No tags :(

Share it




In our last review, the top side of this single, we started off by delving into the sometimes unrealistic expectations at work in a young artist’s development. If you enjoyed that I’ve got good news for you, you’re about to get an instant replay of that theme.

Well not exactly, I’ll spare you a duplicate entry and re-frame it this way instead: When it comes to expectations sometimes we’re all guilty of assuming that just because we lay out the very things we’re critical of those things will magically be solved the next time we encounter them.

But of course that’s not the case, especially when we’re dealing with records seven decades after they were released. I mean it’s not as if these artists, musicians, producers and record company executives – all of whom are long since dead by now – could read these reviews, take our helpful advice and set about changing tactics the next time out anyway even if they wanted to.

So all of that means we’re forced deal with the same problems and dispense the same advice yet again. Oh well, I guess repetition is the mother of learning and all that, so if we have to go through this all again we might as well get started.

Sometimes I Think You Gonna Break My Heart
For those of you already eyeing the exits let me stave that off by saying THIS song has LOTS of different things about it than yesterday’s!

Good things too! Like the reappearance of Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis’s vaunted guitar!

…Mmm, I thought that might get you to stick around a bit longer, for if there’s one thing we know it’s that the presence of an ahead of their time visionary on an instrument will usually have all but the most stubborn of rock fans curious enough to wade through just about anything for another peak at a precocious genius at work.

Before we get to that though (waits for the groaning to die down) we need to remind everybody who skipped over the review for Every Sunday Before Monday just what the point was about unrealized expectations that formed the framework of that analysis.

It shouldn’t take long to bring everybody up to speed: Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis was an 18 year old prodigy on guitar who wasn’t always allowed to showcase his prodigious skills as he might’ve liked, and as we the listeners definitely would like. Music in general, and even rock ‘n’ roll at this stage, were not thoroughly convinced as to the guitar’s suitability when it came to acting as a lead instrument in most songs. The guitar was seen by most to be an accent piece at best, an unnecessary diversion at worst, and so until it was proven that it could handle the lead role on hit songs in a way that wasn’t a gimmick then Lewis’s battle to let his axe take over the arrangements was going to be an uphill battle.

That was especially true when he was paired with such classy company as Tab Smith’s outfit. Truthfully there haven’t been too many sidemen we’ve encountered to date who were as accomplished as Smith who was one of swing music’s top alto saxophonists, his career as a professional dating back to the late 1920’s. But as swing music was on the wane by the late 1940’s and bop – a style he wasn’t interested in – was taking its place in hardcore jazz circles, Smith found himself somewhat adrift.

That explains his uneasy relationship with rock ‘n’ roll.

Like many jazz musicians of the day, Tiny Grimes, Joe Morris, Todd Rhodes, Edgar Hayes, and fellow altoist Earl Bostic, whom Smith would go on to have somewhat of a rivalry with over the next few years, Tab Smith was someone who looked to the budding rock genre to keep working steadily as there was a constant need for qualified musicians to play sessions behind the usually rough, seedy, uncivilized singers that seemed to be rock ‘n’ roll’s stock in trade.

It was a long way down from working with Count Basie.

Unlike those others mentioned Smith never fully gave himself over to rock’s cruder demands and while he did consent to cut some tracks that fit in its profile over the years, once he scored a #1 hit with the pop instrumental Because Of You for United Records in 1951 he stuck largely to that motif and was able to tour on that hit for the rest of the decade, releasing similar themed lightly swaying records until United closed their doors in 1958 and he drifted out of music altogether.

So that’s who Baby Face Lewis is stuck withumm… in the pleasant company of… on his Manor releases. Luckily for him Hal Singer has agreed to drop by and lend a hand on tenor, though Singer’s own musical inclinations also lean towards the sedate rather than the salacious, although he at least has plenty of experience with the latter, including his own #1 hit, Cornbread.

Whether any of that meant that Lewis would be able to flash his wares as an unbridled electric guitarist on Bulging Eyes wasn’t a given, but since he dutifully kept that sound out of the fray on the top side of this one, I guess they all felt a little sorry for the kid and let him romp around the studio a little more here, for which we can all be grateful.


Love You Right From The Start
Though the first sound you hear, knocking you back in fright, belongs to the horns with a high pitched squeal, they’re shoved out of the way by Lewis on guitar playing a brief but exciting lick that sounds almost as if it’s submerged under water as it rises from the speakers.

Unfortunately that doesn’t last nearly long enough and as Lewis starts to croon (yeah, croon… you read that right) the horns return in dainty – albeit discreet – support along alongside light drums and piano fit for the supper club.

I know what you’re thinking, why have we wasted a thousand words to get to the part where I say “This stinks, don’t bother”, and let me slap a big red number on it and move on to the next single by another artist who’s not as compromised?

Well, there’s actually a good reason for it, which is WHAT Lewis is singing not only isn’t fit for any supper club performance, but would likely get him physically thrown OUT of those clubs if he dared utter the lyrics under his breath at the bar while hitting on a girl he met there.

