Here’s the latest treat in Ace’s legendary “GOLDEN AGE OF AMERICAN ROCK’N’ROLL” series – a new Special Edition devoted entirely to records from Billboard’s mystical Bubbling Under chart.
On 1 June 1959, the American record industry’s trade journal Billboard quietly introduced the Bubbling Under chart to its readers as an adjunct to its existing Hot 100 listing of national chart positions.
For the first few months, the new Bubbling Under section was accompanied by the following explanatory paragraph: “These records, while they have not yet developed enough strength throughout the country for inclusion on any national chart anywhere, already have stimulated considerable regional action. Rank position indicates relative potential to warn of an early listing on the Hot 100.”
In September 1959 Cashbox, published an overview of so-called ‘regional breakouts’ - records that were doing well in one particular part of the country while being virtually ignored elsewhere. This was the key to success: for a record to become a bona fide hit, it would have to ‘break’ in several states, more or less simultaneously, then develop a momentum of its own, generating sales and radio play right across the nation.
Records in Billboard’s Bubbling Under chart were in the waiting room; some made the leap forward into the Hot 100 while others fell short for any number of reasons. It may have been insufficient greasing of palms out in radio land, or sheer ineptitude on the part of a tiny label run by an inexperienced owner somewhere out in the sticks. Sometimes, the record itself didn’t quite have what it took to go all the way.
Distribution also played a key role in whether a record fulfilled its potential or fell by the wayside. Small labels often had no alternative but to throw in their lot with rapacious larger concerns to secure national exposure for a record that might otherwise have died. Such deals often made the difference between success and failure, hope and expectation.
Once a record had made it as far as the Bubbling Under chart, it was in the preliminary heats. Emotions would run from excitement to agonised anticipation, played out in little human dramas that we shall probably never know about.
In making our selection, we have observed certain criteria: occasionally, B-sides of major hits crept into the Bubbling Under chart; these have been excluded. We also chose not to include Bubbling Under entries by artists whose biggest hits were behind them such as Eddie Cochran whose UK #1, Three Steps To Heaven, amazingly only reached #108 in the States, though we made exceptions in one or two cases such as Ronnie Hawkins and the Dell Vikings where the lengthy gap between the artist’s last hit and their latest Bubbling Under entry constituted something of a comeback or a change in approach. Conversely, we have included Bubbling Under entries by artists whose greatest successes still lay ahead such as Robert Parker whose All Nite Long ‘bubbled under’ seven years before he scored an international hit with Barefootin’.
Here, then, is the first volume of 30 titles drawn from this panoply of regional variation during the Golden Age of American Rock‘n’Roll – a time when the record business was still small enough to accommodate the whimsicalities of fate and circumstance. It is the sheer unfamiliarity of some of the titles (including several new to CD) as well as the broad variety of styles that makes Bubbling Under such a pleasant diversion from the trail of established hits and one of the best “Golden Ages” yet to listen to. And, as always, the instruction-manual sized booklet contains the background stories behind each record set against a visual backdrop of colourful memorabilia.
By Rob Finnis