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CORAL 65086; APRIL 1952



Well, well, well, look who’s back in our neighborhood.

No, not Hal Singer, but rather the girl on his arm.

It’s funny how she turns up around here every now and then… a classy girl who probably thinks she’s too good for us but who seems to be attracted to something we possess just the same.

That’s not to say she’s only coming around to get her kicks with us and is going to be dancing topless on the table by midnight as the rest of the gang obscenely urges her to go even further, but let’s just say that when she needs a certain fix that only rock ‘n’ roll can give her she’s bound to drop back in.

That the fix in question is commercial relevancy rather than musical ecstasy is why we tend to look upon her visits with bemusement instead of excitement, no matter what she sheds along with her decorum.


I Still Have So Much Love To Give You
It’s probably not surprising that the guy escorting Ms. Shaw to the dingy run-down club where reefer smoke rather than smoke from cigarettes in gold embossed holders cloud the air, is Hal Singer.

Like Shaw, he had much higher aspirations than playing rock ‘n’ roll but while each have gotten their chances at the big time – he with Duke Ellington, her with pop records on major labels – both have enjoyed their own verifiable success with music from across the tracks.

Let’s not forget that Coral Records, though ostensibly aiming at rock audiences, is a major label (Decca) subsidiary and these are exactly the kind of acts they are most comfortable with when it comes to courting uncultured riff-raff like us.

In Singer they have someone who CAN honk and squeal, and has done so to our satisfaction before, but would rather play soft and pretty and put us to sleep instead. Meanwhile Shaw can grind and growl with her voice if she chooses, and managed to impress us doing so the first time we met her when she was on the arm of another saxophonist, Paul Williams on He Knows How to Hucklebuck, but obviously she was merely using that as a stepping stone for bigger and better things.

But when those bigger and better things didn’t quite pan out, as they often don’t, she consented along with Singer to give Coral Records something they viewed as an acceptable entrée into rock ‘n’ roll with Lonesome And Blue, a song selection that tells you there’s bound to be a lot more class displayed than usual for these kinds of shows.

The tune’s composers, Bennie Benjamin and George Weiss, one of the rare interracial composing teams of the era, were already pop stalwarts, writing a wide array of standards like I Don’t See Me In Your Eyes Anymore. This was their latest, just released last month by Lily Ann Carrol, hardly an immortal name in music by any means, but with its lilting melody and sweet dreamy lyrics the song itself has all the earmarks of a pop classic.

Funny then that three rock acts would tackle it in rapid succession and even though none scored with it, including Singer and Shaw, the mere association probably spoiled its appeal for the likes of Como, Sinatra and Jo Stafford.

Ahh, the cruel irony of it all!

Keep Tossin’ And Turnin’
To be perfectly honest, I’d actually LIKE to hear a really good early 1950’s pop rendition to use as a base model to evaluate the rock renditions better.

Unfortunately all we have to choose from are Carrol, whose voice and delivery are both all wrong for this, or Evelyn Knight, whose reserved vocals are much better but which has to contend with the most offensively brassy arrangement imaginable. Then there’s bandleader Neal Hefti who entrusts Frances Wayne to put the vocals across, which she does fairly well but does so in a manner that immediately highlights just how close this composition was to Benjamin and Weiss’s recent Wheel Of Fortune, which was a massive hit for Kay Starr and utilized the same kind of in your face brass section that most of these versions try and mimic.

So much for originality.

But had they sidestepped the overt connections to that song, Lonesome And Blue has the kind of easy-going style that might be really good if sung by Doris Day utilizing her best coy vocal approach. The melody sways nicely (an early, if neutered, example of what the trade papers would call a “rock-a-ballad” style in the late 1950’s), while the lyrics paint a halfway decent picture of someone who regrets a lover’s quarrel that finds the two sleeping in separate beds.

Joan Shaw certainly is capable of handling that kind of sentiment while at the same time injecting some more suggestive undercurrents which it clearly is in need of in order to titillate a rock fan’s more realistic and earthy views on love. Unfortunately Singer’s role here apparently is to harmonize with Shaw rather than wield his horn, and – putting his surname aside – let’s just say that Hal is no singer.

As usual though Shaw herself is quite good. Though the main melodic line in the verses is too sing-songy in its construction, she doesn’t play down to it and seems to suggest by her reading that it’s merely a ploy to entice her fella back by projecting wounded sweetness.

When she transitions to a full voice in the middle eight she displays impressive, yet still controlled, power and you wish that they did away with the same blaring horns that all of the other renditions used, especially since the start of the song downplayed that infernal trumpet in favor of saxophones out front. Whether it was Singer before he started warbling instead, or if he recruited some buddies to handle the parts, that’s what should’ve been played up to give it a more blatant rock feel.

Since Decca and Coral were responsible for three of these versions – Knight and Hefti along with this one – you’d think they’d be the ones pushing for something to differentiate them from one another and allow each demographic to have their own take on it. But as evidenced by the fact that this rendition snuck into the Top Ten of Chuck Elliot’s radio program, a disc jockey in Alabama where the rest of the list was comprised of pure pop records by the likes of Don Cornell, Kay Starr, Billy Eckstine and the aforementioned Doris Day, chances are Coral viewed this as a success by sticking with the status quo.

These Empty Arms Of Mine
Even though their decisions here are deserving of criticism I still think this song had potential in a rock setting and luckily we’ll have more chances to find out if other acts could find the key to unlock that particular door.

Joan Shaw again does her best and while we may greet her drop-in appearances around here with well-earned skepticism, we never have questioned her vocal abilities and on Lonesome And Blue she acquits herself quite well in spite of the obstacles thrown in her way.

Sad to say that – at least on the studio floor – Hal Singer is the primary obstacle, not just because his vocal is bad, but it’s also unnecessary. Though it’s potentially a decent idea to make it a duet, as all of the others were solo performances from the female perspective alone, you need a real singer to make that palatable and then they’d need to trade off lines so they’re conversing with each other about their shared misery over this spat.

Instead we get a pointless vocal accompaniment that not only doesn’t add anything to the narrative, but removes the very thing Hal Singer would bring to the song that might make it worth our while.

Though they might try passing themselves off as a spunky upstart label in tune with the scrappy independents, this lackluster effort shows that Coral Records was still just a major label in a minor’s clothing.


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