Gene Autry

Western Adventures and Others

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Davy Crockett mania swept the nation in 1955, sparked by Walt Disney's trio of television movies starring Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen. It was a pop culture phenomenon and merchandising explosion the likes of which had never been seen before; in monetary terms, it reportedly outstripped the Star Wars craze. The sudden salability of a historical character in the public domain was a bonanza for toy, apparel, and novelty manufacturers, and it wasn't long before an incredible number of products bore Crockett's name and image. The television series' theme song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," which functioned as a narrative device to tie together scenes in the show, became a hot commodity, too -- Bill Hayes, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Mac Wiseman, and the Norman Luboff Choir all hit the charts with their interpretations. Parker and Ebsen did a little bit of singing in the series, and Columbia Records awarded them a contract to record a number of tie-in records in 1955, including Parker's own Top Five rendition of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" (which, incidentally, is not the version heard in the movies -- that credit goes to the Mellomen). Columbia advertised a full-length album, Walt Disney's Davy Crockett, as a soundtrack album, but it actually contained radio drama-style re-creations of segments from the television shows with a couple of brief songs thrown in. The Parker/Ebsen singles contained appealing folk and folk-like songs such as "I Gave My Love (Riddle Song)" and "I'm Lonely My Darlin' (Green Grow the Lilacs)," as well as kid-oriented songs that related to the show. In the latter category were "Old Betsy," a song about Davy Crockett's rifle, and "Be Sure You're Right (Then Go Ahead)," a Parker/Ebsen composition that references scenes from the show. The DRG compilation Western Adventures (as it may or may not be titled -- the front cover, back cover, and spine all bear different titles) reissues the aforementioned album and singles, and throws in Gene Autry's complete 1955 album Western Adventures as a bonus. The latter is a children's story album, similar to Walt Disney's Davy Crockett, that is very much like listening to the audio from an episode of The Gene Autry Show. The upside for collectors is that all of these rare and valuable recordings are now available together for the first time on one low-priced compact disc. Most listeners probably will not want to hear the long spoken word pieces more than once, which leaves the eight Fess Parker songs as the main attraction. The music may not be extraordinary, but the nostalgia value is immense for those who remember the days when practically every child in America wore a coonskin cap.

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