MERCURY 8286; JULY 1952



Try and keep this in mind going into the review… rules are made to be broken.

Even though I’m the one who came up with the rules in the first place, the biggest of which was to cover rock singles exclusively from the start of the genre to the present, there are times we skirt the edge of the genre. Although all of the records can justify their inclusion, some are not quite as easy to do as others.

This is one that admittedly is kinda a stretch.

Or should I say THESE are two that are kind of a stretch, for here we go breaking yet another rule… the one about covering one song per review.

But sometimes that’s the only way to see how sturdy those rules are, because if they’re too easy to break any time we want then they probably aren’t worth having.


Pick A Side, Any Side
So, welcome to the first – and hopefully last – case of covering two non-connected songs (IE. not Part One and Part Two of the same tune) in one entry.

Maybe some people think we should do that more often so we could get through a calendar year a lot faster, but each song was worthy of being recorded and released individually, so they’re just as entitled to be reviewed individually.

Except these.

Well, that’s not exactly true but the fact is they both are on the far reaches of the rock realm stylistically, partly due to the source material, but moreover the arrangements other than Freddie Mitchell’s saxophone which remains – for the most part – rooted in rock sensibilities.

Normally when an artist does that with one song we’ll exclude it… provided the other side fits a lot better into the rock narrative. Maybe we’ll mention it in passing on the one we DO cover, but we essentially focus on just the one most pertinent to our ongoing story of the genre as a whole.

But in this case both sides are teetering precariously on the outer edge of the genre so which one to focus on becomes a coin flip, unless we wanted to skip both of them altogether. Actually, that’s something we might have done in other circumstances. Inf act we’ve even done so in the past with Freddie Mitchell when he ventures elsewhere, but here we’d have a problem doing that because this is his first outing on Mercury Records, a major label, and that is part of HIS story we need to tell from the beginning.

So which song would it be? Delicado, a cover of the recent #1 hit by schmaltzy pop bandleader Percy Faith, which thanks to some insistent drums along with Mitchell’s tenor work might fit better…

Or would it be a song that we’ll see again in another instrumental version a decade down the road when The Ventures tackle Perfidia thereby making it slightly more familiar to rock fans as a song, albeit not this version.

Obviously in the end we decided to cover them both but do so in a way that would spare you from having to basically read the same plot and same accompanying criticisms twice.

No need to thank us.

Delicate Condition
One more reason this approach worked best is because the most important thing to cover here isn’t either song, but rather Mercury’s expectations for Freddie Mitchell.

This signing was very much in line with other major labels attempts to break into rock dating back to the late 1940’s when they’d sign an older act who either had some marginal experience as rockers, or more likely a feasible path to being passed off as a rocker, who they’d expect to tone things down and give the impression of rocking it up without getting carried away with it.

But Mitchell, while he did in fact have some history with jazz bands in the 1940’s, had only truly found himself when he signed with Derby Records in 1949 as their bandleader and musical director and started rocking because that’s what sold. Along the way he became their best selling artist and – to explain Mercury’s interest in him – he managed to do so a lot of the time by taking songs from well outside rock’s parameters and re-arranging them to fit within the rock ‘n’ roll landscape… more or less.

Which is EXACTLY what Mercury wanted… shallow pandering to a market they did not understand but by now were unable to deny they might need them to stay competitive. That’s why they signed Johnny Otis and Mel Walker and that’s why they signed Freddie Mitchell and decided to have him cover Delicado, an Argentinian song from last fall that Faith – who’d have his biggest hit with Theme From A Summer’s Place, quite possibly the literal anthesis of rock ‘n’ roll at the dawn of the next decade – would make huge in America.

To be honest, what Mitchell does with it compared to Faith is nothing short of miraculous. Though Faith’s record had the rhythm fairly prominent, it wasn’t nearly as emphatic as Mitchell’s which ramps it up to the extreme. Of course it also helps that Freddie isn’t carrying the main melody with a harpsichord as Faith’s record does.

Instead Mitchell lays into those pounding drums, adds a quirkier secondary percussion with wooden blocks, and then he and the other horns handle the heavy lifting. Yeah, the other horns are what are holding this back from being unquestionably a rock song, but their pop-jazz is still better than Faith’s horns and strings that seem lifted directly from a Hollywood back studio lot.

But what isn’t as easy to dismiss is Freddie himself, who plays full, rich, grimy, sweaty lines with enough passion to convince you that had this been cut for somebody other than Mercury who were hoping to drag him closer to the mainstream, they might’ve had something reasonably worthwhile here. The melody itself is interesting in any of the versions, and with a grittier backing – a baritone and guitar instead of the banked horns for instance – it could’ve been reasonably effective instead of the missed opportunity that it winds up being.

An Act Of Betrayal
We now turn the record over and find much the same dilemma facing this side as well… what a surprise!

There can be little debate that Mitchell has an even better melody to work with on Perfidia, a song made famous by Glenn Miller back in 1941, and his own horn is up to the task of delivering it capably, but here he gets arguably worse support with a pop-rooted brass section that is much more in your face than they were on the other side.

Because of this Mitchell has little choice but to acquiesce to the mood they set behind him, easing off on his own lines so as not to clash too badly with their lighter approach. But when that melody takes center stage and he casts aside his reservations about driving the point home, that’s when this excels, bringing to it the revelation that with just the right adjustment a dance song of the swing era can be applicable as a dance song of the rock era too.

If you can isolate his horn, strip away everything else, then hire a bunch of moderately competent punks to lay down a simple drum and bass backing, maybe add some piano, maybe a guitar, maybe a halfway decent baritone sax to serve as a counterpoint, this could be fairly good. Instead it’s fairly irrelevant, certainly for rock ‘n’ roll itself, but also for Mercury’s ongoing attempts to sneak in rock’s side door.

Dead on Arrival
This is the thing that never fails to astound me. It’s one thing for the major labels to say that they just don’t “get” this music – or blues or country or bop or gospel – and avoid it altogether even though there are thriving communities to support that. Stick to what you know and hope that it doesn’t fade from prominence.

But once you decide to step into the ring, you better come to fight and that’s where they always fall short because they’re too embarrassed to cast aside their musical inhibitions and hire a producer who understands rock ‘n’ roll and legitimately appreciates it, then let him hire the appropriate musicians to back whatever frontman or woman you felt would give you the chance to break into this market in the first place.

As long as they act like the self-conscious adult trying to play “pretend” games with little kids, their efforts are doomed and Freddie Mitchell, a great rock saxophonist, faces yet another uphill climb to stay relevant thanks to another company that thinks itself too good for his type of music.


(Visit the Artist page of Freddie Mitchell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)