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IMPERIAL 5061; FEBRUARY, 1950

 
 

 

The image of rock ‘n’ roll as music for teenagers is so entrenched in the collective memories of both its audience and its detractors that sometimes it’s hard to remember that initially the music had a more adult bent to it.

Not that kids weren’t among the first to pick up on the excitement inherent in the music and start to champion it, in the process giving it the built-in loyal and enthusiastic constituency that ensured rock would thrive commercially, but in the late 1940’s the artists were still deriving most of their money – and witnessing most of the first-hand response to their efforts – in the club scene which naturally excluded teenagers.

But on record there was no age requirement, either to make music or to listen to it, and so very quickly the teenage brigade began to assert itself and artists began targeting this demographic with their songs.

After scoring with a song that connected with those just leaving adolescence behind, Jewel King was now doubling down on topics that held intrinsic appeal to youth with her follow-up in an effort to satisfy what was fast becoming rock’s most fervent fan-base.
 

 

Standing On The Corner
Despite these songs seeming to be biographical they were actually written for her by Dave Bartholomew who’d recruited her as one of his first projects when he himself was signed by Imperial Records to produce their rock output once the label made the move to that field in late 1949.

A year earlier however, when he was still recording for DeLuxe Records and getting his feet wet in the studio as a de facto producer (because it’s doubtful he was credited as such by the company, nor was his pay probably commensurate with that role), he brought in Jewel King for her first recording session, though nothing they cut at the time was released until a recent retrospective, the fantastic Beef Ball Baby, unearthed them.

A year later however they did tackle one of those songs again for Imperial, but by all accounts Bartholomew wasn’t working with her in between, she was singing in clubs around town, generally well received, but still waiting her turn to be “discovered” by the outside world. When Bartholomew got his next chance and needed singers he could work with he sought out King and together they scored the first of countless hits he’d oversee with 3 x 7 = 21. Unfortunately it’d be the only song of hers that would chart, though anyone listening to her sell the song with a genuine authenticity that was quite impressive for someone still fairly new to the recording studio, nailing both the innocence of inexperienced youth and the impending power that reaching sexual maturity is about to give her.

But they may have been taking things a little too far here, as Broke My Mother’s Rule places her back in school – high school we hope, but it’s possible to envision this as a junior high escapade as well – which even the most gullible listener might have trouble believing.

Then again, rock ‘n’ roll, like most music, relies on a certain amount of imagination and fantasy to really work well and so we’re at least willing to join Jewel at the bus stop to see what classroom she’s about to lead us into.
 

Wasn’t Going To School No More
There’s probably very few out there who can’t relate to the basic premise of this song, whether they were the one swayed into skipping school to gallivant around town with a bunch of degenerates or if they were the scofflaws in question who enticed a skeptical young lass into ditching school to join them in their wayward pursuits.

It’s a rite of passage between 13 to 17 that every kid worth their teenage reputation eagerly undertakes and no matter what parents and teachers tell you the stolen days spent outside the classroom will wind up being far more memorable, and oftentimes more educational, than the ones spent inside that classroom.

But King and Bartholomew – maybe showing the one sign of their advanced years – inject a healthy dose of remorse for Jewel’s decision to let herself get talked into taking a sabbatical from reading, writing and arithmetic.

According to her telling of this tale – and keep in mind it’s entirely possible she’s saying this to whatever truant officer snagged her and is trying to lessen her punishment by shifting the blame elsewhere, so take it with a grain of salt – she was innocently standing on the corner waiting for the bus to take her to school when a bunch of guys she knows come along (and she doesn’t hesitate to name names here either, reeling off a nine co-conspirators quicker than you can bat an eye) and abscond with her and off they go.

Now even in her revisionist admission she sounds as if she’s plenty eager to follow them since of course there’s no way studying Algebra can compete with… well, anything else under the sun, especially in the company of your friends.

