Century 21 Exposition (1962): Theme Songs and Souvenir Records

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 8/09/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9372
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Seattle's Century 21 Exposition (Seattle World's Fair) successfully sold more than 10 million tickets to visiting tourists and locals during its six-month run between April 21,1962, and October 21, 1962. And -- as with every prior World's Fair -- legions of enterprising companies and individual entrepreneurs emerged with "collectible" items produced in an effort to separate tourists from their money. Amidst the myriad array of trinkets were Space Needle knickknacks, Monorail mementos, Bubbleator buttons, and countless other twenty-first-century tchochkes of every imaginable type. Included among them were fair-related songs that were marketed in souvenir sheet-music form and/or musical recordings. Indeed, it was reported at the time that nearly 100 such tunes were submitted in advance to the fair's management -- each composer likely hoping theirs might be selected as the exposition's "Official" theme song. Today we know that at least 200 songs were composed -- and more than 50 saw release as vinyl discs..

World's Fair Songs

As it happened, scores of songsmiths -- both professional and amateur, local and not -- were inspired to compose new songs thematically associated with the fair, with the vast majority being delightfully lite-weight, boosterish, and thoroughly hokey dittys.

The first emerged publicly on November 3, 1961, when The Seattle Daily Times ran a frontpage story headlined "World's Fair Tune Given Official O.K." It explained how fair officials attended the public debut of local lounge lizards, Joy and the Boys, and approved of their new tune, "Meet Me In Seattle (At The Big World's Fair),"which featured a "bright Dixieland tempo." The second to surface was likely "See You In Seattle," which was sung on national TV by the star host of the Perry Como Show on January 17, 1962. Another prominent tune was the invitational "Come Every One to Fair 21" as performed on the fairgrounds by Seattle's John R. "Jackie" Souders (d. 1968) and his 37-person Official World's Fair Band.

Among the most memorable songs that were actually published and marketed in sheet-music form were: "Come and See Seattle (See You At The Fair)," "The Great World’s Fair," "Meet Me In Seattle Suzie," "Skidaddle To Seattle," "Off To Seattle Singalong," "Wait 'til You See What I Saw in Seattle," "Seattle’s Space Age Fair," "World’s Fair Honeymoon," "World’s Fair Polka," "World’s Fair Sue" -- and that dance craze that somehow never actually materialized: the "World’s Fair Wiggle Walk." Another dance step that failed to spark a full-fledged fad was "The Needle" as presented at the fair by a Los Angeles rock band, the Continentals.

World's Fair Records

The Century 21 Expo probably set some sort of world's record for the sheer number of fair-related records being released. But it was Joy and the Boys who'd gotten a head-start on everybody else. Debuted with much fanfare during the band's regular evening gig at Rosellini's 410 restaurant (410 University Plaza), their "Meet Me In Seattle (At The Big World's Fair)" was applauded by attending Century 21 officials and assembled media. Receiving tons of publicity as the fair's "Official" song, Joy and the Boys were whisked into Joe Boles' (1904-1962) home studio in West Seattle (3550 Admiral Way), and Tom Ogilvy's (1916-2000) Seafair Records quickly issued the recording, a 45 rpm single which garnered instant radio support and soaring retail sales. Then, Seafair issued a second version by Myron Hinkle (d. 2001) and his Banjo Boys, who drew crowds that year to their nightly shows downtown at the Blue Banjo club (610 1st Avenue).

Everything was going nicely until early January when it was reported that a mild controversy had arisen. It turned out that the State Commerce and Economic Development Department had commissioned a fair-related song for their promotional efforts. The result was “See You In Seattle At The Big World’s Fair” which was written by songsmiths -- including longtime local lounge pianist, Freeman "Tubby" Clark -- and recorded by a male quartet, the Lancers. The problem was that the 45's sleeve had included images of the Space Needle, the Monorail, and a Century 21 emblem as graphics. In addition, it claimed to be the World's Fair's "Theme Song." Fair management objected by demanding royalty payments "or withdraw the song from the market." Beyond that, "World's Fair officials said today that the fair has no theme song" (The Seattle Times, January 12, 1962).

