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RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD 120; NOVEMBER 1952

 
 

 

Usually when there’s some lingering confusion about a certain record in rock history it winds up being a rare release by an obscure artist on a minor label, maybe one run out of a garage that had twelve copies pressed which somebody insists is the first commercial release of a singer you never heard of.

Not so with Jesse Belvin, who has more mystery and intrigue surrounding his entire prolific output than anyone in rock history.

So it’s hardly surprising that he’s wasting little time before sending his catalog into disarray with a solo version of his first national hit that just came out as a duet on another label.

Or did this one come first and was it really THIS release that was the hit?

That’s the thing… we may think we know and have it all figured out, but with him there’s always the chance that we’re wrong and as annoying as that tends to be, when it comes to Jesse Belvin it’s just par for the course so we might as well get used to it.
 

 

When I First Met You…
Alright… here’s what we know for sure.

Jesse Belvin and Marvin Phillips, who’d known each other for years growing up in Los Angeles and recorded together with Big Jay McNeely as members of Three Dots And A Dash and scored a regional hit with him in 1951, teamed up and co-wrote Dream Girl and cut it as a duet for Specialty Records which was released this same month and became a huge national hit in early 1953.

Everything else is up in the air.

The problem starts with not being able to get a firm grip on the sequence of events due to shoddy record keeping, faulty memories, or perhaps entirely accurate reporting that simply makes little sense. The widely reprinted session information for the duet version of this song on Specialty states it was recorded in “early 1952”… as was Marvin Phillips first solo release we just looked at, Wine Woogie. No definite date for any of them however, which makes it a little suspicious.

But other songs done by Belvin for Recorded In Hollywood (though tellingly not either side of this single) DO have a firm date in their files of January 6, 1952 done with Maxwell Davis. Yet none of those songs were released until 1953, which also seems highly irregular considering RIH’s owner John Dolphin was unlikely to sit on viable product for more than an hour, let alone a year!

This all gets thrown into even more confusion (if that’s even possible!) when Galen Gart, a well-respected chronicler of this era, mistakenly attributed today’s Dream Girl for December 1951 rather than ’52 in his First Pressing series of books which compiled old ads from Cash Box and Billboard magazines before the internet existed to allow anyone the means to find the original sources.

It was an honest mistake and easy to sort out now, but people who should know better still insist that he was right even though the ad in question actually appeared the December 6, 1952 issue of Billboard, not 1951 (and the ad ITSELF specifically highlights “The Billboard Pick November 15, 1952” mention when touting Little Caesar’s release!). Many of them are basing their obstinance on the cockeyed numbering system, as this came out as RIH 120, whereas a lot of their more recent issues were in the 240’s, further convincing them it must’ve gotten released in 1951, flopped, but then got re-released when the Specialty release began catching on late this year.

First off, that’s silly because it was the RIH single that made the local charts first. Secondly, like a few maddening labels, Dolphin didn’t sequence his releases strictly numerically. Instead he slotted them by artists, as evidenced by the ad itself which featured records spanning 101-246. The Cash Box ad in the December 27, 1952 issue (below right) similarly covered records spaced far apart but which were all recent releases. Heck, The Hollywood Flames already had releases in the 160’s during the summer of 1951, well before they’re claiming this record by Belvin was issued, so obviously that has no bearing on anything.

Finally the last bit of information comes from notes found in Specialty’s possessions which state that Belvin was pissed when the company sat on he and Marvin’s record for too long (which suggests theirs MIGHT’VE been cut awhile back, though why Art Rupe would sit on two potential hits for months is also highly suspect… it was probably more like a few weeks, making the Specialty sessions in October), and thus Belvin went to Recorded In Hollywood (on November 12, 1952, that much we know) and re-cut this song as a solo performance which then got issued right away. That in turn would’ve prompted Specialty to rush-release their duet rendition which chased this version up the local charts and then spread across the country faster due to their superior distribution.

That was the record that history judges the hit. It’s also the better record. But the story wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t also look at this record, even though by now, if you’re smart, you’ve turned and run screaming from the room.
 

Other Girls Didn’t Mean A Doggone Thing
Not to be truly sadistic but if you want one more factoid to melt your brain, the Recorded In Hollywood single we’re reviewing now has Que Martyn’s group listed on the label as the musicians even though the session information says it was Maxwell Davis. But it doesn’t sound like Davis and since bassist Red Callender gets the arranging credit, it’s even more likely it’s Martyn as the label says.

