, the oldies market picked up considerably, blossoming in the era of hipness, hippies, and psychedelia. Companies kept up with the times by re-releasing songs from the early ’60s. Meanwhile, the ’50s oldies market remained strong, sparking a modest career comeback for Bill Haley, who by 1968 sounded like a clunking old Chevy without an exhaust.
And so, the oldies market drifted into the future. Old being a relative term, the oldies expanded to include classic hits a decade ago. To meet the demand, an increasing number of the original record labels began publishing catalogs exclusively devoted to their re-issue discs.
By 1971, Sterling, the title-strip maker for jukebox records, counted forty-one record companies with oldies catalogs. From 1970 to 1971, the number of labels offering oldies catalogs doubled, according to Billboard. One beneficiary of the oldie was the jukebox industry. When labels realized the oldie was not a fad, they started forming their own special imprints for oldies. One of them was Starday’s Country Jukebox Oldies. Others included RCA’s Gold Standard and Decca’s Original Performance. Elektra introduced its Spun Gold series in 1971. In that period, the most favorite oldies were by big-name acts in various genres, including Ray Price in country and Creedence Clearwater Revival in rock. Obviously, not all kids were dipping into the past for their fix of music.
These days, oldies are taken for granted as a part of the record business. They are often called re-issue albums. Perhaps the 45 oldie will come back stronger now that younger people have discovered vinyl.
Excerpted from Randy McNutt's Spinning the Groove: An A to Z Adventure to the Lore, Legends, and Lingo of the Old Record Business (HHP Books.)