Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Newscaster taped patriotic hit

Grand Rapids newscaster Victor Lundberg
registered a Top Ten hit with his recording of
"An Open Letter to My Teenage Son" in 1967.


Radio personality Victor Lundberg had a meteoric ride when his "An Open Letter to My Teenage Son" became an unexpected hit in 1967.

A newscaster on popular Top 40 radio station WMAX 1480 AM in Grand Rapids, Lundberg made his living with his commanding baritone voice.

His spoken word single rocketed into the Top Ten before it vanished almost overnight.

The recording earned Lundberg a Grammy Award nomination, an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show and a contract with Liberty Records for a long-playing album.

Born in Grand Rapids, Lundberg recorded and released "An Open Letter" in September, 1967 just after he turned 44 years old.

A strong seller in Michigan, the 45 rpm single backed with "My Buddy Carl" debuted on the Billboard chart on Nov. 11, 1967, Armistice Day.

Both sides were written by Robert R. Thompson and published by ASA Music.

In the face of growing opposition to the Vietnam War, the record elicited a strong reaction from radio audiences when Lundberg stated he would disown his son if the teen refused the draft.

"If you decide to burn your draft card, then burn your birth certificate at the same time. From that moment on, I have no son," Lundberg recited over an orchestral backing of "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Released as Liberty 55996, the single sold 250,000 copies in two days, according to a full-page advertisement the record company placed in Billboard Magazine.

Some radio stations may have been reluctant to play the record, not because of its content, but because at 4:24, it was twice as long as many of the singles at the time.

"Overwhelming airplay and sales of Victor Lundberg's dramatic record reflects the concern of a nation in conflict and expresses every American's right to reply," the print advertisement stated.

Quick to recognize a new talent, Ed Sullivan had Lundberg on his nationally-televised Sunday evening program on Nov. 12, 1967.

Lundberg was listed as a monologist on the program which was broadcast from CBS Studio 50 in New York City.

Also appearing on the show was Los Angles-based rock band the Turtles who performed their latest hit "She's My Girl" which debuted on Billboard the same week as Lundberg's single.

Lundberg's disc even generated a response in the form of "A Letter to Dad," by Every Father's Teenage Son on Buddah Records. The single charted for four weeks, reaching as high as No. 93.

Recited by Bill Dean, Billboard called the rebuttal a "well thought out answer."

Other responses came from Robert Tamlin with "A Teenager's Open Letter to His Father" and "A Teenager's Answer" by Keith Gordon.

By Dec. 2, the music trade magazine listed Lundberg's "An Open Letter" in the No. 10 slot.

With a hit single in the marketplace, Liberty was quick to up the ante with a full-length album.

Titled "An Open Letter," the disc's ten tracks comprised "Dear Neighbor," "On Censorship," "Frogs and Freedom," "To The Flower Power," "An Open Letter to My Teenage Son," "Dear Parents," "A Man's Hands," "In the Slime of Vietnam," "My Buddy Carl" (the single's B side) and "To The Destroyers."

Billboard included the album in its "Chart Spotlight" column on Dec. 30. "Victor Lundberg created quite a stir in the pop market with 'An Open Letter to My Teenage Son,' and this album, which includes that controversial yet successful single, will go far, too. The other cuts, centering on Vietnam, censorship, freedom and the 'flower children' are in the same vein and the appropriate music backing serves to heighten his opinions," the magazine noted.

When the "An Open Letter" LP was released, between albums by Julie London and Vikki Carr, it was one of Liberty's first long-players to be issued in stereo only.

Despite Liberty's promotional efforts and Billboard's endorsement. Lundberg's LP did not chart.

Falling from the Top Ten to No. 22 on Dec. 16, the record disappeared the following week. Reaching the Top Ten while spending just four weeks in the Top 40, "An Open Letter" holds a record for shortest time on the chart.

Still, Lundberg's single was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Spoken Word category for records released in 1967.

It's not known if Lundberg attended the 10th annual Grammy Awards ceremony held on Feb. 29, 1968 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.

Lundberg may have been hoping to win, but the Grammy went to U. S. Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen for his recording of "Gallant Men."

At the time, the 71-year-old Dirksen was the oldest person to make the Hot 100 chart, when "Gallant Men" reached the No. 29 position.

Although Lundberg didn't win a Grammy, his success with "An Open Letter to My Teenage Son" prompted a flood of letter-themed records including "An Open Letter to the Older Generation" narrated by Dick Clark. Clark was famous for hosting TV's American Bandstand and became known as the perennial teenager.

"An Open Letter" is said to have sold a million copies, but Liberty Records-- successful with records by Gary Lewis & the Playboys and the Ventures-- did not issue a follow-up single. "An Open Letter" became a one-hit wonder.

After it fell from the charts after just six weeks, Lundberg's hit single was almost never heard on radio, even when "oldies" became a popular format.

Several lines of Lundberg's dialogue were used to open the song "All My Best Friends are Metalheads" by the band Less Than Jake which appeared in "Digimon: The Movie" released in 2000.

With his conservative views, some claim Lundberg was a spokesman for the Libertarian Party, although that group wasn't formed until 1972, years after "An Open Letter" had been forgotten by most people.

Did Lundberg have a teenage son in real life? A daughter named Terri Lundberg confirms that her father had three sons and two daughters.

"He was estranged from all of his children and never provided financial or emotional support to any of them," she is quoted as saying.

"He died a drunken man on state aid in Michigan alone in a run down apartment."

"The man behind the image was an empty soul devoid of love and caring," she added. "From those who knew him he is paid no honor."

Victor Lundberg, 66, died on Feb. 14, 1990, Valentine's Day.

1 comment:

RoHS said...

Nice music, thank you.