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KING 4255; NOVEMBER, 1948



After the lengthy (some might say interminable and who am I to argue?) review yesterday for Rockin’ With Big John, I’ll be much more respectful of the reader’s time commitment today and keep this one relatively brief.

No need to thank me.

Actually, the decision to keep the loquaciousness at a minimum in today’s review wasn’t entirely thoughtful on my part, but rather because we find ourselves meeting up with Ivory Joe Hunter for the seventh time on our trek through rock history and his up and down results remain the dominant topic of his reviews thus far.

Since the reasons haven’t changed it makes this review more like a recap of what we’ve already learned.


Have You Heard About Her?
So with no further ado let’s just dispense with the endless historical minutia I have a tendency to serve up and get right to the record for once…


To start with the storyline is pretty straightforward and promising – a declaration of hot-blooded interest in a woman who “isn’t so good to me”. For someone who usually displays no horniness whatsoever, I Like It therefore becomes a record with some intriguing possibilities for Ivory Joe to delve into.

Countless songs have mined this field and certainly most guys have, at one time or another, had at least some desire to be with a girl who they know full well they should steer clear of. The concept itself provides someone like Hunter, who can certainly string words together with the best of them when he’s on his game, a perfect opportunity to lay down a witty classic. Yet once again he doesn’t come close largely because of his personality.

We touched upon this already in Don’t Be No Fool, Fool, where his good guy persona is at odds with the message he was trying to convey, that of a man scorned lashing out at the one who did him wrong. In that instance he was simply too nice to really pull off the kind of verbal attack the record called for and it suffered greatly for that failing. What he was saying was okay for the story, but how he said it was too docile to be convincing.

Here he’s wise enough to turn that scenario on its head (I Like It could serve thematically as the prequel to that record in fact) wherein he essentially admits that the object of his affection is… well, let’s face it… a bitch, but he doesn’t care, presumably for reasons that are easy to read between the lines (or between the sheets as it were).

Fine! Great! Let’s hear about that!!!

Sadly we get only the cliff-notes version, edited for content no less, and focusing mostly on what her many drawbacks are rather than exploring his carnal reasons for sticking with her in spite of those personality shortcomings.

At times the litany of her negative traits are enjoyably specific “She’s a beggar, she’s a stealer, she’s a robber, she’s a cheater, she’s a lazy, lazy gal!”, is particularly winning, especially the way he emphasizes “lazy”, as if he’s envisioning her sitting on the couch unwilling to move as the phone is ringing while the toilet overflows and the kitchen catches fire or something.

But while airing out rest of his laundry list of complaints over her behavior the problem once again becomes Hunter’s lack of emotion during this harangue.

He could’ve easily changed the tone to be either humorous, reeling these off with incredulity, maybe tacking on another half dozen things about her that get more and more outlandish as he goes on, OR he could’ve sneered his way through it, criticizing her with icy disdain, venom dripping from his lips as he blasted her for each and every character flaw.

With either approach the payoff would come in the aftermath of his reproachful attack. In the first case he’d essentially say he doesn’t care WHAT she does to him provided she does something ELSE to him (delivered with a smirk, leer and suggestively raised eyebrows) which would be self-explanatory to all but the most sheltered of listeners.

In the latter approach he’d be showing himself to be so confident in his OWN carnal ability that he knows she wouldn’t dare leave him no matter how much he denigrated her other antics. Essentially that’d make it the spiritual forefather to the oft-recorded Mean Woman Blues (cut by Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis, who probably nailed it best because HIS personality was so well suited for the tale), a record which attracted so many stabs at it for good reason – because it pulls no punches.

Instead, Hunter shows himself to be completely pussy-whipped and happy about it besides! He comes across as the prototypical 40 year old virgin who is just so elated to finally have a girl (a real life girl, not a pin-up on his wall, or in today’s world an image on his computer screen), that he’ll gladly put up with any bad treatment just to get a mild kiss each morning and a roll in the hay every so often.

In other words, he’s a sap and worse still, a sap who is perfectly content to BE a sap!


Other Qualities
The musical accompaniment certainly isn’t helping his lot in life either. As usual Hunter’s piano playing isn’t the problem, though if he were a little more reckless to add some spice to things I certainly wouldn’t complain.

The arrangement as a whole though is decidedly bland, which I guess matches the characterization he embodies, so I’m assuming it was intentional. That doesn’t mean it was well chosen though, even if it does fit the manner in which he sings here.

Once again it’s done in by the reliance on a trumpet to provide the main musical thrust, an instrument ill-suited to rock, especially since most who played it were still doing so using the ground-rules of previous big-band rooted approaches. That’s not to suggest a tenor sax would’ve saved it, unless of course they also changed the attitude Hunter himself projected to better suit that change, but as it stands not only is Hunter the vocalist too mild-mannered here, but so is the horn solo, the combination of which proves fatal to its chances at redemption.

It DOES get a bit more interesting in the break however as all of the horns chime in with a distinctly Dixieland jazz-shaded passage, a style in which the trumpet is a more fitting focal point and as a result comes off far better, actually rather enjoyable even.

Of course that’s not to say it’s exactly appropriate in the context of THIS song mind you. It’s almost as if mid-way through the record you got tired of it on the radio and changed the station briefly before switching back, but at least it provides a needed kick to the proceedings, however short-lived it is.

I Get A Funny Feeling
This winds up serving as Hunter’s story in a nutshell. He was capable of delivering acceptable, even stellar, recordings in a number of different motifs, but without a clear consistent vision, without a driving urge to make his mark in one specific way, whatever that way was, he winds up drifting about rather aimlessly for a bit longer. Trying this, trying that, probably finding some pleasure and satisfaction in all of it, but almost blissfully unaware that his chameleon-like stylistic shifts weren’t doing him any favors in carving out a definitive identity that the audience could count on.

Yet it didn’t seem to negatively affect his commercial returns much either. In 1948 he scored four chart hits and while we’re glad that the best side he released, Pretty Mama Blues, also was his biggest hit, he also scored with one we didn’t even cover because it was squarely in the pop realm. Meanwhile the third of them, What Did You Do To Me, was nothing special either, another mild offering that’s still hard to believe stirred much interest.

The fourth one? Yup, you guessed it, this one.

It made it for all of one week, barely inching into the skimpy fifteen spot Race Charts (#14) over Christmas, showing that for some reason fans were grateful enough of Hunter’s previous efforts to give him a Christmas gift of sorts in return. Oh well, he’s too a nice guy to put coal in his stocking I suppose.

Because of my own fondness for Hunter overall I wish I could say of I Like It that I DID like it more than I do. I certainly don’t hate it, or even mildly dislike it. Instead I feel mostly ambivalent about it.

His misfires such as this are never egregious or incompetent by any means, but they’re also not restless, urgent and alive in the way the best music often is (or even ambitious failures can be). Hunter, both at his best and his worst, always comes off as simply content.

In life being content is probably the surest route to long term happiness, but in music being content is simply a more polite way to suggest “often boring”.

Not surprisingly therefore, despite Hunter’s claim of “making my temperature rise”, there’s no perceptible heat being generated within this record to recommend it as anything more than background music to the more exhilarating revolution that was now well underway by the types of artists who were rarely content at anything they did.

Ironically though, it also shouldn’t be surprising that most of them – the restless visionaries who seethed with a musical passion they could scarcely contain – would burn out within a few years, oftentimes consumed by their own intensity.

Meanwhile the content and emotionally stable Hunter, a dedicated craftsman to the end, would go on churning out a fair number of hits for more than a decade and continue making pleasant and entirely acceptable records for the rest of his life.

Long term happiness has its virtues I guess.


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