And So It Began: Remembering the First Issue

Music Features

From The Crawdaddy! Book
Introduction to First Issue by Paul Williams, reviews by Paul Williams

The first issue of the first American rock music magazine was printed on Sunday, January 30, 1966, in a basement in Brooklyn, New York, on the Qwertyuiop Press mimeograph belonging to and operated by Ted White, a science-fiction fan (and writer and editor). The date on the masthead was February 7, because the 17-year-old founder unreasonably intended it to be a weekly magazine, and he knew that magazines are usually dated according to the day they go off sale (one week after the on-sale date, in the case of a weekly).

I wrote everything in that first issue myself. The cover, typed and executed on Ted White’s typewriter, which had a cool, smaller-than-usual “micro-elite” typeface, featured a quote from a new British group, the Fortunes, talking to a London music paper after returning from their first US tour: “There is no musical paper scene out there like there is in England. The trades are strictly for the business side of the business and the only things left are the fan amazines that do mostly the ‘what colour sock my idol wears’ bit.”

On the inside of the cover was my first editorial, also typed (and written spontaneously) at Ted’s that Sunday night. It was called “Get Off of My Cloud!” after a recent hit by the Rolling Stones.

The other eight pages were record reviews, mostly of 45s I’d obtained by making a pest of myself at various record companies’ midtown New York offices. These were first-drafted in pencil and then typed up on mimeo stencils on David Hartwell’s typewriter. David was another friend I’d met through our mutual interest in science fiction. He was a grad student at Columbia that year. I slept on the floor of the room he was renting, and listened to records on his phonograph, during those four and a half days in New York City.

I’m still embarrassed by the fact that most of the reviews I wrote to fill the pages of those earliest issues of Crawdaddy! were concerned with whether or not this particular 45 would be a “hit.” Although my vision was of a magazine where young people could share with each other the powerful, life-changing experiences we were having listening to new music in the mid-1960s, I was heavily influenced by the trade magazines I was reading at the college radio station, Billboard and Cashbox; and since I didn’t have a way to get my new magazine into the hands of thousands of young music lovers immediately, my short-term focus was to get the attention of the radio station and record company people to whom I planned to mail complimentary copies of the first issue. And in truth I really was interested in whether a record would be a “hit” or not and whether that was something I could predict or influence. I had been fascinated by Top 40 artists since I was 10-years-old and impatiently bicycling to the record store every week on the day the local radio station’s new Top 40 handout sheet would be available. (“Where’s ‘Charlie Brown’ by the Coasters this week?”)

We printed 500 copies of that first issue, on light brown mimeographed paper (8 ½ by 11 inches, standard magazine size). I carried the sheets in a cardboard box on the subway back to David’s place, and assembled and stapled them (three staples down the left side). The first copies were mailed from New York (five cents apiece for first-class mail then) on Monday before I hitchhiked back to Swarthmore carrying the rest of the magazines, many of which I soon mailed to music business names from Billboard magazine’s annual directory. The total budget for the first issue, including postage, mimeograph stencils, paper, ink, 15-cent subway fares, peanut butter sandwiches, and the one album I bought and reviewed (Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence), was less than 40 dollars.

The most noteworthy response to the new magazine came later in the week when Paul Simon called me at the freshman dormitory to say that my review was the first “intelligent” thing that had been written about their music. Perhaps he also gently corrected my false idea that Garfunkel was the guitar player of the duo (I’d figured he had to be, since Simon wrote the songs and sang the leads). I was invited to meet them on my next trip to New York. They introduced me to their manager and brought me along to a concert and a radio interview.

Three Short Reviews:

“What Does It Get You?”, Carolyn Hester, Dot 16800
“I’ll Keep It With Mine”, Judy Collins, Elektra 45601

Carolyn Hester and Judy Collins are both popular female folksingers, thought of by some as second-rate Baezes, by others as first-rate Baezes. Fortunately, they are neither. Unlike Baez, both these women have style and empathy. Both of them also have recently released 45s to their credit; one of them even has a potential hit.

