Off The Wall -- A Collector’s Memories of Times Square Records



Original Version February 24, 1994

© Squire. 1994
© Squire, 2014


I still have vivid memories of my first trip to the Times Square Record Store. What people often refer to as Doo Wop music today would be just a faded memory for a few were it not for the efforts of the owner and employees of this store during the early to mid-1960s. The definitive work on Doo Wop1 devotes a paltry three sentences to this famous institution. My memories were recently stimulated by an article by Jerry Greene in DISCoveries2. My story begins where his left off.

The First Visit to "Times"

For me, the serious collecting of urban group harmony music (commonly called Doo Wop today, and known in the 1960s as the "old sound" to distinguish it from more mainstream "oldies") began in early 1960, when I turned fourteen. I first noticed this music while listening to station WNJR "and in Newark." On Saturday mornings, a disc jockey named Georgie Hudson played an eclectic mixture of rhythm and blues and the old sound. I distinctly recall that the old songs by the Flamingos, Moonglows, Spaniels and Heartbeats received considerable play, and my interest. The sponsor was the "fabulous" Brooks Record Shop in Plainfield, New Jersey. As I lived in nearby Somerville, my friend Czar and I could take the train to get some old sounds, especially from their extensive back file. The lady who worked there couldn't believe that we would ask for records that were as much as five years old! I mention this because I believe that while Alan Fredericks of WADO Radio and "Slim" Irving Rose, et al, get all the credit for discovering Doo Wop, there were others who deserve some credit as well.

It was later in 1960 or early 1961 that some high school friends alerted me to a radio show on WADO in New York City called "Night Train." This show featured Alan Fredericks as the disc jockey, Times Square Records as the sponsor, and played the very best of the “old sounds”.3 This was my first clear introduction to the distinctive New York City style of Doo Wop. I was familiar with a few; my friend's older sister had a copy of "Florence" by the Paragons and "Deserie" by the Charts. But once I heard Alan Fredericks play "So Strange" by the Jesters, "Pizza Pie" by the Rob Roys, and the forever haunting (according to Alan Fredericks) "Baby, I Love You So" by Joe Weaver and the Don Juans, I was hooked for life.

It was mid- to late-1961 when I undertook my first journey to the mecca of the old sound -- Times Square Records. In conjunction with a trip to one of the great New York City rock 'n roll shows (Alan Freed's last one, or more likely one of Clay Cole's early ones), a group of us took the train and ferry boat to Wall Street (no direct connection on the Jersey Central Railroad in those days), and the subway to Brooklyn (The Fox or Paramount) to see the show. After the show, a lengthy subway ride took us to Times Square. After finding the Times Tower, we descended into the subway station. There on the first landing was "Times." The first impression was one of slight disappointment; it was so small! The ceiling was so low that a support beam had a sign on it "watch your noodle." Disappointment quickly turned to ecstasy as we approached the long counter, and saw the vast number of records piled around the store. Straight ahead was where the $1.00 dollar records were displayed. To the right a few rare 78 RPM records were displayed. To the left was "the wall," or the "junior stock market," where the rare 45 RPM records were displayed: $5, $10 even more for a single 45! The tiny 45 RPM record player in the corner continuously blasted out the most exotic music that I had ever heard. The basic price for a single 45 was $1 at Times Square Records, a hefty sum compared with around 70-80 cents or less elsewhere. Remember that the minimum wage was $1 an hour in 1961, so this was big money to a high school student.

The young man named Jerry behind the counter was very helpful, considering that the store seemed continuously busy. He seemed to be in charge, except for some occasional remarks from the owner ­- the legendary "Slim" Irving Rose. I asked for "Deserie" by the Charts. His hand deftly reached into a pile of records, and retrieved a copy of the long sought after Everlast recording. Not knowing whether they made any other records, I asked him if he had anything else by those wonderful Charts. Out came "You're the Reason" and "All Because Of Love." He played them both, and of course I bought them. He mentioned that "Dance Girl" was hard to find (not yet re-released), and "My Diane" was not in stock. It took me two years of constant searching to eventually find it. I asked for "Mexico" by the Rocketones. Again, a perfect copy on Melba appeared. I asked to hear some records by the Channels, having heard "The Closer You Are" a few times. I settled on "Bye Bye Baby" on Fury and a recut of "Flames in My Heart" on Port. Now I was really excited about this sound. I asked whether he had any other records with "high singin'" (what we called falsetto in those days). "Vision of Love" by the Explorers on Coral and "Zu Zu" by the Bonnevilles on maroon Munich were produced, played and purchased.

