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MGM 10663; MARCH 1950

 
 

 

With such a stellar song as the focal point of this single it almost didn’t matter what they slapped on the flip side. Whether doubling up on the brilliance or choosing something that was worthless garbage the results wouldn’t likely help or hurt sales at all.

MGM probably realized this too and so they did something sensible and used a fairly nondescript song that features a different tempo and lyrical perspective to set it off from the superior A-side and then never gave it a second thought… nor did listeners of the day apparently… and as a result it’s a song that’s been mostly lost to time.

Just because we’re making a point of reviewing it don’t get your hopes up that it’s going to be some lost classic or anything. It’s not. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely deserving of being forgotten either, as Ivory Joe Hunter was at the top of his game in 1950 and even his throwaway efforts like this were bound to contain something interesting.
 

 

Strictly Mine
Though there haven’t been many, if any, words spilled for this in the years since, when it was first released Cash Box magazine’s review of the single actually preferred this side to the brilliant I Need You So, although the issue was dated April 1st and so obviously that was merely a sick, twisted April Fool’s joke.

Anyway, the first thing that stands out about Leave Her Alone is the title and thus the point of view he’s adopting, which indicates that the usually placid Hunter is bound and determined to throw hands with anyone moving in on his woman. Considering that he usually scurries off to a dark corner when trouble arises this might give us a different opinion of his constitutional fortitude at any rate.

But while Hunter was a large guy, 6’4”, square shouldered and well over 200 pounds, he was hardly intimidating in real life any more than he was on record. His mellow voice matched his usually calm demeanor and his tendency towards songs with subtle melodic touches rather than emphatic rhythmic declarations. Even his piano playing usually didn’t stray too far into barrel-house territory.

His work on the keys here is a little more aggressive than usual however thanks to the song’s construct. Though the horns that start this off are way too prancing in their delivery and Ivory Joe doesn’t add much more than a few embellishments himself, he does ramp up the energy heading into the vocals. Better still his solo midway through is energetic, quirky and consistently interesting if nothing else and it’s always good to hear him bang away for awhile since he rarely gets the opportunity on his more traditional ballad fare.

The horns are more of a mixed bag though. The intro does the song no real favors other than establishing a reasonably bouncy mood, the baritone being the best part but also the least utilized once the song gets underway. During the verses they’re called on to act as the responsorial voice but because of the reliance on the higher registers it’s a weaker sound than is recommended for any song trying to assert itself lyrically.

Worse yet is the alto sax taking the solo – or else a woefully under-powered tenor – with the trumpet echoing it in the distance. Coming after Hunter’s offbeat piano solo this is where they absolutely needed to ramp up the power, not dial it down and while the musicians themselves are all handling their parts well, it’s the parts themselves that are something of a disappointment. Let’s put it this way: You can’t really be convincing throwing your weight around in a story if the guys that have your back are weak and scrawny.

But then again this may be one reason why discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to Hunter’s mindset and perhaps that’s why for all his initial confidence he shows within, Leave Her Alone doesn’t quite wind up being the bold statement we thought it was going to be.
 


 

Reports To Me
The lyrics are usually where Ivory Joe Hunter is at his best. His songs featured clear-cut narratives conveyed with a sharp eye for detail and generally leave no loose ends to tie up. Though they usually focus more on the internal emotional struggles of the situations he lays out rather than coming up with action-filled plots, his clever turns of phrase coupled with an economy of words meant it wasn’t ever hard to follow along with the story.

Except here that is, where his premise seems to be that of a protective boyfriend warding off other men attempting to move in on his girl, yet as this unfolds it shows him to be the same insecure pushover he’s so often been in the past, in the process confusing the listener without having any real point he’s trying to make as a moral of the story.

After that extremely long intro taking up forty seconds of run-time Hunter starts off by issuing a stern warning to “all you men” to Leave Her Alone. He still doesn’t sound very tough or intimidating but the message itself is clear, he’s going to take issue with your crass come-ons to his little woman and you should be prepared to duke it out if you try pursuing her.

Okay, so far so good, I mean who knows if we’re lucky we may even get to see a fight, maybe some bloodshed and a trip to the emergency room for one of the participants if all goes well.

But right after laying down this challenge he immediately shows us we have nothing to fear because he flat-out admits he’s little more than her sugar daddy, giving her his pay and asking no questions in return. So much for not calling attention to your own shortcomings, Ivory Joe! Why not just shut your trap and hope the other guys in town have the discretion and common decency to not make a play for this woman because as we all know there’s nothing more that brash would-be Lotharios like more than stealing someone’s girl after they issued a hollow threat.
 

Warning You In Time
At this point he might as well be handing out her phone number to them because now there’s bound to be a long line outside her door so why not save her the time of having to “interview” them all in person?

But as maddening as this turn of events is if we’re looking at it with a real-world perspective and some semblance of fondness for our pal Ivory Joe, a hopeless – but harmless – sap if ever there was one when it comes to the ladies, there’s a chance that he was actually TRYING to depict himself as ineffectual, the prototypical alligator mouth with a hummingbird’s ass, in the process setting himself up for a fall in what must’ve seemed like a clever thematic twist.

Why is this, you ask? Well, because after that long piano and horn interlude we mentioned earlier he returns with more threats yet as the music winds down he throws in a spoken coda where he seems to take on a different persona entirely, either portraying one of the street-corner hustlers he was mouthing off to who is heeding his veiled threats and will now look elsewhere for a roll in the hay, or else he himself is suddenly reversing course when someone a lot more tough than he scoffs at his warnings to Leave Her Alone and marches up her steps to take her out himself, right in front of poor Ivory Joe.

That’s when he meekly tells us HE’S going to leave her alone himself because he doesn’t want to get in any trouble.

Say WHAT?!?!?

I have no idea what to make of this, because both of those scenarios only offer half-sensible explanations. If he’s pretending to be someone else responding to Hunter’s boasts it doesn’t work because we know his voice too well, he doesn’t even try and use a different delivery.

If he’s the one backpedaling then it just means he wasn’t with her to begin with, other than plying her with money to be seen with him every so often, something he took to mean he was her steady guy. If that’s what he thought then maybe he deserves to get his ass kicked by every guy on the block for being a blowhard.
 

Just Bear This Mind
Though Hunter rarely ever sounds bad in anything he plays or sings, this has every indication of being an idea that hadn’t been fully worked out, properly edited or polished up before they went in the studio. Even the lyrics have poor flow at times, with ill-fitting words tossed in as if they were just placeholders for a better idea he was hoping to get before cutting the record.

Yet it’s still pretty engaging musically, more uptempo than a lot of his work and with his piano front and center Leave Her Alone comes across as something that probably works best when you don’t really pay much attention to it and let the overall sound hit you rather than deconstruct it like we’re prone to do.

Somewhat damning praise I guess, but if nothing else it provides us with more psychological grist for trying to figure out how someone of his stature, both physically and professionally, could be such a wuss when it comes to the opposite sex and to be honest when it comes to serving as merely the B-side of an all-time classic that’s enough to give it a begrudging pass for its shortcomings.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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