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ALADDIN 211; MAY, 1948

 
 

 

It’s been my experience that the peak of someone’s interest in the wonderful world of risqué euphemisms, double entendres and just plain filthy language occurs somewhere around 4th grade. Usually that’s the time where the awareness and recognition of sexuality begins in earnest and is matched, more or less, by the acquired knowledge of the basic intricacies of the English language, specifically the realization that certain words can take on different meanings depending on their context. The combination of these two discoveries can result in some side-splitting humor among the ten year old crowd.

Now add in the fact that at that precocious age MOST kids haven’t a clue what all of these things actually mean, yet are fully aware that they’re not supposed to know (as evidenced by the fierce reprisals of ones parents, teachers and – if you’re so inclined to believe such things – the threat of an omnipresent sentient being looking down upon you with scorn and eternal damnation for your behavior) and so using these words in spite of the risk of reprimand to impress your equally clueless friends is the pinnacle of cheap tawdry juvenile entertainment.

Needless to say, while most of us mature past that stage rather quickly, accelerated when we start experiencing for ourselves the very things being laughed over on the playground and discovering these naughty topics are in fact far more enjoyable than humorous, very few of us ever actually evolve too far beyond that stage no matter what front we put up. It’s sad to admit that the dirty jokes delivered by bathroom wall poets will always hold a certain fascination for every male no matter what age they reach.

Luckily for us guys you girls out there don’t have many viable options to choose from when it comes to picking mates.

Anyway, in 1940’s rock ‘n’ roll (well, really pre-integration rock, meaning anything up to about 1954) the double entendre was a fairly steady – and always welcome – presence in songs. The lyrics in songs of this nature are judged quite differently than most.

Normally we listen for how the words sound when sung. They may not even have to be that intelligible as long as they are melodic. When we study them a bit more closely we look for good storytelling structure in addition to their flow. Does the writer deliver a credible tale in his three minutes on stage, one that has some sort of introduction of the character or setting, some juicy conflict and a satisfactory resolution? Is the theme something that’s relateable, or at the very least plausible to those listening? Finally, we give our highest marks to those who have the innate ability to come up with an instantly memorable turn of phrase. To break off a rhyme so sick that you immediately listen again as if you’re in disbelief that anyone could’ve come up with it in the first place, then once you’ve heard it the stanza in question will remained embedded in your consciousness until roughly three weeks after you’re dead and your corpse is starting to decompose.

On the whole these are pretty universal standards which are easily agreed upon and not all that difficult to evaluate.
 

 

From This Point Forward: Adults Only, Please!
But then there are THESE kind of records where a whole ‘nuther set of ground rules are applied. Yes, good flow, quality rhymes, a decent structure for the story are all still very much appreciated, but the primary aim is to say something dirty in just such a way that when taken at face value the line appears to be acceptable, if not exactly clean, but wherein the hipper you are the more you “get” what it’s really about. There’s an inferred status bestowed on those in the audience who understand it without needing it explained to them.

The more clever you are about it as a songwriter and the closer you can skirt the line between obscene and permissible, the more we will praise you.

Too crass and it loses its appeal pretty quickly, too vague and we lose interest before we can fully grasp each underlying meaning.

So I guess by now you’ve figured out that Pool Playing Blues doesn’t have much to with the game of billiards, but rather how Amos Milburn uses the game’s particulars as substitutes for various forms of sexual hanky panky. Thus ultimately the success or failure of this record comes down to how clever and salacious we find the descriptions he’s singing about.
 


 
 

In that regard they do their job quite well. Granted there’s not really all that many options for him to choose from considering the topic, but what’s chosen is effective at delivering the goods all the same.

To wit:

She plays so hard, til her eyes turn cherry red
I love the way she plays, cuz she always uses her head

Or:

We roll them up and down, from side to side
But I always drop them in because her pocket’s opened wide

The only stanza that err, ahh… comes up a bit short if you will, is the very first one in the song, as I don’t think they took full advantage of the possibilities of the word “felt” in reference to a certain female anatomical region, but I suppose that’s splitting hairs…

(Get it? Huh? “Splitting hairs”. C’mon, tell me I couldn’t write a good dirty limerick or two. My fourth grade education wasn’t wasted after all!)
 

I Pick Up My Cue Stick At Sundown
Sadly though, the lyrics make up the bulk of what this record has to offer, which is rather surprising coming from somebody who was already building up quite an impressive and diverse résumé as an all-around talent. In fact, he’d already topped this in terms of sheer X-ratedness a year earlier with Operation Blues, in which the euphemisms are far more explicit.