Clutching our treasures we took the subway to the ferry downtown near Wall Street. Crossing the river to New Jersey, the modern Budd car train whisked us off into the night back to Somerville. The young man who so patiently waited on me was none other than Jerry Greene, who left Times Square Records shortly thereafter to found the Record Museum chain in Philadelphia and eventually Collectable Records. Although I only met him once, he was the inspiration in more ways than one for this article.4

The Business and the People

After the first visit to Times Square Records, there were many more from 1961 through 1965. Elsewhere during this period, the competition from other record stores intensified, with the major competitors buying radio advertising and recutting old sounds on their own labels. The majors were Times Square Records with their Times Sq. (or Times Square) label, the Relic Rack in Hackensack, New Jersey, with their Relic label, the Record Museum in Philadelphia with their Lost Nite label, and to a lesser extent National Record Mart and Mad Mike's Moldies in Pittsburgh. Some record manufacturers also began reissuing old sounds. The phenomenon spread across the country: Grand in Philadelphia, Fee Bee in Pittsburgh, King/Federal/Deluxe in Cincinnati, Fortune in Detroit, Chess/Checker in Chicago, Dootone in Los Angeles, to name a few of the best. Times remained the motivator and the prime outlet for this cornucopia of music from this most prolific and creative period of rock 'n roll.

Visits to Times were always an adventure. The personalities working there were a varied lot; most seemed to really know the music, but their approach to the customers varied widely. Slim, the owner, can best be described as eccentric. In retrospect, I believe that he was a very shrewd businessman who creatively capitalized on an unusual opportunity. While he usually spent his time on the management of the store -- like customer crowd control and barking orders to the sales staff to stop playing records for the customers when it was too busy. This was New York City in the 1960s where the "take it or leave it" approach prevailed. The concept of customer satisfaction didn't exist. Occasionally Slim waited on customers when it was busy. I remember jockeying for position at the perpetually crowded counter to avoid being waited on by Slim, since he usually seemed abrupt and unpleasant, and didn't seem to know the music as well as many of his employees. The memory of Slim is greater than the reality seemed to be at the time. While no one did more to discover and promote this music, it always seemed to be primarily a business rather than a true love for the art form. The only thing worse than being waited on by Slim himself was dealing with the dreaded Hal, who seemed to be the general manager and took all his cues from Slim in his attitude toward the customers, but admittedly with a better knowledge of the music. Despite these lapses in quality customer service, I remember many of the employees in a positive way. Time permitting they loved to talk about the music, and were great sources of information. Information was precious, as virtually nothing was documented. I've already mentioned Jerry Greene from my first visit. Jay was a friendly guy who actually tried to sell you the records, versus the "take it or leave it" approach. I still remember when Old Town reissued several rare records by the Solitaires; he talked me into buying "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance." The record just sounded too alien, even for me. This became my all-time favorite by this prolific New York Group. Billy was very talkative and helpful. He probably attained immortality as being the owner of the record which became known as the rarest record ever made: "Stormy Weather" by the Five Sharps on Jubilee. I have heard other stories about this incident (one involving Slim's pet raccoon, Teddy), but this is how he related it to me at the time. Billy brought the record in to the store for Slim to listen to, as no one seemed to have ever heard of it. Slim didn't get around to playing it, and decided to bring it home to listen to. He put it under his arm. It was a fragile 78 RPM record, it broke, and the rest is Doo Wop lore. Slim consoled Billy by telling him that he would just offer sufficient cash or credit at the store on his radio show to anyone who would bring it in. On January 22, 1962 Slim offered $5 cash for the record on a 78 and $10 cash for it on a 45. Slim was surprised when the record didn't show up immediately after offering such lofty sums. The offer continued to escalate, many people claimed to have it, but no one actually produced it. Over a year later, Slim was still looking, and the offer stood at an astronomical $150 cash on a 78 or $300 on a 45. Slim must have made one of the greatest no cost advertising coups in Doo Wop history. Jubilee Records remade the record in 1964 with another group with the same name. Not to be outdone, Slim did likewise on his Times Square label, changing the name of the group slightly to the Five Sharks. I suspect many copies of this rather mediocre record were sold based upon the year of hype. While Slim never found "Stormy Weather," the original pink Jubilee label #5104, minus the shattered disc, hung in the store window for years. The record was found eventually, and re-mastered some years later.

