One of the biggest COVID-Casualties in the music biz has been the cancellation of Record Store Day. The annual event celebrates independent stores and their music head/crate digger customers. They descend upon real brick-and-mortar buildings to snap up what are now hundreds of exclusive and limited edition RSD releases each year for acts ranging from ‘40s country warblers to ‘70s classic rock titans to today’s cutting-edge hip hop artists.
To pivot, labels have scheduled three RSD “drop dates,” with the first coming on August 29. That’s when consumers will be able to snatch up the 2LP/26-track set The Land of Sensations & Delights: The Psych Pop Sounds of White Whale Records, 1965-1970 (Craft Recordings).
Longtime reissue producer, author, and DJ of the ‘60s-based weekly radio show “Come To the Sunshine, Andrew Sandoval served as the Compilation Producer and wrote the liner notes. And he’s unearthed some super rare treasures in the process.
“Some of these records weren’t even regional hits, and White Whale was a fairly obscure label. Today, a lot of labels don’t even want to do something like this [physical product]. They’ll just say ‘Create a playlist on Spotify.’ Which in turn has actually created some bootleg compilations!” Sandoval says. “But here, the artists and the producers who made the records will actually make something from it. There’s a legitimacy to it.”
With a name inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick novel, the Los Angeles-based White Whale was founded in 1965 by experienced record promo men Ted Feigin and Lee Lasseff. From the start, there was an emphasis on releasing singles rather than albums, with about 150 (or a total of 300 songs including B-sides) making it out during the label’s existence (as opposed to under 30 LPs).
For the RSD 2LP set, Sandoval was able to sequence each side to a particular genre: Garage, Pop, Psychedelic, and Singer/Songwriter. And a glance at the artists’ names show they were definitely of the era: Professor Morrison’s Lollipop. The Answer. The Odyssey. The Everpresent Fullness. Mournin’ Do. Rainy Daze. Bazooka. The Laughing Gravy (a side project of Dean Torrance from Jan & Dean).
White Whale is best remembered as the home for its flagship and by far most commercially successful act, the Turtles (“Happy Together,” “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” “Eleanore,” “She’d Rather Be with Me,” “You Baby,” “You Showed Me”). The prolific group of performing reptiles issued 26 band and member-related singles, 22 of which made national charts in some form. But the cash flow generated by their marquee group was not enough to keep the whole label and its roster afloat, and White Whale folded in 1971.
After a protracted legal battle, Turtles singers/co-founders Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman won the rights to their master recordings, and the rest of White Whale’s output is now owned by Craft Recordings. The actual music on The Land of Sensations & Delights comes from a combination of master tapes and rare 45s collected and preserved by Sandoval, sometimes put together in a “Frankenstein” editing format to get the best possible version.
In some cases, the tracks here are not only an act’s only White Whale A-sides…they’re the only output ever. Sandoval says that the label would also print up some in-house copies just to gauge interest from DJs. And if there wasn’t…the record was never even pressed and shipped for purchase.
Two Texas acts appear here. The Clique’s “Superman” is best known today for the 1986 cover by R.E.M. Sandoval writes that the “sure-fire smash” didn’t catch fire, but the band’s follow up, “Sugar on Sunday,” was the label’s only non-Turtles Top 20 hit. “You can hear a lot of potential in ‘Superman,’ and R.E.M. was smart to pick up on it, but it didn’t really hit. Even though you could play it over and over again,” Sandoval says.
Fellow Lone Star Staters in the Brotherhood are represented with their cover of Randy Newman’s “Love Story,” a regional hit in southern California. Impossible to imagine today, there was a time when local DJs actually picked and played their own music.
“A local band could get a record played on local radio. But breaking out of that was a whole other thing, getting attention in a faraway land. A Texas band could get played a lot in Tulsa or Iowa,” Sandoval says.
Stations might even give a record an extra “boost” if the label gave them an exclusive on it over their airwave competition. And they would also publish and distribute their own charts called “radio surveys.” Where a tune could be #1 for them, but not even rank in the Top 100 nationally in Billboard or Cash Box.
Trivia buffs also know that White Whale was home to folkish duo Lyme & Cybelle. “Lyme” being a young Warren Zevon, before he left and was replaced (sort of like Darrin in Bewitched) by Wayne Erwin, with Violet Santangelo as “Cybelle.” White Whale also recorded the Rockets, which would morph into longtime Neil Young collaborators Crazy Horse.
And while it seems that he spends his life looking back, Andrew Sandoval is also looking very much forward to his next projects. He just produced The Monkees Live – The Mike & Micky Show, and is working on archival releases and box sets from the Kinks, the Move, and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Finally, it was announced just this week he will produce an album of Micky Dolenz singing the songs of his Monkee bandmate (and Houston native!) Mike Nesmith.
“Nothing is too esoteric for me if it sounds good!” Sandoval sums up. “And I do feel like a bit of a detective, especially with music from 1963-1970. And the radio show drives me to always look for more. But with COVID, I can’t be doing that a lot. Or spending as much money online!”
For information on where to get the Record Store Day vinyl release of The Land of Sensations & Other Delights, visit RecordStoreDay.com. It is also available in CD and digital formats.