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ATLANTIC 982; DECEMBER 1952

 
 

 

The law of diminishing returns will ultimately wind up getting most record companies who try and follow-up a really creative first hit in a certain vein with another – and another – cut from the same cloth.

Atlantic has already seen this happen with Ruth Brown, while Motown will become famous for this kind of thing in the 1960’s. Although we all tend to get frustrated for not being given anything truly new to consider for long stretches, when the ones carrying out these facimilies are named Big Joe Turner, vocalist, Doc Pomus, songwriter and Atlantic’s top notch producers and session band, is going through the motions in trying to tweak a proven formula actually the worst thing in the world?

In other words it is possible to be too hard on them for aiming rather low, or considering the talent involved should we actually be more harsh on them for not aiming even higher each time out?

Where you land on that philosophical question is going to be how you ultimately judge efforts like this.
 

 

You Helped Me, Then You Used Me
Let’s start with this more broad rhetorical question that goes back to the opening line of the review and ask why the second or third record using the same basic outline, trappings and mood is never the runaway BEST version of the idea?

Wouldn’t it stand to reason that a group of professionals could improve upon an idea with more practice… just tighten things up a bit, eliminate a weak spot or bolster an underdeveloped aspect of the arrangement and maybe even come up with a new twist on the basic premise after analyzing the results of the first few releases which used that approach?

You’d think so. But not when it comes to music. Maybe there’s an example here and there, the exception that proves the rule and all that, but more often than not even those best case scenarios will probably just equal the first inspired attempt that started it all, not manage to actually better it.

So if you’re going to fall short creatively then the reason for doing this must be to ensure a greater commercial return by giving the audience something they loved and want more of. To that end it stands to reason that the next one will be more popular and the third bigger still because they can’t get enough of this sound… right?

Wrong. It never turns out that way. In this case the Doc Pomus and Harry Van Walls meditative collaboration Chains Of Love skyrocketed up the charts, giving Turner his biggest hit to date in a career already more than a decade old. He scored two more Top Three hits with different styled songs, or at least different textured ones, before returning with another Pomus composition of the this type last summer with Don’t You Cry, which was a Top Five hit, but decidedly less robust than what preceded it.

Now today’s record, Still In Love, which has the audacity to use a title where literally all three words were taken from two of his past hits and smushed together, won’t make the charts at all.

This is by no means unique either, but rather it’s the norm when it comes to rehashing successful approaches from the past.

Here we find all of the components used before brought back for another encore, but by now the crowd is already gathering their coats, checking under their seats for anything they may have dropped, and talking to their companions about where they want to stop for a bite to eat on the way home. None of them are paying attention to what’s on stage anymore, let alone giving them another round of applause.
 


 
 

Love Come Tumblin’ Down
It kicks off with Harry Van Walls’ tinkly piano. Of course it does. The others did, why wouldn’t this? He hasn’t forgotten how to play naturally, though maybe he’s forgotten how to play something else. This lick isn’t as good as the other licks though. It’s more perfunctory in the lead-in, then more flowery and unfocused the rest of the time.

The horns follow suit, hanging back and not making their presence known until the song is well underway, but then not really knowing what they’re supposed to be doing when they come in and so they wind up just sort of noodling around indistinctly.

Then there’s Joe Turner himself… the mighty Big Joe… sounding once again deflated and not quite so BIG. Granted, he does the sad sack routine as well as anyone and so it’s not his slow pace and mournful thoughts we object to, but rather his unchanged demeanor so far with Atlantic. Do any of them remember he was ALSO the best uptempo ass-kicker in rock?

But that’s the problem with these kinds of unofficial sequels. We get the same model built with leftover parts and Still In Love is no exception.

Doc Pomus’s lyrics attempt to be poignant in presenting Turner’s miseries, but they’re not telling a story, but rather just painting a few disconnected scenes. There’s no evolving narrative, no building towards a resolution. He’s merely using them to present a mood and hoping that will suffice.

Turner for his part is singing with genuine pathos in his voice… as always. No one caresses a word like he can, but when that’s all he’s got to work with, that doesn’t leave much more for him to do. Oh, there are a few moments where he at least attempts to inject some personality beyond what was written, but when the most noticeable ones are the spoken scoffed asides – the scoffing “hmm-hmm” and the spoken coda buried under the horns – they can’t do much to lift your impression of the record. He squeezes every last ounce of sorrow from this and in the process goes above and beyond the call of duty, but you sense that he even he wishes they had something else in mind when they brought him into the studio hoping for lightning to strike for a third time.

So that’s what we have in front of us today and this is where we come back to weighing your (presumed) desire to see them make genuine effort to be innovative versus your tolerance, or lack thereof, for uninspired redundancy.

Moreover, it’s where we all have to ask ourselves if Turner, Pomus, Van Walls and his cohorts in the band going through the motions at the peak of their careers is good enough to overcome the lack of anything truly creative from the lot of them.

I think you know my answer, so what’s yours?
 


 

I Tried So Hard To Forget You
If nothing else, remember this: The one thing we can all control in life is effort.

We can’t determine the outcome of anything we attempt. We can’t be magically endowed with powers we don’t possess. We sometimes can’t even help just having an “off-day” where we don’t live up to our own expectations.

All of those things are understandable, tolerated and thus, at least to a degree, excusable. Not everything turns out the way we want it to and we accept that and move on, vowing to try to do better next time around.

But that’s not what they did on Still In Love. There’s absolutely no real effort here to give the faithful audience their money’s worth, no attempt to beat their previous sides together, no pride in their performances and clearly no passion for this song from any of them.

No matter what your opinion of the end result, you can’t possibly dispute that Atlantic’s management were more focused on the past success of this prototype than they were with the actual quality of its imitation. If you give them a pass on that, well, that’s your shortcoming for not valuing your own time and money the way you should and for not demanding to get something that at least respects your patronage.

Big Joe Turner can still sing and he’ll get credit enough for it, but that admiration for him can’t be allowed to conceal what a rip-off this record was actually designed to be from the start.

Whereas the best entry of this sequence, Chains Of Love, was a song that was ideally suited for three in the morning when you were wide awake in romantic turmoil, this song by contrast was more appropriate for four o’clock that same morning, after you finally fell asleep with the radio on softly in the background.

That’s the only time it is really fitting to play because it won’t make enough noise to wake you and if you happen to drift in and out of consciousness on your own, nothing from this song that floats into your ears will make enough of an impression to be remembered come morning.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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