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ATLANTIC 960; FEBRUARY 1952

 
 

 

We have to keep reminding ourselves… “these are just B-sides – nothing to get alarmed about” at various points along this journey.

While it was certainly true that lot of great artists would try and equal the brilliance of a surefire hit on the top side with something just as alluring on the flip, that was really just an added bonus, like a prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.

For most artists, even those breathing the same rarified air as Big Joe Turner, the B-side had a different goal in mind… something to remind you of their versatility.

The more versatile they were however, the less likely what they offered would be meant to entice us in the process.
 

 

I Don’t Care If My Heart Breaks
Had rock ‘n’ roll not come along it might just be that the name Big Joe Turner would be fairly obscure… maybe even barely mentioned in a larger survey of music history.

By all rights he should still get brought up of course, for it was Turner along with pianist Pete Johnson who kicked off the national boogie woogie craze in the late 1930’s, but their legacy in that regard could conceivably be whittled down to Roll ‘Em Pete and if that entire movement was downplayed then Turner would be unlikely to make the cut in a different context, especially in broader (read: shallower) overviews.

But any true lover of 20th Century musical expression however knows how wrong such an exclusion would be, for Turner was equally adept at all sorts of styles with all kinds of musical backing. Unfortuantely in the world in which we live there tends to be an obsession with genre classification (we’re guilty of that here ourselves by focusing solely on rock ‘n’ roll) and so because Big Joe’s other musical personas don’t fall neatly into one of the major genres, you can see why he needed rock ‘n’ roll to give him one to firmly attach his name to in order to be widely remembered.

Though along the way some might call him blues and others may refer to him as part of the larger jazz aesthetic, the reality is he was on the periphery of those forms rather than dead square in the center of them and as we know those on the edge of anything are always at risk of being cropped out of the picture… like we could’ve done here with I’ll Never Stop Loving You.

With its outdated instrumental intro it’s not the easiest fit in rock, nor does it square itself with jazz, blues or pop, so of all his Atlantic Records singles output this is certainly a candidate to be cast aside.

But if we did that we’d be as guilty as everyone else when it came to preferring a narrow focus. Although it’s not going really to receive full credit here for what it sets out to do, since much of that falls outside the main thrust of rock goals, this is still Big Joe Turner we’re talking about and so there’s bound to be something to admire even if all you normally care about is that which lands smack dab in the middle of the rock side of the ledger.
 

You Treat Me Like I’m Nothin’
Okay, first thing’s first here. On the January 20th recording date, Joe Turner cut this song twice. The single version differs significantly from the one used down the road for an album cut on 1959’s Big Joe Is Here which is ironically an even more anachronistic version featuring a sluggish performance by Joe with considerably less emotion along with some different lyrics along the way.

So if that’s the take on it you come across – and it probably will be considering its modern availability on most compilations of his Atlantic work – be forewarned it’s not as good as the original single release which is… actually not all that good either!

Slightly better, yes, but still subpar for Turner circa 1952.

The reasons for this should become immediately apparent for anyone aware of what rock landmarks he was laying down during this period, for they’re far different than the big band lead-in – clattering horns and cymbals – found here, which almost sounds like a send up. It’s actually got the same exact vibe as Jackie Gleason’s Melancholy Serenade that opened The Honeymooners in the mid-1950’s and nobody in their right mind was comparing that sound to any of the rock songs that were breaking through to mainstream America at the time.

Digging yourself a stylistic hole to climb out of is hardly the the best way to start but they quickly scale things down once Joe comes in, letting Harry Van Walls’ piano carry the primary responsibility of the instrumental track even while the dry traps and softly moaning horns lend a dated glow to the arrangement.

I’ll Never Stop Loving You is something suited for ten years earlier with little or no change needed in its presentation to fit comfortable in that era. But it’s not that era now, is it?

He’s definitely showing a little more life in this rendition compared to the aforementioned LP cut, and the staccato bridge does inject this with a palpable heartbeat that is missing on the other version, but it’s still mostly our familiarity with his voice, his enduring image and our appreciation of those things rather than the performance itself that allows us to connect with this as much as we do and even then it never gets us firmly in its grip.

We’re invested in Turner the artist more so than the character he’s portraying here and in that sense we can appreciate certain textures of this even though it collectively doesn’t add up to much.
 

Honey, I Must Confess
I suppose we could qualify the entire opinion by adding that it’s hardly floating down the main stream of rock ‘n’ roll and thus in a wider musical context that’s less rock specific it might do better… but we’d only be covering our asses.

Truthfully it wouldn’t do that much better because it’s just a throwaway side no matter how generous you’re being.

Yeah, the general approach is something he’s done incredibly well in the past – and in other styles – and the song’s sentiments ring true for the mood they’re setting. But I’ll Never Stop Loving You is still lacking something that can’t be easily dismissed by simply saying the arrangement is outdated or Atlantic made a mistake by pairing one melencholy song with one of his absolute best melencholy songs on the top side.

There’s a spark that Big Joe Turner possessed that manifests itself in different ways depending on the material, but it’s easy enough to spot when he’s on his game.

Here that spark is largely absent, only peaking out from time to time and it doesn’t stick around long enough for it to make an impression on you.

Everybody’s entitled to an off-day once in awhile and aside from Sweet Sixteen you’d have to admit that this January date wasn’t exactly overflowing with classic sides or performances.

There’s still just enough in this rendition that’s not a chore to listen to (the alternate take however IS a chore) but then again when you get right down to it, this is just a B-side after all and therefore nothing to get too alarmed about.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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