Tags

No tags :(

Share it

RCA 20-4348; OCTOBER 1951

 
 

 

Early rock ‘n’ roll – by that we mean the pre-crossover years of 1947-1953 – naturally reached a smaller segment of the American population than would be the case by mid-decade… granted it was a smarter, more discerning and musically astute demographic as always, but numerically speaking it was still relatively confined, all things considered.

Because of this there are far fewer rock “standards” that have emerged from those years… songs which became widely known as compositions thanks to all of the renditions that followed.

You could argue those that did manage it largely came about because a key white figure, usually some cat named Presley, picked up on it and his was the one that most later generations knew, or at least had introduced to them first, but here’s a record from this period which he steered clear of entirely yet didn’t need his help to become at least modestly familiar to later generations.

It may not be the first to do so, nor the most instantly recognizable, but it definitely has had legs beyond its original incarnation and that qualifies it as something notable in the big scheme of things.
 

 

I Can’t Forget You
When we first met saxophonist and singer John Greer back in 1948 he was definitely an odd fit for the nascent rock movement… a square peg in a round hole.

It’s not that he wasn’t a very capable musician and a fairly engaging singer, but he was most comfortable performing in more modest styles. He had a somewhat light airy voice that seemed incongruous coming from someone known affectionately as Big John and while he could blow up a storm on sax if need be, he’d clearly rather play more melodic passages than honk and squeal like a madman.

As a result his early records were largely underwhelming even if they met the basic technical standards of the genre. At times though it surely must have seemed that we were being overly generous to Greer by including him on these pages, possibly even viewing him as someone to act as the designated sacrificial lamb to point out the differences between authentic rock and the more mannered pre-rock styles, since he had a tendency to fall in between those extremes more often than not.

One reason he got the benefit of the doubt however was we knew THIS song was on the horizon, even though one listen to Got You On My Mind doesn’t really change that early impression of him as a milquetoast balladeer thrust into a rock ‘n’ roll spotlight he wasn’t entirely comfortable in.

After all, the song is slow, his vocal is demure and the accompaniment is mild… though extraordinarily catchy. In other words it’s not “rocking”, as in the verb, even if it qualifies as “rock”, the noun, through a broader association relating to target audiences reception of it.

So yes, in the end, that initial perception of him as being slightly out of place still holds up, but where he earns his keep is in delivering the absolute best version of a record that could still conceivably straddle both worlds.
 

Every Time I Hear Your Name
Some songs, regardless of their stylistic genre, just have melodies which seem to have been carved into granite rather than written on a lead sheet. These songs flow with such natural grace that it’s easy to believe they existed for eternity and it was only recently that someone got around to putting them down on wax.

In this case that might not quite be true, but it definitely has a precedent that’s easy to spot as we pointed out upon hearing Blues For The Nightowls, a Sonny Thompson record from September 1950 which bears a strong resemblance to this song, written by pianist Howard Biggs and Joe Thomas which took the basic melodic hook, fattened it up and drew it out to cover the entire record rather than just one snippet as Thompson had done.

They also added some pretty damn good lyrics to it, the combination of which is what turned Got You On My Mind into something of a standard, cut in the future very comfortably by a myriad of pop, country, jazz and blues acts, but also a wide array of rockers from Big Joe Turner to Jerry Lee Lewis, Joe Tex, Billy Swan, Eric Clapton and, in the only pop chart hit rendition, Cookie & The Cupcakes in 1963.

Yet as good as some of them are, often in their own unique way, no one has been able to top Greer’s heartfelt original where he’s singing in a way that somehow balances the sheer stately beauty of the melody with the profound sadness the lyrics attest to after his breakup with his sweetheart.
 

Sad And Low
The chorus is a work of art, every word, every note, every musical embellishment is perfectly chosen and it’s no surprise that it’s the chorus, not the verses, which make up the overwhelming bulk of the record.

Well, actually let’s amend that by saying the chorus comprise the verses as well wherein they use the exact same melody and arrangement for both, making Got You On My Mind a song that seems to have no beginning, middle or end in many ways. The lyrics change somewhat, really just expanding on the plot laid out in the chorus, but it’s the same downcast sentiments being expressed.

Normally we’d call this lazy writing, almost an incomplete song, but in this case it was a brilliant decision because that aspect is so addictive. The only variation comes in the bridge which is easily the most jarring twenty-five seconds of the disc, even though it’s hardly bad, it’s just not the same intoxicating sounds we’ve become accustomed to already. Greer’s more strained vocals in this section hurt as well, even though they fit in the context of what he’s telling us.

But when he segues back to the gently swaying sounds of the main riff, all is forgiven and if this IS a little light in the rhythm department, and if the piano stylings seem to be lifted from an Ivory Joe Hunter record and if there’s not even a sax solo to break up the monotony… all of that is for the best, because while the song may be the sound of a man’s heart being broken, its lullaby-like qualities are far too pleasing to want poor Greer to ever reconcile with his sweetie.
 


 

Since You Went Away Nothing Seems To Be The Same
While this was released just a month after his last – and thus far best – record Have Another Drink And Talk To Me, a much different song that may in fact be the thematic lead-in to the story unfolding here in that it dealt with a potential infidelity he was busy trying to uncover, the quick turnaround didn’t negatively affect the commercial potential of this record, even though it took quite some time to start making headway in the market.

The record didn’t reach the national charts until early March, yet once it had Got You On My Mind didn’t leave them until the middle of summer, a whopping twenty one weeks later, peaking at #2 and in the process establishing itself as one of 1952’s top rock ballads.

Unlike most ballads however is that while this song on the surface seems perfect for slow dancing, the lyrics – desperate for reconciliation though they may be – are completely inappropriate for the kind of romantic waltzing in the dark the record undoubtedly inspired in its listeners.

In that way I guess it’s a little unusual, but in every other way it’s timeless, proving that while artists may be forgotten over time, songs like this are enduring.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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