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DECCA 48193; JANUARY 1951

 
 

 

NOW it’s starting to make sense!

Not a whole lot of sense mind you, but more sense than we assumed when covering the flip side of this single first, simply because it was the more familiar title to those of us wallowing in the pits of depravity in the rock universe.

But while this side of the record hardly lives up to its title, there’s a bigger story (no pun intended) in how and why it got that title that makes examining this one as Nineteen Fifty-One gets underway well worth the time even if the record is hardly worth anybody’s time.
 

 

Swing Your Arms Way Out Wide
The widespread belief looking back at rock’s first few years – 1947-1950 – was that the majority of the mainstream (IE. white) music community was unaware of, or at least unconcerned with, its existence. But we know this isn’t true, it was definitely on their radar from the start even if they were loathe to admit it.

They could donwplay or deny it all the wanted but there was one thing that gave them away… money. As in rock was making money and they increasingly wanted in on it, preferably if they didn’t have to sully themselves much by recording or promoting authentic rock music outright.

So instead those in that orbit looked for ways to shallowly take advantage of it in ways that still made sense to their old school industry mentality such as signing borderline candidates who could be promoted as legitimate rock acts but who were being compelled to tone the music down in the process.

Or in the case of this song it was the way in which a bunch of inept bandwagon jumpers apprehended the term and general impression they had of the uncouth music in an attempt to sell it as a harmless novelty with a tune they themselves came up with called Elephant Rock.

Their hope clearly was to use the term in a way that suggests a raucous scene yet which doesn’t explicitly promise one, or at least avoids committing to it having anything really to do with rock ‘n’ roll beyond that rather vague title itself.

The song came first, then a dance followed, but unlike a lot of late 50’s and early 60’s dance crazes which were begun by kids listening to rock songs and figuring out a dance that fit it, then someone coming up with a name to describe it, this was the work of professionals looking to capitalize on the very thing they denied having any value… rock music itself.

All of it, as you might expect coming from the a business as morally bankrupt as record industry, was nothing but a musical scam.
 

It’s Easy As Can Be
The tune was created by writers for Ostrow Music Publishers, the kind of people who deem those with genuine artistic standards in any style to be saps and suckers because everybody knows listeners want something catchy and gimmicky that’s easy to remember.

So looking around and noticing this rock ‘n’ roll craze getting bigger all the time in Black America they figured why not tap into that, take advantage of the phrase yet leave it open to alternate meanings – there’s an “elephant rock” in Iceland for example, it actually looks like an elephant in the water – and take your chances that it’ll draw some attention.

Just to be sure it did they went out and hyped it by placing an ad in Cash Box for the song in late August… before it had even been recorded by anyone!… and then over the coming months they bribed convinced writers at the trade papers to play it up and roped Wally Wanger, who ran an organization that supplied burlesque dancers for famous New York clubs, into coming up with a dance to go with it.

Despite all of this effort they couldn’t stir much interest in it because… well, because it was a terrible idea, though they did manage to get Bob Howard, who’d been the first African-American to host a TV show briefly in 1948 and was a singer and pianist, to cut it for a tiny label called Skyscraper in late 1950.

It was sure to die a quick death and deservedly so, but that’s when someone at Decca Records (one of the biggest and most respected record companies in the world mind you) fell hook, line and sinker for this con job and decided they didn’t want to miss out on it if it became big and should their “authentic” version somehow connect then maybe they’d get The Andrews Sisters or somebody to legitimize it with a pop version and clean up.

Wishful thinking on their parts, because despite getting a real honest to goodness rocker to cut this, it can’t change the fact that Elephant Rock is still just a hoax.
 

If You Just Listen To It I’ll Show You How To Do It
At least the songwriters weren’t making any bones about cheap and shallow their intent was, as this is nothing more than an instructional record describing the made up dance.

The lyrics, as you’d expect from such an abomination, are silly and simplistic. It’s a dance for 4 year olds wanting to pretend they’re a pachyderm using one arm as the trunk, the other as the tail and shifting from side to side while laughing hysterically.

Any adults who would do this so-called dance are presumably one drink away from unconsciousness and even while sober are nothing more than bored sophisticates thinking they’re much more hip than they really are. The rest of us are left to sit and watch from the sidelines, alternately laughing and cringing at how poop Charlie Singleton’s band are forced to demean themselves by taking part in such a thing.

Freddie Jackson has the hardest task of them all to try and make Elephant Rock somewhat presentable to the mass public while not coming across as completely out of touch to he rock audience. But despite a good voice and strong delivery he can’t help but sound embarrassed by the whole thing and his false enthusiasm wears thin pretty quickly.

Naturally the good folks at… what was it again?… Ostrow Music Publishers assumed the lyrics would be the selling point, eliciting grins from the Diner’s Club crowd at their Saturday night parties in the suburbs, but if they truly wanted this to catch on they needed it to have a musical kick that the song just doesn’t contain.

Singleton and company try their best to give it one starting with Herbie Nichols stuttering piano emphasizing the left hand for obvious reasons (ya know, because elephants are heavy… c’mon, I shouldn’t have to tell you this) before the horns come in playing their clipped riff briefly then dropping back out so the piano can pick up that more plodding rhythm for the verses.

Mid-way through Jackson starts shouting the title – though I’m reasonably sure he was shouting just so someone outside the studio might hear him and let him out – and Singleton takes over with a sax solo which is the only really decent thing here, fairly melodic, somewhat forceful and with some nice squeals that never quite heads into the extreme but provide better examples of actual rock ‘n’ roll than you thought you’d get here.

Does any of that make a difference though? No, of course not, it’s still less of a song than it is a marketing ploy and while Singleton brings more to the table than it deserves you can’t reward that kind of condescending opportunism with anything more than mild praise for someone who had the poor sense to go along with this in the first place.
 


 

There’s Nothing To It
So now that the mystery is solved and we know why Decca Records, whose executives all wore sock garters and practiced their insincere “business smiles” and firm handshakes on captive relatives, brought in somebody they would’ve thought was a shoeshine boy who took a wrong turn in their building if they ran into him in the hallway, to lay down just two songs, rather than the standard four, at a session.

They used him in other words. Rented him like a pack mule. Do this job, son and be grateful for the opportunity.

Maybe they were moderately courteous to his face while he was in the studio, maybe they even paid him for his time, but when Elephant Rock failed to make an impact it allowed them to confidently exchange “I toldja so’s” at the next board meeting, stop returning Singleton’s calls about another session and take a collective oath to steer clear of anything resembling rock ‘n’ roll for as long as possible.

Meanwhile the brilliant creative minds at Ostrow Music Publishers were hard at work on their next brainstorm… The Apline Slide, a dance and accompanying record inspired by the avalanche in The Alps that buried 45,000 people that was making headlines as we speak.

True to form Decca Records was frantically trying to coax Bing Crosby off the golf course to record it next week and beat the rush.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Charlie Singleton for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)