Stardom in music is rarely enduring… a few names from each short-lived era live on in the broader culture for decades and there’s always a few individual songs by lesser lights that keep popping up on all-time playlists, but for the most part there’s well-defined term limits for the relevancy of rock acts that are rarely exceeded.

Though never a huge star, Big Jay McNeely came closer than most to surpassing his built-in expiration date for widespread notoriety, as his commercial peak was all of about two years at the tail end of the 1940’s when rock was first making waves with the wild style he specialized in.

But as today we’re celebrating our own seventh anniversary as a website chronicling the history of this music, he seemed an appropriate artist to revisit when choosing among the records released in December 1952, because while his commercial heyday might in fact be in the past, he was as responsible as anyone for the excitement that rock ‘n’ roll embodied then and in the years since.


Constantly Getting Dumped Or Being In Demand?
One sign of the lingering recognition at the time for Big Jay McNeely is how, despite not having consistent releases on a single label, he keeps popping up with notable companies.

Savoy, where he scored his back to back hits in 1949, Exclusive, Aladdin, Imperial and now Federal Records, which is a pretty impressive résumé to present to your next potential employer.

It’s kind of like a girl being attracted to a guy in large part because of who ELSE he dated before her. In other words, if all of them wanted to be with him, then he’s gotta have something going for him.

Unfortunately even while his creative instincts remain high, what McNeely has these days certainly isn’t the commercial touch, which may not entirely be his fault. He’s released some great records these last few years but the appetite for honking sax instrumentals took a nosedive after rock fans overdosed on them for the two years Big Jay was at his peak.

But that didn’t mean he was going to pack up his horn and go home and labels knew there was always a chance that one instrumental might break through. It won’t be Just Crazy, but if it had stirred enough interest to make some charts here and there it might not have been unjustified either.

In other words Federal Records weren’t counting on a hit, were probably not even expecting one, but if you’re going to have to release sixty singles or so in a year, you might as well throw in a few instrumentals and as long as you’re doing that, why not get somebody who almost always came up with something good?


Brother Act
The writing credits here hopefully jump out at you because there are two McNeely’s listed which means older brother Bob is sure to play a more prominent role in the song.

Not that Big Jay neglected him on other songs by any means, but Bob’s presence could be somewhat incidental depending on the type of song they were playing. When it came to lighter fare, be it jazzier sides or the dreamy bachelor pad motifs such as is found on the flip side, Penthouse Serenade, the occasional vocal excursion, or something more experimental usually meant he was taking on a smaller role in the arrangement.

By contrast the kind of rip-roaring booting dance-floor workouts were tailor made for his baritone sax meant we’d hear a lot more of him in an effort to make you shake your ass and on Just Crazy that’s precisely what we get.

Bob’s the one kicking this off and Jay’s the one answering him, sort of from a distance, but the commotion their two horns are causing is pretty rambunctious, enough so that when Bob slides out and lets Jay take over you almost don’t notice. I know that seems strange to say, especially because a baritone and tenor saxophone have notable tonal differences, but they’re seamless in the way they shift the focus back and forth, allowing each one to get its share of the spotlight before easing out the let the other get their turn.

As much as we like the give and take between their horns, maybe this is a case of a little too much Bob and not quite enough Jay, not due to playing abilities, but rather the less flexible sound of the baritone in general. There’s a reason why there’s not a lot of baritone leads and while this is as good as you’ll get from one, it’s not a match for a good tenor out front.

But it’s a quibble rather than a complaint and with the deft interplay of the brothers, the steady rhythm created by the rest of the band and especially the powerhouse drumming of Wayne Robinson who is almost doing enough to be credited as a third lead instrument at times, Just Crazy is exactly the kind of record we need every so often around here.

It’s not about to be a hit and in the larger catalog of McNeely it’s not even going to compete with his top shelf material in this same vein, nor is it even the best side he contributed to Federal Records during his short stay with them, but as 1952 comes to a close there’s bound to be some wild parties where Christmas music alone isn’t going to be enough to get people out on the floor.

Because of that you need a go-to platter to make sure everybody’s not just waiting their turn during the slow songs to maneuver their way under the mistletoe. This one will not only clear the congestion in that area, but at the same time see to it that the one you want to smooch is too tired to run away from your amorous advances when the record stops playing.


Revolutionary To Relevancy
Considering the number of rock hitmakers from the late 1940’s who were out on the streets by late 1952 the fact that Big Jay McNeely continues to put out perfectly good singles for noteworthy companies is something be happy about.

Sooner or later he too will bow out, at least from the active roster when it comes to issuing singles, but until that time considering the volatile nature of the industry we’ll be happy to take what we can get from him.

That being said though you can see why McNeely did have a more prolonged presence in the rock landscape than perhaps his commercial scorecard would indicate. In fact, with all of the excitement he brought to the scene, it’d be Just Crazy to cast him aside completely and think he ran out of talent or ideas, or that there was no room left for someone who could still be relied on to serve a definite purpose even if that was no longer the single most important purpose this style of music provided.

In the seven years its taken to cover rock’s first five and a half years (we HAVE picked up our pace considerably since 2021 FWIW) McNeely has no shortage of highlights and if they’ll be a little more infrequent in the years to come, well… that’s not the worst thing either.

The point of this entire project is to show how rock evolved over time which means the music endures even if the names change.

Besides, Big Jay and his brother are still around, still honking up a storm and still worth hearing.


(Visit the Artist page of Big Jay McNeely for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)