How a forgettable pop song became a priceless collector’s item—“American Memories” is the rarest 45 of a song to have ever made the Billboard pop chart.
Richard Doyle was a standup comedian from Los Angeles who hosted a show on local TV called Comic Talk, where he interviewed other comedians that were part of that city’s rising comedy scene. Doyle was also a musician—in 1973, under the name “Shamus M’Cool,” his Christmas novelty song “Santa’s Little Helper, Dingo” hit #11 on Billboard’s seasonal holiday music chart.
That was the only musical success Doyle had had, but in 1981, he decided to revive his musical career, as well as the “Shamus M’Cool” stage name. He recorded a country rock song called “American Memories,” which wasn’t a comic novelty song at all—it was a look back on triumphant, proud memories in American history. (The B-side: “American Humor,” six-minutes of Ronald Reagan jokes from Doyle’s comedy act, recorded live at the Playboy Club.)
Doyle recorded the song himself and released it on his own record label, Perspective records. Hoping to build on his status as a local celebrity, Doyle made a very small pressing of “American Memories”—10 copies—and sent them to a handful of Los Angeles radio stations. Two stations reportedly added it to their playlists, and for one week in June 1981, “American Memories” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #80. How? Los Angeles is the second-largest media market in the country (behind New York), and if multiple stations in a large market play a song, even if nowhere else in the country is playing it, it can reach the lower rungs of the national pop chart, at least it could in 1981.
After entering and peaking at #80, “American Memories” dropped off the Hot 100. What happened? The same program directors who told Doyle they’d play “American Memories” went on vacation, and weren’t around to push “American Memories.” The song faded away, and Doyle reportedly became embittered by the experience. He never recorded music again and died in 1990 at age 49.
But “American Memories” lives on. A 45 of the song is one of the most difficult to obtain records in the world, and is undoubtedly the rarest physical copy of any song that’s ever made the national pop chart. The only pressed copies were the ones Doyle made himself from his own record label, and he sent the majority to radio stations, saving a couple back for himself. If you ever find one in a secondhand store, snap it up—copies have sold on eBay for as much as $3,000.