Before Tamla/Motown, there was Cameo/Parkway. A groundbreaking Philadelphia imprint, the label churned out an astonishing number of huge hits (most written in-house) during its 12-year heyday and turned a gaggle of unknown young locals into stars. Sound familiar?
Although primarily remembered for its myriad dance craze hits, the catalogue actually encompasses the whole of rock’s golden era: instrumentals, novelties, doo wop, girl groups, soul, teen idols, British Invasion, garage bands and bubblegum, etc. Label honchos Bernie Lowe, Kal Mann and Dave Appell spared no expense, releasing singles with beautiful colour picture sleeves and flooding the market with an unprecedented torrent of LPs.
Cameo-Parkway material has been unavailable for decades, and collectors have waited impatiently for many years for the hits to make their digital debut. A label overview in 2005 and a few subsequent hits packages skimmed the surface. Out this month on Ace are 10 full albums on five CDs, along with a compilation of vocal group classics. The floodgates are now open, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Who can fathom why Cameo-Parkway’s flagship star Chubby Checker is so derided by the revisionist historians that make up the rock establishment? ‘It’s Pony Time’ and ‘Let’s Twist Again’, both bestsellers in 1961, kept dance floors hopping with the Hully Gully, the Mess Around, the Mashed Potato and the Stroll. Chubby made life fun in the early 60s, and who, besides the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee, can ask for more?
By Dennis Garvey