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KING 4306; AUGUST, 1949



There’s always a chance in reviewing the past that the tastes of the present will render verifiable achievements from days gone by somewhat irrelevant. That the changing standards which followed over the ensuing decades in popular music, which no artist could’ve predicted, will make the realities of the era they actually thrived in seem trite and insignificant.

So if a record from 1949 sounds “dated” in the Twenty-First century… well, shouldn’t that be EXPECTED?

Ivory Joe Hunter therefore is somebody who is perhaps most at risk among rock artists of the late 1940’s for being pushed aside, if not outright dismissed, for having the audacity to take a less aggressive musical approach than many of his more combustible contemporaries. Though the possessor of eleven charted hits in Billboard that decade, ten of which went to the Top Ten – albeit some of those pre-dating rock and a few outside of the rock parameters even during the rock era – Hunter rarely gets discussed in the conversation for this decade’s greatest artists.

Even here on this site with our constant preaching of the word “context” we’ve been less than enthusiastic for many of his biggest releases, including the top side of this very single which went to #8 on the charts. Now we’re confronted with trying to put into focus the flip-side of that record which actually did even better commercially, landing at #2 on those same charts, but which is if anything even far MORE mild than the song it shared a disc with.

Will this review therefore be another lament about Hunter’s shortcomings? A screed about how he wasn’t fully cut out for this style of music, regardless of the respect others in the field had for him? Is Hunter destined to be the outlier in rock’s first decade, an artist who merely found himself tossed into the mix due to timing and circumstance but who never fully belonged?

For many, yes, that’s probably the case, but not here. For even with this genteel pop-leaning record Hunter’s skills will be genuinely praised and the appeal he held for so many rock fans will hopefully come to be a little more understood.

Someone Who Wants You
Ivory Joe Hunter’s unique dilemma when it comes to receiving historical credit revolves around the fact that he specialized in ballads and rarely ventured into harder edged, more uptempo stomping records which rock’s most ardent champions prefer.

Ballads are fine when acting as an occasional garnish to a dish with more meat on the plate for most of those chroniclers but when they make up the full entrée that tends to be when the meal is sent back to the kitchen and the diners leave in a huff.

But is this fair? More importantly is this perception of ballads as being inherently lightweight and therefore inconsequential in a style of music where a tough aggressive image is so prevalent an accurate one?

Well, to be fair, no it really isn’t and you and I are mostly to blame.

That is “you” if you are one who possess both an X and a Y chromosome which tends to make up the majority of those writing about and reading about rock, but NOT the majority of those actually listening to rock.

Now I don’t want to imply that it’s only females who like ballads and just males who like the louder assaults on the eardrums and this can all be explained be engaging in a needless gender dispute. Let there be no mistaking that plenty of females like the more rough edged sounds and just as many guys like the tender ballads.

The difference is… men are afraid to admit it.

Not all of them and not all the time certainly, but most of the time when it comes to delineating the boundaries of rock and what sounds are deserving of praise it’s the fellas who are the ones waxing poetic on the subject, this site included. Worse though is that when it comes to life in general guys are also the ones desperately attempting to live up to a mythical credo about the virtues of hyper-masculinity and toughness that’s been heavily promoted through years of imagery gotten largely from beer commercials and further twisted by the uncomfortable memories of fourth grade playground taunts.

Insecurity is what I’m getting at here. Male insecurity over the mere thought you’re not manly enough is one of the primary reasons why wars are started, wives are beaten, insults are hurled and… with far less serious implications… why rock ballads are widely denigrated by generations of men.

When your image of manhood is based on a flimsy one-dimensional cardboard image and you’re constantly worried about not living up to that ideal, either in your own mind or in the eyes of others, you overcompensate by constantly trying to show you’re MORE masculine and stronger emotionally than anyone else.

Ballads by nature tend to express the opposite of all of that. Ballads are mostly reflections of doubt, vulnerability, tenderness, worry and heartfelt desires. Even love itself is a perilous emotion to admit to having because in order for it to be fulfilled it has to be reciprocated by somebody else, someone who may not feel the same about you as you feel about them, leading to your heart being broken. Is it any wonder why in discussions on rock music that are traditionally dominated by males the artists who most frequently voice these so-called weaker perspectives are largely denigrated and dismissed? Nobody wants to be the one who admits they find solace in a song about rejection or can personally relate to the sentiments expressed in tender ballads.

Which is why Ivory Joe Hunter, who excelled at both of those perspectives, winds up being somewhat overlooked historically.