In any event, what the musical content of the record itself tells us, which is always our best form of verification, is that Jesse Belvin was trying to compensate for the lack of Marvin Phillips on a song they wrote to be done by two rather than one voice. Missing is the harmonizing and the trading off of lines, not to mention the way they echoed one another’s words which created a distinctive vibe that this release doesn’t possess. That alone makes this Dream Girl much less compelling than the duet, even though Belvin alone is usually more than enough to keep us riveted.

Sure enough the voice itself is as soulful as ever, but the arrangement is embellished to compensate for the lack of Phillips which makes this a little too ornate. What made the Specialty duet so magical was how heartfelt it sounded, two voices with minimal accompaniment making their play for a girl who may not pay them any mind. Though the words are more or less the same (Belvin does change up a few but doesn’t alter the meaning) the vibe it gives off seems a little more calculating here.

Whereas the other gave the impression the girl might just be passing by their street corner as the two friends improvised something off-the-cuff in hopes of impressing her, this one seems as if it had a little more thought put into it, like Belvin went looking for her to try and win her over. That doesn’t mean it’s insincere necessarily, just less impetuous which is what gave the other record much of its character.

Then there’s the fact that on the Specialty single their friends were playing the instruments and though they were technically professional musicians with other credits to their names, they weren’t as polished as the session aces playing this. Most glaring in its absence is how Richard Lewis’s piano on that one had sounded nervous and jittery with its halting lines, acting almost like a third voice in the arrangement.

Here the piano is too smooth, the horns are too discreet and the sax solo, though brief, is too mellow, while the guitar that keeps chipping in with jazzy fills sounds like it was imported from another record altogether. Not a terrible sound, but just an inappropriate one for this song.

All of that may make it seem as if we’re dismissing this Dream Girl outright, but that’s not the case. Belvin’s adjustments are sublime as always, his voice stretching notes to take up the melodic slack, his tone becoming more subdued making this seem more like an attempt at seduction than a mere pick-up. If this were the only version out there at the time, you can see how it’d be appealing enough to draw some interest… just not quite enough to be a smash hit… not when there was another record featuring Belvin and an equally captivating accomplice with much more sympathetic sidemen in a rougher more authentic rendition for the type of situation kids found themselves in.

Then there was no contest as to which version should win out and not surprisingly it wasn’t going to be this one.
 


 

You Know It’s You
Or was it?

Not that it should, mind you, but rather did Recorded In Hollywood get screwed out of an officially recognized national hit because of the way the trade papers operated at the time?

This was the era when both Cash Box and Billboard enlisted a few retail outlets, be it stores or jukebox operators, who were chosen to represent the tastes of an entire city and they’d report which records had the most action the previous week. Usually it was a pretty straightforward job to just rattle off the names of the songs and artists over the phone, but when there were two competing versions featuring the same artist – such as what happened this time last year with Rosco Gordon’s competing versions of Booted that came out on RPM and Chess – sometimes the reports might not make it clear which was moving the merchandise.

Though it probably didn’t matter in terms of telling us which SONG was the most popular, it definitely posed a problem when it came to determining which version of which song was cleaning up. In the case of Dream Girl the early returns throughout December all had the Recorded In Hollywood solo rendition by Belvin listed, but then Specialty’s began appearing alongside it, suggesting the combined sales or spins of the two were a contributing factor, before the papers started only attributing the popularity to Jesse & Marvin on Specialty.

Recorded in Hollywood was none too pleased and even protested to Cash Box which printed an explanation/retraction, but even they began leaving that label’s name out after awhile, indicating that the Specialty single was the lone national hit.

If going strictly by quality, that’s the one that clearly earned it, but as we know quality is subjective and the chart placements are supposed to be objective, so there’s a possibility that this Belvin solo release was at least as popular as the duet, maybe even more so in certain locales.

But if so, don’t let it sway you. This one is alright, definitely worth hearing, worthy of minor hit status if it had a clear field to run in, but it’s the duet that was truly magical and as such remains the one version that should be remembered for eternity. In the end that makes this one just an interesting – yet eternally frustrating – footnote.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Jesse Belvin for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)
 
 
 

 
Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
 
Jesse & Marvin (November, 1952)