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Wrestling with inner conflicts over the direction of your own music has been known at to times propel many artists to a new creative plateau, but those are the ones we hear about because the stories in getting to that universally acclaimed artistic zenith are so fascinating to recount.

For the majority of artists who are conflicted over which way to turn the results are often muddled leaving you with more questions than answers… that is, if you even care to ask them once you get through with hearing the records that came from these internal struggles in the first place.

So it was with Hal Singer, who in two years went from driving one of the lead cars in the rock field to a confused – often unwilling – passenger.


I See You Standing There
Because yesterday’s review covered so many disparate things, directly related to the actual song itself or not, we failed to mention that it’s been awhile since we last encountered Hal Singer on these pages.

His last appearance in any form prior to this release came as an uncredited sideman for Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis in September 1949 with Bulging Eyes, while Singer’s last single as the lead artist was way back in April of ’49 when he was enjoying Happy Days as one of rock’s more successful instrumentalists.

So it’s interesting to note that now that he was cutting records again he didn’t go with the obvious sax instrumentals that had not only given him his only hits, greatest acclaim and – to be perfectly frank, his recording career in the first place! Instead he released a two-sided vocal record, one of which – Rock Around The Clock – featured the song’s co-writer, Sam Theard, taking the lead, relegating Singer to sideman status on his own record.

On this side however Singer moves into the spotlight… not to play mind you, but to sing, thereby living up to his surname more or less… mostly less.

But Fine As Wine, which he also wrote, does at least show that he was grasping the stylistic requirements of rock rather than fully resisting them as he may have preferred to do. This is definitely NOT a jazz composition lyrically, even if at times the backing music leans in that direction.

So what does that make it? Confused… like he had a bit too much wine before going into the studio with his career prospects still hanging in the balance.

Daddy… Oh Boy
Whether he was just tossing this half-baked idea out into the market because he didn’t really care about its fate, or whether he actually felt it was a good enough song to bring him some added sales and – dare we say it? – credibility in the rock world, it doesn’t matter much because this was decidedly limited in its potential any way you looked at it.

As stated, the concept itself is fine, though despite the title Fine As Wine has nothing to do with drinking unless you want to read into his wobbly vocals as being a sign of inebriation. What he delivers instead is a fairly crass come-on to a married woman that is centered around an extended verbal hook containing the title followed by his hipster jargon –“Mommy-O”, “Baby-O” – nonsense.

It’s easy to imagine how this came about… he and the band traveling between stops on the road, instruments packed away in the back or on the roof, and to pass time they started ad-libbing some stupid lyrics after passing a shapely girl on the street trying to make each other laugh. They liked the sound of it and he decided to craft a song around it and tried working up something to fill in the rest of run time.

Truthfully the “rest of the run time” is what works best here while that vocal hook is what drags it down a bit because it’s not that inventive, goes on far too long and to top it off Singer doesn’t have a powerful enough voice to really sell it.

It’s got only one stanza beyond that however, but to his credit he ends it with a really good line, telling this woman that the fight he heard she had with her husband is “your business, not mine” as he goes right on hitting on her. The shameless audacity of that alone is worth a smirk.

Unfortunately the rest of the time he opens his mouth he’s just repeating the same monotonous chorus, leading you to hope that if somebody isn’t going to do us the favor of stuffing a sock in his mouth to keep him quiet they might as well stuff his saxophone in it to let him carry out his primary duty which is to blow up a storm.


Back To Basics
With Singer taking on the vocal chores for this song it leaves far too much of the musical responsibilities to those who are clearly not up to the task. Not that they aren’t competent on their instruments, but rather the instruments themselves are often incompetent when it comes to creating a raucous enough mood on rock songs.

Sure enough the trombone and trumpet are carrying much of the arrangement on their ill-equipped shoulders, giving the intro to Fine As Wine a dated sound even as drummer Bobby Donaldson does his best to convince you otherwise with a steady backbeat.

Then as Singer starts to deliver the words the horns are weaving in and out of his vocal lines, adding some color but not any conviction to the track. When we get to the first break however they do pick up a bit, each of them blowing a nice spiraling riff that leads up and up before Singer dives in and grounds it again with a more earthy solo.

He goes on for quite awhile, starting off well enough but by the second half he’s wandering a little, trying to find the right melody, the right groove and the right tone to be able to give this the power it lacks.

Sadly he never does locate what he’s searching for and while what he’s playing is hardly bad, it’s also not anything good enough to make you glad you pushed through before being met with yet another go-round of the endless vocal chorus that follows.

Although this record does have enough structure to it that you trust it was worked out well in advance of the session, the results are haphazard enough that it might just as well have been thrown together at the last minute.

Pour Another Glass
Because this single, particularly this side of it, was rather disappointing, there’s going to be a tendency to view Hal Singer’s ongoing conflict over what direction to pursue as his biggest detriment when it comes to living up to that early promise he’d shown back in 1948.

That may in fact be true, but there’s another theory worth considering and that’s the fact that Singer knew, by virtue of his days playing jazz perhaps, or maybe because he was so proficient as a sessionist behind other vocalists in the studio, that the honking instrumentals he did so well had a much higher rate of misses compared to hits, artistically as well as commercially.

Sure enough the sax-led records that burned up the charts in 1948 faded considerably in 1949 and now by 1950 were few and far between on the hit parade. People apparently tired of them, or maybe the saxophonists had used up all of their best tricks already.

So Fine As Wine, while pretty rudimentary as vocal records went, at least tried to give audiences something new. That Hal wasn’t a good enough Singer (ooh, you had to see that one coming) or a good enough lyricist to pull it off was probably less important in the long run than whether he was able to determined whether this kind of thing was a viable alternative option for him going forward.

Maybe that’d mean he’d sign a full-time vocalist as Joe Morris had recently done with Laurie Tate to give his records more diversity, or maybe Singer would take some singing lessons to better fill that role himself.

Or if all else failed maybe he’d go back to cutting rip-roaring instrumentals with lower sales expectations and hope it was still enough to keep him stirring the crowds on the road. But whichever way he went, that decision ultimately is his business, not mine.


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