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It really doesn’t matter which is the plug side of a single, does it?

Maybe the one chosen by the record company will benefit slightly from the initial promotional push, but since listeners usually don’t see the ads in the trade papers and since both sides are equally available to be played on jukeboxes, not to mention if you buy the actual record itself, ultimately the decision on which song people prefer is left up to listeners.

But seeing which is the designated A-side does let us get a glimpse of the label’s musical acumen in terms of what they view as the best bet for their artist’s commercial prospects and while Aladdin’s choice was rewarded when this became a hit, at a glance it doesn’t seem to be the one with greater hit potential.


Blue As I Can Be
We’re obviously making too much of this, for both sides of this single hit the Top Ten, but seven decades after the fact we have very little to go on when it comes to trying to understand the how all of these record labels viewed the music they were making and the market they were aiming for and so things like which song they chose for an A-side tends to carry a little more weight than it probably should.

Let’s Rock Awhile, the official B-side, actually was a slightly bigger hit, at least according to Billboard, topping out at #3, although it charted for fewer weeks than this, the designated A-side, which made it to #5 in a longer run and was on more regional charts in Cash Box which sort of tells you with something this good it probably didn’t matter much which one they chose… six of one, half dozen of the other.

But WHY they chose it is the better – and potentially more revealing – question. We know record labels don’t base these things on their own artistic evaluations, but rather each song’s commercial potential, most of which comes from their past success or failure with similar type material for that artist.

There was plenty of evidence that the faster paced B-side with its rolling grooves and smirking vocals talking about sexual assignations in a barely cloaked manner was a winning formula, not just for Milburn but all of rock as a whole.

On the other hand Tears, Tears, Tears was somewhat atypical for him, at least in terms of what connected most with audiences as it featured more guitar than horns, a downcast mood and a much more bluesy bent to it.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter of course, both sides were really good in their own right and to their credit it’d be hard to show more diversity than he does on this single, but in terms of which song would be the more obvious choice to promote you probably have to look below the title to come up with the likely reason this one was picked.


You Know Just How I Feel
If the name Jessie Mae Robinson doesn’t ring a bell you haven’t been paying attention to rock over its first three plus years because she may very well have been the best songwriter in the field to date.

She’d already contributed a number of hits for Milburn, which is no small feat considering he himself was a great writer as was his producer Maxwell Davis, and so a submission by Robinson probably wasn’t something that was going to be shunned to a B-side, even for something as good as what they paired it with.

Yet upon hearing it unfold you wonder if Robinson might’ve been thinking of another artist when writing this because it takes on a much different feel than his usual repertoire before you realize upon closer inspection that in many ways as a composition it was right in Milburn’s wheelhouse, a sad lament with a hint of resilient optimism.

In other words it wasn’t the song itself that was atypical but rather the arrangement that Maxwell Davis used which gave the primary supporting weight to Chuck Norris’s guitar rather than his own saxophone which was reduced to taking just a complimentary role in answering them in the margins.

As a result Tears Tears Tears stands out compared to his previous hits, not necessarily better, but different with its guitar-heavy arrangement, stop-time vocals and bluesier atmosphere.

Though the approach is unusual in a sense it’s also effective because the structure of the song is designed to catch your ear with Chuck Norris’s warped guitar tones trading off with Milburn’s anguished vocals on the intro to build tension. Consequently you expect the tempo to increase heading into the meat of the song but it never does. Instead it simply shifts from the stop-time vocals with a harder edge to his delivery to one that maintains the same pace but is more melodic yet suitably mournful at the same time.

As a result the record is as bleak as can be with Robinson’s lyrics laying out the plot in stark terms while infusing Milburn’s sadness with just enough stubborn determination to offset the gloom allowing the song to take on slightly different appearances depending on what aspect you focus on.

People Say The Sun Is Shining
The sorrow is the most prevalent mood however and is emphasized even further by the instrumental choices Davis and company make. Most striking are the three distinctive tones that Norris’s guitar employs during different stretches of the song.

We start with the harsh overcharged sound that comes in quick bursts, like sticking a fork in an electrical outlet which provide the shock value of the arrangement. Then there’s those brief single string fills he adds during some of the vocal sections with its wind whipping across the wire effect which gives the impression of a man grappling with problems that seem to overwhelm him.

Finally he gives us a slow contemplative mood when laying back in the mix behind Milburn’s more dreamy sounding vocals when Davis’s sax simultaneously adds a mournful, almost resigned, despair to the song with Norris’s guitar maintaining a lighter ghostly tone as if providence has already decided the story’s outcome.

All of that is really well done but it’s the instrumental break which alleviates the pall that has set over Tears Tears Tears as Milburn’s spry piano finds him trying to resolutely shake himself free of his misery, almost as if he realizes that he’s unlikely to cry himself to death and thus if he’s going to live he might as well do so in a way that doesn’t make facing every day an unbearable burden.

He’s still coming to grips with the cause behind his dire outlook when he resumes singing, but by the time the record ends the music is hinting that he will eventually be alright as it goes up in key and swells with anticipation, leaving you with a far more positive vibe about his character’s fate than you had when it began.

Always Treat Me Fair And Square
As deftly as this was carried out – the writing, the arranging, the performances – all of which burrow deep into your consciousness as it plays, there’s still that nagging feeling that something this forlorn couldn’t possibly be a hit.

Surely you think it must have been riding Milburn’s popularity as opposed to being something that scores of listeners wanted to put themselves through over and over again and immerse themselves in the melancholy atmosphere and desolate imagery it conjures up.

But maybe that’s giving too little credit to the rock audience, for while it’s definitely an emotional gut punch that doesn’t always make for casual appreciation, Tears Tears Tears pulls together talented professionals at the top of their game to create something that is emotionally honest and vividly realistic.

An unlikely hit, yes, but one whose execution of an idea alone definitely makes it worthy of its A-side status.


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