Sunday, August 31, 2003

Beatle craze a local hit

Times Leader - August 31, 2003
 August 31, 2003 

 SCRANTON - The history of the world's most influential rock 'n' roll band can be traced to the streets and pubs of Liverpool, England. It was there more than 40 years ago that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr formed The Beatles and planted the seeds for a musical explosion known as “Beatlemania.''

What most people might not know, however, is that once The Fab Four brought their music to America, another blue collar town was instrumental in relaying the group's music to its millions of fans.

Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Throughout the 1960s, The Beatles' label, Capitol Records, operated one of its largest record manufacturing plants in Scranton. According to some reports, it was the largest such plant in the United States and at the height of “Beatlmania'' its employees worked long shifts pressing copies of the group's  records while trying to keep pace with demand.

 “All of a sudden it just took off,'' says Paul Lalley, 74, of Scranton, who worked at the plant until it closed in 1978. “It was big over in England, but it just carried right over the ocean into this country and it was just absolutely phenomenal.''

 Lalley says everything changed once The Beatles made their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Throughout the entire decade, he says, albums such as “Abbey Road'' and “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band'' were all pressed in Scranton.

 “We worked around the clock and probably had what were the best years in the recording business in many, many, many years,'' says Lalley. “In the shipping and receiving department, it was nothing to work 10, 12 or 14 hours a day. We had three shifts going at one time and we probably had 800 to 1,000 people there.''

 According to Alan Sweeney, president of the Lackawanna Historical Society, the history of making records in Northeastern Pennsylvania dates back to the former Scranton Button Co. That company, says Sweeney, also made phonograph records and even pressed copies of Irving Berlin's “Over There”' during the first World War. The Scranton Button Co. later changed its name to the Scranton Record Manufacturing Co. and was purchased by Capitol Records in 1946.

In addition to Beatles records, many classic recordings from the Capitol catalogue, including the music of Frank Sinatra, were pressed in Scranton. Elvis Presley records were also made in Scranton. Lalley, who continued to work at the facility when it became North American Records from 1973-78, says the plant was hired by RCA Records after Presley's death in 1977 to keep up with the demand of fans flocking to record stores to buy his music.

 (The old Capitol building is now occupied by Olympic Chimney Supply, which manufactures stainless steel chimney lining systems.)

 Lalley says he wasn't aware while he worked at Capitol of the historical significance of the work he and his co-workers were doing, or that Lennon and McCartney would later be viewed as two of the greatest songwriters of the 20th Century. He adds that while Capitol had three other record pressing plants in the country and that Beatles albums were also made at those locations, there's a good chance any vinyl Beatles album you come across was made in Scranton.

“To my knowledge, we made every album the Beatles put out,” he says.

 (An Internet search using the keywords “Scranton” and “Beatles'' revealed several websites dedicated to helping collectors determine which Capitol plant produced the records in their collections.)

Sweeney says that even WEA Manufacturing, a large CD-making plant located in Olyphant, has ties to the Capitol plant, since one of Capitol's employees, Roy Marquardt, later founded Specialty Records, which later became WEA.  And there's even a Scranton link to The Beatles first coming to North America. Sweeney says the late Geoffrey Racine, an executive with Capitol who spent about a year working in Scranton, met his wife while living there and later retired to Clarks Summit. Racine, while working for Capitol Records of Canada, was the man who first brought The Beatles to the label.

“He said he liked the beat of their music and he liked the song `I Want To Hold Your Hand,' “ says Sweeney. “He brought them to the label in Canada, where they became big even before they did in this country.”

 Frank Alba, 62, of Pittston Township, worked at Capitol in Scranton from 1963-69. He says his job at the plant was “record tester,” which required him to take records from the pressing area and inspect them for quality.

“I'd go back to a sound proof booth and play them on a record player, and listen to see if there were any scratches,” he says. “It was a fun job because I got to know every word from every Beatles song. I'd play one record for eight hours.”

Alba also has stories of the plant operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week making Beatles records. He says that after the band's appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, it was that one famous song that made for a busy schedule.

 “They made the 45s of `I Want to Hold Your Hand,' and I bet that's all they did for three months, for three shifts,” he says.

“They pushed out millions of them.”