Carolyn Hester is easily my favorite of the two as a performer and a folksinger. However, the only thing that will interest anyone in the Top 40 field about “What Does It Get You?” is the fact that it was produced by Normal Petty (all right, so you don’t remember the Buddy Holly days. I remember the Buddy Holly days!). The song is pleasant, nicely sung, and unexciting. It is not successfully pop-oriented, it is not catchy, it is not very good.

Judy Collins, on the other hand, has made a recording which is damn good and should, with exposure, be a Top 10 hit. The arrangement is excellent, the singing is intense and surprisingly well recorded, and the accompaniment is a good pop sound. The song is by Bob Dylan; the words are nice but ambiguous and the song ends very inconclusively, as though Dylan really didn’t have anything to say, just a nice tune to play around with. But it’s a fine song; it may not be much to dance to, but just try to get it out of your head once you’ve heard it.

Of course, the music business geniuses will probably look at the charts, note how poorly Dylan’s own single is doing, and announce: “Don’t play it, the Dylan trend is over, instrumentals based on TV commercials are the new trend.” I’ve never seen a group of prophets so utterly unable to see the trees for the forest.

“Set You Free This Time” & “It Won’t Be Wrong”, the Byrds, Columbia 43501

The Byrds’ latest single is a double-sided hit (they get a lot out of a piece of plastic), each side by a different member of the group. Though it catches on slower, “Set You Free This Time” (by Gene Clark) is definitely the bigger and better side. It’s a lovely, moving song with Dylan-like twenty-syllable lines chockfull of well-chosen words. The arrangement is in the usual Byrds style, rhythm & bass backup, melody carried mainly by the vocalist while the lead instrument or instruments work harmonic variations on the tune. The singer is deliberate and effective; he occasionally under-emotes, but since the group does not rely completely on the vocal to convey feeling, no harm is done. The harmonica at the end is beautiful.

The flip, “It Won’t Be Wrong” (by Jim McGuinn), is louder and more catchy, though not as memorable. It’s a good r’n’r sound, and moving in its plaintiveness (“Please let me love you and it won’t be wrong”). Both sides show clearly that the Byrds are nothing if not original. This won’t match “Turn! Turn! Turn!”’s three weeks at #1 (one for each “Turn!”), but it should be a good solid Top 20 hit.

“Mellow Down Easy”, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Elektra 45016
“Back Door Man”, the Blues Project, Verve-Folkways 5004

The happening at clubs in New York and LA for the past year has been the coming of the electric blues bands. With groups like Paul Butterfield and the Lovin’ Spoonful leading the way, a field that was empty a year ago actually became crowded. Sooner or later this sound is sure to spill over into the charts. Let’s take a look at two of the 45s that might start the action.

“Mellow Down Easy” and it’s flip, “God My Mojo Working”, are both cuts from Butterfield’s first LP, which has been selling excellently. Unfortunately, those stations that have picked up the single so far have been playing “Mojo”, sung by drummer Sam Lay, which is a fine number but too familiar to make any kind of pop splash. “Mellow Down Easy”, however, has some potential. It’s a great song; Butterfield’s singing and harmonica are fantastic here, as is Mike Bloomfield’s electric guitar. But I like the song too much to be able to say for sure whether someone brought up entirely on rock ‘n’ roll would be turned on by it if he heard it on the radio. It is a danceable, driving number; Butterfield definitely has the best sound of all the white blues groups, including the Stones. Sooner or later, this band is sure to record a #1 hit song. I don’t think this is it, however.

“Back Door Man” is much more likely to be a big seller, if it gets airplay. The words are bluesy, but not so far out of sight that the average listener doesn’t know what’s going on. The beat is straightforward and effective. The band is terrific; it is almost a prerequisite for blues bands to have more talented and imaginative players than straight r’n’r bands. And to top it off, this song has a hook, a really fine one. The band breaks at the start of the last line of the chorus, emphasizing a particularly exciting vocal. You’ve got to hear it to know what I’m talking about; the point is, I think this song could be huge if it gets airplay.

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