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APOLLO 794; AUGUST, 1949

 
 

 

The road to success in music is not always a straight line. Or at least not one without plenty of options along the way. There are an abundance of side streets, all of which provide various alternative paths… some which may wind up running into dead ends, but others which could potentially lead to fame, glory and hits.

Yet these roads are always changing. There are no maps with clearly marked directions to get you exactly where you want to go. Oftentimes you’ll be in possession of the necessary skills and head out full of confidence on a record label with a great track record and wind up lost in the middle of nowhere as suddenly, without warning, the landscape changes around you once you’re already underway.

Yet there’s no telling when that might happen or whether those changes will be a permanent condition. Trends come along and seemingly change everything but a trend can just as easily turn into a short-lived fad rather than a long-term shift. Who’s to say when you should fully commit to one road when another route might land you in the same place (commercially speaking) around the next bend?

That was the issue so many artists were faced with during rock’s first three years of existence in the late 1940’s. Since they had no way of seeing into the future – a future in which rock ‘n’ roll would become increasingly dominant – there was always a strong urge to temper your approach in case rock came crashing down around you without warning.
 

 

Stepping Out
The smartest move – then and now – is always to follow your own musical passion and if the commercial tide rolls in to lift you to the hitmaking shore, that’s the ideal result. If the tide for your particular style goes out and you’re left a mile off-shore slogging through ankle deep tepid water with no hits in sight, that’s still not the worst fate in life, provided that you truly enjoy what you’re doing and can still make a living at it.

But what about those like Charlie Singleton, a 19 year old kid with an affinity for rock that was appropriate for his age but who also had the chops and the background to cut it in so-called “loftier” styles. He’d been taught by the same man who instructed a young Charlie Parker, who was now widely acclaimed as the greatest jazz sax player of all, so who was to say that Singleton’s ultimate destination might not be to try and rival Bird for that title?

Then of course there were the record labels who had a say in all of this. In Singleton’s case he had signed to do a session with Apollo, one of the more established independent companies in New York which had absolutely NO experience with rock, yet plenty of success with such jazz legends as Illinois Jacquet.

That alone would seem to indicate that Charlie Singleton would be plying his trade – at least at this stage – in jazz. Right?

Wrong.

As seen on the top side, Keep Cool, Singleton dove headfirst into rock and came away with a very solid entry his first time out. While it wouldn’t become a hit the fact he (and for that matter, Apollo Records too) didn’t seem to hesitate about aligning themselves with rock ‘n’ roll boded well for his prospects going forward in this field. Maybe for him the road would be a little more direct.

But then again just as there are two sides to every story, in the singles era in music there were two sides to every release and there’s where you could hedge your bets somewhat, giving in to your own classier musical inclinations or maybe just to satisfy Apollo’s need to keep one hand in their preferred market.

Thus it’s with a little trepidation that you flip the record over to check out Later For You, expecting the worst, or at least expecting something far removed from the rock of the first effort to come out under Singleton’s name.

But the mere fact it’s being reviewed here should tell you that if they were looking to step away from rock, they didn’t step very far.
 

Getting Late Early
Make no mistake this is going to fall on the outskirts of rock’s territory no more where you lay down those boundaries. The main instrument is arguably not even Singleton’s sax but rather Reginald Ashby’s piano which takes up much of the soloing in the first section and remains a constant presence as the main support to Singleton when he offers up his showpiece.

The piano is played with a lightness of touch, the left hand hardly making its presence known which gives this a breezy ambiance, meaning it won’t capture your attention or stick in your mind very long after he’s finished. The pacing is good however, it’s moving forward at a steady clip regardless of which instrument is out in front and there’s no sudden move towards something even more flighty in its construction as frequently happens in these situations. Call this “rock-lite” if you want but it’s at least retaining just enough of the DNA of the style not to be kicked out entirely.

But that doesn’t mean it’s sitting at the head of the table either, even when Singleton comes in to take over the lead duties. Here too is where his instrument of choice, the alto sax as opposed to more robust tenor, shows it’s limitations in the rock field.

While he overcame the tonal disadvantage it’s burdened with on the top side by his aggressive approach, on Later For You he’s dealing with a more airy melody and as a result he’s limited with what he can do to convey much urgency in his playing.

He starts off well, sort of a dreamy intro with a few passages that drop into a more insistent emphasis that has you thinking that while this might not be something too intense it still could be an effective mood piece that fits in nicely with similar efforts by more established figures in the rock instrumental realm.

But then they pull back from that with the arrival of the bank of horns that scrub this clean of any emotional gravitas. We’ve largely moved past the strict big band motifs that plagued so many earlier rock instrumentals but this is hardly an improvement on it other than not completely giving you whiplash as it veers into another lane. That it’s followed with Ashby’s extended solo on the keys and then an Irving Stokes trumpet solo, which thankfully doesn’t give in to the worst tendencies of that instrument’s attributes, means that we’re already getting further and further away from the prime components that rock fans are seeking and you have to believe this is by design.
 

Too Little, Too Late
If you’re waiting for the cavalry to arrive in the form of Singleton, hoping that he can somehow drag this back firmly into the territory we’ve come to expect, you’ll be waiting a long time.

Singleton makes his re-appearance two-thirds of the way through and does manage to give a little more heft to the arrangement, perhaps even trying to convince you that he’s being done in by his bandmates low key approach and all along he wanted to make a bolder stand.

Don’t buy it though. For while Charlie Singleton is by far the best aspect of Later For You, it’s only in comparison to what else they’re serving up.

Taken alone Singleton’s lines are fairly inconsequential. If you beefed up the support, given the record a more powerful bottom and thrown in a few a sizzling guitar licks, a throbbing bassline – on the bass itself or even on the piano – and some drum kicks, then Singleton playing the exact same runs as he does here would suddenly become the weak point that stood out in a negative way rather than the more positive light we see him in now.

In other words it’s all about context and perspective.

 

 

Hold Off
That should tell you all you need to know about their intent here. Credit them if you must for not heading to an entirely different world of light jazz or benign pop, but they clearly were hoping that for anyone shocked at hearing something as primitive sounding as Keep Cool coming out on Apollo Records which had previously eschewed that brand of musical mayhem, they’d flip it over and be somewhat mollified by this side adhering to a more acceptable approach.

I guess you can say that as an effort to not alienate the label’s typical record buyers that makes some sense, but would those same people who plunked down their money for this without knowing what it contained and then being put off by the contents of the more flamboyant A-side really be won over enough by the halfhearted attempts at something less outrageous on this side to go out and buy another Charlie Singleton record the next time out?

It’s doubtful, but even if they were willing to do so they wouldn’t get the chance as Singleton never got another release on Apollo. He’d wind up bouncing around from one label to another but would stick more or less with the rocking sounds he did far better than this modest attempt to fit in to a world that was no longer at the forefront of music.

Even Billboard magazine seemed to sense the changes that were underway, as they called this side “Pretty, but minus the flamboyance that’s needed for commercial quotient”.

Or was it? Unlike the authentic rocker on the top side, Later For You did dent the local Cash Box charts in Harlem for a week, showing that sometimes there’s something to be said for traveling slow.

But even if you never got past 35 MPH on these scenic side streets that still dotted the musical countryside it was still inevitable that those quiet roads were soon going to be closed for repairs while the new four lane highway opening up for the rock kingdom had plenty of room for more traffic and at much faster speeds than you’d ever go if you remained content to stick to the outdated thoroughfares of this more modest approach.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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