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CORAL 65086; APRIL 1952



Obviously this is not an important record to be reviewing in the history of rock, one that came and went without the slightest interest by anybody at the time or in the years since.

With some really monumental records by bigger artists on the immediate horizon this month, why not just skip over it entirely and get to the “good stuff”?

Well, how about this… aside from being annoying completists who continue to adhere to the belief “If we don’t cover it, who ever will?”, there’s one aspect of this record that provides a useful lesson to those mentioned in the preceding paragraph… you know, the “bigger artists” who were releasing “monumental records”.

For doesn’t that also describe Hal Singer circa 1948?

He WAS that guy, a trendsetter who ushered in the honking sax instrumental that dominated rock over the next year and a half, which made him a star, gave him the opportunity to make money as a headliner and continually get record contracts, none of which would’ve happened had he stuck to working his way up through huge jazz ensembles.

Now look at him… in the blink of an eye he’s gone from stardom to near irrelevancy to the point where we can agree that the record here is hardly worth the time it takes to talk about.

If that’s not a warning to those now finding success who will soon have their own stylistic choices to make, what is?

May I Never, Never, Never Be Free
Let’s stick with Hal Singer a little longer, because the Hal Singer we’ve come to expect is nowhere to be found. He may indeed be playing his saxophone here (at least he’s not singing), but if so that saxophone is buried in the mix of a dozen other horns that sound imported from the pop session Coral’s major label, Decca, was running for The Andrews Sisters or Sy Oliver… Hold on, I take that last one back, because Oliver’s Any Time briefly contains a better tenor sax performance than is displayed here.

This wouldn’t be so perplexing if the record had credited Joan Shaw as the lead artist rather than Singer, but he’s completely incidental to the arrangement while she does her best to carry I Love The Way You Love Me, which frankly – in case you couldn’t tell by the title alone – needs all the help it can get to pass muster as a rock record.

Certainly Leroy Kirkland and Sid Wyche are no strangers to rock ‘n’ roll, or at least in short order they’d become fairly prolific rock songwriters – together for Big Maybelle as well as individually for Ivory Joe Hunter, Elvis Presley and Jackie Wilson to name just a few – and in Kirkland’s case a very well-regarded arranger as well.

But in 1952 the two of them were attempting the walk a tightrope over the still broad cultural divide presented to black composers, savoring the opportunity to write for pop acts who were treated with respect, yet doing so by intentionally sidestepping certain attributes – rhythm and strong repetitive vocal hooks – that defined rock ‘n’ roll, lest they be shunned by the bigger companies with more resources and a reputation for at least honoring contracts and not stealing writing credits.

As a result this song could be done by any number of pop singers, as evidenced by the sappy arrangement, and maybe that’s sort of what Coral Records had in mind.

Only one person stands in the way of that goal… Joan Shaw.

Tell Me I’m Your Own
Keep in mind that Joan Shaw aspired to BE a pop singer! In fact, after starting off in rock as a vocalist with Paul Williams she got a record deal of her own with major label MGM who had her churn out pop and jazz-inflected sides and promptly drowned her with strings and other elegant touches.

Surely she hadn’t given up those dreams, but here she decides to treat this like it never had any other intent but to be a rock song thanks to her vocal inflections, borrowing heavily from Margie Day in her phrasing and tone, and pouring on the emotion which was verboten in most pop singles.

Even the way she ad-libs a “baby” down the stretch points to her understanding what this needs most is some smoldering lust to get her juices flowing. But while she proves once again that she’s got not only a great voice but also the intuitive sense of how to use it, she’s constantly undermined by the musicians who treat this like a standard pop-jazz showpiece with brass overwhelming the track.

I Love The Way You Love Me has some decent lyrics in the standard devotional romantic plot and in Shaw they have a vocalist capable of knocking it out of the park, but to do so you need to strip the arrangement down by at least a dozen people, leaving five, maybe six, pieces at best… drums, bass, a guitar and piano plus Singer’s tenor. Throw in a baritone if you want to balance things out, forcing him to double the rhythm section who’d be playing a discreetly grinding pattern. Augment that with guitar and piano fills and let Singer take a bawdy solo and call it a day.

Instead they invited an orchestra and Singer either felt relieved to be able to modestly blend in and thus not have to dishonor his upbringing by playing one of those gaudy displays… or else he took the opportunity to sneak out to hit on a waitress at the delicatessen down the street, knowing he wouldn’t be missed in this musical soup.


You’re Everything I’ve Hoped For, You’re Everything I Need
We can never forget that the professional music environment at the time was run by men who’d come of age in another era – and just as crucially in another culture – and they were the ones not only signing the checks, but championing that music which they personally felt worthy of respect.

People like that also controlled the classier nightclubs where the pay and the accommodations were better and didn’t require you to trek halfway across the state in the middle of the night dodging racist redneck cops and sleep in boarding houses since no hotel would accept you just to earn a few bucks playing overcrowded noisy juke joints.

When looked at that way you can understand the desire to assimilate into that more elegant world by compromising musically on something like I Love The Way You Love Me in an effort to be treated with a modicum of dignity, whether you were Kirkland and Wyche or Shaw and Singer.

But what they didn’t realize was that part of society, though they may be more polite in their methods, were still the ones holding you back, forcing you to conform to their standards without ever promising unconditional acceptance even if you did follow their rules.

On the other hand, rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form offered you the chance to beat them on your own terms and the potential money and fame was yours for the taking because that was the one area the musical establishment couldn’t compete.

Sadly, both Singer and Shaw, though they’d still dabble in rock for years to come, had already acquiesced to a defeatist attitude while Kirkland and Wyche would continue to vacillate in their choices as well.

But if you still don’t think this life lesson was worth an entire review to cover, just wait until the two acts with the biggest rock explosions still to come this month wind up doing the exact same thing themselves down the road and give up the glory they’d earned in a misguided plea for the acceptance of those who despised them for their successes.

All of which only goes to show just how much of an uphill climb it really was for rock ‘n’ roll to not only become commercially dominant, but also to become professionally fulfilling for those who made it.


(Visit the Artist pages of Hal Singer and Joan Shaw for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)