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MGM 11132; DECEMBER 1951



Well, we have to start somewhere, I guess… at least that’s the way we’re defending the inclusion of this version of an all-time standard in our history of rock ‘n’ roll chronology.

Because the song will be revived a few more times in vastly different approaches, including by a few all-time legends on one hand and in a total reinvention by a group that took it to the top of the charts on the other hand, we might as well try and show just how those efforts to give a classic pop composition a new identity in the rock field got started… and just how difficult it may have been for them to try and re-imagine.

No, this is not the best of them by a long shot, nor the most creative or ambitious, certainly not the one which incorporated the most rock elements into it and it’s far from the most successful either… but it is the first and so we’ll excuse its shortcomings while granting it an audience even if we won’t excuse those same shortcomings when assessing its quality.


It’s Just That Kind Of Song
Okay, so let’s start with the background and work our way up… or down if you take the view that every subsequent attempt made by rock artists to deviate from the original concept was a shameful bastardization of a beautiful song.

But just a warning though, if you DO ascribe to that theory then you might have some ‘splainin’ to do, because Blue Moon did not start out as Blue Moon at all. In fact it had nothing whatsoever to do with lunar views, or even nighttime settings, but rather it was written by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers as Prayer, a song for Jean Harlow to perform in the 1933 film Hollywood Party.

It was discarded and Harlow wound up not doing the picture.

Then Rodgers and Hart re-wrote it, or at least Hart the lyricist did, changing it into It’s Just That Kind Of Play, for a different film, Manhattan Melodrama, but that too was dropped from the movie.

Instead of taking the hint, they re-wrote it yet again as The Bad In Every Man, which wound up being sung by Shirley Ross in that same movie. Third time’s a charm I guess.

However while the storyline of the song was promising, the lyrics don’t flow that well and it comes off as clunky as a result. But the publishing company knew right away that melody was intoxicating and so they urged the songwriters to come up with a more universal theme with new lyrics and title. By now Rodgers and Hart were growing kind of tired of this but this was their job and it was better than working at a gas station, so they came up with a fourth rendition and struck gold this time around.

Blue Moon uses the ever-present celestial body as both a confidante and an all-seeing eye in the sky as the singer is “talking” to the moon to sort of work off his nervous energy when recounting his meeting with a pretty girl, admitting to his intentions and confessing his desires in the process.

Bandleader Ted Fio Rito scored a #1 hit with it, combining jazz instrumental flourishes after a countryish intro before transitioning to a stilted pop vocal by Muzzy Marcellino (you gotta love these names, don’t’cha?). Its success non-withstanding, the results are artrocious.

Much better was the concurrent version by Glen Gray’s band with Kenneth Sargent singing the vocal refrain, as even though it’s now nearly a hundred years later when the polite vocal style and the musical trappings sound woefully dated, it’s still remarkably familiar because that melody is as timeless as the moon itself, while the lyrics, though possessing a hackneyed innocence, are still evocative of the inner feelings of many a guy who’s sat under that moon with a girl he likes in the years since.

As good as it was though, there’s not as many big names from that era who released a version themselves as you might think. In 1949 it charted twice with renditions by Billy Eckstine and Mel Tormé, but neither cracked the Top Twenty and so entering the Nineteen Fifties it remained a good song without a signature version.

Ivory Joe Hunter would not change that.

When I Looked The Moon Had Turned… Away In Shame
Considering a lot of the previous efforts were pretty poor, let’s give Hunter some credit for a few of the subtle touches he throws in starting with a nice back and forth horn intro which gets the record off to a good start.

Unfortunately from there Ivory Joe sort of gets lost vocally, using a stutter-step delivery that robs the song of the effortlessly flowing melody which was its greatest attribute, even in the discarded earlier compositions. Though he’s far too good a singer to trip himself up completely, he sounds a little unsure of himself at times, and while he saves a few of his missteps by adding some tasteful ornamentation, rising and falling on certain words to give it some much needed life, he gets increasingly out of step with the tune itself.

By the midway point Hunter gets utterly lost until you fear he’s going to have to use the Blue Moon to get his bearings and figure out where he’s going like Harold And The Purple Crayon.

Who knows, maybe that idea wasn’t far off as he tosses in some questionable line readings, awkwardly announcing “When I LOOKED… the moon had turned to gold” as if he was telling this story to a wide-eyed four year old at bedtime.

The music behind him may not be causing any of his problems, but it’s also not helping his cause much because it’s just sort of plodding along tastefully with Ivory Joe’s own piano laying down a faint rhythm while the horns moan in response. Yet what appears on the surface as a song that seemingly anyone could sing, Hunter proves this isn’t the case… at least when you mess with its core attributes.

The whole thing is unnecessarily heavy-handed coming from someone who was usually far more smooth and discreet in his music… sometimes to a fault. This however is anything but smooth and far from good.


Somebody Please Adore Me
You can’t fault Ivory Joe Hunter for thinking the song itself was worth revisiting. Its commercial potential hadn’t been fully realized in a decade and a half, the melody and lyrics were far from their expiration date and by presenting it to a new audience – both in terms of age and genre – he might get lucky and score a hit since he was badly in need of one as he was currently in a prolonged draught in that regard after being rock’s top commercial act from 1948-1950.

But while the song choice was perfectly acceptable, the performance was far from ideal… certainly not for rock fans, but also not even for the pop or light jazz fields he might otherwise be appealing to with a toned down effort.

This Blue Moon is a lumbering record for the most part, saved from the harshest of criticisms only because there’s a few moments where his innate talent shines through.

In every instance however the clouds quickly conceal the moon and as a result we’re left to find our way home in the dark.


(Visit the Artist page of Ivory Joe Hunter for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)