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RCA 20-4685; MAY 1952



This is one of those songs that most people would say deserved to be skipped entirely, but we say this is actually a record that tells us more about the subject at hand than a lot of songs that are revered classics of rock ‘n’ roll.

The reason for this split in perception comes down to goals… not just our goal of writing about every single rock release to hit the market since 1947, or your more narrow goal of just reading about every GOOD rock release during that time, but moreover this is ideal to reach our goal of trying to put this wild music called rock ‘n’ roll into proper perspective.

To do that properly a dedicated historian knows they have no choice but to tell you what was trying to hijack that movement, water it down or potentially kill it off altogether and how it failed… or in this case, how it almost succeeded.


Like A Crooner Needs A Bobby Sox
It’s hardly surprising that the artist caught in the middle of this devious action is Big John Greer, a willing rock act certainly but not necessarily a devoted true believer.

We know how he was coaxed into recording more rocking sides back in the late 1940’s when he started cutting records on his own while still holding down the tenor sax spot in Lucky Millinder’s pre-rock band. We know that while those early attempts were hardly big sellers he was still appealing to a major label like RCA who snatched him up in an effort to find an artist they could pass off as rock while at the same time not offending their regular customers who would be offended by such music.

We also know that even though he didn’t quite distinguish himself early on as the label tried to figure out just how to walk that line between acceptable for their purposes and acceptable to the rock audience, he’s gotten the hang of it as of late and not only delivered some excellent performances but also a legitimately big hit in Got You On My Mind.

So despite RCA’s relative success in this endeavor we now get to see where they go from here. Do they figure that Greer’s presence on their label hasn’t brought them any great shame and thus allow him to make those kind of records unimpeded from now on, grateful for expanding their market in some way?

Or do they figure that since they have gotten some unexpected sales in this regard that the time is ripe to try and use the faint allegiance rock fans have built with Greer to undermine the entire genre with destabilizing pop-minded components on records like I Need You which, if done subtly enough, might not be immediately noticed or reacted to strongly by the casual fan and in the process allow the company to start chipping away at rock’s increasing hold on this brand of consumer?

Hmm, I know that’s a hard one to answer but since this IS a major record label I think we can risk betting our house – and quite possibly our lives – on the latter.

Kisses So Divine
The song was written by a tandem we’ve met countless times in the past, Howard Biggs and Joe Thomas, whose work has run the gamut stylistically, from quite good to pretty poor, but they were more than competent on a technical level as they could come up with catchy melodies, strong stories with lyrics that were perfectly acceptable for rock ‘n’ roll at times.

Here they manage to do all of that fairly well. Though Big John Greer may be acting a little TOO dependent on a specific woman reciprocating his love for her, he’s not quite groveling as he tells her I Need You, but rather trying to convince her he’s devoted to her in a more lighthearted way that allows him to retain a vestige of self-respect.

His light, pleasant voice is as warmly reliable as the sunrise and because this isn’t a ballad they’ve even given him a viable rhythm to affix to his vocals. If all that wasn’t enough the melody itself is deviously catchy, sticking to you like wet tar on the sole of your shoe in the heat of summer.

Now does that mean this is a great song with limitless possibilities if given a great arrangement around Greer’s mild vocals?

No, not on your life. It’s too lightweight in theme and delivery to stir your emotions and so while you may appreciate it as a rock fan for what it does competently, you’d be tipping off your contrarian nature if you went to mat for this record even if Greer blew up a storm during the break and you got a stomping beat in the bargain. Instead while you get a decent solo, it’s a little unfocused and more gaudy than exciting.

But that’s not our main complaint with I Need You. Nope, instead we have something new and more subversive to contend with… namely the female white pop chorus who cast aside their usual disdain when forced to sing back up for rock ‘n’ roll and instead of sounding bored or detached wind up giving this their best effort – all toothy grins, dimples and sickening cheeriness, like cartoon birds chirping away in a Disney cartoon.

It has the desired effect – for RCA that is – as it sweetens the record, taking the potential edge off it, even as Greer is allowed to more or less be himself throughout it and is as engaging as ever. Thereby if you focus on him, as most will, you’ll nod in half-hearted approval of his tactics while the female vocals discreetly work their way into your senses, corroding the locks, poisoning the guard dogs and disconnecting the alarms until… you blandly accept it.

The whole plan was brilliantly conceived and executed… completely and utterly diabolical too but sheer genius all the same because at no time do they refute the aims of the record’s primary focus in Greer, yet they never let him take so much as a single step without shadowing him with their evil forces, boxing him in and making sure the entire production sounds seamless until you simply take it at face value, no longer forcibly rejecting that which doesn’t belong.


All Around The Calendar And All Around The Clock
We’ve taken great pleasure over rock’s first six years in mocking the establishment, their archaic musical tastes and their stubborn persistence that their own brand of music would win out merely by attempting to deflect rock’s onrushing tidal wave with little more than a flimsy umbrella. But now we enter stage two of their intricate game plan and the ground rules will suddenly change.

Though their new outlook won’t be immediately embraced by all labels, or even all records on one label, be it RCA or someone else, there’s now an alternative plan of attack which won’t change the final outcome (rock is still going to obliterate pure old fashioned pop music like a 16 year old with a driver’s license will wipe out an unwary mailbox) but the major labels have now landed their first counterpunch at rock’s increasing dominance with the otherwise long-since forgotten I Need You.

That they did this not with a pop act, but an accepted rock artist, only makes it all the more painful to admit. It might take awhile but the results of this broadside will be seen once genuine rock labels will pick up on this trend themselves by mid-decade and start to employ the exact same techniques on their own rock artists, watering themselves down without a second thought.

Listen to Atlantic Records output in the late 1950’s if you doubt this, as they adopted this approach to the letter – white female choruses designed to “sweeten” Clyde McPhatter and Chuck Willis and Joe Turner records for white pop consumers… with predictably disastrous results.

But RCA had figured out – through six years of being guilty of it themselves – what the independent labels still were unaware of and that is you are never more vulnerable for defeat than when you think victory is inevitable.


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