KING 4369; MAY 1950



You might be wondering what a song like this is doing in an overview of rock history… well, you’re not alone, I wonder why I’m including it myself other than the fact that Earl Bostic has been a vital – if not always consistent – voice in rock ‘n’ roll.

This however is not one of those vital efforts. In fact it’s arguably not qualified to even be on rock’s radar as a record and if not for the name adorning the label it wouldn’t be remotely considered for inclusion.

Yet here it is anyway.


It’s Almost Morning
Obviously the technicality I’m using here is that in an effort to keep up with Earl Bostic’s winding musical journey we need to at least keep tabs on him when he wanders out of view for awhile, just so that when he does grace us with his fully committed presence again down the road we’ll be better able to tell you the significance of his return.

But sometimes that determination to see to it that he’s remembered by us makes for some uneasy bedfellows musically and we just have to keep in mind that in the big scheme of things his versatility is a positive character trait, even if in the realm of rock ‘n’ roll it can be seen as a major drawback.

However, just so nobody thinks we’ve gone too far in compromising rock’s integrity by cramming this song into the playlist, let it be said that we at least refrained from reviewing the purely pop rendition of the standard Wrap Your Troubles In A Dream that adorns the other side of this release.

I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere!

But occasionally there is some contextual value in determining just how far outside of the core rock aesthetics artists can go before they become something else entirely and cede from the union altogether.

Earl Bostic of course was made to order for such studies as he rarely consented to remain in any musical jurisdiction for too long. His artistic ambition, restless creativity and now that he was with King Records, his increased opportunities for experimenting allowed him to indulge in every creative whim he had no matter how divergent they were, knowing they’d get released without necessarily hurting his standing.

Ultimately that’s a story worth visiting, and while Serenade may not firmly be entrenched in our brand of music it actually isn’t a bad choice to want to hear, even for devoted and highly provincial rock fans like us.


Their Golden Eyes
Let me come right out and say that I have a surprising affinity for what is usually termed lounge instrumentals, or bachelor pad music, which is where this song probably fits best.

Now that doesn’t mean we’ll be sneaking in reviews of Les Baxter or Esquival down the road or anything, so don’t worry, but there’s a detached coolness to that kind of music that can be intoxicating in the right setting. Because it wasn’t firmly based in any genre – jazz probably was the closest, but there was everything from mainstream pop, Las Vegas schmaltz, faux-island exotica and South American rhythms freely mixed in – that means a rock artist could conceivably bring something to the party as well.

Earl Bostic would do so as much as anybody over the next few years and while not all of those efforts will be included here, some – like his biggest hit
– have no choice but to be included as a rock single so we might as well start here, at the beginning of that flirtation, just so we’ll have a better idea how it all fits in.

In time Bostic would become the most prolific artist at King Records during the 1950’s, recording a staggering amount of material as he essentially became rock’s first album artist over the next few years, but around this period we’re in now he was surprisingly inactive as this four song date cut in late March was his ONLY session for more than a year – from early August 1949 to October 1950.

What he’d been doing during that time is wood-shedding, playing live and working up new ideas. However it caught his fancy, he was now immersed in this cool breezy style and was primarily tackling other people’s songs (only one of the four cuts that day was written by the usually prolific Bostic).

Serenade had the best pedigree of the bunch, as it was a Franz Schubert melody originated in 1826 under the title Ständchen, D 889. Other than the Christmas standard Silent Night, that The Ravens had already exhumed, this has to stand as the oldest source material for anything remotely connected with rock up to this point.

But while Bostic hardly perverts the song by adding egregious rock elements like pounding drums and throbbing bass lines, or in his case scorching sax solos, he does bring a certain slinkiness to it, his saxophone shimmering over the lines while Gene Redd’s vibraphone adds a playful suggestive quality to the record, conjuring up hazy images of a girl undressing in some dimly lit elegant penthouse apartment while the lights of the city below twinkle in the open window.

It’s the addition of vibes that would come to mark Bostic’s early 1950’s sound. Whether he followed Johnny Otis’s lead in this regard or if he came to the idea on his own, the use of that instrument took some of the responsibility off Bostic’s shoulders for once. You’ll recall that in the past he was virtually the only soloing instrument on his records and in some cases the only notable sound at all. Though perfectly capable of handling the demand technically speaking, the records at times became too schizophrenic as he attempted to switch up the sounds on the fly which didn’t always work.

The vibes alleviated that problem, giving his own parts some breathing room and thus made his appearances in the spotlight much more focused. Of course, as evidenced here, it also made his performances a lot more subdued which is part of what pulled him away from rock more and more.


Every Thing That Pretty Is
On the whole though, the sound they present here is nice and casual, an atmospheric gem more than a tour de force of his playing ability.

The melody of course is the main drawing card of Serenade, light and airy, perfect as a backdrop for spring when this came out. There’s a little bit of grit in Bostic’s lines following the vibraphone break that theoretically can tie it in to rock, albeit very tenuously, as he increases the tension slightly as he climbs up the melodic ladder.

It’s an inviting record, but also one that comes across as more than a little mysterious because of its lack of familiar landmarks, as it beckons you into the unknown with a sly Cheshire Cat grin. Tempted though you may be to follow, there’s still a bit of unease about walking through that door and leaving behind the sounds you’ve come to know and trust that are pulling you back into their midst offering a much more primal connection.

Therein lies the problem… rock fans were not yet tired of the grinding, throbbing, raucous sounds and provided they could resist their nagging curiosity where this was concerned they’d turn on their heel and return to the party, closing the door on this without a second thought.

As a standalone record removed from genre classification and the associated standards of the form that comes with those, this would fare much better. It’s still not a masterpiece by any means – even if I’d been doing a Bachelor Pad music blog instead this probably would have trouble getting into the green numbers – but it IS a pleasantly enjoyable, well-played and smartly arranged record from front to back.

But it was never going to satisfy rock fans because what it does well is not what rock does at all, or at least not very prominently.

So rather than treat this as a page from Bostic’s rock manifesto, think of it instead as a mere postcard from him telling you he arrived safely in some distant vacation spot where the weather is nice and his cares are few… and scrawled at the bottom, barely legible, is a P.S. telling us when he comes back to town he’ll look us up again.


(Visit the Artist page of Earl Bostic for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)