No tags :(

Share it

DELUXE 3305; AUGUST 1950



After seeking out a singer who’d delivered an electrifying rocker the year before and bringing her back into the fold for another go-round with the label she’d started her career with, it’s strange to hear that they’ve managed to push her further back in time stylistically once they had her under contract again.

Notice I said “strange to hear”, not “completely inexplicable” that they’d do so, for if one thing is certain in the music business circa 1950, even among record companies that had so much success in looking forward rather than backwards, it’s that unless they were hyper-vigilant in their efforts to remain ahead of the curve, there was always bound to be someone involved who felt more comfortable in the recent past.


Stay Out Of My Neighborhood
Since Erline Harris herself wrote this song you may think that it was she who was the guilty party in this undermining of the record, but it’s the arrangement, not the composition itself, that is out of date and that probably falls to Joe Thomas.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks here for guys named Joe Thomas. We criticized the OTHER Joe Thomas, the Decca producer, who saddled a very good Cousin Joe record, Looking For My Baby, with a far too modest arrangement that required every ounce of Cuz’s fiery vocal determination to rescue it from irrelevancy.

Now the other far more well known Joe Thomas, saxophonist and recording star in his own right, is under the microscope for the second time in a month, as first his own record Raw Meat suffered from a misleading title and an underwhelming performance by his bandmates, and now he’s taking the blame for the shortcomings of Harris’s Spare Time Papa, a good idea that can’t overcome its habit of constantly looking in the rear view mirror at the musical mindset of yesteryear.

To be fair to Thomas who generally has been a good sport about moving into rock after a long popular career as Jimmie Lunceford’s star horn player, we don’t know for absolute certain that he was the one tasked with coming up with the musical backing here, or if he was merely playing what somebody else told him to. My guess is that if he wasn’t officially assigned to come up with the arrangement he still had the responsibility to shaping it on the studio floor and at the very least could’ve offered suggestions to improve things if someone else had submitted it.

Instead the decision to keep the track as orderly and unambitious as possible makes Erline Harris’s job an uphill climb all the way.

I Can’t Pretend This Is The End
For someone with such a skimpy catalog of records it’s truly amazing how good the compositions themselves were, which is a credit to Harris’s skill and her instincts at crafting relevant and colorful material to help overcome what would surely be seen as deficits when it came to being a rock star, namely her age, modest appearance and gender.

Hey, nobody said this stuff was fair, but one listen to Harris sing and any concern about those things go out the window because she definitely knew how to deliver a song and Spare Time Papa has a lot of the requisite attributes to be well received if the band had just handled their roles better.

Though the theme itself is fairly predictable, Harris struggling to wean herself from a wandering philanderer she’s hooked up with in the past, her criticisms are pointed and her delivery shows genuine hurt under her take-no-guff façade.

Line by line she breaks down his act, setting him up as somebody who has genuine appeal that attracted her – and many other women just like her – before she starts to throw darts in his actions and the casual confidence he has in thinking that he can get away with being such a heel because of his sex appeal.

Even as Harris takes aim at him she doesn’t quite let herself off the hook for succumbing to his fleeting charm and if she’s not being overly self-critical in her words, her voice reveals the disappointment she has in her own lack of willpower that lead her to this point, watching him go from one woman’s bed to another like a door to door salesman peddling sex on an installment plan, all while she probably anxiously awaits the test results from the clinician for that burning itch she’s been dealing with since opening her own doors to him.

The regret doesn’t only come across in her wearier than usual voice but in the slow drawn out way she spins this tale, giving it added weight because it sounds as if she’s almost reluctant to admit her own weakness in public, especially when she is forced to confess that her resolve to stay away from him could be easily overcome if he put in another appearance at her doorstep.

As a result that aspect of the arrangement is understandable and the more stately pace is fairly effective in conveying her state of mind, but it’s how the band frames it musically that sabotages its power and keeps her beholden to these men by forcing her to comply with their misguided aims.

The Time Is Flying By
The opening horns are just a little too high, a little too restrained and a little too orderly to be convincing for rock fans. When Joe Thomas himself adds a few notes on tenor during that stretch it comes across as just an empty gesture designed to convince you that you weren’t listening to something that had its origins in 1947 rather than 1950.

It’s doubtful there was any concerted attempts to pull this song backwards by a few years but it’s also somewhat predictable that it would be simply because everybody, musicians and lay people alike, have a tendency to revert back to their comfort zone unless making a deliberate attempt to avoid that.

When Joe Thomas was working up his parts for his own records there was pressure on him to give King Records what they expected and so his sax veered towards the rougher attributes of rock, but the band around him often had less incentive to do so and consequently they regressed to something more in line with their sensibilities. It wasn’t intentional by any means, but after all they weren’t the ones being lectured on the importance of keeping up with the times, nor were they worried about it affecting their reception in public since it wasn’t their names adorning the label.

But on someone else’s records Thomas isn’t facing quite the same pressure to conform to rock’s current mindset, yet because of that he should actually be MORE determined to give Erline Harris precisely what she needs for Spare Time Papa to succeed in this market. While Thomas will pay the price if he fails to live up to expectations on his own records, here he very well might cost somebody else a potential hit with such ill-advised concepts making it a much greater offense.

All that is to say this record suffers greatly from its archaic trappings, removing the edgy attitude that it desperately needs to give the impression this situation is happening “in the moment” and that its consequences have yet to be fully realized. By backdating it with an old styled musical motif it gives the sense that all of this has already happened and as such the outcome is no longer in doubt. Without any stake in the emotional impact listeners no longer feel the need to invest themselves in Harris’s plight, robbing the record of its greatest natural attributes.

You Stole My Love
It’d be all too easy to dismiss Erline Harris as somebody whose time was going to be short no matter what the band or record company did behind her, with some likely saying that her past accomplishments, including one of the most rousing rockers we’ve heard to date in the original Jump And Shout, were outliers rather than something which could’ve been expected out of her in normal circumstances.

But that idea is condescending and goes against the very real evidence Harris has given us most every time out.

So what if she was ten years older than the average rocker at the time, or that her background in various other styles of music over the past decade made her an unlikely long term resident in rock ‘n’ roll when it came into being in the late 1940’s… she’d proven time and again that she was perfectly attuned to its requirements thematically, structurally and in terms of her vibrant delivery.

Spare Time Papa may have indeed been a different type of composition, slower and more downbeat than her best sides, but the underlying personality shown in the story fit perfectly with those other unapologetically reckless showcases.

Even in the best of circumstances with a more appropriate band it may not have had hit potential or even been on par with her better efforts, but in this framework it had no chance to find out if it could’ve matched those. Harris’s contributions – the story, lyrics and vocal performance – all live up to her past standards, but those around her can’t fulfill their basic job requirements.

It’s certainly not Erline Harris’s fault but for the first time since we met her we have no choice but to say that one of her records fails to make the grade.


(Visit the Artist page of Erline “Rock And Roll” Harris for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)