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Rare record pays homage to NBC chief

Question: I read that Robert Sarnoff, head of NBC in the '50s and '60s, died. While no reference is made in the brief obit about his performing or having anything to do with the recording industry, I recall a piece in one of your earlier columns about a rare and pricey Sarnoff record. Am I dreaming? Also, is this the same guy who made the vodka?

I guess I should start clipping and saving your columns _ something I have been planning but have yet to do. _ Len Ingle, Denver

Dear Len: About the record, you are not dreaming; but, you are in dreamland about the vodka. Someone named Smirnoff peddles the Russian national drink.

Titled Robert W. Sarnoff _ 25 Years Of RCA Leadership (RWS-0001), RCA (then owned by NBC) made the album in 1973 for Sarnoff's retirement and to honor his 25 years with the company. He is pictured on the front cover.

Intended as an in-house-only commemorative release, Victor made only a few dozen copies _ some say around 50 _ thus accounting for its rarity.

A chronological quarter-century retrospective, the LP features excerpts of tunes by most of RCA Victor's hit makers in the following categories: 1. The Post-War Years: Crooners _ Comedy _ Mambo; 2. From the Golden Classics to the Presley Era; 3. Broadway's Brightest Lights; 4. The Closing Fifties; 5. The Middle Years: Soundtracks _ Instrumentals _ Country; 6. Rock Begins; 7. The New RCA; 8. Epilog.

The demand for this final item is limited to Elvis collectors, since excerpts of four of his songs (Hound Dog, Don't Be Cruel, Heartbreak Hotel, In the Ghetto) are included.

Since value is determined by a combination of scarcity and demand, this item is a predestined winner. Seldom offered for sale, the few that have changed hands in recent years have sold for $1,500 to $2,000.

Mr. Sarnoff was also credited as a key person in the development of color television programing. He died Feb. 22 at age 78.

Question: What became of the Crests, of 16 Candles fame? I often hear that song on the radio, in movies and on various artists' compilation albums, but I hear nothing else by them.

Who were the group members? Did any of them go on to sing with other groups? I say yes (the Brooklyn Bridge), but a music-loving friend says no _ that they all just faded away. Any info will be appreciated. _ Cheryl Blink, Beecher, Ill.

Dear Cheryl: The Crests, who, with the Del-Vikings rank among early rock 'n' roll's top integrated groups, were primarily: Johnny Maestro (lead singer), Talmadge Gough, J.T. Carter, Harold Torres, and Patricia Van Dross.

By no means a one-hit-wonder group, other big hits by the Crests, besides 16 Candles, include: Step By Step, Trouble in Paradise and Six Nights a Week. Not as successful _ in sales and on charts _ but still memorable are Flower of Love, Journey of Love and Isn't It Amazing.

Maestro left the quintet in 1960 to pursue a solo career. His very Crests-like Model Girl made the nation's Top 20, and the follow-up, What a Surprise cracked the Top 40. His third and last solo chart hit is Mr. Happiness. All three came out in 1961.

In 1968, Maestro (nee John Mastrangelo) teamed with established New York doo-woppers, the Del-Satins, to form the Brooklyn Bridge. (Tell your friend you're right!)

Best known of the Brooklyn Bridge's releases is Worst That Could Happen, though the group did manage another half-dozen chart items. One, though, Your Husband _ My Wife (1969) is noteworthy in that adulterous tunes _ long a staple of country and blues songs _ were uncommon in the pop (read: teen) music field.

IZ ZAT SO? Although the spelling of the last name has changed, the Crests' Patricia Van Dross is none other than Luther VanDross' older sister.

1997, World Features Syndicate Inc.