Songs That Will Live Forever
At the dawn of 1954, the concept of Rock ‘n Roll sat on the cusp of pandemonium and Hit Parader proudly stands as one of the first consumer publications to debut the genre to a mass audience, charting some of the first written mentions of Rock and R&B pioneers like Fats Domino, Little Richard, and of course, Elvis Presley.
Hit Parader confidently predicted the eruption of Rock n Roll and by the 1950s business was booming for Charlton Publications. So much so, that a new warehouse was needed in Derby just to keep up with the companies extensive printing needs.
Thanks in part to the fast charting single “Crazy Man Crazy,” one of the first articles on Rock ‘n Roll was this Bill Haley feature from Hit Parader in October, 1953.
Bill Haley and The Comets would make history on the charts less than two years later when “Rock Around the Clock” became the first #1 song in the Rock genre.
However, destruction awaited the Hit Parader empire, and on Friday, August 18th, 1955, a natural disaster struck that changed everything for the staffers at Charlton and Hit Parader, and even threatened to close the company's doors down permanently. The aftermath of Hurricane Diane cut a watery trail through the Atlantic Coast and Connecticut. Eleven inches of rainfall caused massive flooding that claimed the lives of hundreds of victims in the Connecticut Valley area. The Hit Parader grounds were submerged in 18 feet of water. $300,000 worth of paper inventory, mats, art work, and plates, among other things, were destroyed by the flood in minutes.
"When the flood came through," Burton N. Levey, cousin to co-owner Ed Levy and Charlton executive, said, "we had to get on top of the building because the water was rising, and a helicopter landed on the roof and took us off—that's how I got out of there! I watched my car float down the river."
After the disasters of the warehouse flood, wages to employees were gashed, costs were cut, and any new forms of income the magazine could drum up were considered.
As a matter of recourse in 1959, Hit Parader began commissioning session musicians to ‘cover’ the hit songs being mentioned in the magazine. Now, fans and readers of Hit Parader had instant access to not only the words to these songs, but the actual songs themselves.
From 1959-1966, Hit Parader Records (along with Song Hits) pressed over 40 LPs at breakneck speed.
Hit Parader and the Mafia
Rumblings around suspected mob ties with Hit Parader and parent company, Charlton Publications, began in the 1950s behind closed door whispers, but no real evidence ever officially surfaced. Most of the rumors revolved around the involvement of organised crime figures utilizing printing presses and becoming a part of the distribution, but when it comes to an actual employee, there was nothing tangible linking any mob connected figure to Hit Parader.
Around 1986, the FBI finally linked one particularly well-known figure to the music business and the mafia, Morris Levy.
Levy was notorious during his career as a vigilant, unorthodox club owner and label manager. His persona and reputation is believed to be the inspiration for the character of Hesh on popular HBO series, The Sopranos.
Read more about Morris Levy here.
To date, Levy’s exact involvement with Hit Parader isn’t definitively known, but the potential connection is no doubt unusual and speaks volumes to the state of the music business at the time. Levy never served any prison time for his supposed mafia involvement as he died before his final sentencing.