Note: I am referring to only 10-inch 78 r.p.m. record discs in this writing.
Beginning with his big hit song “Jezebel,” in 1951, Frankie Laine has had a prolific library of single 78s on the Columbia Records label. Of course, each of these records all display the stylistic and unmistakable red label. I have even seen a few Laine Mercury Records labels in red other than the traditional black. I will now describe another record label featuring Frankie Laine that is also red.
Known by only a few of the more serious Frankie Laine enthusiasts, Frankie Laine’s very first recording was released on the Bel-Tone label on August 15, 1945. This fact alone makes this record a true Laine item of interest. This particular Bel-Tone label was also red. Bel-Tone was an independent record company from Los Angeles, founded in late July of 1945 by Dick Elwell. Strangely, however, this disc only features Frankie Laine and his recording of “In the Wee Small Hours.” The flip side is a song called “You’re a Character, Dear” by vocalist and pianist Wini Beatty. This label on this side of the same disc is white, complete with a dissimilar Bel-Tone label. Not only is this disc Frankie’s first record pressing, but it is also highly unusual to look at. These two particulars have always made this platter a rare, collectible find.
Frankie Laine had once stated that he had recorded two sides for Bel-Tone Records in 1944. However, all research indicates that these recordings were actually made in July of 1945. Nevertheless, these songs are special because they are truly Frankie’s first recordings. “Brother, that’s Liberty” (the title was shortened to “That’s Liberty” before release) and “In the Wee Small Hours” truly mark the beginning of a prominent and prolific recording career. Frankie once told me that the first of these two songs that he had recorded was “That’s Liberty,” officially rendering that song his first recording into a studio microphone.
Just before its release, “That’s Liberty” was schedule to be the A side of the Frankie Laine Bel-Tone 78. “In the Wee Small Hours” would be on the B side. Wini Beatty’s side was to be released on a separate disc with Gene Sargent on the B side. Since Frankie was beginning to amass a following on radio and with his work at Billy Berg’s, someone came up with the idea of placing “In the Wee Small Hours” on one record and “That’s Liberty” on another, thus selling two of the popular Laine records instead of just one. That’s how the story goes pertaining to this peculiar new record release. I know there have been many records produced with different artists featured on each side of the records, but they generally have the same label design on both sides. I believe that this oddity makes this particular disc even more collectible.
No one really knows whether Frankie’s very first studio recording, “That’s Liberty,” was ever released on Bel-Tone. If it ever was, nobody has it, and it has been lost to time. Both Laine sides on the same Bel-tone label do retain a catalog number of S-0255, which is the same number as the single Laine side disc. Is the Bel-Tone record with both “That’s Liberty” and “In the Wee Small Hours” out there? We may never know.
By the time Frankie Laine became famous in early 1947, after “That’s My Desire” became a gold record on the Mercury Records label, Bel-Tone had gone out of business, having filed for bankruptcy in November of 1946.
In 1948, as an obvious way to capitalize on the new Laine fame, the record label Gold Seal acquired Frankie’s recordings of “That’s Liberty” and “In the Wee Small Hours,” releasing them both on the same disc. For several years, collectors mistakenly referred to this pressing as the first Frankie Laine record. However, it is only the songs that are the authentic first recordings of the great Frankie Laine—not the record. Notwithstanding, the Gold Seal record continues to be a highly collectible disc with Laine collectors.
Three Bel-Tone Records
I have three copies of these rare Bel-Tone discs in my Laine Library collection. All three of the fragile records are in frames. This record with “In the Wee Small Hours” by Frankie Laine is currently acknowledged as the official first pressing and first release of a song from Frankie’s first time in a recording studio.
I bought my first of three copies in a used record store in San Diego in 1999, after I took a friend to visit Frankie Laine at Frankie’s home. My friend found the disc, which had a crack in it, and showed it to me. Because of the crack, the store owner sold it to me for $5.00. It somehow survived my flight back to Iowa intact and is still in its original frame today. The crack isn’t even noticeable. I had purchased my second copy after my friend Tony Cooper from the Frankie Laine International Appreciation Society in England informed me a collector was selling it. Tony gave me the first opportunity to buy it, which I did. It came to me, already framed.
Recently, on eBay, I purchased my third copy. The seller termed the record disc a “strange combo,” perhaps mistakenly thinking that Frankie was possibly singing a duet with Wini Beatty. Therefore, the seller had displayed a picture of the white-labeled side that featured Wini Beatty and not the red-labeled Frankie Laine side. I believe that casual Laine material searchers overlooked the disc because they were unaware of the white label side and the story behind it. I won the bid—I think I was the only bidder—at less than $20.00!
I love this record with the “other red” label!
To our readers and all Frankie Laine fans: Please stay safe during this time of uncertainty.