A RECORD FEW KNEW ABOUT at the time was the Jets on Gee 1020, Heaven Above Me / Millie Brown. Released in 1956, it was a rarity whispered about by the handful of collectors who knew it was one of the secret gems in the genre. In any field of collectables, there is a ‘top ten’ of collectors—the ones who have most everything and can and will spend what it takes to get those precious few items that they do not have.
Unlike other rare and desirable and therefore valuable groups records, it wasn’t a legendary collectable. In fact, mentioning rarely even raised an eyebrow among most collectors. But it raised a lot more than that among the Big Boys at the top of the group collectors food chain.
If you get far enough up the pyramid or ladder in that field off collecting, you get to know of them. If you’re alert, you also get to know what they are looking for: aside from the well-known super-rarities—which every knowledgeable collector should know about—there are the unknown super-rarities. The little records the Big Boys don’t have.
The Jets on Gee was one of those records.
A copy was found and sold. Prior to its finding, most buyers and sellers would have told you that a NM copy was in the $1,000-2,000 range.
This copy was not nearly mint; it was graded VG+.
And it did not sell in the $1,000-2,000 range.
It quickly sold for just over $6,0000.
In fact, its sale was so quick that several of the Big Boys were miffed that they hadn’t had a chance to bid on it!
Plus, this was the only copy in any condition to have sold in years!
Every collector and every dealer that I spoke with back then wanted to make sure that I got the info and the values accurate. For the Jets on Gee, everyone said it was worth $2,000 in NM, but then something happened: the only copy offered for sale in years sold for $6,000 in VG+ condition! Everyone insisted that the sale was an aberration and I should list Gee 1020 at no more than $2,000—because no one else would ever pay more than that. I saw a BIG problem with that thinking. 1
Who were the Jets on Gee?
Well, rather than being an obscure group named the Jets that no one can track down sixty years later, the Jets in fact was a pseudonym for the Mello-Tones!
“The Mello-Tones [were] not exactly a household name, even in their heyday. Considering that they recorded for both a giant of the recording industry (Decca) and a giant of the emerging Rock and Roll sound (George Goldner’s Gee Label), the Mello-Tones were one of the more obscure New York groups of the ’50s.” 2
The group consisted of four guys between 15 and 18 (when the group started) who grew up in the same neighborhood, this one being 132nd Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. They were friends who attended the same Catholic school.
In 1953, they started singing, and eventually chose the Mello-Tones as their moniker. The members were Ray Hulbert (lead tenor), Joe Lipscomb (second tenor), Oliver James (baritone), and Louis O’Neil (bass).
The Mello-Tones signed a one-off deal with Decca and in April 1954 they recorded two sides: I’m Just Another One In Love With You and I’m Gonna Get (What I Came For Last Night). They were released in May 1954 as Decca 48319, but as Decca failed to send the record out for review, it went nowhere fast.
After the record’s failure, Louis O’Neil left and was replaced by Charlie Carrington. Since Decca never called them back for another session, these new Mello-Tones looked for another deal with a new company.
In 1956, they got that deal with Gee Records, who insisted that they change their name to the Jets. Gee also pushed them toward a more rock & roll sound. They cut two sides in April, Heaven Above Me and Millie Brown, which were released as Gee 1020 in July 1956. But like Decca, Gee did not send out review copies and this record also tanked.
They dropped the Jets name, reverted to the Mello-Tones, and continued singing together but not recording again. 3
This is the only photo of the Mello-Tones I could found on the Internet. It was also on Marv Goldberg’s blog where he credits Simon Evans for the photo. It appears to have been a black & white publicity photo, as the group’s name was on the border at the bottom (which I edited from the image). Oddly, the group’s name is spelled as one word, Mellotones—as if hunting down obscure R&B groups from the ’50s wasn’t difficult enough!
The Jets on Gee in my book
As I said, the consensus value for the Jets’ Heaven Above Me / Millie Brown (Gee 1020) suggested to me by my more knowledgeable contributors was no more than $2,000. I didn’t doubt for a minute that was an accurate assessment of the record’s value based on extrapolation from sales of the past.
And that was all anyone had to go on—sales from the distant past. And in collecting rare items in any field, the word distant can mean a mere five years.
But the single sale of a VG+ copy for $6,000 was NOT an extrapolation: it was just the fact, ma’am. The way I evaluated and assigned values (usually, but not always) gave much greater weight to actual sales than opinion, regardless of the source of the opinion.
All price guides use some kind of scale when assigning values and listing them on the page. My books had a VG/VG+/NM ratio of 1/2/5. That is, a record worth $100 in VG condition was listed as $200 in VG+ condition and $500 in NM condition.
Looked at from another angle, the VG+ values were no more than 40% of the NM values in my books. This seemed reasonable to me, to my contributors, and even to my critics at the time.
So a record that sold for $6,000 in VG+ should then carry an assigned value of $15,000 in my book. But I listed the Jets on Gee in The Umphred Guide to Blues and Rhythm & Blues 45s of the ’50s with a suggested NM value of ‘only’ $8,000-12,000.
Which seemed rather reasonable to me. 4
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of a photo album manufactured for a set of trading cards manufactured by Topps in 1956 that consisted of 120 cards with photos of jet aircraft. The album cost 15¢ while the cards could be purchased in 1¢ and 5¢ packs, each with a stick of pink bubblegum. Jet aircraft were still new to most people and they fascinated millions of Americans, who were still not used to the streams of white vapor the military jets left in the sky so, so high above them. Was this the reason that Gee had the Mello-tones record as the Jets? Or was the group’s temporary name a reference to Jet magazine, one of two exclusively black publications in the US?
1 The copy pictured here is a reproduction, which can be purchased for as little as $10—if you know where to look.
2 These Mello-Tones are a New York group, not to be confused with the Detroit Melotones, who also recorded for Gee, where their records were released under the name of the Mello-Tones.
3 Quotes lifted from Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks on the Mello-Tones.
4 There have been no sales of an authentic copy of Gee 1020 recorded on Popsike, Gripsweat, or Collectors Frenzy in the past fifteen years.
While playing an antiquated medium on a modern sound system may sound like the best way to hear the music, it’s not. The most accurate presentation of the music on a 45 rpm, wide-grooved single from the ’50s would probably come from playing it on a 45 rpm record-player from the ’50s with a wide-groove needle.