Jets PhotoAlbum Topps 1500crop

heaven above me—it’s the jets on gee!

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!

 

Photo of a reproduction of the 45rpm record HEAVEN ABOVE ME by the Jets (Gee 1020).

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

 

Mello tones photo 900 crop

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?

 


FOOTNOTES:

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. 

 

Jets Gee turntable 900

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.

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