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For the four years of rock’s existence one of the recurring complaints with record companies has been their failure to take advantage of the two sides of a single to release two different types of songs – IE. one fast and one slow, one vocal and one instrumental or even those just utilizing two different singers or musicians in a group.

As a strategy it’s pretty sound, you increase your chances at striking someone’s fancy more than you would by doubling down on the exact same sonic experience and if a different approach succeeds then you’ve broadened your options when it comes to material going forward.

On Big Joe Turner’s first time out on Atlantic they didn’t do that, issuing two stark ballads on one release, but the one was SO good it hardly mattered.

Here however they follow the game plan much more closely and get a memorable two-sided release in the process… but how much MORE memorable might it have been with just a few tweaks to its formula?


Late In The Evening Or Early In The Morn
The April 19th studio date in New York in 1951 did not kick off Joe Turner’s creative resurgence as an artist, that actually took place in Houston Texas in late 1949 when he signed with Freedom Records and had arguably the best four song session in rock so far, but in terms of firmly deciding on his future course with Atlantic Records, his home for the rest of the decade, it’d be hard to claim they made a single wrong move last spring.

The songs they tackled included morose ballads – Chains Of Love – to uptempo stompers like this song today, while the top side, The Chill Is On, found a fertile middle ground between the two.

Even the second ballad, After My Laughter Came Tears was well crafted and capably executed, just a little redundant after the far better cut in a similar vein on the top half of the same single.

With two perfect A-sides to their credit, both of which were big national hits, you wouldn’t think the bottom halves had any bearing on Turner’s prospects. As long as they were competent who could rightly complain? Anything more than that was simply a bonus.

Bump Miss Susie manages to be more than competent and as the one barn-burning track of the four its aesthetic success, particularly Turner’s fantastic vocal performance, kept the label from sticking to the slow lane when it came to his material in the months and years to come. As such you’d have to say their goals… maybe even their highest expectations… were fully met.

But when you’re talking about someone as gifted as Big Joe Turner then just getting a really good record could actually be viewed as something of a let-down, particularly if it’s with a song that seemed destined to be great if only they didn’t come up a little short when putting together the arrangement.


Tell Me What’s On Your Mind
Rather than dwell on the subpar parts of this and then leave it for Turner to redeem, let’s start for a change with the best aspects which includes not one, not two, but three celestial bodies working in tandem on the record.

The first star we meet is songwriter Rudy Toombs, a towering figure in early rock who was just coming into his own over the past year and who gives Turner a really strong composition to sink his teeth into as Bump Miss Susie is a blatant sexual invitation that pulls no punches (for 1951 that is, when songs ending with “x” were apparently banned from being discussed in polite company).

It seems this young lass named Susie has discovered she possesses a unique talent – like crocheting or crossword puzzles I suppose – that puts her in demand with her male acquaintances. Luckily for her she’s able to show off her abilities in a variety of locations and positions and thus remains on good terms with those seeking her out for such activities.

Toombs may technically be hampered by what’s acceptable when it comes to lyrics, but he makes due by using vague and – to some I’m sure – confusing euphemisms, like “bumping”, but which if you happen to stumble upon his meaning in your own day to day encounters will bring you almost as much delight as meeting up with Susie for some innocent bumping of your own.

Just to throw off the moral guardians of repressed society who frown upon such wholesome activities as this, you can always claim that he means dancing, although by the way in which the second star in this performance, Harry Van Walls, is thrashing the keyboards in spastic delight that argument may be unconvincing to those who’ve never had such warm feelings in their nether regions from doing a simple fox trot or waltz.

But as bright as each of those astronomical subjects are in their own right, the sun in the sky that all of this revolves around is Big Joe Turner himself, whose exuberant delivery and powerhouse voice leave no question as to his thoughts on the matter. In fact, if you found out his pants were around his ankles on the studio floor while he sang this you wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

It’s a vibrant performance, full of life and wanton lust, his weather-worn voice soaring with excitement yet still retaining every ounce of its power. These are the kinds of performances where he could just let himself go, riding the rhythm like a wild stallion all while simply hoping the band is capable of keeping up.

Unfortunately only half of them are here.

Hey You Boppers, You Better Stop!
One of the truisms in music is that whichever instrument you choose as the centerpiece of an arrangement has to be at least as good as the rest of the song’s parts for it to not risk being seen as a slight disappointment.

Just as a great guitar lick or a funky piano riff can elevate a song to another level, so too can a moderately subpar horn section pull an otherwise terrific record down a notch as happens here.

That doesn’t mean it turns Bump Miss Susie into a track that’s easily skipped, but rather when it comes up you’re more likely to get the nagging feeling that as good as it is it’s not all it could be thanks to that one modest flaw.

For example the stop-time intro idea is really good, bringing a dramatic anticipatory flair to the record… yet the horns used to carry it out are a little light, meaning Turner’s voice is going to dwarf the impression they made.

Since so much of the vocal stanzas are done without any musical support whatsoever, it makes it all the more important for what IS included in between to have a detonative effect and the saxophone here is almost transparent in its presence, not only the thinner tone but also in its melodic choices during the solo. Rather than emphasize the guttural images the lyrics are suggesting, it almost attempts to whitewash them and convince you the song’s underlying meaning is relatively harmless.

Not to say the sax solo is the WORST on any above average rock record to date but… it’s in the bottom few for sure, lifting an interchangeable children’s song melody and speeding it up as a quote may seem clever but what’s it adding to the main message Turner is trying to put across? That “bumping” is fun for the whole family?!

Watch out, that kind of thinking can get you in trouble.


You Sure Look Fine
So we’re back where we began – a great performance by Big Joe Turner on a really well-written song that’s using a slightly underwhelming arrangement.

In the big scheme of things that might mean Bump Miss Susie is not one of Turner’s Mt. Rushmore records, but it’s still good enough to get a rise out of rock fans if we can get them to stop bumping with whoever catches their eye long enough to play a few tunes.

The real story here though is Turner’s ongoing artistic revival which not even a drunken asthmatic clarinetist could fully obscure. As we don’t have one of those here to contend with, just a misguided saxman, we still have far more to praise than mildly criticize and it remains more than infectious enough that you’d be excused if you were too busy unbuttoning your pants to notice the wayward horn.

That said if we’d gotten a rip-roaring tenor sax in its place you’d probably have the second of Big Joe’s perfect two-sided singles to date. Instead you have just… a really good record that’s still a whole lotta fun.

In other words you got more than your money’s worth with both sides of this single.


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