Tags

No tags :(

Share it

ALADDIN 211; MAY, 1948

 
 

 

When talking about the multitude of independent record labels in rock’s first decade the hierarchy has been long established in historians minds with Atlantic, King and Chess leading the way with various other familiar companies filling out the ranks of the historically notable.

One that has somehow been reduced to also-ran status over the years was Aladdin Records, despite more than a decade of consistently strong releases in a variety of styles.

One reason why Aladdin is lacking the historical respect of Atlantic, Chess, King, Specialty, Sun and Imperial is surely because all of those labels had towering figures as the faces of their companies, be it Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Little Richard, Elvis Presley or Fats Domino, artists whose career stories have been explored in great depth thus giving the labels they recorded for a good deal of ancillary historical attention. By contrast Aladdin had nobody who was viewed as a first rate headlining legend in the years since.

Consequently their diminished place in the record company pecking order makes sense on the surface I suppose – Aladdin didn’t have someone widely viewed by the masses as a indisputable legend to elevate their stature as a label, but to say they had no one who was deserving of that status would be a mistake.

They did.

His name, in case you’re slow to catch on, was Amos Milburn, one of rock’s upper echelon stars, if not its absolute greatest star, of its first 7 years or so.
 

Think Of All Who Are Suffering Now Because They Tried
Amos Milburn was just about the only rock artist Aladdin employed in the genre’s first couple of years, thus he was forced to carry the entire burden of keeping the label relevant in this rapidly expanding marketplace. That he was able to do so is a testament to his varied skills and the prodigious output he was churning out. In that latter realm he had some help though thanks to Aladdin’s secret weapon, A&R head, producer, saxophonist and frequent writer Maxwell Davis. Together Milburn and Davis became rock’s first dynamic duo, the most highly skilled artist-producer tandem of the 1940’s.

As the final months of 1947 ticked away, inching towards the dreaded recording ban set to start when the New Year rang in, Aladdin wasn’t caught short at the last second, rushing in their artists over the last few days of the year to cram in as many sessions as humanly possible to stockpile material to see them through the draught as the other labels all were frantically doing, with predictably uneven results.

Instead Aladdin’s management appeared to have planned ahead and calmly built their arsenal of releasable material as Milburn and Davis recorded steadily, cutting more than twenty songs over multiple sessions from October to the end of the year, NONE of which has the appearance of being hastily written and arranged, or worse yet, off-the-cuff “filler” designed to merely be thrown out on the market should the ban stretch on for the foreseeable future and require dredging things up from the bottom of the barrel.

As a result when other labels began panicking by mid-1948 as their best sides had already been released and they were all forced to put-out substandard leftovers or risk running afoul with the union by conducting sessions under the table in the dark of night, Aladdin kept forging ahead with business as usual, having a surplus of equally viable sides to choose from at their leisure.

With Milburn they chose exceedingly well, in part because he was so damn good they had plenty of options. His last side from January, the storming rocker Bye Bye Boogie, hadn’t charted but served notice that he was at the forefront of this new style that was growing in popularity. Yet just as that rousing style was taking off even more in the spring Aladdin stepped back and offered up a stirring ballad as a change of pace to make sure that Milburn was represented on that side of the ledger too.

It was a bold and confident choice, showing Milburn was beholden to no one niche at all, but could excel at anything under the rock banner that may come along.
 

You Need Me Too
The differences between Bye Bye Boogie and I Still Love You couldn’t be more striking if one was done by a yodeler from the Swiss alps and the other played by a ukulele and kazoo duo with a children’s choir backing it.

Whereas the first was all manic energy, this is dreamy calm. The former was molten fire, while this is as cool as ice. Yet what they both have in common is the underlying passion of the performer himself. It may be hard to discern that particular similarity when just looking at the delivery, so disparate are they on the surface, but in each case Milburn conveys a palpable sense of urgency, it’s simply expressed differently.

Bye Bye Boogie found him boisterously kissing off a former love, not angrily, and not trying to cover his true feelings of sadness by projecting a cocky assurance that he’s better off without her, but rather he gave the impression of someone who was glad to be free from a relationship that had clearly reached the end of the line. In it he extracted himself from a tangled romantic web without getting tied up in that web somehow and he’s downright elated about his good fortune. He sounds as if he’s so anxious to put himself back on the market and go looking for a new woman to share his bed with that he probably put on mismatched shoes in his haste while forgetting his belt, his wallet or maybe even his pants as he rushed out the door. It was an ebullient sense of joy he conveyed and the mood couldn’t help but be contagious to the listener, propelling the song like it was shot out of a cannon.

I Still Love You on the other hand turns that scenario on its head completely as it finds him on the receiving end of an impending break up, but rather than take the typical approach of expressing grief over the split, or perhaps showing anger or even feigning indifference, all of which are tried and true responses to such an event in real life as well as on wax, here he simply sits back and calmly works his magic over her, utterly cool, relaxed and confident, yet no way coming off as cocky and egotistical.


It’s a brilliant flipping of the situation, both as a mirror image of the first record, but also in the male-female dynamic itself.

By showing he’s hurt, but not wallowing in it or begging for sympathy, he maintains his façade of inner emotional strength that is bound to make himself seem more appealing, no matter what led up to this decision by his girlfriend to kick his ass to the curb. By confessing his feelings openly he’s showing vulnerability which undoubtedly will help to soften her heart and weaken her resolve. Yet most ingeniously of all, by taking his time in all of this, never sounding desperate, he’s maintaining enough emotional distance to make his position all the more intriguing – to us as listeners, but most importantly to the girl he’s addressing this to.