Yes, We Have No Official Song

As more and more songs hit the market it became necessary for that message to be repeated. At one point the fair's director of publicity, Jay Rockey, reiterated that "We have no official songs." Rather, "We wanted a song with a top name on it to help promote the fair" (The Seattle Times March 4, 1962). Toward that end they commissioned one by a professional duo comprising the famed composer Morton Gould (1913-1996) and Hollywood lyricist Edward Heyman (1907-1981). But even that step proved controversial, mainly, it seems, because of the $3,000 fee paid (which was three times the figure Tubby Clark and his co-composer had shared). In the end Gould and Heyman's "The World of Tomorrow" was recorded and released, but it failed to promote the fair anywhere near as well as Joy and the Boys had, and thus remains deservedly obscure.

As does Vincent Price's (1911-1993) The World of the Century Twenty-First LP as produced by big-time Capitol Records and marketed as the "Official World's Fair Recording" -- and New York's Paul Whiteman (1890-1967), whose recording (with the Hamburg Symphony) of "Rhapsody 21" was billed as "The Official Theme Song of the Century 21 Exposition." Other examples of outsiders elbowing their way in include Southern California's Claiborne Brothers Gospel Quartette and their At The World's Fair LP (which they sold on-site, and was presumably, therefore, not actually recorded at the fair; Hollywood's voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft (1914-2005), and his 45 of "Big Paul Bunyan" -- a logging-related song that some genius must have reckoned was a perfectly appropriate theme for a Space Age expo! -- and New York's Gunther Schuller (b. 1925), who composed an orchestral musical score that served as the soundtrack for the Science Exhibit's Spacearium and which was also issued as an LP.

Rocking the Fair

Meanwhile, a few non-local rock combos tried to cash-in on the concurrent Twist teen-dance craze during the fair season -- for example, Denver's Orlie and the Saints and their "Seattle Twist and Freeze," the Starfires' “Space Needle Twist,” and Hollywood's Sammy Marshall and the Welchmen and their “World’s Fair Wiggle Walk.” A number of locals tried to get in on that action too: There was the “Meet Me In Seattle Twist” and “The Gayway Twist” by the town's veteran rock 'n' roll combo, the Frantics, and “Twist Around Puget Sound” by Tracy Thomas and the Tru-Sonics. Even the Official World’s Fair Band cut loose with their “Monorail Twist.” The most-rockin' fair-related record of all was by Everett's Madmen of Note whose wild instrumental, "Club 21," was presumably named after the on-site private membership club promoted as a place for exhausted exhibitors to retreat.

The fair-related record that had, without doubt, the highest profile of all was Elvis Presley's (1935-1977) It Happened at the World's Fair, the RCA soundtrack LP produced to accompany the MGM musical movie of the same name. Filmed on the fairgrounds in September 1962, the flick opened in April 1963, but both it and the LP failed to excite the marketplace -- partially because they were chock full of  wimpy clunkers like “Take Me To The Fair,” which even the formerly rockin' Presley couldn't salvage. One other notable disc released after the fair's closing was Erroll Garner's (1921-1977) One World Concert LP (issued by Reprise in the USA and Phillips Records in Europe) which was a recording of his performance -- including the big hit "Misty" -- on August 25th at the World's Fair Playhouse.

Seattle World's Fair Story

Of the scores of fair-related records issued in 1962 perhaps the finest, musically, was Seattle Beat -- Seafair Records' compilation LP which surveyed the area's jazz scene. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s nightlife scribe, Doug "Dug" Davis, heralded that “It’s out and spinning, with local musicians presenting Northwest Music to the world. ... 'Seattle Beat' is a tribute to the musical and entertainment talents of Seattle -- Hostess of the World’s Fair. ... The music of 'Seattle Beat' is as unique to our area as Mt. Rainier, Lake Washington, the tall trees and the Space Needle. This is our music. It is our music to enjoy and to enjoy often. It is music being performed every night in the clubs and restaurants of Seattle" (Doug Davis). 

Meanwhile, Joe Boles and Tom Ogilvy continued producing several other discs including the Official World's Fair Band's LP -- which was loaded down with such predictable tunes as the "Century 21 March" and the "Century 21 Waltz." In addition the partners released Joe Juma's “Seattle '62: Invitation To The Fair,” Billy Earles' "World’s Fair Seattle," Susie and the Night Owls' "Take That Monorail Ride," and Kelly Gates' "In The Space Needle (With You)," and "Cafe In The Sky."

