Gary: “For this Post, I will not use the Billboard Top 40 Hits Book. I will talk about Three Groups, with Three fairly successful recordings (only one made the Billboard top 40). The strange thing with these Three Groups, that over the period of 1956 through 1961, they were basically the same guys with Three different names…
1. Jayhawks/ Stranded in the Jungle/ Flash 109/ June 1956/ (The Cadets had the bigger record)
2. The Vibrations/ The Watusi/ Checker/ February 1961/
3. The Vibrations / My Girl Sloopy
4. The Marathons (Gary’s Favourite)/ Peanut Butter/ Arvee/ April 1961/ #20
[Amazing how each group sounded so different. – RS]
The group initially began recording as The Jay Hawks, and had a hit in 1956 with “Stranded in the Jungle” (US #18). After a few line-up changes, the group hit again in 1961 with the song “The Watusi” (US #25); concurrently, they had a hit under the name The Marathons with “Peanut Butter” (#20).
The group recorded a couple of Northern Soul classics since their initial hit on Atlantic Records in 1963. A cover version of “My Girl Sloopy“, retitled “Hang On, Sloopy“, was a hit for the McCoys in 1965.
Their 1968 track “Cause You’re Mine” (Epic Records 5-10418, although originally on Okeh Records) is listed as #48 in The Northern Soul Top 500 by Kev Roberts. “This track knocks you sideways by the 4th bar and continues to race against time, leaving you collapsed in a heap of delight”!.
A later single “Surprise Party For Baby” attributed to The Vibrating Vibrations (Neptune Records N-28) is listed as #188 in The Northern Soul Top 500, was practically a new single when exploding onto the Northern Soul scene at Blackpool Mecca in 1971 – “The intro and subsequent ‘Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey’ harmony works a treat into dragging you onto the dance floor. A further hook, ‘Hope She’s Going To Show Up’ is typical Gamble and Huff, being highly reminiscent of The Intruders cuts a couple of years later”.
The Vibrations briefly broke up in 1971. At this time, Owens became a member of The Temptations, although he was let go after his first few engagements. Owens and the other Vibrations regrouped and continued, eventually become a nightclub act in the mid 1970s, before officially dissolving the group in 1976.
Richard Owens passed away in 1996.
The brief history of the Marathons is shrouded in mystery and confusion. Long thought to be a pseudonym for the Olympics, the US R&B group that had recorded ‘Western Movies’ in 1958, the Marathons was actually a pseudonym for the Vibrations, a Los Angeles vocal group who had a 1961 dance hit with ‘The Watusi’, and in a previous incarnation, as the Jayhawks who hit the US singles charts in 1956 with ‘Stranded In The Jungle’.
The convoluted story of the Marathons’ only hit, 1961’s ‘Peanut Butter’, is that the Olympics’ record company, Arvee, needed a new release from the group while they were on the road. In the Olympics’ place, Arvee hired the Vibrations to record ‘Peanut Butter’, a virtual soundalike of the Olympics’ own ‘(Baby) Hully Gully’.
‘Peanut Butter’ reached #20 on Arvee, but when the Vibrations’ own label discovered that its group had been moonlighting, it took over distribution of the record, issuing it on both the Chess Records and Argo labels. With that decision, the career of the non-existent Marathons came to an end. However, an attempt by Arvee to cash in on the success of the group resulted in a bogus version of the Marathons, along with an album and a series of single releases, including ‘C. Percy Mercy Of Scotland Yard’ and ‘Tight Sweater’.