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ARGGHHH… what the hell is THIS?!?!?

Blaring brass leading into music that is the very definition of prancing ornamentation on a song that was a current pop smash?

Is this what we’ve come to, Annie Laurie?

Apparently we have, but as we know these types of cover records are usually an edict of the record label and rarely the fault of the artist in question and when a rock act like Laurie is the one forced to sing it, there’s still the chance she might attempt to mold it to fit her style even if the producer has other ideas.

That’s the hope anyway, but after such an ostentatious lead-in we’re definitely not holding our breath.


Photographs And Souvenirs
First, the backstory.

The writing team responsible for this affront to music are the same trio who gave the world Slow Poke, a country smash for co-writer Pee Wee King a few years back.

Here though there’s no country elements in the song outside of Sue Thompson’s version on Mercury (and even that only hints at it), as this clearly seemed intended for the pop market from the start, as Joni James first cut it on a small label last winter and then when she signed with MGM they re-issued it by which time a flock of big names had put it out. The most successful of all was Jo Stafford who topped the charts and made it one of the defining hits of the year, though Patti Page might’ve posed a more formidable challenge had her version – which peaked at #4 – not been on the back side of a #1 hit of her own.

By now you all know the drill in 1952… once a record rockets to the top everybody and their cousin takes a whack at it, including in this case our friend Annie Laurie.

Now this shouldn’t be surprising considering she recorded for OKeh, a subsidiary of major label Columbia, who let’s not forget were the company that housed Stafford, and since Laurie was their top female act and had turned in acceptable and successful renditions of pop material in the past dating back to 1947, she was the obvious choice to cut You Belong To Me in an attempt to reach a different market.

But if OKeh thought that they were going to be able to compete on a level playing field with likes of James, Stafford, Page, et. all, where radio airplay was a major factor in spreading the word about a song, they were badly mistaken. Mainstream radio was not going to be giving air time to a rock vocalist, even a rock vocalist trying to lean pop, when there were no shortage of established pop acts with huge followings to choose from instead.

Which means if they were smart OKeh Records should take a much different tack and downplay the pop melodrama of the others and play up the emotional anguish that rock specialized in.

Naturally they did no such thing.

So Alone Without You
I gotta be honest, there’s not a single version of this tune I like and this effort by Annie Laurie isn’t about to change that, even if she HAD found some way to significantly alter its perception.

The problem, at least when it comes to my musical sensibilities, is that every arrangement plays up the artificial nature of it thereby making the sentiments, which are supposed to be the heartfelt yearnings for a faraway love, sound schmaltzy and insincere.

The melody is catchy enough, if somewhat grating by nature, and thus very easy to remember no matter which version you’re familiar with. But instead of ever letting it creep out of the speakers to kick things off, they all try and startle you with the most ostentatious sounds they can come up with before settling back down for the vocals.

Virtually all of the performances – as was the case with most pop music trying to express love accurately in 1952 – ring false. Those who attempt to take it seriously are incapable of expressing genuine feelings, so they either ramp up the soap opera qualities making it almost farcical, or conversely they choose to completely downplay the longing they’re supposed to feel and treat the words as irrelevant to their performance. In both cases however they’re giving absolutely no sense that any of them are truly aching for their loved one across the sea.

The rest of them treat You Belong To Me as if they were on the phone with their husband or boyfriend and trying to rush through the call by saying whatever pseudo-romantic pap they can think of while adjusting their push-up bras and putting on lipstick on their way out the door because they were running late for a rendezvous with their lovers.

Annie Laurie’s take on it suffers from the same dismal fate as after a promising five note descending riff from a baritone sax the brass section rudely elbows it out of the way and changes the image of this from a candlelit café where she might be ruminating on her long-distance romance and places her smack-dab in the middle of a Las Vegas revue under flashing lights with high-kicking showgirls in the chorus line.

Faced with this Laurie has no choice but to play along, bearing down far too hard on the lines just to match the presence of the blaring orchestra and so instead of looking inward with her performance she’s forced to overemote and promptly makes a private moment public and ruins the ambiance.

No matter, for the lyrics aren’t that great anyway as this was written as a reflection on World War Two – seven years after the fact – before the composers reconsidered so as not to date it and thereby altered the story enough to eliminate that specific setting, though without that as a frame of reference it makes the scenario somewhat hard to envision. I mean, what guy is galivanting around the pyramids in Egypt and cutting through exotic jungles unless his name is Indiana Jones?

As for today’s take on it, Laurie’s voice hasn’t lost its shimmering qualities but they’re wasted here, though at least she makes an attempt to overturn the familiar melodic sway with a few interesting rhythmic change-of-pace maneuvers, but they can’t salvage this and actually might infuriate those who want the song done straight, no chaser.

They can have it. Just make sure they pick up the check too.


‘Til You’re Home Again
Nobody is going to be surprised to find a bright red score at the end of the review, just as I’m sure nobody was caught off guard by the criticisms laid out here as rock labels continue to show their disdain for their own market far too often.

But just to reiterate for the slow-witted or stubborn in the reading audience, rock ‘n’ roll is a DIFFERENT brand of music than mainstream pop and attempting to conflate one with the other in a shortsighted attempt to draw the larger, older and whiter pop audience into rock circles is a foolish exercise by definition. It denigrates singers like Annie Laurie by suggesting she needs to stoop this low in search of a hit, while at the same time destroys the legitimacy of OKeh Records as a viable outlet for pure rock ‘n’ roll.

Earlier I said that there’s no version of You Belong To Me that I like and there’s some of you no doubt who are recoiling at that, as in 1962 The Duprees will score big with their belated take on it which many consider to be an authentic rock performance in the doo wop tradition.

Nonsense! They’re a whitebread act more pop than rock and it’s fairly incriminating that the record’s lingering appeal is with aging white males whose unfortunate luck in the DNA lottery remains far more dominant in their musical tastes than many of them want to admit. Usually we don’t give sneak previews of future releases we’ll be reviewing, but seeing as that’s ten years in the future and many of you will be dead and buried by then I’ll try and speed that process up a bit by raising your blood pressure in hopes of giving you a massive coronary by saying it too is going to be severely panned.

Actually, I probably should amend one thing I wrote when I suggested no record really gave this song an appropriate reading. One did… Dean Martin’s, released at this same time as this, comes closest, precisely because he slows it down to a crawl, cuts back on the instruments and uses strings more than horns as the primary accompaniment.

Of course Dino usually sings as if his eyes were at half-mast anyway which automatically gives it a more reflective quality suitable for the subject, but at least that gives you an idea of why so many labels and artists saw something in this composition. I’d be the last to say it had what it took to be a classic, far from it, but even I’ll admit that it deserved better than 99% of what it got, no matter how many hits came from this song.

As for Annie Laurie, tell ya what… promise us no more pop covers from now on and we’ll forget you ever did this. Whaddaya say?


(Visit the Artist page of Annie Laurie for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)