Throughout all this Milburn’s piano is played with an almost serene calm while a guitar (possibly Johnny Brown) weaves its way in and out of the arrangement hypnotically, taking the place usually held down by Davis’s saxophone. The decision of Maxwell Davis to step aside altogether here was an inspired one. By leaving his ego at the door and offering up another option for the benefit of the song, he gives this a totally different feel, one more earthbound and resigned to its fate than he’s shown before when the sax his main support system. Instead the guitar’s unique textures makes Milburn’s vocals sound all the more weary, almost giving the impression of the entire performance being delivered in a half-realized dream-state just before dawn.

The effect is mesmerizing all around, causing the listener to want to crawl inside his mind to uncover his true feelings.
 

I Know You Love Me
This is usually where the story comes in handy, analyzing the lyrics to discern just what the circumstances are, what his aims may be and any ulterior motive lurking below the surface. But in this case there aren’t many clues offered up by the lyrics when you get right down to it, though you’ll be forgiven if you think otherwise. On paper it all comes off as shallow and hackneyed, Remedial Apology 101, certain not to win back the hand of someone who left for good reason.

But Milburn gives the simple sentiments an enormous amount of added heft in just the way he drags out each line to their absolute breaking point, stretching out the words as if in a drug-induced haze, yet conveying the deepest feelings in the WAY he delivers them.

The more you listen the more fascinating it becomes to consider the multitude of possibilities inherent in his persona based on the skeletal information he gives us. Is he really heartbroken? A lovesick sap lacking in experience, mournful over seeing his one true love depart? He sure doesn’t seem to be, even though he’s using words that would be entirely in line with just such a position.

Is he hurt and confused, unsure of how to respond to being dumped, knowing he’s done wrong, but not quite sure how, and therefore is he allowing that uncertainty to affect the way he presents his case to her? Maybe not wanting to come on too strong and reinforce the negative image she currently has of him. I suppose it COULD be, but I don’t think it’s that either, there’s too much knowing confidence in his voice to have me believe he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.

Or is he SO good at this game that he’s simply lying through his teeth, the whole thing an elaborate well-rehearsed act designed to turn the tables on her state of mind until she forgets she’s the one who pulled the plug on this relationship herself. If so it’s surely an approach he’s used – and succeeded with – before, an experienced Svengali manipulating her emotions by knowing exactly what buttons to push, and how hard or gentle to push them, all so that SHE is the one who returns to him, probably apologetic and more determined than ever to do right by him.

If so it’s utterly devious but completely effective.
 

Think Of All The Memories
That’s the perspective I get from this, which is also the most complex and skillful on Milburn’s part, as well as the one trickiest to pull off without delving into their backstory in the scant two and a half minutes he has to present this. But when really studying this it’s the one scenario that makes the most sense.

He’s a seducer, and by the sounds of it a first rate one at that. He very likely has a string of equally enchanted girls under his spell, probably spread all over town, and this one had enough of his carousing finally and quit him, determined to walk away with her self-respect intact.

This isn’t stated, or even hinted at lyrically, but from the languorous piano opening and the snake charmer guitar wrapping itself around his words to the way he handles this impending split with calm self-assurance reveals more about the character he’s embodying than all of the descriptive lines in the world possibly could.

Everything is done by mere suggestion, nothing is pushed too hard, but by the end of the record you’re so captivated that you actually sympathize with him, not her, thinking this girl would be a fool if she doesn’t forget every conceivable thing he put her through and simply go running back to him. It’s a virtuoso performance in that regard, even if we’re left a little unsettled by his reptilian methods.

The song is a field day for those in psychology classes studying manipulative interpersonal relationships because this appears to be a textbook case. There’s no anger shown in his approach, no self-serving defense of his reasons for whatever actions along the way led to this breakup, but while he smartly doesn’t shift any of the blame to her, there’s also no mea culpa offered up in his forlorn plea to her. He’s not taking an ounce of responsibility for any of the missteps along the way, in fact he doesn’t even address the problems they’ve had, calculatingly treating them as if they didn’t exist.

In a world full of insecure guys who try to control the girls they’re with by physical force and verbal brutality the charges levied here aren’t quite so easy to prove because they’re far less obvious in their intent. The guy Milburn is portraying is even more dangerous because of it, albeit in a different way, because he’s a tactical manipulator who deftly sidesteps any direct accusations, leaves no visible residue of the emotional toll he puts her through, and subtly shifts the balance of power in his favor in the most sinister ways possible.

By offering up the ideal image of himself, well-crafted over weeks and months of tedious labor, he changes her impressions of him and causes her to doubt her own instincts, thereby turning her heart against her brain until she no longer trusts her own intuition.

In the end, if he’s successful, and guys like him usually are, the girl always goes back willingly and it takes on the appearance of being completely understandable to any neutral observer, after all how could you resist his honeyed tones, his deft touch with a phrase, his well-acted sincerity? When he applies pressure in the song it’s an internal pressure that the girl will feel strongest when she starts thinking of him at his best, convincing herself that it’s the “real” him, the one she’ll get if she gives in and goes back to him.

As we listen to it unfold we cringe with a sense of knowing dread because we know all too well how this will likely end.

For awhile she’ll be right I’m sure, but before long he’ll be back on the prowl, carousing from dusk ’til dawn while her battered psyche endures yet another round of self-torment. If she listened to him this time and went back in spite of her misgivings we won’t expect her to wise up next time around either. The most we can hope for is to get another song out of the whole messy ordeal, because this one was simply riveting.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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