The Records of "Times"

The essential element of Times Square Records was, of course, the records -- virtually everything was 45 RPM. Some rare recordings on labels like Chance and Red Robin were available on 78 RPM for perhaps one tenth the cost of the identical 45. LPs were seldom sold -- Nolan Strong and the Diablos' first LP with the candy striper cover is the only one I recall on display. There were much better record stores for LPs. EPs (Extended Play 45 RPM records with two records per side -a long extinct sales gimmick of the 1950s and 60s) received little attention, with the exception of the "Del Vikings -They sing, They Swing" EP Volume 1 (of 3), since it was the only way to obtain on 45 RPM their highly coveted version of "A Sunday Kind of Love. This was the land of the single 45. The profusion of 45 RPM labels and colors was remarkable. Slim discovered another money maker -- collectors liked to buy records on colored plastic, in preference to basic black. Red was the prevailing color, but blue, green, yellow, gold, and purple were used. These were beautiful to behold, and often bought more for looks than quality. Slim managed to convince many record companies that their reissues should be on colored plastic. Companies like Rainbow, Tip Top, Winley and Bruce complied. Slim used this technique for his own Times Square label, often changing the color of the plastic of the same record for different pressings.

How I managed to purchase hundreds of records from Times when making $1.00 to $1.25 per hour, I cannot explain. Money seemed to go a long way then. Much of my collection actually came from searching through stack after stack of records in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The entertainment was in the looking; the thrill was in the finding. I found many records priced today at hundreds of dollars each in the dime piles of Western Pennsylvania. Here's another piece of Doo Wop lore about Pennsylvania: rumored among the employees of Times was a record store several stories high filled with old records. More stories were added to this store each time that I heard the tale. They talked of driving out to Danville, Pennsylvania to find it. While attending college, I found out that one of my fraternity brothers was from Danville. I asked him about this mythical record store. He had never heard of it, but investigated further during a trip back home. I hate to destroy this wonderful myth, but the store never existed, at least not in Danville, Pennsylvania. It could have been the large store in Indiana, Pennsylvania. I went there in 1964 searching for records. The owner was so nasty that he got angry if you browsed through the stacks too slowly. We had a testy exchange of words, and I never returned.

Only a minuscule part of my collection came "off the wall" of Times. The truth is that I probably paid more than a dollar for only five or six records. I still remember the mental debate and anguish over paying $4.00 for a single 45 in 1962. That record was the collector's classic: "Pizza Pie" by Norman Fox and the Rob Roys on the label of one of the record industry giants: Capitol Records. My hands trembled as I handed over the equivalent of four hours of my labor for this gem. At the time, no one believed that this record would ever be reissued, since most major labels did not find it profitable to deal in the reissue market. This is why so many obscure records on major labels can be quite rare. If it wasn't a hit in a week or two, they would cease production. While "Pizza Pie" was subsequently recut some years later on the unknown Hammer label, the original capitol version has still appreciated considerably. I was tempted only once more to spend such a princely sum for a single 45. That was for another impossible to find Capitol recording: "Oh Rose Marie" by the Fascinators, for which I paid $5.00 around 1962 or '63. Buying "off the wall" was so significant, that I still retain the original record sleeve with the hand written title, group name and price. In retrospect, $5.00 wasn't so expensive, since both records command a price of $300 each today,5 about 60 to 75 times their original cost to me.

