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CEHSS 1471; JULY 1951



There’s always a fear of having a knee-jerk reaction when discussing anything that catches you off guard in a negative fashion. You never want to overreact to something only to have to walk it back when you think it over some more.

Luckily that’s not going to happen here.

The repugnant lyrics actually celebrating domestic abuse sung by the victim herself on the top side of this are impossible to explain, defend or ignore, but JUST IN CASE you were one of those cretins who probably said, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a song, they weren’t actually advocating violence”… well, you were wrong, because here John Peek, the man who wrote both songs, led the band and got the label credit, shows that when stuck for words to complete a song he invariably turns to brutality.

At least this time though it might be him getting it in the kisser if there’s any justice in the world.


Didn’t I Tell You?
It’s a shame that this is the last time we’ll encounter the vibrant Erline Harris on record because prior to this woe-begotten release on Chess she’s been someone we’ve really enjoyed hearing each time she popped up.

From her very first outing, Rock And Roll Blues, which remains her most famous song thanks to the title, to the first version of Jump And Shout, which hands down is her best side, she’s largely had quality performances even with lesser compositions than those.

Unfortunately there’s nothing she can do with the two songs she was presented with by Peek for this recording session, as not only is his band in over its head but the compositions themselves are repositories of seething anger which probably means Mr. Peek was in serious need of psychiatric counseling.

Somehow I doubt that was a provision in the contract he signed with Leonard Chess.

While structurally Long Tall Papa was salvageable had they eliminated the primary theme which told of Harris’s devotion to her man despite him physically abusing her – and they even could’ve have made it a GOOD record had they simply made it about rough sex as opposed to assault and battery – they have other problems to contend with this time around.

Yes, there is still an amazingly casual threat of violence contained within Pushin’ My Heart Around, but first they make sure half the listeners will have cleared the room before they get to it thanks to the botched musical components.

Some people just don’t know when to quit while they’re behind.


Turns Off And On
The curious thing about this record to begin with is the presence of John Peek, because nothing is known about him.

Harris was playing a long residency in Chicago at the time fronting band led by Epp James and while she was the one with recording experience thereby making James somewhat expendable, what it doesn’t explain is why Chess would sign her, announce it in the trade papers, then let another band no one seems to know about not only back her in the studio, but get lead artist credit on the flip side while she barely is mentioned – AND has her named spelled wrong there besides.

They get it right here, but that’s about all they get right.

It’s entirely possible there WAS no John Peek of course, that maybe this was Epp James’s band after all, or a studio band put together by Chess, and he gave away writing credit to another one of his friends and doubled-down on it to name the band after him, but that’s speculation. Then again, considering who we’re talking about here it can’t be ruled out either.

Whoever is responsible for Pushin’ My Heart Around though does a bad job on it as might be expected. The music has too many horns going in all different directions, most of which are out of key and all of which are clashing with each other at some point in the song, and though the rhythm section is doing its best to keep things on track it’s awfully hard to do so when there’s no firm hand to guide them in the studio.

Harris jumps in with both feet as usual, her voice is strong and fierce but it’s mostly in vain because the story is so weak. This time around she’s the one on the offensive, which is an improvement over the flip side, but everything else about this record is completely unoriginal, with lines swiped from the dog-eared “1,001 Lyrics For Any Occasion” they sell at bus depots for $1.25.

She’s listing her complaints, but instead of sounding hurt about it, she seems completely unfazed by his behavior and she makes it clear she’s the one in charge and she’s done with him which is the best news we’ve heard all day.

HOW she’s finishing him off however is rather surprising.

“You mess with me baby,
You messed with the devil
Sunday evening about this time
They’ll smash your face in with a shovel”

Okay… so is this going to happen before afternoon tea?

Unlike the violence that marred the top side, this threat is at least somewhat comical, at least the wording of it is, as is the sheer unexpected nature of it popping up like that, but it would appear that the songwriter has some anger management issues that are creeping into his professional output and as a result we’ll have to refer him to Human Resources.

Mow You Down
Though you can make the case that this side makes for Harris’s retribution and thus it may even make the other side more acceptable (and there was another unreleased side from this date entitled I Have No Right, which could conceivably be Peek’s mea culpa), the fact of the matter is both of these songs are flawed in conception and an intelligent producer would see this and make some hasty changes.

We suggested an alternative story to the other song – although admittedly they probably couldn’t use OUR lyrical substitution verbatim – but it’d have been a theme which would’ve made it work better, but for Pushin’ My Heart Around there were fewer options because it’s a generic song by nature with subpar playing behind whatever story they came up with.

Despite this anti-climatic ending, we’ll be sad to see Erline Harris leave us after this and while we knew she was never going to be a star, she was also someone who had never really let us down before.

She doesn’t quite let us down here either, she sings both of these songs well, but it’s just that the songs themselves let her down.

Come to think of it, if you’ve still got that shovel handy Erline, maybe we can use it ourselves to club John Peek over the head with it, then dig his grave and dump the body in.

I’m sure nobody would miss him.


(Visit the Artist page of Erline Harris for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)