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OKEH 6841; NOVEMBER 1951

 
 

 

Holding a new relationship over an ex partner’s head is something that nobody should be proud of. It’s petty insecurity in its basest form.

Yet it’s all too common because of how human beings crave respect as much as, or more than, anything else in life and when one person rejects you the fervent hope so many people have is that they’ll quickly find someone new… someone better… not because they desire a more rewarding relationship necessarily, but rather because it will allow them to stick it to the one who had you and let you go.

Usually these things don’t turn out so well. The new partner may soon discover they’re just a stand-in for the one who still has a hold on your heart, or maybe the truly good qualities of the one you’re with now aren’t appreciated because you’re thinking of them as a form of retribution rather than somebody to try and build a quality life with.

But occasionally some good DOES come of these messy affairs, such as when a great singer/songwriter like Chuck Willis puts pen to paper and tries to make sense of it all.
 

 

Walk The Streets All Night
It goes without saying that a good songwriter probably has a knack for evocative wordplay, rhyme schemes and melody, but what often separates the great from the good is the ones who aren’t afraid to take on characteristics that paint them in a bad light in order to create a good record.

Some writers make a habit of this. Ivory Joe Hunter was almost masochistic in presenting himself as a lovelorn dupe, constantly betrayed by the one he gave his devotion to. But over time the more often we get that sad sack persona, the less poignant it becomes.

Chuck Willis wasn’t one to wallow in his grief, nor was he somebody who typically viewed himself as an object lesson for bad behavior, but on It’s Too Late Baby he makes the wise decision to make himself look bad while the character he’s portraying acts as if he’s the one coming out on top in this situation.

It’s a subtle, but very effective, bait and switch technique of sorts, his bravado in announcing to the world that he’s moved on being constantly undermined by his determination to seek credit for it and in the process denigrate his ex for her bad behavior.

You can certainly appreciate the song if taken at face value, siding with Willis because of the way he frames the situation and how he appears to be standing up for his own mental well being and happiness. But if you look a little deeper, while you may not side with his former flame, you’ll see that in this broken relationship both partners were left with battle scars that need to be addressed by a mental health professional who presumably is a lot more qualified at that job than someone writing reviews of records from rock’s ancient past.

But what the heck, we’ll do it anyways.
 


 
 

Somebody Else Is There
The title and the overall theme might suggest a slow mournful song, or perhaps one centered around a grinding riff that reflects the built-up resentment Chuck Willis has towards his former love, but instead this jumps out of the gate with a rapid fire double-barreled attack featuring horns and piano with some raw dry drumming as a capper to each line.

Though it’s invigorating it doesn’t exactly suggest pending excitement… more like a day of reckoning.

Willis gives away his intent right away by the exuberance in his voice. This isn’t someone who is demurely telling his former partner that he’s got a new girl, trying not to make her feel too bad that he’s moved on, but rather Chuck is eager to announce to the entire neighborhood that he has someone else, partly to boast about his good fortune but also to ensure that his ex feels the sting of his rejection of HER after the way she had treated him in the past.

It’s payback, pure and simple and Willis isn’t pretending otherwise which makes It’s Too Late Baby much more effective purely as a record than if he were actually trying – and failing – to be discreet about it.

Of course this doesn’t put Willis’s character in a good light at all. Even if all of the things he tells us about his former girlfriend is accurate and she was a demanding manipulative partner, his own actions now reveals he’s not much different in that regard. He may have been less effective at it when they were together, or maybe he used to be much more conciliatory before having his heart broken, but clearly he’s learned well and now is willing to get into the gutter and slug it out emotionally with her because he thinks he’s got the upper hand.

The sections featuring a stop time delivery with minimal instrumentation are designed to come across like he’s springing traps for his next assault, inviting her to wander into the silence before blasting her with another charge which is then bolstered by the musical taunting that comes in the aftermath, the horns sort of sneering at her once Willis drops the hammer with the punchline of each refrain.

A few times along the way he stumbles with some poorly conceived lines, but even that might be passed off as someone being too anxious to deliver another blow and not collecting his thoughts before attacking, but despite the fact that his actions are hardly admirable he’s careful enough not to take any gratuitous shots at her that would swing our sympathies to her.

They may not quite ever become the toxic couple you steadfastly avoid at parties, but then again you know enough not to ask either one vague questions about how they’re doing, because you’ll surely get inundated with far more scathing information than you ever wanted.
 


 

Hip To Your Jive
In life the best attitude to have for your own mental well being in the face of the pain of a breakup is that of cool emotional detachment.

Yes, you’re hurting inside, you’re questioning all of your past decisions to see if something you might have done differently could’ve helped head off the inevitable. Then you’re probably getting angry at your partner’s shortcomings and wondering why THEY didn’t do something different to change the outcome before things reached the point of no return.

All of that is perfectly natural to feel in such circumstances, as is the frustration and anger that follows. But that’s where it should stay. Inside you.

It rarely does, not entirely anyway, and so It’s Too Late Baby is perfectly emblematic of someone who feels the need to vent and therefore, while not recommended, is totally understandable.

But while Willis pulls up short of going nuclear on her, what he’s doing still says more about him than it does his former girlfriend. It tells us he’s still hung up on her to a degree, that his own happiness is more dependent on others than is probably healthy and that the girl he’s with now – should SHE be listening – may just be a temporary pawn in his game… a trophy to show off to make someone else feel bad rather than a valued partner in her own right.

All of which is why we feel entirely comfortable saying… the record itself is good Chuck but the emotional baggage you’ve unloaded to give it to us needs a little work. If you want some advice that is coming way too late to do you any good, it’s this: The best revenge in life is just being happy.

Who knows, if you smile and have nothing bad to say about her maybe your ex will even realize what they let slip away and try and get you back and then your next song can be a humble brag about how you won her hand in the end.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Chuck Willis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)
 
 
 

 
Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
 
Gatemouth Brown (November, 1951)