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CHESS 1508; APRIL 1952



One of the eternal truths of the singles era, one which unfortunately wasn’t always adhered to by artists or record companies, was the need to present two distinctively different sides to their musical persona.

Ballads paired with uptempo songs. Instrumentals on the back of vocal cuts. Even just something that draws from different outside sources to give it another flavor the top side didn’t explore.

Billy Love does that here, yet while we commend him for it in theory, we can’t help but say that when the other side was SO good any changes made on the flip side aren’t likely to be appreciated enough simply for being different.

In fact, unfair though it certainly is, here’s one example where attempting to diversify your output may actually be seen as a let down.


Don’t Think That You’re So High
The way this starts off you’re not quite sure what to make of it.

Is it a demo? A rehearsal that somehow made it to a record? Certainly it has that vibe, not just because Billy Love’s choppy piano seems like the kind of generic “getting your feet under you” when you first sit down behind the keys, just trying to find a rhythm from which a melody might emerge, but also because the recording quality has a faint buzz to it, which is hardly a quality you find in anything recorded by Sam Phillips.

Say what you will about his questionable ethics at times, but the man was a great engineer if nothing else and this has the sense he hastily hit record without first making any adjustments to microphone placements or input levels on the board.

But then again that might make it a little more endearing in a way, sort of a low-key performance to offset what was a much more in your face take on the raucous Drop Top.

As it goes on though you start to get the idea that Billy Love might be a reincarnated Cecil Gant, someone who known for sitting at the piano and playing as the tapes rolled until an idea came to him and then would improvise lyrics on the spot, as the intro to You’re Gonna Cry doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

When Love finally does start to sing he sounds a bit like Little Willie Littlefield… after taking sleeping pills. There’s not much life in his voice and considering he’s scolding a woman who apparently has no interest in him, his lack of vigor makes the criticisms fall flat… and possibly justifies her decision to leave this guy behind.

Of course it doesn’t help that the story he spins has sort of a makeshift quality to it. The stanzas are merely taking the same theme and essentially re-framing it differently each time around, sort of like a delaying tactic to prolong the suspense… or maybe to give him time to come up with a resolution to the point he’s making. Either way it’s safe to say that the plot is secondary here.

Then again that’s not entirely true either, because to be secondary it would have to take a back seat to something more exciting or dramatic or intense or interesting, and nothing else about this stands out enough to take precedent over what we’ve already sloughed off for failing to hold our attention.


When You Say You’re Sorry
It’s safe to say that the arrangement here is very basic… almost non-existent to tell the truth.

If we want to be nice we can say there’s sort of a bluesy looseness to what they’re playing, the kind of thing a bunch of musicians at a roadhouse who never met before could throw together on the spot and be assured of everybody falling in without stepping all over each other.

In that setting this kind of thing is a reliable device for a wide variety of songs, but on a record it’s hardly very riveting.

It’s not that there aren’t enough instruments here to provide something a little fuller, we have the basics accounted for – rhythm section, piano and guitar, plus a saxophone – but none of them are doing more than the minimum required to keep You’re Gonna Cry from petering out altogether.

The only notable individual part is the sax solo but that’s got the energy – and frankly it also has the sound – of a dehydrated fly buzzing around a screen door in the heat of summer. Listless and faintly irritating because you want it to try and do more to raise the energy of the track, or at least contribute something to the song’s message, but perhaps because nobody bothered to come up with a purpose for the song the sax is merely fitting in with the lowered expectations of all involved.

As uninspired as this clearly was however there’s nothing that qualifies as terrible or off-putting to be found on the record. The band isn’t trying very hard but they’re not off key and out of step. Love may not be determined to win you over but he’s not trying to drive you away either. The story gives the impression of somebody feeling sorry for himself who is trying to shift the blame and failing at it, but he’s not offending us with his lyrics or point of view.

What IS offending us though is the idea that this is a polished record suitable for retail sale. If it was in fact a full-fledged attempt at a master take of a song intended for the public, it’s a half ass job by everyone involved, from Billy Love to the band to Sam Phillips, none of whom appear to be taking their jobs seriously.

If instead it was a dry run-through that somehow got issued by mistake – or perhaps because everything else cut that day was even less commercial sounding than this – then the fault is with the people making these decisions in the first place.

Yeah, it’s only a B-side and it’s got a great A-side to take the heat off it, but when you release a single both sides will get spun at least once and each will be judged on their own merits. This one can’t negate the brilliance of the other half of course, but it certainly makes you wonder if the top side was the aberration rather than the expected norm.


(Visit the Artist pages of Billy “Red” Love for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)