Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hip-Pocket discs failed to ignite

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Hip-Pocket records and player

By STEVE SEYMOUR

While compact discs have been the industry standard for decades, many people recall an earlier era when tapes and records dominated the marketplace. Few, however, realize there was a brief time in the late 1960s when a format smaller than the CD vied for the music fan's attention.

Smaller than the circular label on a long playing 33 rpm record album and paper thin, Hip-Pocket Records were introduced by Philco, the electronics division of the Ford Motor Co. in 1967. The new configuration was launched with songs by Tommy James and the Shondells, mega-hit makers at the time.

James, who grew-up in Niles, Mich., had a knack for turning out smash singles such as "Mirage," "I Think We're Alone Now," and "Hanky Panky." Roulette Records leased those recordings along with "Getting Together" as the first pair of releases on the new format.

The product itself, sometimes referred to as a flexi-disc, was packaged in a 5 x 6.25 inch envelope featuring a color photograph of the artist, similar in concept to the picture sleeves designed to display 45 rpm records. However, the customer had to tear open the paper packaging to retrieve the disc. This wasn't seen as a problem since the product's main selling point was that it was disposable.

The discs, which featured one song on each side, played at 45 rpm, just like conventional seven-inch vinyl discs, but would only work on single play phonographs. In other words, the discs could be utilized on any player which didn't automatically return the tone arm. Several companies manufactured a portable battery-powered record player especially for Hip Pocket Records.

Hip Pocket discs retailed for 69 cents each and were available at F. W. Woolworth Co. and Ford dealerships.

Over the years, I've collected 19 of the 41 discs which were released on the label over a two year period. Among my favorites are Mitch Ryder, The Happenings, Five Americans, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, The Buckinghams, Jay and the Techniques, John Fred and His Playboy Band, Box Tops, Country Joe and the Fish and the Isley Brothers.

At first, Philco leased songs from Mercury, Atlantic and Roulette, adding smaller labels in 1968.

Everything released on the label was by a proven heavy "hitter" so to speak, except No. 23 in the series. This disc featured "Room at the Top" and "Most Children Do" by a group called The Fallen Angels. Several different groups have gone by that name over the years. This quintet hailed from the Washington, D. C. area and were contracted to Roulette Records, the label behind Tommy James.

But, The Fallen Angels were a far-out psychedelic outfit and would not conform to Roulette's hit-making process. After two albums for the label, and no hit singles, the group was dropped. They disbanded in 1969. Their Hip Pocket release, complete with paisley background, remains a testament to their counterculture steadfastness.

Philco even had a competitor in the marketplace. Americom Corp. introduced "Pocket-Discs" which retailed for just 50 cents each, but came in generic sleeves. Americom had something even bigger to offer the music fan, The Beatles. The Capitol/ Apple label released "Ballad of John & Yoko," "Get Back," "Hey Jude" and "Yellow Submarine" as well as John Lennon's "Give Peace as Chance" in the new format.

Americom envisioned a vending machine to dispense the discs, eliminating the possibility of theft. In addition, the company also issued titles by the Beach Boys, Deep Purple, Steppenwolf and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Philco countered by giving away a random selection of five discs with the purchase of their mini radio phono. They even dropped the retail price of their entire catalog to 39 cents each.

Advertising on the back of some of the packages reminded customers that 25 to 50 records could be carried in "pocket or purse" and urged people to mail them with greeting cards as gifts. They were promoted as "almost indestructible" and "are the most portable form of music."

But the record-buying public wasn't interested, and the flexi-disc experiment came to an abrupt halt.

While today considered merely a fad, Hip-Pocket Records and Pocket-Discs can still be found at antique stores, record conventions and on EBay. Discs having to do with the Beatles usually draw the highest prices, often into the hundreds of dollars.

Compiling a complete collection of Hip-Pocket Records can be challenging, although most titles can be found for a modest price.

You might want to bid on that disc by The Fallen Angels and show them they were right not selling out to record company manipulation just to get a hit.

4 comments:

jaytingle said...

I bought the Otis Redding disk when I was 8, drawn by the novelty. I think I was able to get it to play once.

HitRecordsofNashville said...

I am attempting to locate the Hip Pocket release, Harper Valley PTA. If you have a copy please visit my site:
www.hitrecordsofnashville.com
Thanks!
Paul

Anonymous said...

I just bought a Philco/Ford mini in it's original box with selection of four discs at a flea market today. Way cool.
Haven't been able to get the turntable to spin, though the motor moves and all the electronics/needle are good. Has anyone seen a schematic on-line?

joe said...

HI I was looking in some old boxes in my house ,and came across some RARE Pocket Disc/Flexi Record- 1960's Americom
if anyone is intersing in buying some just email me at
joe4nier@gmail.com
thanks Joe