Additional locals joined in the frenzy: the Frank Sugia Trio cut “I’m Going To Seattle (To The Great World’s Fair),” and “Come and See Seattle (Come and See The Fair")” with audio engineer Kearney Barton (who also produced the Misfits' "Come On World To The Fair").  Seattle's pioneering label Morrison Records, made its last stand with two discs: Grant Hills' "Space Shift" and the Highline Civic Chorale's "Worlds Fair Days." Ronnie Draper and the Four-Do-Matics cut “Summer of ‘62,” Henry Day cut “The Great World’s Fair,” the Harmonaires cut "Seattle USA," and Tacoma's old school bandleader Attilio "Art" Mineo produced a few discs including "Monorail Hop," and the unintentionally hilarious proto-electronica LP, Man In Space With Sounds.

Beyond this region, others couldn't resist the trend including Kansas City, Missouri's Carl Bolte Jr. and his "See You In Seattle," Hollywood's Kris Arden and the Welshmen and their “Off to Seattle,” the Dreamliters and their “Let’s Go To Seattle,” and “Now We’re In Seattle.” Also of special note is that song about traveling to Seattle -- “Hooray for the Big Slow Train” -- as written and recorded (by the Diddley Oohs) in Los Angeles by soon-to-be-musical-star Herb Alpert.

Hells Bells

Notwithstanding the plethora of other worthy contenders, perhaps the fair record that offers the most tortuous listening experience was John Klien's Bells On Hi-Fi LP. Klien was the carilloneur who performed in a glass-enclosed station at the base of the Space Needle. His instrument was a carillon machine whose 538 bells rang out over 44 loudspeakers mounted all across the fairgrounds (and beyond) at regular intervals on a daily basis. Some of those who delighted in watching Klien, and didn't get migraine headaches from all the clanging, even purchased his album as a souvenir. And if that wasn't enough to make one's ears ring, a tape recording of George Schulmerich's carillon music was also played at the International Fountain.

Finally, an interesting subcategory of fair records -- those that contained spoken-word narrations, either with or without musical backing. Among them were Spacific Inc.'s (900 United Pacific Building) "Who Is Mr. Here (From Way Out 'There')???" postcard-record which featured an "invisible" guide who, thankfully, "just popped in from his ethereal environs in the far reaches of time and space to chronicle ... the events which filled the happy hours you spent at the Seattle World's Fair of '62." Another was Galaxi Records' "Seattle World’s Fair Story" 45 which featured booming narration by Seattle radio personality, KOL's Ray Hutchinson, who seduces the listener with grand Final Frontier visions: 

"You are on a fascinating trip to the future -- a future as fantastic as the exotic machines which will carry man out to touch the stars. A future as practical as roasting a hotdog with sonic vibrations. The future of man living, working, learning, and laughing in the year 2000 plus. It's all here before your eyes in dazzling, splendid, colorful array: Century 21 -- America's first Space Age Spectacular: the Seattle's World Fair 1962."

Sources: Stanton H. Patty, "THEME SONG -- World's Fair Tune Given Official O.K.," Seattle Daily Times, City Edition, November 3, 1961, p. 1; "IT'S OFFICIAL: Singers Score Hit With Fair's Song," Seattle Daily Times, November 3, 1961, p. 6; Stanton H. Patty, "THEME SONG: "World's Fair Tune With Dixie Tempo Gets Official O.K.," Seattle Daily Times, Night Sports Final edition, November 3, 1961, p. 1; "State Song for Fair Not Licensed, Says Century 21," The Seattle Times, January 12, 1962, p. 1; "Confusing Theme: Record Jackets Of Rival Fair Songs," Ibid., January 12, 1962, p. 10; "ACTION CRITICIZED: World's Fair Pays $3,000 For C-21 Song," Ibid., March 4, 1962, p. 1; "Club 21 Is Smash Hit," Ibid., March 11, 1962, p. 12; Jack Jarvis, "Spacearium' LP Record Has Narration, Music Of Science Exhibit Film," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 12, 1962, p. 10; Willis Camp, Inter-Office Letter to Louis V. Larsen, July 31, 1962, Century 21 Exposition Performing Arts Division Visiting Musical Groups, Box 264, Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, Washington; Dug [Doug Davis], "Night Owl" column, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, undated clipping in author's possession; Ray Hutchinson, "Seattle World’s Fair Story," Galaxi Records, 1962, author's archives.

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