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MGM 10861; DECEMBER 1950



We all knew… or at least sensed… it wasn’t going to last, that hot streak he was on after signing with MGM Records at the end of 1949 when he scored two chart toppers in his first three releases with some great rock sides was bound to come to an end before long.

It’s not that Ivory Joe Hunter wasn’t a good artist with a great track record, he’d been the best selling act on King Records for two years and they had the best roster of rock artists in the industry at the time, but rather that Hunter was so eclectic in his output, veering wildly from pop ballads to rock boogies and country-hybrids, that it was hard to envision him sticking to any one approach for very long to keep that momentum going.

Furthermore, with MGM being one of the more recent entrants into the field who were actively trying to take their place among the major labels with their pop-centric appeal, they were hardly going to be encouraging him to pursue the kind of material that found favor with rock fans.

But more often than not Hunter finds a way to surprise you, even when – maybe especially when – you begin to lose hope in him. While this might not come close to matching his best output from last winter, it’s demonstrably better for our needs than the unadulterated pop records he’d been churning out lately.


Drive Poor Me Insane
Just so nobody gets the wrong idea that Ivory Joe Hunter has forsaken his loftier aspirations suddenly… he’s done no such thing.

He was currently riding high with It’s A Sin, the title of which promises… you know, actual SIN… only to wind up not even bothering to try and deliver for us. It’s a nice pop ballad, typically well performed if you like that sort of thing, but it’s alien to our needs in the rock kingdom.

Naturally MGM was delighted with this kind of material and were not about to abandon it now that it was paying off. So the top side of this single is more pop treacle, Sorta Need You, complete with syrupy strings and a mellow bent to his vocals that even the notoriously rock-averse reviewers at Billboard magazine felt was a little too much from him, calling it semi-pop style (there’s nothing “semi” about it though, it’s pure pop) and criticizing the orchestration that was heavy on the fiddles to create an elegant mood.

That same review however praised You Thrill Me for actually delivering on his reputation as a rocker, making specific mention of its “righteous groove” and for utilizing the proper instrumention – “tenor and piano solos, (good) riffs – and no violins!”

Jeez, if those guys, who never missed a chance to praise bland pop records, were effectively saying he’d become too bland in his efforts to cross into pop territory and then turned around and complimented his attempts to reclaim some rock credibility here, maybe he should listen. At the very least he might have some incentive to keep at it next time out, which is good news for all of us… well, except for the string quartet hoping to get some more sessionwork out of him.

If You Give Me A Tumble
The piano that opens this may not be exactly pounded by Ivory Joe, but compared to the delicate manner he’s been playing on some of these more ornate sides this qualifies as an emphatic statement that this side isn’t going to be fit for the cotillion dance at the country club where the strongest drink will be fruit punch with a scoop of sherbet in it for an extra kick.

His voice too has shed a lot of its more refined qualities and while the pleasing tone he was born with hardly will raise the dead even in the best of circumstances, he’s at least projecting his vocals with some assertiveness, both in his delivery and the lyrics he’s singing.

You Thrill Me might be a love-struck sentiment at its core, but there’s ample frustration laying just under the surface as Hunter is perfectly willing to express his attraction for this girl, but is expecting something in return for the compliments.

I don’t mean he’s looking to exchange sex for a nice write up on the society pages or anything – though maybe he is at that too – but rather he’s pretty annoyed that his interest isn’t being reciprocated in the manner he expected. Of course we could tell him that this is the wrong way to go about getting a girl to fall for him, but he seems to be far too determined to pursue this path to listen to us and since it’s pretty interesting to watch him keep spinning his wheels we’ll stay out of it.

The lines themselves are about what you’d expect, begging for her number, saying she’ll drive him insane without some sign she’s interested, and – in a rather bold move for a guy who apparently only just asked this girl to dance with him for the first time that very night – asking if she’ll go home with him for some extracurricular activities that they didn’t sing about on record in 1950.

None of it is racy enough to get us excited on his behalf, but the way his voice hints at his horniness throughout this might make up for it. If nothing else he’s the guy you and your buddies would be watching from across the room as he puts his feeble moves on this girl who’s out of his league and the more he struck out the more entertaining it’d be.

Then again, if you’re going home alone too, or hitting a burger joint with your equally unhitched buddies after the dance is over, who are you to make fun of Hunter who at least is making the effort to get to first base with a girl.


What Are You Gonna Do?
Despite what the Billboard reviewer claimed, the musical side of this record isn’t nearly as rocking as it needs to be.

That doesn’t mean it’s too lightweight exactly, but it definitely has conflicted aims in the instrumentation and the arrangement.

For starters that piano solo, while well played, is little more than a three fingered workout on the treble keys, hardly very challenging, exciting or riveting. Likewise the sax solos that follow – there’s two of them – start with a rather mild alto turn by Joe Evans that stirs little emotion and while Budd Johnson gets a more forceful tone out his tenor it’s being played in a manner that is merely a musical placeholder rather than something designed to get you moving.

The best parts of You Thrill Me are the smaller touches by Hunter’s piano behind his vocals as he plays some choppy fills that have a little bit of heft to them. Yet at the same time the other horns, including trumpet and trombone, are making their presence known too much with fills that are a little too classy for the kind of blatant propositions that Hunter’s throwing around.

The maddening part of all this is that it never truly settles on the kind of song it wants to be. We’re grateful that for once they aren’t trying to win over the ladies auxiliary at their book club meeting, but then again they aren’t committing to lure the juvenile delinquents in from the corner either. As a result the sound of the record sort of fluctuates from moment to moment and even though it’s never a jarring transition from one feeling to the next, that might just be because none of them make a deep enough impression on you to care much.

I Swear I Just Can’t Lose
Since signing with MGM, a risky move for a non-white artist at this time, Hunter’s gamble has paid off for the most part. Though he hit his high water mark early, It’s A Sin has just entered the national Top Ten as this was released.

Little did he know that record would be his last such appearance on those charts for five years.

The reason for his commercial decline, as we’ll soon see, certainly wasn’t because he abandoned those higher aspirations, and so by keeping one hand in the rock market, even with a slightly compromised track like You Thrill Me, it at least gave us reason to think that someday he might concentrate more of his efforts on pleasing us again.

To that end we won’t be very harsh with this one, focusing more on his intent than some of the mild shortcomings, since with Hunter it’s never a sure thing that he’s going to be invested in meeting the demands of this market with his material.

This may not quite fulfill expectations but it doesn’t let you down… for that you just flip the record over to remind yourself that if you don’t support these livelier cuts, that’s the kind of thing you’ll be stuck getting out of him for the foreseeable future.


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