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What might’ve happened had rock ‘n’ roll not been born in 1947? Was it inevitable that it’d have come along sooner or later, an undeniable force of nature stirring in the hearts, the minds and the souls of the postwar black community that needed widespread release, or was it just merely a convenient set of circumstances that conspired to give it a voice and the reaction to hearing that voice is what led to its further development?

We don’t know for sure of course, but the most compelling evidence tells us that it was bound to happen at some point, if only because the generation coming of age musically wasn’t having their needs met by the existing styles of music.

Guys like Amos Milburn certainly could’ve plied their trade in the cocktail blues idiom, or maybe tried jazz or down home blues with some modest success, but none of those styles would’ve been the most comfortable fit.

How do we know this? Because even when he tried to fit into pre-existing styles, like a jivey novelty song, it came out sounding decidedly different.


I Believe That’s The Lick
It helps for those of us coming of age in the Twenty-First Century to understand what music was like before the midway point of the Twentieth Century, which not only seems like a different world but also an altogether inexplicable world at times.

One of the things that strikes you when you look back at that era from a modern perspective is how blissfully naïve everybody seemed, living life without a shred of cynicism to the point of being intentionally gullible.

Maybe it made for a more cheerful day to day existence and though you’d expect the opposite to be true maybe this was an unexpected byproduct of having suffered through a dozen years of a Great Depression that made the ones who nobly carried on in the face of crushing poverty feel more human than had they let anger and despair eat away at their souls. Whatever the cause of it though the result was that the general populace were more easily amused by what we’d think of today as inane simplicities.

The novelty songs that prospered during these years epitomized this trend. In 1947 alone you had insipid songs like Too Fat Polka sung by the insufferable Two Ton Baker sharing space with slightly less ridiculous (but still pretty silly() records that tried to humorously deal with various ethnic traits in Chi-Baba Chi-Baba and Fuedin’ And Fightin’, which themselves were competing with even more racially insensitive drivel like Civilization (Bongo, Bongo, Bongo) and Managua, Nicaragua with their sing-songy lyrics that dressed up their prejudices in ribbons and bows.

All of those were huge hits and conjure up images of uneducated simpletons grinning along at the lighthearted harmless “fun” of these demeaning songs… demeaning to their subjects as well as the intelligence of those they were aimed at.

But wait a minute, you’re saying, those WERE simpler times! We hadn’t yet been inundated with wall-to-wall sarcasm in humor which makes those less edgy forms of trolling for laughs seem more antiquated than they were at the time.

Okay, true though that may be it’s also the point of this… to show how the realities of THAT era immediately preceding rock’s arrival suddenly got upended by rock ‘n’ roll, as well as other changes in the social and cultural fabric of America in the post-war years.

That’s why when we come across something like That’s My Chick by an aspiring rocker, one who would soon go on to define rock ‘n’ roll in short order, it catches off guard and makes us wonder just what the future would’ve held if those in charge of the music industry had been left to their own devices.


Look! Look!
To ease your concerns – as if you already didn’t know the outcome of this battle for supremacy between the squares and the hipsters in music – though novelty songs would continue to plague the airwaves … be welcomed on the scene for years, albeit in decreasing numbers, the vanguard of this new style called rock ‘n’ roll would largely disdain most attempts for that kind of innocent fun and if they did go for laughs it was more often with an off-color edginess to it, or a cynical social commentary attached that took dead aim at the hypocrisy of the mainstream.

That’s My Chick however doesn’t meet those criteria because it was cut before rock had come into the picture and laid down new rules for artists to follow. Yet that doesn’t mean that Milburn willingly takes on a hayseed persona and sheds his inhibitions along with his self-respect to put across a dippy story that’s completely unworthy of being heard.

Though clearly the song as written is housed in the framework of a more cheerfully unpretentious perspective, Milburn manages to angle the lens with which its viewed so as to at least partially corrupt the unsophisticated view he’s expected to embody. He does this, as might be expected having heard his other recent efforts, by finding an erotic urgency in the character that he mines effectively throughout the rather bland story.

