Tags

No tags :(

Share it

DECCA 48175; OCTOBER 1950

 
 

 

Every release by every artist in history comes with slightly different expectations.

As a listener you obviously want every record to be a good one… even great… but it’s hardly fair to actually expect the same level of creativity and technical expertise from the biggest act in the world and someone with no experience making their debut on a indie label with a shoestring budget.

Harold Burrage might not quite be in the latter category seeing as how he had somehow been signed to one of the biggest major label companies in the world, but he was still a teenager making his first foray into a professional studio and so you certainly have to temper your expectations going into this record.

To that end, though it’s hardly great he manages to surpass expectations a little with this side, showing he’s got enough natural talent to stick around awhile and maybe raise those expectations for his output down the line.
 

 

So Far Away
Though Harold Burrage is hardly a widely familiar name – certainly not now or even during the peak of his career before his early death at age 35 in 1966 – there’s not a total lack of awareness of him in certain pockets of rock histories and what continues to draw some attention is one side of his debut as a 19 year old kid that came about when Decca Records belatedly took a (admittedly passing) interest in trying to appeal to the growing market for rock ‘n’ roll in 1950.

This record… but not this side of this record.

Instead it was the top side, the more gimmicky Hi-Yo with its somewhat disguised – for legal reasons – connection to the popular Lone Ranger TV series which had been ABC’s first ever Top Ten program in the last television season.

Though an interesting idea it was done in by conflicting aims and failed to live up to those aforementioned expectations, at least expectations in retrospect based on the small buzz it still gets in some circles.

But Burrage doesn’t disappoint on the largely forgotten I Need My Baby, a much more solid record in every way. Granted it’s hardly vying for masterpiece status but it gives us a deeper appreciation for the talents that he brought to the table thanks to a more straightforward composition that he can sing without veering into anything that might be perceived as a novelty and as we know is true with anything artist finding the right material is often half the battle.
 


 

Do You Love Your Baby?
One of the recurring themes we’ll be dealing with when it comes to Harold Burrage over the next sixteen years of appearances on these pages will be his constantly shifting vocal attributes designed to appeal to fans of established stars in the field, sometimes going so far as to imitate their vocal approach altogether.

Burrage wasn’t exactly a singing impressionist, making you do a double take when you heard him while thinking it was somebody much more famous, but he definitely suggested a wide variety of artists over the years by subtly altering his voice, his phrasing and his song structures to lay into attributes from more widely known figures across rock.

The artist he draws heavily from on I Need My Baby might be the smallest wattage star he’ll ever try this with, though Andrew Tibbs was surley somebody to admire for other teenage singing hopefuls in 1950 Chicago. Just a year older than Burrage he’d already scored one national hit along with some regional hits in The Windy City and his breathy gospel-derived tenor was distinctive enough to stand out in the broader field of rock ‘n’ roll making this a fairly obvious stylistic appropriation on his part.

The fact that Tibbs’s career was more or less over by the time this tip of the cap in his direction was released is ironic of course but it doesn’t make it any less notable because it gives us remarkable insight into just what the actual primary rock audience of the time were influenced by. After all it surely wasn’t Decca’s idea to have Burrage use Tibbs’s vocal inflections early on, but that winds up giving this a somewhat haunting feeling for us having chronicled all of Tibbs’ releases from the start, knowing by now that he was never going to reach the career heights his talents warranted.

Burrage isn’t quite as proficient as Tibbs as a singer but it’s not a bad approximation of what made him so appealing, as he’s pouring on the pathos to win us over as well as win back over the girl who’s the object of the song. Of course it’d help a little if he went into a little more detail. He tells us she went “home to see her folks” but that can mean a lot of things ranging from an out of state trip where her prolonged absence is fully expected, to the possibility that she still lives with them and is merely adhering to her 11 o’clock curfew and will see Harold the next morning at the bus stop when they head off to school!

Either way it’s not as if she abandoned him altogether by the sounds of it, so give him a demerit for the songwriting even as you give that point right back for the way in which he sells his concern which is bound to get you to feel that her disappearance has some ominous reason behind it that’s not apparent in the lyrics which naturally doesn’t bode well for our hero.
 

Come On Home
One of the things holding back the flip side of this single was how tentative the arrangement was for the content. This was to be expected considering you had a very accomplished jazz musician, Horace Henderson, leading the band and trying to adapt what he was comfortable with over a quarter century in the business to what these new young whippersnappers were dreaming up to drive his generation insane.

Though Henderson was more or less respectful of Burrage’s goals, he didn’t throw his full weight behind them either which meant not playing up the raciness of the lyrics with musical touches that would strongly emphasize those aspects.

But on I Need My Baby the two entities are more on the same page, not because Henderson had a change of heart about what to permit his band to play, but rather because what they’re being asked to play is much more modest to begin with.

This is a song of hormonal yearning, not wanton lust and if Harold Burrage is pining for his sweetheart with dreams of some late night romance he’s not exactly singing the praises of outright fornication either and since Henderson also gets a partial songwriting credit for this side he’s contributing to the construction of the song before they even entered the studio rather than responding on the floor to what somebody else devised.

The horns that open it and provide the primary riff behind Burrage might be a little too well-organized for the tastes of the more restless rock ‘n’ rollers out there but they aren’t actively working against the song in any way. Their notes are crisp and focused – no high winding deviations here – and they keep the rhythm churning as Henderson’s piano is tasked with adding the modest melodic fills.

The horn players put down their instruments to answer Burrage vocally and unlike the flip side where they sounded out of their element, here they do a reasonably effective job in asking the questions that lead to the song’s plot being explored before they jump back in and start to blow, stirring up a little excitement in the process even if they’re taking things relatively easy all things considered.

Maybe the best thing you can say about it is this isn’t a very busy arrangement, meaning they do just what is called for and nothing more. Hardly ambitious maybe, but also not detrimental either.
 

Took A Trip
Considering all of the ways this could’ve gone drastically wrong – everything from Burrage’s age and inexperience working against him to the band sabotaging his efforts with outdated playing and the stodgy company insisting on something more palatable to suit their older constituency – the fact that this comes across as a pretty decent record is something to be commended.

Not necessarily strongly recommended, but certainly mildly enjoyed.

Or to put it another way, if you’d heard I Need My Baby in the fall of 1950 and was told that Burrage was just a kid starting out… well, based on what he serves up on this song you’d file his name away as someone to keep an eye on in the coming months, anxious to see what he had in store for you as he got some reps under his belt.

Unfortunately you’d have to wait a lot longer than that to hear more from him, as Decca was done with him when this drew no interest and despite having this major label release on his résumé no other company picked up his contract when he became available until Aladdin Records took a shot on him a few years down the road.

The lesson perhaps being that sometimes the record companies themselves are the ones who have the out-sized expectations when it comes to these things.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Harold Burrage for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)