The Radio Shows

The parting of the ways between Slim and Alan Fredericks, the "Night Train" DJ, in 1961 has been well documented.6,7 Slim decided to buy his own radio time, and be the DJ. To say that the show was unpolished would be an understatement. The show's attraction was the rare records he played as did no other New York DJ, and the scraps of information about the music that he would occasionally provide. Nothing about this music was documented at the time. Even LP liner notes told you virtually nothing. Knowing about the music brought you respect among your peers. Information was power! Therefore, when I found out that Slim would have his own radio show, I began to document the shows, including the records, artists, labels, price, and any other scrap of information that Slim would provide. This was crude, late night AM radio at its finest. Certain shows were broadcast from 12 midnight until 2:00 AM, even 1:00 AM until 4:00 AM for some of the last shows. My documentation has some gaps, usually caused by the lack of reception on some of the weaker of the stations that Slim appeared on. However, I believe that I have the most complete written records in existence. The show (or series of shows on different stations) began in 1961, my records indicate October 21st as the first broadcast.

Chronology of the Times Square Records Radio Show

 OCTOBER 1961 - JUNE 1962 
 NOVEMBER 1962 - MARCH 1963 
 FEBRUARY 1964 - AUGUST 1965 

Slim began his first show playing a rather standard mix of the old sounds, with no rarities, at least they were not rarities in 1961. Slim used to give a free record with the purchase of three or more. That week he announced that "A Teenager's Vows of Love" by the Dreamers was the free one. He also mentioned that two sought after records were now in stock: "Angel Face" by the Neons and "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" by the Heartbeats. Slim began experimenting with the playing of some moderately hard to find records two shows later. He played and asked $2.00 for "Oo-Wee Baby" by the Ivy Tones and "When We're Together" by the Trinidads on the Formal label. The first was reissued on the Red Top label and became something of a New York City Doo Wop standard; the second I never heard again. Slim escalated the playing of the rarities, and by December of 1961 he was playing records costing as much as $10.00 ("Oh, What a Feeling" by Little June and the Januarys on Profile). In January 1962 he played "Cross over the Bridge" by the Flamingoes on the legendary Chance label. You could purchase it at Times for what seems today like a paltry sum ­$17.00 for this priceless collector's item.

Slim liked to do mystery contests, increasing the amount of store credit if no one could identify the record. Around this time, Slim played a mystery record for which you had to identify the title, group and the label to win. As I recall, the record went unidentified for three to four weeks. On January 27, 1962, Slim identified the record after someone knew the correct answer. The mystery record that stumped the New York City collectors for so long was "You Say You Love Me" by the Dell Vikings on Fee Bee, an indication that the audience was less knowledgeable than today's collectors as this record is fairly well known. Someone (maybe Slim) had convinced Fee Bee records in Pittsburgh to reissue some of their original Dell Vikings material. Following the "mystery record" incident, everyone ran to Times to buy the Fee Bee reissues, and Slim had pulled another marketing coup. The mystery contests were always fun and challenging. Sometimes he played records backwards, or at the wrong speed. If you could have identified the title, group and record number for the mystery record of February 17, 1962, you would have won $100 in store credit. The record was "Deserie" by the Blue Angels. On March 17, 1962, Slim played what was then considered the rarest record ever made: "Just a Lonely Christmas" by the Moonglows on Chance. Just $30.00 would get you a copy of the world's rarest Doo Wop record! Remember that at this point Slim had been looking for "Stormy Weather" by the Five Sharps for less than two months, and the coveted crown of "the rarest record of all time" had not been bestowed on "Stormy Weather." I recall the crown of "rarest" moved around among certain super-rare records by the Moonglows, Ambassadors, Buccaneers, and perhaps others.

Thankfully, in June of 1962, Slim left WBNX and moved to WWRL in Woodside New York. I say "thankfully" because of the weak reception. I often walked several miles across town to listen to the show on my friend Czar's powerful Grundig Majestic radio. The stint on WWRL was very brief, and I have notes covering only two shows: September 28 and October 6, 1962. Finally, in November 1962, Slim moved to WNJR in Newark, New Jersey. The reception improved dramatically, and so did my notes. The show format shifted notice­ably toward playing the rare collector records. The first WNJR show of November 21, 1962 featured records like "Tell Me Why" by the Swallows on King then selling for $5.00, "No Man is an Island" by the Dreamers on Rollin for $12.00, "Secret Love" by the Moonglows on Chance for $20.00, and "I Can't Help Loving that Girl of Mine" by the Hideaways on Ronni for $30.00. The market for these collect­ors items must have been improving. On December 12, 1962, Slim played four very rare records out of the total of 18 records that he played that night, and he advertised an additional six rarities ranging from $4.00 to $10.00 that could be purchased in the store.