Certainly the bouncy piano he opens it with and the stop-time section that caps it off meant to suggest frivolity aren’t getting him off on the right foot however and when we hear his voice sounding slightly more stuffy than we’re accustomed to, telling us about the girl walking along the street who catches his eye, we have every right to expect the worst.

Makes You Really Want To Go To Town
The “humor”, and I use that term lightly, is centered around a bit of intentional misinformation in the lyrics which is the girl he’s singing about who “looks like his chick”, something he repeats in a variety of ways to convince us they’re really a couple, is in fact a stranger. His insistence about her being “his” is, in reality, him merely voicing his desires to have her by telling us in effect that she WILL be his at some point.

“Ooh, that’s mine!” you say when you see something in a store or a car in a parking lot that has instantaneous appeal. You haven’t bought it yet, and maybe you never will if you can’t afford it, but you express the urge to have it as if you’ve already made up your mind and it’s only a matter of time before you possess it.

That’s what he does on That’s My Chick and it’s supposed to be clever. It really isn’t, at least not enough to build a song around, but Milburn himself seems to know this and so he’s not content to let it go at face value, allowing the fate of the song rest or fall on your willingness to chuckle modestly at such a revelation.

Instead Amos is letting us see that he’s much more lecherous than the character was written to appear. This change in his presentation actually makes perfect sense, for what else would someone be who sees a girl strolling along and immediately “claims her” to his buddies as they eye her from a distance? Yes, he IS a lout and that’s precisely what he wants to get across. It’s that crude low-brow reaction itself which Milburn seems to be making fun of, not trying to hide his real intent and the shallowness of those primal urges that caused him to say it.

Yet he’s not coming off as merely a boorish jerk with his delivery, making it far too transparent to be appreciated. Instead he’s trying to act cool as he makes these claims, like he’s actually got a chance at her even though he’s probably never going to get up the nerve to talk to her. Let’s hope if his pals egg him on enough that he does cross the street to make a play for her that she laughs in his face and keeps walking, but the end result is he’s going to be just as single when the day ends as he was when it started and for that we have to give thanks.


Right Now, Right Now
But while Milburn the vocalist rescues this from being completely ludicrous for a rock music overview, his musical frivolity on the keys, even if it’s meant to be mocking, wind up undercutting the faux hipster image he lays on it with his singing.

Maybe this was so as not to tip off his intentions to those in the booth who were expecting something more lightweight and thus any harsher sounds would’ve drawn their scorn and forced him to play it straight. Or perhaps he just didn’t have time to really work anything out with the band to shake this up and send it off into another direction.

But I think the real reason is that this was off-the-cuff and he was just messing with what he likely considered a pretty shallow and stupid song to begin with, not taking any of it seriously, saving his derision for when he was singing and then simply playing something more juvenile as he went in order to reflect the contempt he had for it all.

The others backing him don’t seem to notice however and take their jobs more seriously, actually chipping in with a pretty nice single string guitar solo that reveals a halfway decent melody lurking under the surface. Of course that not only conflicts with the slyly lecherous vocals but also the frothy piano. With nothing else to tie those competing elements together in a satisfying way the three entities seem to each exist in a separate universe. The vocals are its best attributes and contain some genuine social commentary in his delivery. The piano playing is sort of heckling the entire idea while the others are oblivious to both.

Though he makes it better than it has any right to be That’s My Chick was never going to work – not as a rock song at least – and while Milburn does the best he can to inject something of creative value into it the end result is you wind up dismissing all of it out of hand even if you don’t denigrate the final result as much as you would’ve if it had all been carried out with the kind of good-natured jovial cluelessness it surely was intended to have on paper.

Rock wouldn’t play by those rules, thankfully, but the real risk for this side wasn’t that it got released and threatened to undermine Milburn’s authenticity as his career tried to gain traction, but rather that had it somehow caught the ear of some segment of the public then Milburn would have little choice but to head further into the territory of Two Ton Baker and his harmless ditties meant to get some sheepish grins, thus pulling him away from the revolutionary sounds that would soon define a more cynical and complex modern world.


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