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SPECIALTY 447; NOVEMBER 1952

 
 

 

We’ve gotten a few glimpses of the extraordinary promise thus far… some tantalizing signs that Jesse Belvin has the potential to be not just a star, but a game-changer with his alluring laid back vocal style.

He’s already scored a regional hit singing for Big Jay McNeely in 1951 as part of Three Dots And A Dash, while his own solo debut last summer for this label was a two-sided gem in its own right which also showed off his writing ability for the first time that would soon form an equal part of his legend.

But as convincing as these efforts all were, Belvin’s story really starts to gel this month with a release that showcases the two things he’d be most known for… his uncanny ability to create songs and arrangements out thin air while singing with his buddies, and his frustrating disregard for contractual entanglements.

Though his story is one of the most labyrinthine in 50’s rock, what ultimately defines him remains records like this.
 

 

Please Say That You’ll Be True
Not even the widespread acknowledgement of his talents that came about when this record soared to #2 on the Billboard charts makes this part of the story any clearer or more sensible.

Such is the burden of being a Jesse Belvin devotee.

You see, before we even get started we need to disclose that this wasn’t the only version of this song Belvin did at the time. In fact, it wasn’t even technically the only HIT version of it, as he also cut a solo take on it for Recorded In Hollywood that came out at the same time and charted first in Cash Box on the regional listings for Los Angeles and leads to questions as to which actually hit the streets first.

But we have to start somewhere and since this is the officially recognized hit and since it reveals more about the complex associations Belvin would have, both with other singers and other labels, over the course of his career, it seems to make sense to begin with this version of Dream Girl and go from there.

It’s a pretty sure bet that you’ll still be confused, but at least we’ll all be heading in the same direction while collectively trying to get our bearings rather than wandering down these dark streets from every conceivable angle, crossing paths indiscriminately and adding to the chaos.

So the basic facts are these. Longtime friends Jesse Belvin and Marvin Phillips, who sang together in Three Dots And A Dash, were now both recording for Specialty Records. Jesse had cut his first session last spring which resulted in one release so far, while Marvin was seeing his first record – the very good Wine Woogie – released this same month.

Which is precisely where it gets confusing.

The vague session information we have claims that the Phillips solo sides AND these sides with Belvin were all cut in early 1952… which means nine or ten months ago. But that seems highly unlikely, for why would Art Rupe, who was a pretty fair judge of material for someone who was just a record label head, sit on two records with hit potential for so long?

If he did however come with an explanation of sorts, as if the Belvin solo version of Dream Girl got issued first by Recorded in Hollywood and started climbing the Los Angeles charts, then Rupe wouldn’t want to lose out which would cause him to rush-release this duet right on heels of Phillips’ own debut, killing that one’s chance in the process.

But then again nothing is ever so cut and dried in this business and it’s just as likely that Phillips only recently had his session and they all were released simultaneously – both the Phillips debut and this duet, as well as the RIH single – and fought it out in the stores and over the airwaves until this record emerged as the deserving winner… fair and square.
 


 
 

You Were My Everything
What jumps out at you about this record is how unpolished it sounds, almost like it’s a demo with just skeletal piano and drums by their friends Richard Lewis and Jimmy Huff serving as a melodic and rhythmic placeholder for the voices.

But what is also striking about it is how much better and more unique it comes across because of that slapdash feel.

The thing to remember about Jesse Belvin is how much his lifestyle revolved around the simple act of singing with his pals… in the streets, or driving around in someone’s car, at each other’s homes and in the studios around town. Wherever they were, whoever they were, Belvin could whip up a song and a vocal arrangement on the spot, hand out parts and be assured of sounding really good in a loose-knit sort of way.

That’s the aura that Dream Girl features so prominently, making this a chance to squeeze into the back seat with them as they cruised the neighborhood, looking for girls, smoking weed and dreaming about a future none of them could possibly think was on the immediate horizon with hit records and national fame.

It’s always funny how fans of this era of vocal harmony records like this fail to see (and fail to care about) the intrinsic connection that same environment and circumstances have to in relation to modern hip-hop, as it’s the same exact situation that the best rappers come out of… hanging out with each other and working up rhymes to impress your friends. Kendrick Lamar’s classic Backseat Freestyle is the spiritual descendent of this Jesse & Marvin track in every way.

But I digress.

In spite of the thrown together feel of this, utilizing a lot of Belvin’s stock phrases in various forms, it’s amazing how tight the composition actually is, telling a story that uses precise images and spells out its primary allegory in the lyrics while still giving you more of a vague impression than a detailed plot. Yet it’s one so relatable that kids hearing it couldn’t fail to see themselves in the situation delivered by the contrasting voices of he and Phillips (who got co-writing credit let it be said, as that’s how these things were conceived, everybody chiming in) all while wrapping it in a melody that’s intoxicatingly simple.
 


 

You Dear That I Adore
Like so many songs written by teenagers, it’s an ode to a beautiful girl, but rather than just be fawning in its praise, it’s told looking back from the point just after the bloom has left the rose and she turned out to be not quite the perfect angel they initially believed.

The sense of self-realization here is alarmingly mature, as the song gradually shatters the naïveté they had when they began, yet never becomes bitter or angry or dismissive of her in the process. Instead it marks their first encounter with the sense of disillusionment so often found in romance, the growing awareness that your own idealized image of someone is never going to be fully realized. Oftentimes the other person never tried pretending otherwise and in the end you’re let down more by how the script in your head never comes to fruition than by anything the Dream Girl was guilty of doing.

Somehow they’re able to put this into words in clear and concise fashion, yet still leave it more suggested than spelled out. They’re admitting their inexperience and saying how they need to “go back to school” to figure these problems out, not giving up on love, maybe not even on her, but resigned to learning one of life’s most brutal lessons in the process as their idyllic fantasies about love crumble around them.

The sad thing of course is how broken illusions ultimately lead everyone to having a calloused heart, becoming resistant to letting your guard down so you don’t risk getting hurt when what you really want is to have the faith in another person to be able to fully open up to somebody you want to love forever and trust that it will be reciprocated.

That two kids still in their teens can express these thoughts so poignantly and then sing it in a way that gives each one space to put their own personalities in it – Belvin more reflective, Phillips more dejected – while the piano contributes the clever musical transitions in the bare bones arrangement, is astonishing. It’s like watching Einstein scribbling out his first concept of the theory of relativity on a scrap of paper while eating a sandwich.

This however is better to sing along to than anything ol’ Albert came up with.

It’s a record that on the surface seems to constructed out of spare parts and tied together with a few pieces of string, but the more you hear it, the more you realize the genius behind it and the more addicting it becomes.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist pages of Jesse Belvin and Marvin Phillips for the complete archives of their respective records reviewed to date)
 
 
 

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