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MGM 11132; DECEMBER 1951



The answer to this rather obscure trivia question isn’t the usual suspects you’d think of to win the bet.

It’s not Prince, who made a career out of substituting single letters for words in his song titles… not M.C. Hammer or Rick James… not any of the Twenty-First Century acts who took their cues from any of the aforementioned artists who consistently drove first grade teachers crazy as they try and preach the importance of proper spelling to their students only to have rock ‘n’ rollers subvert their lessons.

The answer as to who started this devious grammatical trend is that mild mannered Ivory Joe Hunter who at times resembles a first grade teacher in his appearance and placid demeanor, but underneath that suit and tie and rimless spectacles lay a rock act and we all know they’re prone to undesirable behavior like drinking, screwing, brawling and intentionally misspelling words!

If he’d put an “F” in front of the U it may not have been any more shocking.


Alphabet Soup
To be honest, if being the first to use a single letter in place of a full word in a title were this song’s only reason for being included on these pages… we still would have done so.

I know that seems kind of a stretch at first, thinking that eliminating two letters from a three letter word in a song title is worth a thousand other words explaining its significance if the song itself sucks… or is well outside the usual boundaries of rock stylistically, as Ivory Joe Hunter was sometimes prone to wander.

But no matter your opinion on its value, it IS important to note because music, even more than literature or acting, is a reflection of each generation’s shifting tastes, standards and language.

It may not seem like much, but calling this record U Name It – particularly on a label as stuffy as MGM – showed that there was value in linguistic shorthand… something still easily recognizable, but far more casual and nonchalant.

Sure, we know full well there’s no logical reason for it. The printer of the label wasn’t running short on ink, the title itself wasn’t so long that you needed to cut it down to size to fit it on one line and the spelling of one word in no way effects the contents of the actual song contained within, but in a perverse way it shows rock ‘n’ roll once again subverting a facet of mainstream American values by giving a smirking middle finger to the educational system.

You just hope that Ivory Joe Hunter – the last man in rock you’d expect to succumb to this wanton disregard for the establishment – will have it in him to actually back that flippant attitude up with something a little edgier than the bland pop-leaning efforts we’ve recently grown accustomed to hearing from him.


Do U Know Who Plays Sax?
Though the horns which are the centerpiece of this instrumental might include a few too many of the wrong shape, size and strength for creating rock ‘n’ roll mayhem, their energy is hardly lacking and the rhythmic quirks he gives them to start with are definitely promising.

They play a back and forth pattern with the horns in block formation which definitely has some moments of the jazzy technicolor variety before splitting off and mercifully handing things over to the tenor sax which is where this song comes into its own.

From the very first notes he’s bearing down hard to convince you of the record’s rambunctious intent and gets better as it goes along, speeding up the tempo and using the clamor from the rest of the horns to catch its breath before heading off to the races again, ripping off lines with a lusty, raw-boned enthusiasm that at times borders on ferocious… hardly the type of thing we’ve come to expect from anything with ivory Joe Hunter’s name attached.

Unfortunately the entire set of musicians aren’t credited so we don’t know who to praise. Since Hunter typically used different musicians at different sessions depending on what type of songs he had come up with, we can’t even try and figure this out based on recent recording dates… especially since the musicians in those are unaccounted for as well.

This shoddy bookkeeping by MGM hopefully cost someone their job because the brawny saxophone is what’s carrying U Name It, giving it the kind of frantic hold-on-for-dear-life attitude that we crave.

Maybe the surrounding musicians aren’t quite up to snuff, or to be more generous the types of instruments recruited for the date were a little off, but that tenor is first rate even without the crude honks and orgasmic squeals that we’ve heard elsewhere.

Hunter, for his part, isn’t just sitting idly by either, content to write out the charts and watch from the control room or simply add a few stray notes of his own. He gets the second break at the two minute mark and while he’s not quite showing why he was once called The Baron of The Boogie, what he’s laying down does provide an effective transition for the return of the other horns to close things out in style.

Though it might be a little too jazzy when the trumpet is out front, the alto riding shotgun before stepping in front helps matters as does the drummer who throws in some well-timed fills to make sure you don’t sit before they’re finished. It ends much like it began – lots of moving parts, lots of energetic playing, not all perfectly suited to rock in terms of the sound they produce, but at least in terms of attitude it fits the bill nicely.

Though this was certainly unique in Ivory Joe Hunter’s catalog and welcome for the fact it showed he had a lot more pep in him than his ballad-heavy repertoire would otherwise suggest, it didn’t in any way change his stylistic direction either in the short-term or down the road.

It was an anomaly in other words. An interesting and well played anomaly, but one that was hampered to a degree by musicians playing jazz-based parts in support of a tenor sax playing a strong rock lead. How much credit that one horn should get for one minute and eleven seconds of concentrated fury is unclear.

So maybe the deciding factor as to how to grade this comes down to its interestingly chosen title. U Name It was clearly designed to pique your curiosity and since it was an instrumental there was no lyrics from which to draw a more appropriate title and so this comes across as a tongue-in-cheek “request” to have the listeners have the ultimate vote.

I’m guessing that too few heard it to have an avalanche of suggestions flood the offices of MGM.

Sure, we know that future artists such as Prince who used the same misspelled form of “You” as a way to suggest creative independence and idiosyncratic taste probably had no idea of Hunter’s record from decades earlier, but the concept itself is unchanged and gives an early indication of how rock ‘n’ roll was never something never bound by accepted practices – however trivial and insignificant those practices were.

We tend to look for some small thing to tip the scales when a score is fluctuating between two numbers and in this case those two missing letters are enough to give this record a small boost to make it average… because in a way it shows that in rock ‘n’ roll this kind of thing was normal all along.

U dig?


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