Scraps of information were still treasured. On February 28, 1963, Slim announced that "The Wind" by Nolan Strong and the Diablos was his largest selling record: 8000 copies sold at Times Square Records. On the same show, he also played and mentioned that "My Heart Beats Faster" by the El Vinos was his all-time favorite fast record. It was then available only on the Vik label for $10.00. I do recall that he once claimed that "Bong Bong (I Love You Madly)" by Vince Castro also was his all-time favorite. He also seemed to like "Childish Ways" by the Suddens, saying "it should have been a hit" every time that he played it. I made a note on May 19, 1962 that Slim stated that he had a six year old son named Bobby. Nothing else was ever said about Slim's personal life on the radio. Many have speculated about the whereabouts of the legendary Slim (if living, he now would be well into his 70s), but I wonder what happened to his son, Bobby Rose, who now would be in his late 30s.

In February 1964 Slim moved to radio station WHBI. His show was expanded to two full hours with time to play up to 36 records.

Slim was now into re-cutting and in some cases producing records on his Times Square label. Records by the Nutmegs, Laddins, El Sierros, Youngtones, Camelots, Decoys, Nobles, and especially Slim's own group the Timetones received considerable play. A cappella was really in vogue during this era. In my opinion not much of it was really that good, but it sold well to the insatiable collectors. Some mildly deceptive practices became common during this era. For instance, if a record wasn't old (e.g. 1950s, the earlier the better), it wouldn't sell. On March 7, 1964, Slim played a record that he claimed was from 1956. It was "Give Me a Chance" by the Chanells on his own Times Sq. label. If you had ever heard the record, it would be impossible to believe that this was the original Channels.8 No matter, the record was awful and I bought it anyway. On March 7, 1964, Slim played "Paradise on Earth" an a cappella record by the famous Five Satins, again on his own Times Sq. label. He stated that it was their first record, found on a long-lost practice tape. More "practice tapes" were found, by the Flamingos and especially by the Nutmegs, and released on Times Sq. Another belief of the time was that everything had to be sung by a group. If the group name was not known, Slim would invent one. "Ding Dong" by Tony Orlando on the Milo label became Tony Orlando and the Milos; "Pretty Little Angel Eyes" by Curtis Lee on Dunes became Curtis Lee and the Dunes; "Bong Bong" by Vince Castro became Vince Castro and the Castrolettes.

Slim still played the rarities on the WHBI shows. My notes show that the top prices spiraled upward, some records now ex­ceeding $50. The most expensive records that Slim played are listed in the following table. This set of super rarities has increased today to 27 times its value in 1965.5 If one were truly lucky to have purchased the red wax versions, the return may have been considerably higher. While seeming prohibitively expensive at the time, history shows that this was a great investment opportunity. For some unexplained reason, the super rarities were no longer played after April, 1965. Perhaps they went into the collections of knowledgeable record collectors and even Slim couldn't get them, or perhaps he stopped spinning rare records for some economic reason.

The Super Rarities: $50 - $100

 The Masquerade Is Over 
 Old Town 
 The Masquerade Is Over 
 Old Town 
 Only A Dream 
 Tell The World 
 $1000 black wax 
 $5000 red wax 
 I Really Don't Want To Know 
 Four Flames 
 No Listing 
 I Love You 
 I Love You 
 You Never Knew 
 $750 black wax 
 You Never Knew 
 $2000 red wax 
 Serenade Of The Bells 
 What Can I Tell Her Now 

A typical Times Square Records Broadcast was as shown below. This was from the middle period of the broadcasts, about 31 years prior to this article.

