Secret Single: Shamus M’cool, “American Memories”

Written by Music

Unlock the mysteries of one of the most sought-after 45 RPM records, Shamus M’Cool’s “American Memories.”

There is a lesson to be learned here: scarcity is the king of marketing tools. Infomercial developers know this, as do the good folks at QVC. When they say, “only fifteen left, so if you want to get in on this once in a lifetime deal, you have to get in now,” it’s not really for your benefit, but theirs. I mean, do you really need that pearl-handled switchblade knife?

And if you do really need that pearl-handled switchblade knife, I don’t know you, Jack. Go with God, but go.

All of this is merely to lead us into the conversation about one Shamus M’cool and his single, “American Memories.” It is currently one of the most sought-after items on Ebay, a recent auction for which had our very own Dave Steed dropping more than a grand of skin in the game and still losing.

M’cool was the false-moniker of Richard Doyle (1941-1990), a comedian. Purportedly, only ten copies of the 45 for “American Memories” were made on Doyle’s Perspective Records label, which one could assume was strictly a one-off as company assets go. From there, a dumb-luck saga seemed to burst into full bloom. Doyle sent those copies to ten prominent L.A. radio stations, which played the song and managed to get the track placed in the Billboard and Cashbox lists, which enabled the song to chart and actually crack the top 100 – or so it is said. The story, as unlikely as it seems, and the song, as unoften as it has been heard, has slipped into the slithery stratosphere of legend, and the actual facts of it are hard to come by.

And thank goodness for legend because the song itself isn’t so great. It seems heartfelt enough; certainly it doesn’t reek of the sarcasm one might associate with a song from a comedian. In fact, one of the faults that could be leveled at the tune is its bludgeoning earnestness. While “American Memories” came out in 1981, it is most reminiscent of singles from the 1970s that I will fondly classify as “wingnut records.” This thankfully small genre featured singles by angry cranks, mostly railing on about how things were going straight to hell, and it was time for the citizens to revolt and kick some ass and somesuch. These records were recorded relatively on the cheap, self-released, and had all the subtlety of your grandfather going on with one of his conspiracy theories about dental insurance and the crunchy peanut butter industry.

Because records were the dominant recorded media of the day, manufacturing was a lot easier and inexpensive than it is now. But because the folks behind these shotgun screeds were not as facile with marketing as, apparently, Doyle was, most of the songs have disappeared into the waste bins of history and certainly none of them ever charted anywhere for anything, except perhaps as ballast for the world’s heaviest waste bins.

The problem is that it is kind of hard to fully classify “American Memories” as a total wingnut record. Mostly, it is a sad remembrance of the singer of the US promise gone unfulfilled. This is not to say it is high art, or that it’s any good as music, but it is okay, inoffensive, but certainly not worth near two thousand dollars per copy. It is innocent, perhaps naive, but I’ve heard an awful lot that’s awfully worse.

But that scarcity thing, aye, there’s the rub. Since there were only ten discs to be had and vinyl collectors can be a tad obsessive, (I know firsthand about that!) ownership of the prize is a lot like taking down Moby Dick. It’s not about the item as much as it is about being the victor of the hunt. So what of Shamus M’cool’s song? Well, listen below for yourself. And what of the B-side to the disc?

Hah. If I had $2000 lying around, it wouldn’t be going for this!

American Memories – Shamus M’cool

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