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MERCURY 8190; SEPTEMBER 1950

 
 

 

It’s a familiar pattern to anybody who’s got even a cursory understanding of the record industry of the 1950’s…

A novice independent label releases an original song by a new untested artist and it immediately draws widespread attention… a major company then swoops in and hastily covers the song in an attempt to use their marketing and distribution advantages to push the smaller release aside and steal a hit for themselves in the process.

Except in this case there’s a few unusual plot twists to the normal script, the first being that the major company didn’t use a white pop act to lay down their opportunist cover but rather tapped one of their few authentic black rock acts to tackle the song and thus compete in the same market.

Had this succeeded it’s possible the music industry might’ve wound up looking very different over the next decade.
 

 

From Street To Street
In the mid-1950’s when the major labels desperately used a burn and pillage mentality when it came to dealing with the influx of black rock ‘n’ roll on the pop listings their cover record approach consisted of significantly watering down the originals by using white pop acts with commercial clout such as Georgia Gibbs (in Mercury’s case) to try and appeal to their normal middle-class adult constituency.

This method failed miserably both aesthetically and commercially (after some initial curiosity on the behalf of pop audiences that is) because the content of these songs were largely outside the scope of their own experiences while the appeal of the originals had been bolstered significantly by the rough and tumble way in which they were delivered, both vocally and musically, something which the cover versions completely sidestepped because they felt it was beneath them.

Their inability to compete on level ground with the source material essentially ended the longstanding practice of cover records across the industry, which may have been something of an overreaction. After all, pop audiences might’ve still have been willing to hear fifteen different versions of a treacly ballad but they just weren’t interested in hearing even one version of a lusty rocker no matter how much it had been neutered to meet their tastes.

But had the major labels taken THIS approach instead and signed some legitimate rock artists of their own and then covered songs in their usual manner, but kept the arrangements intact or improved upon them in an attempt to appeal to the original rock fan base rather than the pop audience, then who’s to say that the age-old record business practice when it came to the communal stealing of material wouldn’t have continued forever?

Maybe the fact that when Mercury Records DID try it with Street Walkin’ Daddy and they didn’t reap any rewards for their efforts is why they quickly discarded that game plan and recommitted themselves to the mindset that the only market that mattered was the pop establishment which ironically is the very thing that would almost bring about their downfall as arbiters of popular taste when those tastes changed with the next generation coming of age.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… for now we have to commend Mercury Records for doing right by this song even if in the process they tried sending another artist and label to the reject pile of irrelevancy.
 


 

When I First Met You
Though obviously the story, the perspective and the lyrics for both versions are the same, everything else here is somewhat radically shaken up.

We criticized Alma Mondy on the flip-side of this for being too loud and intense from the get-go and while you could certainly say she takes on a similar tactic here, as she’s much more direct than Margie Day was, but in this case it works wonderfully.

Part of this is because Mondy only gets to about 75% of maximum volume rather than trying to surpass 100% as she did on Miss Lollipop’s Confession, but more importantly the reason why this comes off better is because the song’s frank declarations call for a more powerful delivery.

That’s not to say Margie Day undersold hers. She simply took a different approach, choosing to play the part of a coy seductress and lure you in that way. Considering she wrote the song we can hardly find fault with how she envisioned it playing out.

But Mondy’s choice to make the character more assertive certainly doesn’t hurt the story and in some ways makes Street Walkin’ Daddy more accessible, especially on first listen where her commanding presence leads to a more visceral response.

The musical accompaniment reinforces this perception as even though pieces of the arrangement itself are remarkably similar, the intensity of the parts behind Mondy match her power as the horn riffs are rougher here than behind Day where they were being called upon to soothe your ears rather grind away suggestively.

The change makes this a more aggressive record than Day’s which allows each version to occupy their own lane in the rock marketplace. Ultimately the original won out – maybe because audiences did in fact like it better, or perhaps Day had the advantage because she had nightly airings of it on a radio program that reached half the country, or because a pop label like Mercury didn’t have the distributors to get Mondy’s record into the places it needed to be in order to reach the fans – but commercial considerations aside, Mondy’s remake was entirely welcome because it provided a different feel.
 


 

My Love Is Coming Down
With riffing horns over a stabbing piano, capped by the cymbals being smacked around to introduce her, Mondy starts off in what for her is low gear… not demure by any means, but measured in her delivery.

As she gets into it though her volume rises and with it the song takes off, the words that in Day’s hands were slightly vulnerable become more accusatory with Mondy laying into each line in such a forceful way.

Whereas Margie Day draped her performance under the veil of hurt to elicit sympathy – from the listeners, yes, but also her man who is out prowling the streets for other women before she unveils her power over him as the song goes on – Mondy leaves no doubt that she feels she’s the one with the upper hand the whole time, yet because the situation itself remains the same we can tell that she’s just fronting and unlike Day who soon revealed she was treating it like part of a cat and mouse game over the couple’s affections, Mondy winds up with her feelings much more exposed.

By the end of Street Walkin’ Daddy she’s the one sounding desperate for her man to return, thereby turning the roles on their head again.

That it works so well both ways, with character arc of the central figure going from weak to strong or from strong to weak, shows what a really good story this is and how talented both singers were to be able to convincingly shift the emotional weight as they went along.

Musically it’s not adhering to quite the same inside out policy but there are some notable differences nonetheless. While the Griffin Brothers played things cool behind Day early, then exploded heading into the stop time vocal as the dynamics of her performance changed, the New Orleans session aces backing Mondy emphasize a grinding sexual tension at the start and then get a more traditional instrumental break in which they start by cutting loose but gradually ease back which works in good contrast to Mondy’s increasingly frantic mentality as she returns, now fully aware that she’s in danger of losing this guy.

Both of them are perfectly suited for the choices of their vocalists and you can’t go wrong with either one, even as they give you slightly different moods to pull you in.
 


 

Come On Home
The cover record phenomenon will naturally loom large over rock ‘n’ roll for the rest of the decade but in this case we get something infinitely more interesting than the usual appropriation of another musical style and culture that it usually entails.

Instead with Street Walkin’ Daddy we get two rock artists on equal footing each trying to make their version of a really good song unique. We can still find some fault with the practice of undercutting someone else’s original song, but because the cover artist has no condescending attitude about the material it gives us better insight into how their creative choices wind up shaping the end results rather than divergent commercial choices.

Though I’m sure the consensus is that Day’s take on it is better, Mondy’s version has its own strengths that draw it even and so whichever record you gave your nickels to in the jukebox you were assured of hearing a very good record.

In the end that’s what we all want out of each release, something worth our time and trouble, no matter how it came about.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Alma “Lollypop Mama” Mondy for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)
 
 
 

 
Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
 
Margie Day (with The Griffin Brothers) (August, 1950)