I suppose going back to the well in an attempt to give that particular side of him a little more exposure, no pun intended, to the rapidly growing audience was a solid bet. Milburn had been tackling songs with wildly different attributes all along, each fitting seamlessly in the larger picture rock was painting, and that diversity was his strong suit, assuring that he wouldn’t get pigeonholed. He could play fast and loose, such as on the raucous Bye Bye Boogie, or lay back and cast a spell over you with the seductive I Still Love You on the flip of this, and make them both sound as natural to him as breathing.

To top things off he was backed by the legendary Maxwell Davis, already the West Coast’s best arranger/producer who doubled as one of the premier tenor sax session aces in the business for years. Few behind the scenes figures shaped not just rock music but blues as well, in the mid-20th century as much as Maxwell Davis. None other than B.B. King, whose sessions Davis oversaw for years, praised him as the best he ever worked with in his sixty year career. At the dawn of rock these two towering figures, Milburn and Davis, were a seemingly unbeatable combination.

Yet they don’t mesh well with this one at all.

To start with Amos’s piano is atypically heavy-handed and clunky, as if this was more of a quick run-through while working out a suitable arrangement, something that would then be refined and lightened to fit in with the rest of what they came up with. But the problem is they didn’t quite come up with anything particularly compelling. Meanwhile Davis’s sax and whoever is on guitar (Jessie Ervin or Tiny Webb maybe???) both play well, yet they’re clashing throughout. One or the other needed to be emphasized with the other either sitting out entirely, or each taking stand-alone spots and thus at least giving them both room to breathe. Instead each of them answers Milburn’s vocals, awkwardly overlapping one another – the sax playing cool and mellow, the guitar striking a harsher, grittier tone – and whichever you prefer the other is sure to intrude on your enjoyment of it.

But Davis’s other misstep is pacing it so slow. It cries out for an energetic arrangement to match the raciness of the lyrics. On the aforementioned Operation Blues the shock value was made even more apparent by how nonchalant Milburn delivered it, giving the impression that barely out of his teens he had plenty of experience with women, so it’s natural they tried to replicate that here. Yet there’s a notable difference that alters the effectiveness of that approach.

In the former he was playing the seducer, calm and self-assured, the kind of guy who could talk the panties off the preacher’s wife, and he was telling her what he wanted to do… meaning your perspective is one of anticipation of acts still to come (oh boy, there’s a good thing there’s no censors a line like that has to pass around here).

In Pool Playing Blues however the perspective has changed to someone bragging about his deed after the event has reached its climax (okay, now I’m just being gratuitous, I’ll admit it), which probably means there’s some exaggeration, if not outright fabrication, going on, and while playing it cool may give the appearance that he’s not making it up it also robs it of a good deal of the arousal effect he’s after in his listeners.
 

Wrack ‘Em Up
Recounting his conquest with the laconic delivery he’s forced to adapt in order to fit the tempo he’s saddled with works against it in two ways. The first of course is that it just isn’t as exciting. Amos manages to impart it with enough of a deadpan dry wit to convey its meaning without telegraphing it, but because of that it can’t help but sound somewhat lethargic, almost downplaying his achievement in a way.

That leads to the second problem which is the laid-back tone probably killed jukebox play. It’s not that slower material wasn’t commercially appealing, but since Pool Playing Blues intended to be salacious the thing that goes hand in hand with that is scintillating, even raucous, playing, making the listener have to pay twice to catch each joke while the music sounds every bit as horny as the lyrics imply forcing the bug-eyed virgin who is down to his last nickel into coughing it up just to get his rocks off.

Here, unless he’s just been released from prison, maybe recently returned to civilization after spending a year in the Yukon wilderness, or is 13 and just saw his first glimpse up the skirt of a real life girl doing cartwheels amongst her friends at the precise moment he happened to glance out the upstairs window from across the street or something, nobody listening to this is going to have to be hosed down.

 

 

Maybe it’s just we’ve come to expect more out of Milburn already and so when the individual components are hit and miss we tend to focus more on the “miss” side of the ledger than the mild hits it delivers.

Despite its admirable intentions to turn us listeners into no-account deviants all this record really has going for it is whatever images your own dirty minds can come up with, but in the end those images it conjures up are at least enough to make it worth your while to take her for a spin if you’re near a jukebox. And just so their efforts at corruption were not completely in vain I’ll go so far as to add without reservation that as B-sides go it’ll probably have you flipping her over a few times to hear her sing when you drop a coin into her slot and press her button…

Or something like that!
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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