Monday, October 31, 2016
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO DORA HALL! (aka WHAT EXACTLY IS BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR?)
Happy 116th birthday to Dora Hall, the queen of vanity records! Long time listeners know that we're big fans of Dora and her hard bought career. She had aspirations to become a pop star, and doggone it, her husband supported that dream. He used his fortune that he built from creating the Solo Cup Company to invest in a recording and television career for Dora. She issued countless albums and singles, and even filmed a few television specials. All of these things were available to order exclusively through ads on Solo Cup packaging.
She has become notorious for having more money than talent backing up her career, but the truth is that Dora has a diverse and fascinating catalog of music. What she may lack in vocal chops is more than made up for with her enthusiasm and total commitment. Those factors ultimately make her music very entertaining.
One of the things that's so much fun about being a Dora Hall fan is the entire process of discovery. She put out albums several times with different titles and jackets, and issued them on a number of different labels that existed only to put out her music. The same goes for her singles, which will find songs paired up with different A and B sides on different labels.
Recently, we made a completely unexpected discovery via our obsession with Dora's version of The Green Door. For reasons unknown, Dora issued no less than THREE different recordings of the song across two albums and two known single releases. I say 'two known' because discographies seem to vary, depending on where you go. One site has something that another doesn't, etc.
The first version of Green Door that caught our ear was the one found on the Premore Records release of Dora's One More Time LP (Premore PL-9204). Her vocals are sassy and she throws in these charming laughs throughout the performance. This recording also features a scorching guitar solo that lights things up. Something about this recording really illuminates the believe that she was backed by members of The Wrecking Crew for some of her sessions. From the moment the funky bass locks in with the drums, we're entering the realm of impressive session players, and that guitar solo is the icing on the cake. Not only is this a superior take on The Green Door by Dora, but it's a performance that stands out in her much maligned catalog.
When we initially discovered this version of The Green Door we hadn't quite gone pro with our Dora Hall fandom, so we didn't take note of what the source was for this version. If you were to do searches online you could find records of the album release, but no track listings, so the only things that would pop up were a couple of different singles featuring her take on the song. As a result, we thought we had misplaced our single of it (since we hadn't been taking note of what we had accumulated) and acted to replace it.
In walks a single from Reinbeau Records (1902). We had a day on the radio show where we were playing all vinyl, so at some point we anxiously dropped the needle on the single. It was at this point we confusedly realized that the single take differed from the one we fell in love with. The same funky backing track is there, but Dora's vocals are completely different. This performance is much more croony, and the laughs she threw in on the other version were completely missing. Even more notably absent is the guitar solo. The area where we heard it before was left entirely to the backing track.
I wouldn't say we were disappointed, but more confused. We never expected there to be variations of the same song in her catalog. At this point we were left wondering just HOW MANY variations there were. Knowing that she put out different cover variations of her records, not to mention the appearance of songs across several different singles, opened the door to the possibility that this could be a regular thing. At this point it became our mission to figure out just how many different ways this song had been done.
The next single we came across was issued on Calamo Records (1902). One thing that seems to be consistent is that singles for certain songs carry the same catalog number across different releases. The same applies to the LP releases. Interestingly, it doesn't seem to matter that the b-sides are different. The twist is that in some cases each song appears to have its own catalog number. On the Reinbeau release, The Green Door has #1902, while its b-side, She's Coming Back, has #401. The Calamo version also carries #1902, but the b-side of Here Comes The Heartache is #PE -616. So, on top of the endless variations of albums and singles, we have differing catalog numbers on the same release. Indexing is a nightmare.
But I digress. The Calamo Records single holds yet another take on The Green Door! Again, it shares the same backing track, and it's missing the guitar solo, but it has a third unique vocal take. On this one Dora is really working the song. She brings a swagger to her vocals that isn't present on the other two versions. At some points she does some things stylistically that bring Elvis to mind, but overall she's really leaning into this song.
This just built the mystery up. Each version seems to going for a different feel vocally, and there must have been some reason for wanting to put out different versions of the same song. Were they recorded at different points in her career? Did she just want to keep revisiting the track because it was a particular favorite of hers?
This brings us to the Cozy Records release of her One More Time LP (PL-9204). While it's the same album in name, this release has a different cover. The back also features different photos and copy regarding Dora. The label has a variant in that it has two different colored stars on it, versus the Premore release that has two same colored stars. Even more interestingly, they have the same track listing and versions of tracks, except for one song. The Green Door on this version of the LP features a different vocal take! This version also appears on the Calamo Records single. BUT WHY????
It would have been the easiest thing in the world to press up more copies of the same record and just swap out the jackets, but they decided not to go that route. What was it about this version that made it necessary to swap it out? It gets fuzzy with chronology here, because none of Dora Hall's records have any dates on them, so it's unclear which versions came first. There are dates on Discogs, but it's unclear how these dates were determined. Did Dora put out the Calamo Records single and the Cozy version of the LP first and then determine that the Premore version was superior? Was it the other way around? Did she consider the Cozy and Premore takes the definitive version, and that's why it was released twice?
This opened a real can of worms about Dora's entire catalog. Ultimately, we want to do a complete evaluation of all the variations in her body of work and compile them on a website. Sadly, time is something we need and it seems too scarce to focus on this project on a regular basis. Ideally, this kind of post will become a regular thing, and you'll be able to find them at www.hallofdora.com. Someday we'll be able to give Dora the academic treatment she deserves!
Anyway, happy 116th birthday, Dora! Thanks for the mystery.