Typical Times Square Records Broadcast

Radio station WNJR -March 7, 1963

1. "No No No" - Dove1ls - 1961 (20 copies remaining in the store)
2. "There Goes the Boy" - Lydells - 1960 (30 copies remaining)
3. "And When I'm Near You" - Richie & the Royals - 1960
4. Blooper record
5. "Nothing Like a Little Love" - Solitaires - 1956 - Old Town label (available for $2.00 at Times Square Records)
6. Mystery contest - record played backwards (50 copies of the record were available in the store for $2.00 each)
7. "Praying for a Miracle" - Syncopates - Times Sq. label (Group of 14 year old girls)
8. "I've Searched" - Heartspinners (Contest to rename the group; coming out on Times Sq. label)
9. "Let Me Tell You" - Nutmegs - Times Sq. label (A cappella)
10. Mystery record, again played backwards {No note as to what was the actual record or prize}
11. "I'll Never Leave You Again" - Youngsters (50 copies remaining in the store)
12. "That's the Way It will Be" - Glenwoods - 1959
13. "True Love" - Dell Vikings - Fee Bee label (available for $30.00. Slim claimed that this was the first time that this record was ever played on the radio.)

Slim was obviously pushing his Times Sq. labels at this time. He made some additional remarks that night: the special of the week was "A Sunday Kind of Love" by the Del Vikings for $4.00, and "My Whispering Heart" by the Edsels was now in stock.

The Last Visit to "Times"

In the fall of 1964, I went away to college in Western Pennsylvania, about 70 miles from Pittsburgh. I avidly continued collecting for the next year. I was pleasantly surprised at the availability of and interest in the old sound in Pittsburgh. By the summer of 1965, my interest began to wane. This was for a variety of reasons. My collector buddy Czar left the college where we both attended, and the most knowledgeable around thought that "The Great Pretender" was the ultimate oldie, and the Beach Boys did great falsetto. The British invasion swept through, and all my college friends walked around singing with British accents. While I remained totally immune to this (except only for a great fondness for the Rolling Stones), it became somewhat uncomfortable to play my records in this environment. Urban street corner music seemed to die a sudden death about 1966, except for some influence on Motown. Another big reason was that I either bought most everything that I wanted, or the cost was far too high to obtain the remainder. Simply put, the supply was inadequate for the demand in those days. The reissue market was nothing like what it is today. Being remote from New York City didn't help either. The only good Pittsburgh station I could pick up was the powerful KDKA, which played mostly standard oldies rather than the pure old sound.

I cannot place the date, but sometime around 1966 I paid a nostalgic visit to New York City to check out what was going on at Times Square Records. I descended the familiar stairway under the Times Tower into the subway station. Mecca was closed, but a sign posted in the window stated that the store had moved to a nearby address. I walked over to the new location. There I found an antiseptic-white record store, no longer owned by Slim, but by the dreaded Hal. There was no one else in the store, and Hal treated me like his long lost brother. I asked him what recent arrivals he had that were good. He produced a copy of "Diddle-Le-Bom" by the Love Larks on the Fellatio label. I bought this one record for old "Times" sake. I never returned. After graduating college I received a good job offer. I carefully packed all my records away and moved to Philadelphia.

1Doo-Wop: The Forgotten Third of Rock 'n Roll, by Dr. Anthony J. Gribin and Dr. Mathew M. Schiff. Krause Publications, 1992.
2DISCoveries, "My Memories of Times Square Record Store," by Jerry Greene. January 1994.
3Record Collector's Monthly, "DEEJAY INTERVIEW: Alan Fredericks" by Don Mennie. November/December 1988.
4Greene, op cit
545 RPM Vocal Group Record Guide, 9th Edition, by Jeff Kreiter, 2008. All current record prices in this article are from this source.
6Greene, Op cit
7Fredericks, Op cit
8While I never heard anyone associated with Times Square Records explicitly say that this Chanells group was the same as the original Earl Lewis and the Channels (different spelling, same pronunciation), the implication was there on the radio broadcast as well as conversations that I had in the store. The recording was actually by the Pharotones, released on the Timely label in 1958.

Squire's radio show, "NIGHT TRAIN MEMORIES: SOUNDS OF THE CITIES," can be heard on RADIO FAIRFAX every Saturday at 4-6 PM ET.

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