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A Halloween Treat -- The Elusive Thurl Ravenscroft Single: A 30 Year Search Comes to an End

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THINKSTOCK

GeekToday's story begins with another story, from another time and place: It's 1982, and I'm in the music library of Northwestern University.  A few years earlier, I had been turned on to Casey Kasum's American Top 40, and I quickly found that following the charts tied in nicely with my expanding love of then-current pop music, my passion for playing with numbers (and math in general), and, in the years that followed, my burgeoning adoration and knowledge about the music of the '50s and '60s.

So it was that, when I went to a small community college a few years later, and my studies took me to Northwestern's library (mere blocks away), I quickly discovered that their music library had copies of Billboard Magazine going back to the turn of the century -- not on microfilm, either, but the real thing. I soon began spending copious amounts of my overabundant free time copying the top 40 pop charts out of those Billboards -- by hand, mind you (filling in endless sheets with numbers 1-40, then copying the positions from the previous two weeks in the margins (for use in adding the details later), typically while listening to cassette copies of the contents of my latest reel to reel purchases!) - starting with the year of my birth (1960), and quickly expanding forward. Then, when I wanted to find out more, I began copying the earlier charts, too, going back to the first printed top ten chart, from July 20, 1940. I also developed my own method of determining the biggest hits of the years, and played with the mathematics of the charts for hours on end. (Ah, those were the days -- the binders of handwritten charts and math-play chart numbers still sit on a shelf in my office at home.)

Looking through all those magazines also afforded me the opportunity to look at the reviews, ads and other information about records which were released during all those years. This was wonderful for many reasons. Among many examples: I got to see what Billboard had said, upon reviewing all manner of records that I loved, such as "Mecca" the most peculiar and wonderful 45 ever released by that most peculiar and wonderful of early '60s singers, Gene Pitney. I got to follow the shameful way the trade paper fell in line with the Red Scare of the early 1950s. More to the point for this story, I also got to find out about records I would never have otherwise known about, due to them being mentioned in ads or reviews. This was great in terms of many different artists I was interested in, and I developed a lengthy list of records to look for, in the front of my chart binder, but it turned out to be particularly helpful in terms of one of my other quickly expanding passions of the time -- collecting records by Thurl Ravenscroft.


I've written here multiple times of my Thurl-love, with posts here, here and here. At the time I'm describing, I was still new to collecting Thurl, and I'd only discovered a few of the dozens of one-off 45s he made during the 1950s and early 1960s. Within Billboard, I found mention of about a half-dozen obscure records he had made, and over the next several years, these became among my most fevered "wants" in my collecting sprees.

Two records eluded me for the longest period. One, "Jingle Polka" finally made its way to me about six years ago, in a batch of promo 78s, and it was featured in the first of my Thurl posts here at WFMU. The other, though, intrigued me (and my fellow Thurlphile, Stu, due to the titles on the record. In one reference to the record I found, it was listed as "Dr. Greek". In another, it was listed as "Dr. Geek", with the flip side "I'll Pay As I Go". (I've found, and included a copy of one of those listings, as a jpg, below). For the ensuing decades, we often wondered to each other what on earth these songs could be: Was it "Dr. Greek" or was it "Dr. Geek"? And what the hell could "I'll Pay As I Go" mean.

As I've indicated at length elsewhere , my collecting habit grew, evolved, mutated and became what many would probably view as out of control. But this was one record I never stopped looking for. For 30 years, I looked for in stores, in catalogs, in databases, and later, online in general and on eBay and Gemm in particular. And in all that time, I had yet to even see a copy of the thing, or to hear of the existence of more than one copy.

About that one copy: a few years ago, Brian Jacobs, who runs the tremendous All Things Thurl site, managed to track down someone who had a copy of the record, and was gifted with a truly low-fi MP3 of the A-side, which I finally learned was titled "Dr. Geek (From Tanganyika)", and that it featured the Jeff Alexander Quartet. While this information did not end up helping me in the end, it did give me more to work with, in my searches. And the song itself was more than wonderful -- complete with the second best insane laugh from Thurl that I've ever heard (the best one being here) -- and from start to finish it was as weird and amazing as anything I'd hoped that a record called "Dr. Geek" (or "Dr. Greek", I suppose) could have been, even when heard in crappy quality. I included that low quality MP3 in my last Thurl update, a few years ago.

Wonder of Wonders! The record showed up in an auction earlier this month. For the first time, I saw a scan of its label, and heard part of "I'll Pay As I Go", which did not disappoint, even while paling in comparison to its flip side.

I am absolutely not the type to go over-the-top to get a record, tape or other recorded item. My finances wouldn't allow it, even if I wanted to be that type. But this was the exception: I was going to have this record. And I'm fairly certain that I paid the most for it that I have ever paid for a record. But now I have it -- I held it for the first time three days ago, and after listening to it for myself, my next goal was to share this record, and the story behind it, with anyone who reads this blog. And so, without further ado, I present to you: Thurl Ravenscroft with the Jeff Alexander Quartet, and a record I craved for 30 years: "Dr. Geek (From Tanganyika)" b/w "I'll Pay As I Go":

Thurl Ravenscroft -- Dr. Geek (From Tanganyika) (MP3)  | Thurl Ravenscroft -- I'll Pay As I Go (MP3)

"Dr. Geek" Label (JPG)  |  "I'll Pay" Label (JPG)  |  Billboard Review (JPG)