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After yet another gem by one of rock’s most reliable and exciting stars on the top side of this single, does it even really matter what’s on the flip side?

In terms of sales… no, B-sides are largely irrelevant if the top half is popular.

As for improving his reputation as a dynamic and creative artist… no again, his credentials are firmly established and so you certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it was good, but would hardly find reason to penalize him by avoiding his future work if this cut weren’t up to par.

Keep that in mind when you listen to this one.


Tried To Worry You Off My Mind
Let’s start off by reiterating the circumstances of its release so nobody’s expectations go sky high just because of the name on the label.

In October an inventively (and terrific) re-worked version of the blues classic Baby Please Don’t Go had been released by The Orioles and drew immediate interest, enough so that Savoy Records, wanting to undercut its sales while getting some for themselves, had their biggest star Billy Wright come in to cover it under a new title, Turn Your Lamps Down Low.

While he deviated greatly from both the original Big Joe Williams approach as well as The Orioles creative overhaul of it, Wright’s rendition was equally great and so since that was the only song they bothered to cut at this November make-shift session, they had to find something sitting on their shelves to use as the B-side.

On April fifteenth Wright had laid down four songs, only one of which had been put out, so they went through the leftovers and chose Drinkin’ And Thinkin’ to use here while the other two remain unissued to this day.

Maybe it was just a bad day for him because Wright was a huge star who’s turned almost everything he’s touched into gold so far and this cut frankly isn’t anything special.

It’s not terrible but nobody is going to mistake it for a potential hit in its own right, which considering Savoy wanted the focus on their version of a song that was making noise elsewhere, maybe that was the entire point.


Still It Seems Like Years
It starts off interestingly enough with a twitchy piano and an intentionally monotonous beat way off in the distance so that when Wright comes into the picture with the promising declaration, “If the blues were whiskey I would stay drunk all the time”, we’re fully on board and waiting anxiously for what’s to follow.

Whether he means blues music (probably) or just feeling blue (which makes more literal sense) doesn’t much matter, the premise itself is really good, allowing him a chance to delve into the reasons behind his tortured soul.

Unfortunately there’s not much behind that admission to make us invested in his condition.

Part of this is due to the structure of the song itself, which with its crawling pace and AAB form (the first line is repeated twice before the resolution in each stanza) it means we aren’t going to get much information, there just isn’t enough room or time to get deep into his problems.

But worse is that the writing on Drinkin’ And Thinkin’ seems almost ad-libbed, not just because most of the subsequent lines are fairly unimaginative, but also due to the way Wright seems to hesitate before delivering some, which for once is not done to build tension, but rather simply to find his place in the song.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some moments where he shows glimpses of his latent talent. The line “When you’re drunk that’s the time you speak your sober mind”, is a truism that anybody over a certain age knows all too well. But even here he seems uncertain of what he’s going to say going in. His declarative tone on the first three words is followed by an awkward pause before finishing his thought, creating choppiness that trips up the cadence and which in turn undercuts the message.

You can make the case that Wright is – or is pretending to be – drunk himself, thereby lending authenticity to the record, but as someone who has been around and a part of drunken sing-alongs, they’re fun in the moment when you’re drunk too, but are painful to hear sober, so unless they were handing out nips with each purchase of this record, or a bar that had it on the jukebox wouldn’t let you play it until you’d downed a few shots, that explanation alone won’t make the listening experience much easier.

John Peck’s band stays largely in the background, providing low-key atmosphere but little more and as a result nothing is being added to prop up the record. More concerning is the fact that if Wright the songwriter can’t give us something of lasting value, then Wright the vocalist usually can redeem it.

Here he can’t pull that off however and while this isn’t a complete failure it’s the first time we’ve been genuinely disappointed with what he’s had to offer.


The More I Think
As stated at the beginning, it didn’t matter WHAT the hell they put on this side of the single when the lead side was so damn good.

They could’ve used an instrumental by the studio band, or a recording of Savoy’s blustery cheapskate owner Herman Lubinsky lecturing employees on how to save expense money by crawling under the stalls in pay toilets (don’t laugh, he famously wrote letters rather than made long distance calls since stamps and stationary were cheaper than ponying up to Ma Bell).

Come to think of it, silence would’ve definitely been a better alternative than the latter.

That they gave us another Billy Wright vocal rather than any of those choices was considerate of them and despite Drinkin’ And Thinkin’ being the weakest side he’s released to date, it’s not the worst thing in the world to have more of his material available to hear all these years later… in fact I’d still be interested in checking out the other songs they passed over in favor of this one, just to make that assessment of their choices for myself.

So in the big picture the only real downside of this is simply the missed opportunity for getting something special from one of rock’s most electrifying performers. After all, we don’t get many chances in the singles era to hear these singers in their prime. There are no albums being issued to bring us more material at once, no multi-media appearances to check out and unless you happened to be in one of the stops he made on tour you aren’t getting to see if the live rendition of this song worked out the kinks and turned it into something more impressive.

Maybe our expectations are too high when it comes to certain artists and we set ourselves up to be occasionally let down as a result. But when we get a dramatic stop-time bridge from Billy Wright we usually sit on the edge of our seats, waiting with eager anticipation for the payoff, but here when the payoff comes we settle back with a shrug and say to ourselves, “Well, I guess nobody’s perfect”.

Actually he could be, you just have to flip the record back over to prove it.


(Visit the Artist page of Billy Wright for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)