How Much He Cares
Strings crying, trumpets weeping, piano notes cascading like teardrops all before Ivory Joe Hunter even enters the picture with his yearning soft as a pillow vocals… it’s no wonder the man can’t get any respect from those testosterone laden, chest-thumping rock fans who probably take one listen to this and reach in their back pocket for the sledge hammer they undoubtedly always carry for just such an occasion so they can bludgeon wussy records to smithereens before being accused of liking tripe such as Guess Who.

If it’s possible to come across as more pussy-whipped than Ivory Joe Hunter here then those who’ve been proudly shaving since the age of eight – or so they claim – will just have to take your word for it. Who could possibly listen to a man pour his heart out so nakedly to a woman… and on RECORD no less, where OTHER guys might hear it and mock him mercilessly for doing so?

No doubt there are some guys listening to this track right now who are rallying their friends to gather pitchforks and torches to hunt this wimpy crooning excuse for a man down so they can run him out of town altogether. Then, having dispensed of his sorry ass, they’ll chug down a dozen beers while gnawing on hot-wings before staggering off down the street in search of women to club over the head and have their way with.

Meanwhile Hunter, walking down a dark street out of town while humming this tune, will have the wives of all of those boorish cretins following him and hoping that it’s her that he’s singing his heart out to.

Yup, that’s right. You see there’s a lot of ways to a girl’s heart and while gals do like virility and a fair amount of resolute confidence in the face of life’s obstacles there are better ways to exhibit those traits then descending into prehistoric stereotypes. The fact is the truly tough don’t act tough because they don’t have to. If a situation arises where they need to be strong they’ll simply meet that challenge with quiet self-assurance and go on about their business when it’s over.

In music, particularly in rock, there’s plenty of opportunity to be aggressive and belligerent, to overreact rather than to respond after cool deliberation. It’s a music born out of a impatience after all, but if all it can ever be is destructive what’s left after each song ends but a pile of rubble?

Rock needed ballads to express all of the things that are every bit a part of the human existence – even a bigger part arguably – as the boasts of confidence and displays of arrogance that get all of the kudos. It needed guys like Ivory Joe Hunter and songs like Guess Who to give voice to the inner feelings that are much harder to express, precisely because it’s awkward and uncomfortable to do so, especially when you risk being rejected, either by the girl in the song or the audience buying the record, for laying your soul bare.


I’ve Tried To Tell You In My Song
Everything about Guess Who drips vulnerabilty. Hunter is with the girl he’s got his heart set on and for once she’s not some far-off fantasy or someone who’s already trampled his feelings, but rather they’re on the brink of something potentially special. Maybe he should hold back a little and not be so anxious to let her know how much he wants her, maintaining a bit of gamesmanship that goes along with most budding relationships, we won’t argue that, but by giving up his neutrality he’s exposing himself to hurt if she doesn’t feel the same. It’s a risky move, one most guys are unwilling to make, but he’s cutting to the chase, reasoning that if she IS “the one” then she won’t break his heart and if she does then it’s better that he knows now and moves on.

But the gamble, in this case anyway, pays off.

You might think that we can’t be certain that he pulls it off IN the song, simply because he leaves it open-ended. There’s no artificial coda where she responds in kind, the two of them walking off into the sunset hand in hand. But there doesn’t have to be. We know he wins her over because we’re hearing his plea… if she rejected him we wouldn’t be.

But it also works musically, its sure-footed melody so slow as to barely maintain forward momentum, the delicate backing of strings and muted horns never breaking the mood, his own vocals strong and resolute even as his heart may be creeping close to his throat as he delivers them, still uncertain as to her response.

The words he speaks are sincere, lacking any flowery plaudits designed to cover his lack of deeper feelings. He’s telling her how much she means in simple terms with a directness that is disarming. Yeah, he’s being slightly coy by framing it as a series of questions, but there’s no mistaking his intention just because he’s substituting a third person perspective for the nervous pleas he’s making at its core.


As such Guess Who is not so much a song of yearning but rather of romance. He may be still waiting her confirmation that she loves him too, but he’s not doubting the response so much as he is apprehensively anticipating it. There’s a tenderness to this which we haven’t really heard before in rock, one that strips away every shred of self-consciousness he might normally have when speaking it out loud, replaced by an inner belief in himself and in her that shows far more strength, far more self-confidence than any of the ragingly intense declarations that most rock prides itself on.

Far from being shown as weak or insecure by singing this, Hunter shows his true strength, both as a person and as a musician on a record that – dated or not in its construction – has stood the test of time.


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