Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a… rock saxophonist who made it his personal mission to cut a version of seemingly every musical composition of the first fifty years of the Twentieth Century.

He never quite reached that goal but it was definitely not for lack of trying.

Though this song is not about the virginal Kansas farm girl Mary Ann Summers, it does involve a fateful trip to a tropical island and it’s almost certain that the recording session for it took place during a three hour tour, so make of that what you will.


People Were Jumping To And Fro
The world is a much smaller place than its inhabitants often think.

This tends to be recognized – if only temporarily – when certain overarching events bring that reality into sharper focus… say a contagious viral infection that sweeps the world in a matter of weeks… or global conflicts which lead to world wars… or… obscure records by a rock ‘n’ roller which takes as its source a five year old calypso record?

Well, yes actually, as that too is something which shortens the distance between countries and culture and proves once again that music is a truly universal language.

The original Mary Ann was a calypso song from 1946 by The Roaring Lion about celebrating in the streets following the Allies victory in World War Two.

Mitchell certainly may have heard the original but more likely picked it up from Lord Invader, a Trinidadian who was in New York for awhile in the 1940’s embroiled in a prolonged lawsuit to get the rights back to Rum And Coca Cola, which he’d written before The Andrews Sisters turned it into a huge smash. In 1947 he cut a version of this tune for the Asch label… which is probably why Mitchell’s record has his name – Armando Castro – as one of the songwriters instead of Rafael de Leon.

Xavier Cugat also cut a popular version in 1948 so it wasn’t completely unknown in the United States but Mitchell was the first American artist to tackle it and since as an instrumental it’s stripping away the topical lyrics, what’s left is a sort of bastardized version of a calypso tune which is either fairly interesting or marginally offensive depending on your viewpoint.

But since the intent seems to be to simply reinterpret a solid melody rather than appropriate an entire culture, subtly mocking it as pop music regularly did when singing lyrics in a faux Caribbean accent, Mitchell and company get a pass.

Well, Mitchell does anyway, but once again the piano oversteps its bounds which makes crediting them as a whole somewhat less certain.

Pandemonium Reigned Supreme
The primary instrumentation, Mitchell’s sax, is adhering closely to the prevailing rock standards of the day… a full-bodied tone with a substantial amount of grit in its playing. We get a baritone responding with rhythmic answering lines – well in the background but still prominent enough to pick up on – which also falls under the dominant rock game plan.

All of that is really good. The melody has a herky jerky pattern to it which is ideal for dancing or just head-bobbing on the sidelines.

What adds to it, and what is intended to conjure up “the islands” (as anything from the myriad musical styles of the Caribbean countries were commonly referred to) is the presence of bongos and what sounds like distant steel drums but is more than likely Harry Van Walls just lightly tweaking the treble keys of the piano with sustain and maybe primitive echo.

It’s subtle enough not to do more than vaguely suggest something “exotic” and as Mitchell’s horn takes over the drums seem to be almost suggested as much as played, like you’re hearing them play in your head rather than on record.

Though this version of Mary Ann is not authentic calypso by any means it’s not trying to be either. Mitchell’s grinding tones are effective no matter what the source material is and since the melody itself is so catchy then you’d have no complaints… until Van Walls intrudes a little TOO much in the break.

This of course has always been the problem with Freddie Mitchell records, whether it was Joe Black on piano or Art Sims or now Harry Van Walls, the best musician among them who is falling prey to the same flawed arranging ideas of using a discordant piano to off-set the sax.

Here it starts off poorly with some choppy notes and then gets progressively worse as he goes up and down the scale in crude fashion, sort of avant garde jazz without rhyme or reason, and what might’ve been a really good, even great interpretation of song becomes one you almost feel the need to make excuses for so Trinidad doesn’t declare war on the United States over this. If they did you’d definitely have take up arms with the Trinidadians if you valued musical integrity over jingoistic nonsense.

Luckily this unwelcome digression doesn’t last TOO long and when Mitchell comes back he’s playing with more passion, trying to cleanse his palette no doubt, and the percussion sees his raise, throwing down with fervor until the final bell.


All Day, All Night
Plenty of lesser artists would subsequently take this girl out for a stroll over the years, Terry Gilkyson most prominently in 1957 – as Marianne – a much more pretentious and offensive version (changing the spelling for one thing and dropping some accented asides in to boot), which of course was a huge hit (#4 Pop).

The Hilltoppers also went Top Three with a version the same year, though it may not have the lasting recognition as Gilkyson, and while it’s slightly less annoying than his it’s still pretty artistically vapid.

So by contrast Freddie Mitchell is quite respectful of Mary Ann, adding something that is both genuine and compelling in its own right without resorting to making light of its origins. Considering he’s done the same to everyone from Irving Berlin to Hank Garland over the past year, I’d say The Roaring Lion might actually be flattered by this attempt.

Or as somebody else completely unconnected with the song but familiar with a desert isle once said, “You’re sure to get a smile”… listening to it.


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