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ALADDIN 3125; MARCH 1952



Far be it for us to criticize artists for not always checking the prevailing commercial winds but in early 1952 those under contract to Aladdin Records seemed to be under the mistaken belief that it was a few years earlier than it actually was.

Maybe the company just never got around the changing the calendars hanging in their offices, because rather than have their still-impressive roster of rock acts looking to blaze new trails in the uncharted future they’re sending them back down roads already traversed by others years before.

As a result, despite having the best producer in the business and a well-respected reputation among distributors and fans alike, Aladdin Records saw their position near the top of the independent record label pyramid begin its gradual slide largely thanks to simple errors in judgment.


When You Want Some Bread To Eat
The success and failure of record companies are dependent on a multitude of events, most of which they have at least some control over.

While they can’t force audiences to buy their records and give them hits, they can increase their chances at earning those hits with the artists and producers they sign, what material they encourage their artists or songwriters to come up with and what styles to pursue, as well as how efficiently they get their product to the public – and in some cases how many bribes they’re willing to pay to get those records placed in a jukebox or spun on the air.

Aladdin Records had done well in most of those areas throughout rock’s first few years, helped inordinantly by the team featured here on Put Something In My Hand – Amos Milburn, a versatile artist who was equally skilled at singing, playing piano and writing; and producer Maxwell Davis who had the ability to enhance any record he touched, whether adding his own saxophone to the mix or merely arranging the song and working the controls in the studio.

The company rode the two of them to the front of the pack when it came to rock labels for awhile in the late 1940’s, but it’s also easy to see how they were destined to give that frontrunner position up because of how skimpy the rest of their roster was. Aside from a few good one-off contributions from Tina Dixon and the always-on-the-move Joe Turner, they really didn’t make a concerted effort to bolster their artist ranks until adding Big Jay McNeely in 1950, but maybe because his work was less reliant on being shaped by Davis little came of it and he quickly left.

They’ve had three notable additions to their lineup since then, two of which had prior success elsewhere in Peppermint Harris and Floyd Dixon, but both of whom were always straddling rock and blues styles without firmly committing to either one exclusively. In fact, we actually wrote and then discarded a review for Dixon’s regional hit Bad Neighborhood, released last month, because it was too far in the cocktail blues field, a type of music that while still fairly popular was no longer on the vanguard of black musical styles.

The third signing gave them a #1 hit and positioned the company to compete in the ever-growing rock vocal group field, but they now seemed hellbent on ruining The Five Keys chances at shaping that style because they had them revisiting standards or covering pop hits as if this was 1946 or something.

So once again it was left to old reliable Amos Milburn to bail the company out of their own self-imposed musical exile and yet, as they’ve been doing more and more of late, instead of steering them back to firmer rock territory, the song they came up with took Milburn a few steps farther away from the pack he once led so confidently.


I Can’t Take Your Pretty Stories And Put Them In First National Bank
There’s no doubting that Amos Milburn did this sort of thing well. His laconic vocals, the way he can stretch and twist and pull the lyrics into all sorts of shapes never intended by the songwriter, makes these types of songs far more interesting than singers who’d treat the melody as sacrosanct.

Yet while they make for an excellent change of pace in a catalog filled with uptempo rockers and storming boogies, the more of these halting mournful ballads Milburn gave us, the less they’re going to capture your attention.

It’s not his fault, per say. He’s adding a tremendous amount of character to the song, but this is 1952 rock ‘n’ roll where this sort of approach that he had perfected a few years earlier was fast becoming passé. That’s the thing about rock that is always so fascinating, it doesn’t allow for standing still very long. If you’re not careful you can rapidly go from ahead of your time to behind the curve in the blink of an eye.

Which leads to the next reality you have to contend with. Whatever genre of music is most innovative for a stretch will naturally have detractors in more conservative avenues who realize they’re being left in the dust. But when they stop criticizing it, they slowly begin to adapt from it, taking certain elements of the music they feel they can incorporate into their own music so as to increase their chances at staying commercially relevant in an otherwise fading style.

What that means is as cocktail blues began inching towards the piano ballads of late 1940’s rock by the early 1950’s, so now guys like Milburn who defined that earlier rock style had to move beyond that or get sucked into the tractor beam of another genre that was fast becoming outdated.

Put Something In My Hand doesn’t completely fall into that trap, for one thing the topic isn’t morose enough to strictly qualify, but it’s still hinting at it thanks to the languid backing track with Billie Smith’s saxophone and Wayne Bennett on guitar adding appropriate color behind Milburn’s laundry list of complaints regarding his girlfriend who he seems to think owes him money for dating him.

Granted, it’s not the best topic and they might convince you that it’s more about sharing expenses than actually employing him to be a gigolo, but the way he frames it using the “romance without finance” line that seemed popular in mid-20th Century music (Motown was still using that theme frequently a decade later) gives the impression that Amos is looking to profit in the deal beyond some free smooches and an occasional tumble in exchange for his companionship.

If nothing else it might give kids listening a prospective career to look into after they reach puberty.


I Don’t Understand
Which brings us back to the main point – as these things have a tendency to do after 1,800+ reviews – and that’s the uncomfortable fact that the kids in 1952 are not as going to be tuning into this type of record to learn those lessons being preached as their older siblings had been a few years earlier.

Rock’s perspective has been getting ever younger with each passing year, the smoky bar room motif this works best in is becoming alien to most listeners and because it’s already been done to perfection by Milburn himself countless times in days gone by everybody else has moved on to other approaches and he has to do the same or risk impending irrelevancy himself. It might not be fair, but that’s the way it goes.

Sonically speaking Put Something In My Hand still works fairly well. Milburn’s road band The Chickenshackers are in top form and their interplay with him borne from countless hours on stage is first rate. Amos’s vocals are engaging even if the story is a little suspect and without a traditional chorus it’s lacking a great vocal hook, but he does his best to make up for it with his phrasing.

By this point though hitting on all cylinders on something like this is more or less required just to break even, as doing so won’t get you ahead any more.

As we’re prone to remind you, all records have to be viewed in the prism of their own time and unfortunately for Amos Milburn and Aladdin Records, though it’s still nice to hear as a flashback, the time for this kind of thing shaping current events has passed in rock ‘n’ roll.


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