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RCA 22-0113; FEBRUARY 1951



The balancing act continues as Big John Greer tries to satisfy RCA’s request for the mildest rock ‘n’ roll records possible while still fulfilling the basic stylistic requirements necessary for the music to even qualify under the term.

Unable to push any of the more unsavory components too far and risk upsetting the record label who want to avoid putting their stamp of approval on the genre, he’s reduced to finding a mellow groove and bland outlook and hoping that his melodic gifts alone are enough to make them work.

Most of the time they do work, but just barely, yet by walking this thin line between authenticity and artificiality means he’s never going to satisfy the rock audience enough to be more than window dressing in the movement.


That Glamour Got In My Eyes
The major label’s approach to “dealing with” the rock ‘n’ roll dilemma they faced as this upstart music grew ever more popular even as it was mostly consumed by a demographic that those companies had roundly ignored, was a rather strange one on the surface.

Rather than simply let the independent labels cater to that audience while the majors focused on maintaining the dominance of the mainstream pop and jazz fields, which still made up the largest segment of the market by far, the industry seemed to view the success these smaller outposts were having as a rude infringement on their virtual monopoly of music.

Maybe they were more prescient than we give them credit for though, for once rock ‘n’ roll began attracting the notice of white teenagers down the road the commercial floodgates opened and the major labels and their respectable pop stars found that the middle class adult audience they attracted didn’t have the depth of interest to keep buying new singles every few months whereas the younger generation viewed doing so as almost a moral obligation and with it the industry was turned on its head, their conservative tastes never again to hold sway.

So when looked at from that perspective the major’s decision at this stage to try and water down rock with older, more sedate artists playing a brand of rock ‘n’ roll that was at least relatable to more mature audiences who’d otherwise reject the rowdier trendsetters might actually make some sense. If guys like Big John Greer succeeded with records such as Why Did You Go? and got the kind of widespread sales that the independent labels only dreamed of, maybe that would convince the indies to try and present a less rambunctious version of this music themselves thereby re-calibrating rock ‘n’ roll as a whole to a more “acceptable” level.

That almost happened in the later-50’s too when some of the more ambitious independent labels like Atlantic started adding more elegant production with an eye on the pop charts. By then though the genie was out of the bottle and there were more than enough small labels without the means or inclination to hire pseudo-orchestras and white chorale groups to back their street corner denizens and so the pop charts became infected with the real thing all the same.

By then Big John Greer was long gone, but maybe had records like this attracted just a bit more attention from the adult world it might’ve been a whole different story.

Leave My Happy Home
If that audience was ever going to gravitate towards one of these milquetoast efforts then this was one of the better choices they had before them as there’s no denying this record is pleasantly catchy in a way that would seem to be nonthreatening enough to be more broadly accepted. Even Billboard gave it their stamp of approval, calling it “A fine slow-rocker”.

Then again considering Mario Lanza’s Be My Love was one of the biggest hits in the country at this time maybe Greer’s record came across like barely controlled anarchy to the stern, serious and sober audience who embraced the operatic tenor as the rising star of the moment.

But while it’s doubtful the two disparate records would find the same audience, with its surging, swaying melody, Why Did You Go? has the ability to stick in your mind like gum on your shoe no matter what your usual tastes may be. Its sonic textures are never so tough that it’d be completely off-putting to the rock-averse, yet it’s got just enough rhythm to placate the skeptical rock fan who knows full well that RCA is trying to undermine more authentic sounds on the scene.

The key to this working as well as it does is the arrangement which uses an intermittent baritone sax to pull the melody back around to start its pattern again and again. It’s like watching the waves laps against the shoreline, methodical, predictable, but hypnotic in their precision. The overlapping melodic components ensures that while one crests, the other provides the undertow so even though the song is hardly fast paced it’s always moving, keeping you transfixed.

Vocally Greer is joined by his group during the bulk of the record, their harmonies are slightly crude maybe but definitely engaging, adding a nice layering effect which gives the overall sound more depth, almost as if you’re looking at a 3-D image rather than a flat surface.

The best moments, or at least the most memorable, come in the back half as a female singer comes in to trade off with Greer in a harmlessly saucy back and forth. She goes unnamed on the label – and even the rough session info – but it’s probably Vi Williams who got credit on a duet later in the year.

Her presence gives the record far more character and a nice counterbalance as Greer gets a chance to display some personality in response to her accusations about him ditching her – a shocking turnaround from the first half in which it’s Greer, and the other guys backing him, who are protesting a girl walking out him (them?) for unstated reasons.

Maybe the twist doesn’t fully make sense, though it could be a case of he strayed first and she walked out in response, but since the majority of the record was simply the elongated chorus this at least qualifies as a plot and since they both seem to regret whatever led to this it’s even got a happy ending within their grasp… hardly surprising for a record label that doesn’t want to upset the social order in any way, be it musically or in a familial sense.


You Promised Me That You Would Never Roam
As modestly appealing as this record is, the obvious intent to try and balance between two divergent market tastes probably ensured it’d have no really strong base from which to build from.

The rock fan wasn’t going to champion it at the expense of the more explosive, innovative or emotionally gripping records that were coming out all winter long, while the pop audience probably wasn’t even going to be exposed to it on a wide enough basis to allow it to take hold in that community either.

Yet even as that market reality did it in, the major labels finally seemed to find a halfway sensible middle ground when it came to bridging this seemingly insurmountable gap between the two warring factions, aesthetically speaking anyway, as Why Did You Go? is a record that nobody would really object to hearing.

The problem is however that theoretical mild acceptance across the board doesn’t amount to anything tangible on a commercial level which is still how record companies view the success or failure of an idea.

But maybe that’s a good thing, because had there been a lot more records like this coming along eventually a few of them might’ve started to meet with some wider acceptance and once that happened then the smaller companies who were now content to dominate the rock field might start getting big ideas about how they too could move towards mainstream acceptance and the entire house of cards rock ‘n’ roll had built for themselves could come tumbling down.


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