King’s voice – switching up between a throaty purr and coy playfulness – is hitting all of the right emotional nuances required, keeping her confession regarding these activities believable. Rather than come across as merely inconsistent in how she vacillates between recounting the joy she had in making up her mind to dump her schoolbooks and spend the day having fun on one hand and then showing regret for not doing what she was supposed to on the other hand, this balanced retelling has all of the hallmarks of everybody’s inner conflict when choosing between right and wrong without making too much of an issue out of it.

Truthfully Broke My Mother’s Rule could use a few more details regarding either her activities that day, if only to compare to our own rap sheets for similar offenses, or she could give us more background on her Mom’s stern warnings that fall under the tried and true heading: “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”

(The answer to that question is… “OF COURSE!”).

But Bartholomew keeps the details in rather short supply so he can instead focus on highlighting his top notch band who make sure that whatever trouble Jewel is getting into on her day off is going to be lively.
 

Played It Smart
Piano, horns and drums lock together from the start giving this the kind of giddy excitement that any kid gets when they’re about to take part in some forbidden pursuit. They ease off when King comes in naturally but are ready to pounce as soon as she steps aside.

The first break finds her still present, and in the forefront no less, as she contributes one of those wordless vocal scat-interludes that for some reason found favor with female rock singers from New Orleans around this time. Annie Laurie ruined a few of her records with such tactics and while King’s similar treatment on her initial hit hadn’t harmed it in anyway you’d be hard pressed to say it really added much either.

The same is true here. She handles it alright and keeps it fairly simple, but an extra verse in its place would’ve been a better use of the time, although the hand claps the band adds as the primary accompaniment to bolster the rhythm help to alleviate any complaints.

Once that section ends the band comes back into play and gets to flex its muscles some with a tight and melodic sax solo that revs things up while keeping mostly within the mid to upper range – no obscene honks here to give you the wrong impression about what Jewel was doing amidst so many hormone crazed boys far away from any stern authority figures in other words.

As King resumes her travelogue the bass slips into the gap left by the horn, not the first time we’ve heard Bartholomew’s penchant for emphasizing that instrument which was often the forgotten man in many arrangements during this era, and it helps to keep the forward momentum going without all of the responsibility falling on the singer.

Broke My Mother’s Rule feels appropriately restless as a result, giving the listener the urge to jump up and follow the crowd as they head away from the corner for a day without teachers, books and rules. When the instruments drop out all of a sudden so she can deliver the coda unadorned – a typically noteworthy Bartholomew touch to add drama to the proceedings – you’ve long since forgotten any qualms over your decision to skip school and are content to bask in the pleasures of life without responsibilities… at least until your Mom finds out.
 

If You Want Some Good Advice…
Unfortunately Jewel King’s mother was the least of her problems by this point, for any discussion about her career has to touch upon her fateful decision to listen to her husband who insisted he head on the road with her to lead the band rather than Bartholomew on what was to be be her first headlining tour, a mistake of epic proportions that we delved into in detail on Don’t Marry Too Soon.

The consequence of that demand – and Imperial’s rejection of it – meant that while Fats Domino and Bartholomew were storming the West Coast as this record was released, King was – to connect it to the theme of this song, essentially grounded… as she remained back in New Orleans gazing out her window, probably silently wishing she’d followed better advice and didn’t let some guy talk her into things that ultimately weren’t in her best interests.

Though Broke My Mother’s Rule was a good record that had the right sound, vocal delivery and lyrical perspective to connect with audiences – and to be fair Imperial was still promoting this release even after that dispute – it failed to make its mark. Maybe it was released too quickly after her hit – which remained on the charts all over the country until June! – and so this got lost in the shuffle… or perhaps it could’ve used the added promotion that performing it live in front of sold out houses could’ve provided.

Whatever the case may be, King’s momentum died just as it should’ve been taking off and without Imperial Records and Bartholomew at the helm her career stalled, then ended altogether, almost before the school year was even out.

Maybe King should’ve gone to class that day after all, she might’ve learned not to kill the goose that would go on to lay so many golden eggs… err… gold records over the next dozen years.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Jewel King for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)