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When you’ve been in the business as long as Joseph Vernon Turner, singing for his supper for the last twenty years, well over half of that time while employed by one record label or another, none of whom were all that astute, you learn to roll with the punches.

You sing your songs… sing their songs if you’re forced to… taking whatever small amount of money they stuff into your huge paw and you come back in a few months time and do it all over again.

Some sides connect with audiences, some don’t. But hit or miss, nothing fazes you. After all, there’ll always be another song to sing tomorrow.

As long as they don’t shut the microphone off altogether before you’ve finished, you just put your head down and keep plugging away, hoping that in the end talent wins out over incompetence.


Blues All Around My Head
The prelude to this of course is how Atlantic Records – generally considered one of the better independent record labels, let’s not forget – has repeatedly gone back to the same well when it comes to the type of material they’ve had Big Joe Turner record since his arrival at their company.

Mournful ballads… which he did exceptionally well, mind you… but one after another, to the point where some more recent fans of rock ‘n’ roll might not even be aware he was one of the best uptempo singers in the business.

When Atlantic shamelessly dredged up their breakthrough hit with him for a third go-round on the top half of this single, the horse they beat into the ground was starting to gather flies. As a result fewer people may have been inclined to deposit another nickel in the jukebox to hear that what he came up with on the other half of the record was actually a pretty good B-side in Baby, I Still Want You.

Of course, to no one’s surprise, it too was another ballad, which is not the best idea to pair with a song of a similar tempo and outlook, but at least this one was fairly original and featured much more poignant lyrics and consequently a more earnest vocal performance.

It may not be something that could reasonably vie for hit status, but if it’d been on the back half of a scorching uptempo song then it’d have stood out a lot more than it did and might get its due as a way to artfully balance the two sides of his persona.

Instead while it won’t ever bear the brunt of the blame for this single being disposable, it also isn’t going to get as much credit as it should without the commercial stats to back up its claims.


You Know Who
Generally speaking, the slower the tempo the more you focus on lyrics and thus the way those lyrics are delivered by the singer.

Fast paced songs can overwhelm you with sounds – crashing drums, honking saxes, slashing guitars, pounding pianos – all of which generally go hand in hand with rollicking vocals where lyrics can be garbled without causing anyone to notice much. The topics of those songs usually are more indulgent anyway… good times and cheap thrills where excitement takes precedent over insight.

But on songs like Baby, I Still Want You, the music is toned down, the singer looks inward rather than projects outward and thus the story becomes paramount in its effort to connect with listeners.

Those who have heard him before at least recognize that Big Joe Turner is in a familiar position… still hung up on a girl no longer around. As always he embodies the mindset flawlessly, his hang-dog vocals aching like no other, the melancholy dripping from his tongue like barbecue sauce. Meanwhile the picture being painted thankfully has far more depth to it than the similarly themed Still In Love on the other side, but whereas that stopped at the door of his misery, willing to let you just peak in, on this half the door is wide open and you’re free to walk in and look around.

The result is a much deeper examination of love-borne regret and sorrow as his thoughts are a little scattered but hardly unfocused. He’s going back over his life as if suddenly painfully aware of his own mortality, reviewing his choices, admitting to his mistakes, wishing for – yet not expecting – another chance to make things right.

Midway through, just when his lament might start getting repetitive, he’s given some lines that keep the same outlook, but add a dash of humor, maybe taken from the “laughing to keep from crying” playbook and works well to lighten the mood just enough to keep any tears from shorting out the microphone.

Musically it’s more scattershot in its effectiveness despite some heavy hitters in the band, including solo stars (and fellow Atlantic headliner) Joe Morris on trumpet, along with a guesting Freddie Mitchell on sax, to go along with the ever-present Harry Van Walls leading the band from his piano bench. The arrangement is slightly out of date though and they’re a little too busy in what they play besides, in the process making for a rather indistinct track… not inappropriate, just insufficient, which leaves most of the heavy lifting to Big Joe.

He doesn’t drop it by any means, but as he good as he remains here, it’s also fairly obvious that this side can’t carry the weight of the single by itself, at least not enough to drag it onto the charts.


I Can’t Hardly See
One disappointing single, owing mostly to a poorly chosen A-side, is nothing to worry about, you say to yourself. The fact remains that Big Joe Turner has got four Top Five hits since coming to Atlantic last year, a track record that would make those half his age green with envy.

But what we do around here is kind of like playing the stock market, wherein we’re trying to figure out trends, predict future returns and see whether an artist is worth investing heavily in or if it’d be better to sell high before the stock crashes.

Right now, we’d have no choice but to advise you to sell on Turner. Cash out while you can!

All of the signs that his value has peaked are clear as can be. He was forty-one years old in a genre that was attracting younger listeners every day. New artists were breaking through every minute and those climbing the ranks now were those like Jesse Belvin who hadn’t even been born when Turner first earned a paycheck singing. They’re setting the trends these days while Atlantic was still trying to manipulate their way to sales by recycling past hits on the top half of this single and were completely forgetting Turner’s worth as an uptempo rocker.

Baby, I Still Want You shows he’s still got plenty of vocal talent, but surrounded by people making poor decisions on his behalf, who let’s not forget have other artists who are doing even better commercially than he is, all of whom are younger and more cutting edge besides, leads you to envision how another miss or two out of Turner in the coming months might cause them to give up on him altogether. Unfair maybe, but that’s the business we’re in.

Of course they’ll do no such thing and he’ll rebound yet again… by course correcting in exactly the way we just laid out let it be said.

But none of that was known as 1952 wound to a close and while he and the label had every reason to be proud of what they’d accomplished this past year, the forecast for the future might not seem quite so bright when you start reading the tea leaves. Consequently this song may have seemed at the time to be shaping up to be more like a elegiac coda to his time on top, rather than just a lull in the storm before he came roaring back yet again in ’53.


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