No tags :(

Share it




What’s the best way to ensure commercial irrelevance… how about utter confusion in an artist’s releases.

Here we have The Hollywood Flames… err… Hollywood’s Four Flames that is, also known as The Four Flames, The Flames and Juble’s Jingle Jesters… (wait a minute, that last one can’t be right) on a tiny label competing with concurrent releases on a new subsidiary of a bigger label and featuring on the top side another song already released in a different version a few months back on a different label under a different name.

Didja get all that?

If not, don’t worry, nobody in 1952 did either.


Can’t Be Many More Days Like This
Back in “The Good Old Days” – officially the period that the oldest generation currently alive vaguely remembers from their own youth – the music industry was… an absolute freakin’ mess.

Major companies were unadventurous conformists while the vaunted independent labels which gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll while also providing opportunity for blues, country and gospel to be heard, were built to suit the whims of short-sighted musically illiterate con men who cared nothing about the long term careers of the artists they signed, but only wanted to do whatever they could to get another handful of sticky nickels from jukeboxes next week.

As a result of this system you have groups like The Hollywood Flames who existed for more than a decade without a steady home… and without a consistent name… being paid a few bucks (if they were lucky) to cut some songs for which they’d get no royalties, nor any say in how they were billed, and see their records released to the public without any promotion, often never hearing from the company again.

The songs would barely be heard and they’d be forced to find another label a few weeks later and do it all over again. That’s a helluva way to try and make a living, let alone establish a fan-base and leave behind a musical legacy.

What you wind up getting out of that kind of chiseling operation are records like Crying For My Baby, hardly a lost gem by any means, but one which shows at least a little bit of creativity that failed to get nurtured by a competent producer at a reputable company.

The problem was even if someone in the extremely limited Los Angeles region managed to hear a copy of this and wanted to seek more of their records out, they’d have absolutely no idea where to look, what name to look under or what label to look for.

Yup, that’s the Good Old Days for you!


Rock Little Baby
You could call this record one of two things… sloppy and chaotic or experimentally adventurous.

One description makes it sound bad, the other makes it sound a lot more promising, but essentially they mean the same thing, which is this record is the sound of some good ideas not quite honed to perfection.

The song’s main allure – or primary offender, take your pick – is the overlapping rhythms provided by 1) Bobby Byrd’s lead vocal, 2) the other Flames harmonies and 3) the musical track, none of which seem to be taking place in the same room at the same time.

These things tend to require a very experienced hand to make an idea like this come off smoothly rather than sound like a radio tuned to three stations at once but even someone resistant to the concept should be able to see that when taken on their own all three are perfectly acceptable and if given enough time you may even figure out how they are working together for the greater good.

Working backwards the music track starts off with a compact horn riff over a pulsing bass before segueing into piano and hand-claps establishing a more spasmic rhythm over which the horns return to try and keep everything grounded.

Truthfully we could’ve simply divvied those up and said Crying For My Baby featured five or six rhythms rather than just three, because the music is pulling in opposite directions once all the band chimes in and while some of it is infectious, it’s invariably nudged out of the way by something else before you fully lock in on whatever you find most appealing.

The Flames then add their own wordless harmonies behind the verses before handling the main chorus which is well sung but mixed too low forcing you to try and decipher the lyrics which change multiple times over the course of the song.

Finally there’s Byrd’s lead which is very good, very distinctive and very confusing for those used to more straightforward vocals. Byrd technically may be singing lyrics off a lead sheet during the primary part of the song, though it may take awhile to figure out what he’s saying, but where he really lets things go is when he starts ad-libbing over the rest of them on the “chorus”.

It’s really a form of verbal riffing more than anything, words chosen for sound as much as meaning, and though his strangled emotions are impressive, it’s inevitably going to throw most listeners because his approach makes it exceedingly difficult to follow along, especially with the other components each going off in their own directions even as he remains admirably locked in rhythm despite all that.

The first time through the record might lose half of you who will become too frustrated to try and concentrate on everything at once. But should you listen a second and third time to get your bearings it starts to fall into place as you learn you can’t focus on it all and have it make sense. When you let the band and backing vocals blend together however and stop trying to pick out individual lines – be it vocal refrains or that sneaky little guitar that pops up momentarily before disappearing altogether – and just hone in on Byrd’s exhortations and let the rhythms provide the backdrop, you’ll appreciate it much more.

You Might As Well Come Back To Me
Of course for all we know we may have just reviewed their remake of this tune which was cut a year later for the Spin label – backed by Preston Love while dropping the “g” in the first word of the title – which returns us to the opening of this review in which we pondered how The Hollywood Flames expected to actually advance their careers when they were in a business run by a collection of the most inept human beings imaginable.

With every label seeking nothing more than a single to put on the market for a month or two and hope that somehow it provided a decent return on their investment without working to build that group’s reputation or nurture their creative instincts, artists were forced to peddle their songs over and over again to more disreputable companies which did them no good in the long run.

Crying For My Baby is a solid idea that might be lacking a little polish, but clearly had potential to be a solid contender for a hit.

Pair them with Maxwell Davis in the studio for a more adept label and maybe this is a song that rides the charts all winter. But put it out on Unique Records – or the later version on Spin Records – and nobody knows about it.

Unfortunately there was no shortage of record companies operating on a shoestring budget and so this dead-end road will be traveled by a lot more artists before all is said and done. That these guys were one of the few to eventually get off that road and onto a busier and more well lit thoroughfare is a testament to their perseverance for had they instead crashed into the wall at the end of that alley who knows if any of us would even be aware such an interesting song came out once upon – or twice upon – a time for labels nobody heard of.


(Visit the Artist page of The Hollywood Four Flames for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)