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ATLANTIC 939; MAY 1951



Though we just celebrated Big Joe Turner’s arrival on Atlantic Records, his home for the rest of the decade, as it provided him with the means for his most sustained commercial run of his lengthy career with plenty of musical highlights to be found… here’s where we pull short of praising the company that already gets far too much credit in rock circles for everything short of putting a man on the moon.

Having found the ideal song with which to relaunch Turner’s career, an aching ballad of profound depth, they pair that with what?… a storming rocker… a smirking boastful song… a vibrant performance of some kind to offset it?

Nope, they double down on the painful ballad, showing that they still just don’t have any clue what two sides of records are ideally suited to do.


I Told My Friends I Didn’t Care
In the future certain big names, Phil Spector most prominently, would decide it was far better to issue a throwaway cut on a single’s B-side rather than “wasting” another good song and potential hit since two hits on one single would not necessarily mean more sales.

A smart, if somewhat calculating, decision.

Eventually at the tail end of the singles era in the 1980’s you’d get remixes or extended versions on the flip sides but by then nobody cared much, the market had changed beyond recognition for those who were around back in 1951.

But this IS 1951 after all and Atlantic Records was competing in that market which expected two quality songs, preferably each one distinct in its own right while allowing the artist the opportunity to showcase different facets of their personas.

Though admittedly giving listeners two similar songs on this single sure didn’t hurt its sales, you’d have liked to have seen one of the two slightly faster paced tracks they cut that day in late April chosen as the B-side, not only to balance the dire mood created by the ballad, but to make sure that THIS far too similar song didn’t get overwhelmed by the brilliance of Chains Of Love.

But as it happened After My Laughter Came Tears, a good song and good performance, winds up paling in comparison to the hit on the other side in the same vein.

As a result listening to them back to back it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that this is worse than it actually is, but luckily if separated from its stylistic sibling and scrutinized under less oppressive conditions, it turns out this is another sign that Turner was going to be able to sustain his recent creative upturn after all.


I Said I’d Never Grieve
On its own this is fits into his affinity for sad love songs, but clearly is not a game changer for his prospects in any way.

For one thing it’s hardly new, having been done decades earlier by a host of artists long forgotten. Whether it was Turner himself who remembered it, or Ahmet Ertegun who had a fondness for older material – especially if he could somehow claim writing credit for it (he doesn’t here mercifully) – the song seems tailor made for Turner’s skill-set.

With appropriately crying horns in the opening After My Laughter Came Tears sounds somewhat out of date for rock ‘n’ roll of 1951… or 1947 for that matter, perhaps suggesting that Ertegun was still unsure of throwing all his weight behind Turner the rock act just yet.

Harry Van Walls’s spry piano manages to add some percussive rhythm to it, but laments like this, especially with trumpets coloring the picture, are hard to put across any other way and so stylistically Big Joe is sort of behind the eight ball, at least when it comes to re-establishing his genre classification, lest there be any doubt who he was targeting.

But where this song lets him excel is in his delivery of the exceptional lyrics which paint a very three dimensional picture of somebody who is putting up a front after his wife or girlfriend left him, trying to hide his pain and act as if he’s almost glad she’s gone while all along he’s really in misery.

The broader view this presents is solid enough on its own, but the rhyme scheme shows real effort by its writers Roy Turk and Charles Tobias, choosing descriptive new couplets each time through aside from the simplest and most direct revelation which repeats a second time at the end just to drive the point home…

My lips conceal
A heart in pain
I make believe
But all in vain

Though Turner screws up the lyrics slightly there, substituting “my heart” for “a heart” on the second line and “It was” for “But” on the last, there’s no mistaking his sincerity as he invests everything he has into the sentiments. The way he drops his voice to concede what he went through “all by myself” makes it sound all the more confessional, as if he still can’t bear to face the indignation of it all.

Needless to say you buy every word of this coming from his mouth.


My Pride Kept Me From Showing Them
Considering how stilted and phony the wide variety of renditions from 1928 sound – did people have actual FEELINGS back then? – what Turner does with this is remarkable.

Herculean though his effort may be, he doesn’t quite pull it all the way into 1951 which makes judging it in the context of rock ‘n’ roll in this moment a little dicey.

Turner is so good on After My Laughter Came Tears that we may be a little too generous with our score, for we shouldn’t fully excuse the outdated arrangement which makes it sound slightly out of place for the time and style we’re focused on. Yet if graded purely as a performance – irrespective of genre – this might be a point too low.

What’s far less excusable than the arrangement however is pairing this with something original in the exact same emotional vein that is modern sounding, thereby consigning this to languish in another song’s long shadow.

Maybe considering the stylistic rift that’s not the worst thing, but we’d have had the same outcome had it been coupled with something rocking. A good song, a great performance and like the character himself… all in vain.


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