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DECCA 48165: AUGUST 1950



The practice of false advertising goes back as long as human beings first began to peddle goods and quickly realized that their fellow man was a gullible sap and that in most places consumer laws weren’t written by consumers at all, but rather the fat cats looking to bilk people which made the prospects of facing the music for selling worthless junk pretty low.

That’s not to say we’re lumping our beloved Cousin Joe in with that class of grifters and con men exactly, but let’s just say that for the first time since meeting him nearly three years ago we’re checking our pockets for missing valuables after shaking hands with him.


The Only Thing I Hate…
The dictionary definition of the relevant part of this song title reads as follows:

High Powered (adj.) Having great drive, energy or capacity

All of which are completely lacking in this record.

Right away, no matter what else he brings to the table in the writing of this song or the performance itself, Cousin Joe has dug himself a hole that will be hard to climb out of.

In normal circumstances this misdirection might not be too great of an obstacle in winning us over. We might feel misled for a few seconds but not taken advantage of and if the ensuing record had appealing enough traits we’d forgive or possibly even forget being led astray by an inappropriate title.

But not in this realm. Not when rock ‘n’ roll’s most enduring characteristics include… what were they again?… Oh yeah, “great drive and energy”, the very thing High Powered Gal seems to promise at a glance but then fails to deliver.

Not just fails to deliver, but actively refutes in every one of the 172 seconds it plays.

Therein lies the problem of false advertising in music compared to selling gaudy trinkets in a souvenir shop at a seaside resort you won’t be visiting again… There you can dupe someone into buying something and by the time they figure out they’ve been had they’re too far away to do anything about it.

But with records it’s not just ONE spin you’re after, but rather repeated listens. That’s what turns songs into hits, particularly in the days of jukebox dominance where you weren’t buying the record, merely paying a nickel to hear it… preferably multiple times over a few weeks.

After hearing this and not getting what you bargained for you might look to spend your nickels on something else.


My Account Was Overdrawn
With the slow acoustic guitar opening you instinctively think this is going to be a country blues record but, as with the flip side, they dispel that thought soon enough by adding piano and horns.

Unfortunately they don’t speed up the pace when they do enter the picture and while the simple melodic progression is eminently familiar to anyone who’s listened to music over the past century, the sound is too plodding to be very compelling. It sounds almost as if it’s a 45 RPM record being played at 33 RPM speed and you hope that Cousin Joe will kick it into a higher gear as he goes along. Instead he keeps the whole thing in first gear and keeps applying the breaks just to make sure the wheels don’t start turning too fast.

All of which is too bad because the song itself is actually pretty good, giving us another clever message about the pitfalls of loving someone who “lives beyond her means”. Though the crawling pace combined with the 12 bar blues AAB lyric structure it uses creates far too much suspense before we get to the punchlines, Cousin Joe’s witty comments are colorful, insightful and brimming with small details that makes them come alive in ways that bring a smile to your face.

Apparently he was thirsty for soda during the writing that led to this April 1950 session because on both sides of this single he refers to a popular soft drink in the lyrics, this time around saying of his woman, “She’s got a Coca-Cola pocketbook and a champagne mind”, his way of telling us that her desires for the good life far outstrips her – or his – ability to afford it.

The message itself is as solid and true to life as can be which is what makes his decision to use the term High Powered Gal to describe her so bewildering. Maybe he was stuck for a better alternative, as gold-digger or leach aren’t quite accurate since he’s making clear that he doesn’t have much money himself, so she’s clearly not with him because he’s some kind of sugar-daddy, but I fail to see where calling her “high powered” is a better option.

When he closes the song out by informing us we’d all be smarter to look for “an ordinary woman and leave those high powered gals alone”, we definitely get his meaning but wish he found a different way to label her selfishness, if only to spare us the disappointment of finding out this isn’t some maniacal rocker as we guessed at first glance.

Can’t Keep No Money
Maybe this criticism is unfair to Cousin Joe, for it’s customary to take the song’s content at face value, not read into it things which weren’t intended. But it’s difficult to do that when the delivery is so at odds with the premise suggested by the title on the label.

I know, I know, you can’t judge a book by its cover and all that, and so it’s up to us, not him, to readjust our thinking when listening to this.

But when punching A-6 or something on the jukebox after scanning the available songs, you almost certainly were going to be confused and disappointed upon hearing something so slow and drawn out rather than the kind of rousing track that High Powered Gal suggests. As a result you’d be sure to completely miss a lot of the strengths of the record, from the lyrics to the message to the delivery itself, which is full of his usual intelligent charm. Even the musical backing, as skeletal as it is, provides a solid churning groove to keep you hooked.

But over time, once you know what awaits you after you’ve expunged the unrealistic expectations the title brought on the first time around, that’s when you’ll be far more receptive to what Cousin Joe has to offer.

In fact, you might actually walk away from this transaction feeling you got a pretty good deal in the end… it’s no unexpected treasure maybe, but it’s definitely some quality merchandise from a reputable seller. In fact, it’s safe to say that the more you play it the prouder you’ll be to display it on the mantle when you get home, telling everyone where you got it and how much of a bargain it turned out to be.

Sure, it’s a misleading title maybe, but it’s a good song after all, in spite of your initial reaction.

False advertising works both ways come to think of it… with records and with reviews. Sorry if we misled you into thinking this was some kind of dud when in fact it’s being recommended in the end, but with this song you should’ve guessed you had it coming.


(Visit the Artist page of Cousin Joe for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)