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ALADDIN 3023; APRIL, 1949

 
 

 

…Then again maybe nobody at Aladdin Records really had any pre-conceived plan and were just winging it all along!

Having just been hyper-critical of the company led by Eddie and Leo Mesner for shortsightedly trying to capitalize on the recent mega-smash Chicken Shack Boogie by releasing an almost identical follow-up that provided the consumer with absolutely no impetus for essentially paying for the same record twice, suggesting that they were intent on disregarding the consistently solid work he’d recorded a year earlier, here they revisit those earlier sessions with a B-side cut way back in November 1947.

Maybe it was a case of just trying to empty the vaults on the flip of what they must’ve been certain would be a big hit on the top side, figuring it’d hardly matter that this was recorded so long ago.

The thing of it is THIS is the better of the two sides. The one that was already a year and half old, rather than the recently recorded A-side which presumably had the advantage of knowing just what the current trends in the marketplace were.

All of which goes to show that Milburn, when left to his own devices, was skilled enough, visionary enough and musically curious enough to deliver great material anytime he stepped into a studio.
 

 
You Dress So Fine
One of the (many) things that marked Amos Milburn as a leader in the rock field was his diversity. He had many facets to his musical persona rather than being affixed to just one dominant image, like say Wynonie Harris’s eternally ribald hell-raiser.

On one hand this made Milburn less predictable, and thus perhaps less reliable for audiences seeking one specific release from his records, something they were assured of getting each time out that would presumably satisfy their needs. But that versatility also made him much more likely to withstand any fad or change in approach that came along because he could easily adapt to any new trend, not to mention being capable of kick-starting new trends on his own simply because he was always looking for new wrinkles to add to his work.

Milburn could pound the piano better than anyone and effectively lead the chorus for any after hours party yet he was also unmatched as a soulful crooner, whether trying to get a girl into the sack or bemoaning one who got away from him. While his vocal characteristics were very distinct he had the ability to shade each performance with the appropriate underlying sentiments not conveyed so much in the lyrics themselves as in the way he delivered them.

All of which is why it was so disappointing to hear him called upon to replicate an earlier performance on the top side of this, Jitterbug Parade. While the music affixed to it was certainly as hot as anything out at this time, and the song’s structure itself was obviously highly appreciated by the masses (as evidenced by the song it was based on, Chicken Shack Boogie, still being on the charts when this was released) the intentional lack of any change in his approach robbed him of the forward momentum his career had been building.

Consequently – and thankfully – rock fans of the day roundly dismissed the regurgitated Jitterbug Parade while sending Hold Me Baby zooming up the charts… not quite in the rarified air of the previous two sides, which combined to rule at #1 for two months, but this seemingly throw-away afterthought of a B-side didn’t fall too far short of those high standards, hitting #2 and in the process solidifying Milburn’s hold over the rock field.

If for no other reason than that – to offer irrefutable proof that Aladdin Records didn’t have to try and artificially rig the system to get hits out of their star talent – this would be a welcome entry in the rolls, but of course with Milburn there’s far more to it than just that. If anyone has the ability to render the last twenty months since this was cut a mere formality it’s Amos Milburn, who seemed to have a crystal ball back when he was starting out that saw the future musical landscape in stunning clarity and detail.
 


 
 

Makes Me Want To Love You All The Time
Because rock music moves so fast the danger is always that something will sound dated by the time it’s released no matter what the recording date actually was, late 1947 or a week ago Tuesday, and when that’s the case audiences have an unerring tendency to reject it out of hand. An artist who falls behind the curve may never recover and so it’s a constant effort to remain relevant when the musical terrain around your feet starts to shift again.

For a record label to exhume moldy old recordings already a year and a half old to put out as a single is usually a sign of commercial desperation, intentional career sabotage or an indication that everybody involved was utterly clueless as to the market forces at work.

Any or all of those things may in fact be the case with Aladdin’s brain trust but not for the first time and hardly for the last time they seem to fall into the mire of bad decision making and still come up smelling like roses.

What’s so remarkable about Hold Me Baby is that in spite of its vintage it sounds as current and up to date as anything coming out at the time.

The record kicks off with an exultant shout from Milburn, something that is slightly out of character for someone who usually is fully in control of his emotions, but then again he’s got as deep a bag of tricks as anyone in rock’s pantheon so obviously he’s had this weapon in his arsenal all along and it just didn’t have a chance to wield it in battle until now.

It has a galvanizing effect though, pulling you in completely within seconds before he eases back on the throttle and relaxes into a mid-tempo pace with a vocal delivery that masterfully switches between yearning urgency and emotional restraint.

We keep saying how Milburn makes everything look easy and as a result his skill set remains somewhat underrated. He excels at everything, yet nothing specifically stands out among his talents to turn your head. He doesn’t have the dynamic gospelish voice like a Roy Brown to make you take notice but his soulful croon remains unmatched in its ability to convey feeling. He’s not ripping the keys off the piano like a Forest Sykes had done in a violent fury but he constantly delivers compelling riffs that keep your ears glued to the speakers. His songwriting is consistently on target with every perspective offered, yet is so sublime that you find yourself mesmerized rather than astonished by the lyrics he recites.