You see, they start off rather suggestive.

You’ve got great big eyes
And I don’t know why
What’s the matter with your big brown thighs?
I want you baby and that ain’t no lie
Cause I’ve got bulging eyes

Now I don’t think it’s his EYES that are bulging at this point, but I’ll leave what else might be growing to your dirty imaginations and say that while he doesn’t get any dirtier along the way… and actually doesn’t quite match the implied raciness of this part even… the basic story line and lyrics are pretty good.

Not great, not exciting, not even too inventive, but applicable at least in the rock pantheon.

Essentially this is Lewis’s come-on to a shapely girl that finds him either unwilling to show enough serious interest in case he gets turned down, or perhaps which indicates he’s already had his share of shapely girls in the last week and one more or one less won’t make too much of a difference in his life. Yet he can’t help but at least comment on her appearance and then, once the ice is broken, he goes on to show a little more determination to put another notch on his bedpost.

We never get a sense of how SHE’S responding to his rather blunt proposals, but considering he doesn’t let up in the nearly three minutes of the song, my guess is she’s having none of it, at least until he starts springing for drinks or something.

But like any 18 year old who fails in his first attempt to make headway by traditional means, Baby Face Lewis resorts to showing off in the hopes his unique skill at something else might impress her enough to win her over.

We’re talking of course about his guitar playing and all we can say is, it’s about damn time!

A Shape That Won’t Let Me Wait
His tone is metallic in nature, reverberating like a divining rod, and as a result it makes you sit up and take notice. He plays slow, like he’s drawing out the notes from deep within in the hopes they’ll get this girl to follow him like a puppy on a string, but just when he’s close to capturing her heart, or at least OURS, in come those intrusive horns and ruin everything!

Again we need to focus on the arrangement, which means the arranger, which probably means Tab Smith.

No disrespect to Mr. Smith, whose alto gets the next solo spot that should’ve rightfully belonged to Lewis, but if we wanted to hear you lethargically tootle along, spiraling notes in the air like cigarette smoke, we’d have bought YOUR records instead and then you wouldn’t be forced to back an 18 year old kid who, in spite of your justifiably impressive band résumé, probably didn’t know you from Beetle Smith, who was Dwight Eisenhower’s Chief Of Staff in World War Two and had spent the last two years as Ambassador to the Soviet Union.

You know Smith’s motivation for giving himself a standalone spot, it’s not so much that he’s got an ego, (he does, I’m sure), but he also honestly believes himself to be the best musician on the session and therefore the one most capable of lifting the song’s quality the more he’s featured. He might even think he’s doing the kid a favor by sharing more of the load. But while that may have been true five years ago, or if this were some run of the mill crooner aiming for pop acceptance, it’s not at all what Baby Face Lewis needs when looking to score hits in rock ‘n’ roll. Following Lewis’s more cutting edge solo Bulging Eyes would’ve been far better served with Hal Singer honking away now if a change had to be made.

Once again, just like clockwork, old school mindsets wind up tripping up the youth movement in music.

To be fair Lewis handles the vocals in this compromised attempt well enough. He’s more suited to be a shouter than a crooner but it’s surprisingly not out of his reach to pull off. He’s warmly inviting, even as he’s singing lyrics that are bordering on lecherous. Short of a more explosive return on guitar in the second half of the song, the remote possibility that he might just drop some vaguely off-color crack is what keeps us mildly interested to the end.

He doesn’t of course and that modesty conspires with the blander arrangement to keep this from jumping in the deep end of the rock pool, even though his being relatively upfront about his lustful intent ensures it won’t risk being confused with mainstream pop either. In the end it tilts too far away from both ends of the stylistic spectrum to be more than passably intriguing to either audience.

When You Go Away I Know I’m Gonna Miss You
So once again our expectations don’t get lived up to, even if Bulging Eyes probably gets us a half step closer to them than the A-side did. But a half step closer still lands us on the near side of mediocrity when it comes to being taken seriously as a rocker.

Of course he wasn’t alone in having to contend with these types of stylistic pitfalls all aspiring rockers faced in the late 1940’s, but somehow Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis seemed as if he should’ve been more immune from having them drag him down simply because of the unique traits he brought to the table.

Everything about him – from his age to his mastery of the guitar to even his nickname which the label was clearly hyping as had Savoy before them – pointed to him being placed squarely in a more boisterous form of music than these sides. Yet here he is wading through the mire all the same, which raises the obvious question: Why on earth would Manor Records sign someone like him and then try to make him something he wasn’t?

Even if they successfully got him into this aesthetic straitjacket what was the possible commercial upside for him in this realm? I mean, how many teenagers with a guitar slung around their neck wind up crooning songs in a posh nightclub next to Guy Lombardo? Or even Tab Smith for that matter.

I guess this is why it doesn’t pay to have expectations for anything good to ever happen in music.


(Visit the Artist page of Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)