CORAL 65070; NOVEMBER 1951

 
 

 

Before you bother to ask… before you question our interpretation of the words “rock ‘n’ roll” and before you complain that this project is taking long enough to get through without adding unnecessary reviews of songs that hardly qualify for our main purpose here, let me just say… I agree.

This probably doesn’t belong here.

But it’s here anyway and not just because it prevents another record from slipping through the historical cracks, but also because we sort of owe it to Hal Singer to talk about something he may have actually been proud of, a record which shows him in the kind of light he’d prefer to have shine on him rather than always focusing on the things he did for money, fame and to satisfy the needs of an audience he didn’t respect.

That WE’RE that audience he didn’t respect makes this a rather unexpected olive branch to extend him, but because it’s one of his most impressive performances, even if it’s a somewhat awkward fit, means we shouldn’t complain too much.
 

 

As The Night Danced Slowly By
Over the course of the next dozen years or so we’re going to run into a lot of rock acts tackling standards… we already have in fact, as that was just the reality of the day. All recording artists in any field dipped into the vast pool of eternal chestnuts to come up with their own version.

That rock itself would be the style to effectively render this practice moot is ironic of course, but it didn’t happen overnight. While eventually the NEED to cover these standards in order to maximize your appeal for nightclub work – something which became largely irrelevant by the early to mid 1960’s – these were still the kind of songs that served as measuring sticks for the creative ambitions of artists and record labels.

How well you handled these hoary old tunes said a lot about your ability to compete with the established stars from bygone eras who still carried society’s stamp of approval.

Rock acts though were never the type to follow the rules however and so if it were vocal groups radically re-arranging standards or instrumentalists adding bold new flavors to the same old recipe, the standards were in for quite a bit of shaking up before they were collectively dropped from rock’s repertoire entirely along the way.

In the future Blue Velvet would make one notable appearance with The Clovers turning in a mesmerizing version of their own in mid-decade, but they were beaten to the punch by Hal Singer who by dispensing with the vocals attempts to coax some of the same erotic undertones in the melody alone without completely perverting the song’s stately beauty in the process.

It might not be any rock fan’s first choice for the material he should be doing, but it’s also not one that isn’t familiar enough to at least be interesting to hear how he tries to succeed at it all the same.
 

Feeling The Rapture Grow
Far from being an old song hauled out of mothballs, this was actually a recent composition, written the year before and first making notice earlier in the fall of 1951 when Tony Bennett whose career was just taking off, hit the Top Twenty with it which is what prompted Coral Records to have Hal Singer come in to record a version to appeal to a different market.

Oddly enough the song sounds a little more forced coming from Bennett than it does Singer. Maybe Tony’s vocal textures aren’t smooth enough for it, maybe he hadn’t yet gained the confidence to bend a song to his own unique style, but he almost seems to be fighting the very things about the tune that works so well in most every other rendition… namely that sublime melody which drips like honey.

Singer of course had nothing BUT that melody to play with on an instrumental version and so if nothing else the primary appeal of Blue Velvet was right in his wheelhouse and sure enough he doesn’t disappoint in that regard, drawing it out with an aching tenderness that at times is almost haunting.

What stands out the most here is the tone he gets from his saxophone, imbuing it with a glassy quality wherein his breathing technique allows the notes to shimmer the more sustain he puts on them. When he hits the refrains that are most familiar the effect is sublime and the scene it sets in your mind of couples slow dancing in the dark is as vivid as any in rock’s early days.

Thankfully the rest of the arrangement is discreet if not downplayed altogether. You’d envision the record label wanting to highlight the pop aspects of the record more, if only to pull in more of that audience in the process, but by keeping everything else confined to the margins the record is almost entirely atmospheric by nature.

This is actually surprising considering who else is found on the session, including pianist Joe Black whose ham-fisted workouts on the treble keys have ruined many a Freddie Mitchell record, and Milt Larkin, the vocalist for The X-Rays (who got two cuts of their own with Singer in support on this date) who returns to his usual instrument of trombone when backing Hal.

The truth is though they might be sitting out altogether on this one because all you can really hear are the faint drumming of Gus Johnson and an uncredited musician adding distant lush vibes which adds to the dream like quality of the record.

Everything else falls onto Singer’s plate and while there are definitely moments where he’s tempted to pull this a little too far into the adult nightclub world, he largely resists that urge – or maybe just finds that with a song that already seems so enduring despite its own relative youth, there’s no need to do much more than follow that intoxicating melody wherever it may lead.
 


 

In My Heart There’ll Always Be…
Obviously this is not what you’d come to expect from Hal Singer on a record aiming for the rock market.

There’s not a honk, a squeal or a snort anywhere in sight and for that we’re actually grateful because what’s left is more than enough to captivate anyone with even the faintest appreciation for musical skill.

Of course whether or not this KIND of musical dexterity fits seamlessly into the rock landscape might be another story entirely, but Singer’s résumé and the soulful nature of his playing all but ensures that Blue Velvet will make the cut.

Maybe it’s helped by the familiarity of later rock versions – though it’d be Bobby Vinton, one of the many young pop acts of the early 60’s which the industry hoped would stave off rock’s continued advance on the charts, who’d have the biggest version of the song – but whichever take on the song serves as your touchstone, Singer’s record retains more than enough recognizable features to be welcome at the table.

In fact we could even be underselling this by just a little, taking away points for almost being TOO classy for rock’s unruly image, but in the end what matters is that the record itself is heard and can serve as an example of what Hal Singer, a reluctant rocker for much of his days, was able to coax from his saxophone to reach those of us who still had a nagging itch to hold someone close and sway with them on a sultry night under the stars.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Hal Singer for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)