So it is here as Milburn’s economical approach leaves you transfixed without fully understanding why perhaps. Everything simply falls into place right down to the now standard Maxwell Davis sax break which is as gratifying as always, but which is all the more surprising considering that when he recorded it he had no idea as to which direction the instrument would head in the rock field, something which bolsters Davis’s already potent case for being deserving of far more credit than he usually is afforded when talking about those who were instrumental in shaping the sound of rock ‘n’ roll to begin with.
 


 

Irresistible Lips?
Usually the tales of love and lust that have taken place on rock’s output to date have centered around a few constants. Either the longing for romance (or merely sex) as delivered by someone romantically unattached, or the after effects of being dumped by your significant other.

There have been a few variations on these themes, giving us the anticipatory scenes before the actual dumping takes place, or the propositioning itself between two cats in heat while on the prowl, but Milburn takes the latter to an even more sinful plateau on Hold Me Baby because, as he makes perfectly clear, he’s already GOT a woman. In fact, he is wearing her wedding band as we speak, yet the vows of holy matrimony seem to make no difference to Amos whose horniness for this particular filly has him telling her to “creep in my window when the lights go out/my wife won’t be there to put you out”.

It’s a moment which shows there was no morality clause in the rock star contract from the very beginning. Yet I don’t think his intent was to include this for shock value, or to paint a picture of a lecherous scoundrel with the rest of the story bolstering that image. He drops the line in so casually that it almost acts as an aside to the main part of the plot and therefore – if you’re the kind who is prone to noticing such things and like to weigh in with a character assessment when presented with these details – it may cause you to shudder with discomfort, or at the very least trips you up on your enjoyment of the song.

But I have to admit that in listening to it I somehow find myself overlooking his behavior simply because he pulls it off so smoothly, yet to be consistent in my appraisal of these types of conditions I can’t do that. In past reviews I’ve railed against the violence committed by men against women, rightly saying I can’t condone such actions even in the guise of a fictitious song and thus the artists are going to be penalized for advocating such criminal brutality. So while a slightly different issue is at play here I can’t very well give Milburn a complete pass for his open infidelities on this one. Had he merely changed the words “my wife” to a more ambiguous “there won’t be anybody to put you out” I could rest easy in his intentions for the night. Maybe he’d be talking about a roommate or a landlord and not his betrothed.

I might even be persuaded – with another verse to clarify his wife’s absence – that she was off with another man and thus, while I suggest finding a good lawyer first to initiate divorce proceedings before you hop in bed with somebody else, I’d be more inclined to look the other way on his own disreputable actions.

I also don’t want to turn the blog into a morality test and thereby fail those artists who don’t live up to the basic creed of “do unto others…”, I mean rock ‘n’ roll was hardly the province of choir boys and girl scouts when it came to personal behavior, but it certainly does give you pause to consider that he’s excited to commit adultery and by extension we’re supposed to get enthused about the prospect as well.

But that was rock ‘n’ roll for you. Quite often it takes you to the edge of your comfort zone and leaves you hanging in the breach, forcing each listener to make their own judgment calls as to whether to accept what they’re offering as entertainment.
 


 

Who Wants To Think?
The rest of the song has no such problems which means I’m likely to try and sidestep the problem in hopes it works in other ways, and of course this being Amos Milburn it does that and more. The second of the stop-time sections was lifted almost word for word a few years later by Fats Domino and it was just as effective in his Little Bee as it is here. In fact Milburn’s influence on Domino’s early style is apparent throughout this, which gives this even more historical importance.

In other words it was a vital building block that moved rock forward in a substantial way and that has to be celebrated even if you cringe at the thought of his poor wife, off feeding the poor and helping the infirmed manage their households (bless her sweet selfless heart), coming home to finally get some sleep after a sixteen hour workday and crawling into a bed that recently played host to a sultry young hussy.

Oh well, by now with this being his third consecutive huge smash record Amos Milburn is raking in the cash so I’ll tell Mrs. Milburn to take him for all he’s worth, buy herself a lavish penthouse apartment with the settlement and start lining up eligible young men to satisfy HER needs from now on.

Meanwhile I’ll listen to Hold Me Baby and appreciate it for what else it contains, leaving the messy details of a relationship on the rocks to the lawyers and the marriage counselors. If you want to call me a hypocrite, feel free to, for even after knocking one point off the final score for his wandering eye I feel like one myself.

But I also feel like listening to a song this good again without the guilt so I’ll accept that trade off in the end. Just don’t ask me to be a character witness for you Amos, that’s where I’ll draw the line.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Amos Milburn for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)
 
 

 
Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
 
Jimmy Preston (June, 1949)