• Date: Thursday, April 24, 1958
  • Location: Pythian Temple (Decca Studio), West 80th Street,
    New York City
  • Songs recorded: Early in the Morning (Darin/Woody Harris), Mighty
    Mighty Man (Darin), You're Mine (Darin), Now We're One (Darin). (In that order.)
  • Producer / arranger: Dick Jacobs
  • Engineer: Unknown
  • Personnel: Bobby Darin, vocals; George Barnes, guitar; Al Chernet, guitar; Sanford Bloch, string bass; Sam "The Man" Taylor, alto saxophone; Ernie Hayes, piano; Panama Francis, drums; Phil Krause, drums; The Helen Way Singers (Helen Way, Harriet Young, Maeretha Stewart, Theresa Merritt), background vocals.

Two weeks ago I told the story of the "Splish Splash" session on April 10.

The three songs that were recorded then ("Splish Splash," "Judy Don't Be Moody" and "Queen of the Hop") had not yet been released on April 24, and I doubt if Bobby knew then if they would be released at all and if so, when.

His one-year contract with Atco Records had become effective on May 1, 1957, so there was still one week to go. Atco boss Herb Abramson had declined to produce "Splish Splash" and intended to drop Bobby from the label. Fearing that his contract would not be renewed, Bobby wanted to have "something in the can for future release" (as Ken Emerson puts it in his liner notes for the "Splish Splash" Best Of CD) and went back to his old record company, Decca, while he was still under contract to Atco.

"Something in the can." How should we see this? Possibility 1: the Decca people promised Bobby that they would take him back if Atco dropped him and release his record legally. Not very likely, given the fact that Decca had laid him off just a year ago and that Bobby had not made much commercial progress since then. Possibility 2: Bobby wanted four finished masters that he could sell to any record company that would be interested. This would mean that he had to pay for the session himself. According to Al DiOrio, Bobby's musical income after taxes in 1957 was just a little over $1,700. Hiring the Pythian Temple for three hours plus some of NYC's finest session men, not forgetting Dick Jacobs's fee, would cost at least $800 in 1958. Virtually out of the question. A third option - but one that seems hardly attractive from Bobby's point of view - would be that Decca saw this as a one-off and intended to release the record(s) under a pseudonym, regardless of the contract renewal at Atco. This is more or less what happened, but what were they thinking at Decca? That a voice as distinctive as Bobby's would not be recognized? And why was it impossible for Bobby to wait another six days? It's clear that he was impatient and frustrated by his slow start in the music business, but what difference could one week make? The mysteries remain.

Meanwhile at Atco, Ahmet Ertegun, unaware of the events of April 24, exerted his power as President of Atlantic/Atco. Ertegun writes in his coffee table book What'd I Say, "After Bobby's first releases for us weren't successful, Herb [Abramson] came to me and said he was going to release Bobby from his contract. But I was convinced he had great potential, and I insisted that we keep him on the label" (page 112). Ertegun's interference with Herb's Atco label must have greatly contributed to Abramson's decision to leave the company. Soon he asked Ertegun and Jerry Wexler to buy him out, which they did, with the help of Ahmet's brother, Nesuhi Ertegun.

Undeterred by the fact that Bobby was kept on at Atco, Decca issued "Early
in the Morning" anyway, on its Brunswick subsidiary, on May 27, eight days after the release of "Splish Splash." Credit went to "The Ding Dongs." It didn't take long for the record to get airplay and to be heard by someone at Atlantic. The lead singer of the non-existing Ding Dongs sounded suspiciously like Bobby Darin, and Ertegun called Bobby in his office at the first opportunity.
Bobby had no choice but to confess that he had gone behind Ertegun's back and done a moonlighting session for Decca. Ahmet was very upset, but forgave Bobby. Atlantic wasted no time in reclaiming the master tapes from Decca. Apparently the mere threat of legal action sufficed. In his Atlantic discography, Michel Ruppli enters the four songs (marked as "purchased from Decca") under the date June 17, 1958. This cannot possibly be the recording date, as the same Ruppli gives April 24 as the date of recording in his multi-volume Decca discography. June 17 is probably the date that Atlantic received the masters from Decca and assigned Atlantic master numbers (4006-4009) to them. The Brunswick single was withdrawn and Decca would rush Buddy Holly into the studio to cover both "Early in the Morning," and "Now We're One" on June 19. Considering the fact that the same studio, the same producer, the same arrangement and exactly the same musicians were used, it's a
miracle that there's still quite a bit of difference between the two versions. Though the Holly cover was rush-released and hit the market even before Atco reissued Bobby's original, the Darin version was the one that first entered the charts and peaked at a higher position in Billboard (# 24, versus # 32 for Holly).

And what about the music? Ahmet Ertegun chose to (re)release all four songs on two Atco singles, so he must have been pleased with the results, even though he had not produced them himself. The gospel styled "Early in the Morning" is a direct clone of Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman" (in its turn based on an old gospel song), but works well. "Now We're One" is a pleasant lively tune, with which I like to sing along. The exuberant "Mighty Mighty Man" would have been a perfect rocker if it hadn't been for the obtrusive female chorus. At least during Sam Taylor's sax break the girls should have been given a moment of leisure. In fact, Helen Way and her three female companions have a high irritation factor on all four tracks, least so on "Early in the Morning." "You're Mine" is easily the weakest track of the foursome. Reminiscent of Sam Cooke's "You Send Me," it is one of Darin's least inspired compositions.

The following chronology makes it easy to refute allegations like "If 'Splish
Splash' hadn't been a hit, Atco would have dropped him," or "Decca issued 'Early in the Morning' after 'Splish Splash' became a smash hit."

Chronology (all dates in 1958):

  • April 10 : Bobby records "Splish Splash," "Judy Don't Be Moody" and
    "Queen of the Hop," produced by Ahmet Ertegun.
  • April 24 : While still contracted to Atco, Bobby records four tracks
    for Decca.
  • May 1 : Expiration date of Bobby's one-year contract with Atco. Herb Abramson (head of Atco) wants to drop him from the label, but is overruled by Ahmet Ertegun.
  • May 19 : Release date of "Splish Splash"/"Judy Don't Be Moody."
  • May 27 : Release date of "Early in the Morning"/"Now We're One" on
    Brunswick 55073, credited to "The Ding Dongs."
  • June 17 : Atlantic acquires the master tapes of the four songs from
    the Decca session, after threatening legal action. The Brunswick single is withdrawn.
  • June 19 : Decca rushes Buddy Holly into its New York studio (Pythian
    Temple) to cover both "Early in the Morning" and "Now We're One" to meet its outstanding orders for the songs.
  • June 23 : "Splish Splash" enters the Billboard Top 100 (at # 51).
  • July 5 : Release date of Buddy Holly's "Early in the Morning"/"Now We're One" on Coral 62006.
  • Mid-July: Atco rereleases Bobby's version on Atco 6121, crediting it to Bobby Darin and the Rinky Dinks. Again, the B-side is "Now We're One."
  • July 28 : Bobby's version enters the Billboard Top 100 (at # 83).
  • August 4 : Buddy's version enters what is now the Billboard Hot 100
    (first installment under that name), at # 41.
  • September : Atco issues "Mighty Mighty Man"/"You're Mine" on Atco 6128. Credit goes again to Bobby Darin and the Rinky Dinks.

Acknowledgements: My sincere thanks go out to Marilyn and Mary Ann
Brown
, who (after much perseverence!) managed to locate the recording date and studio personnel for this session in Michel Ruppli's Decca discography. They also saved my earlier post of March 2002 and forwarded it to me.

-- Dik de Heer

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