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GOTHAM 240; JULY 1950

 
 

 
A strange title, though an interesting one, and a strange record in more ways than that, but a good record that almost defies categorization from an artist who continues to surprise and delight at nearly every turn.

Key word here… “nearly”.
 

 

Giving Me The Jive
It quickly became obvious as Jimmy Preston’s rather unlikely career unfolded, taking him from a modest Philadelphia club act to a rock ‘n’ roll star of the highest magnitude, that he was somebody who learned his lessons well along the way. He had a good sense of the requirements rock was insisting upon and rather than merely stick with formula he seemed determined to surpass himself each time out, tightening up his game plan and improve on his earlier shortcomings.

Yet even with all of that evidence as to his abilities there’s still a tendency to underestimate him.

Maybe it was his nondescript looks or his less than commanding vocals, but for every really good record he’s released – and there’s been a lot of them now – you never got the idea that it was guaranteed he’d keep improving, or that he’d even be assured of staying at the same high level each time out. Maybe in a weird sort of way though that’s better than simply taking him for granted and expecting so much quality from him that you don’t notice the different ways he’s going about achieving it.

But now with largely a new band in tow, having brought in a new saxophonist (future jazz legend Benny Golson), pianist and drummer last winter, he shows that he hasn’t missed a beat and that for all of the praise we dished out to his early lineup in the Prestonians – well deserved though that credit may have been – the one constant in at all is Jimmy Preston himself.

So let’s deliver a heartfelt apology to the man for unintentionally slighting him along the way because with this record, the alluring Estellina Bim Bam, it becomes obvious that the guy who was deserving of the acclaim for all that good work from the very start was the man at the center of the room… a truly creative, ambitious and hard working bandleader with his finger on the pulse of rock ‘n’ roll and some refreshingly high artistic aspirations in coming up with new ideas to keep things fresh.

Whether those aspirations were always ethical though is another question entirely.
 

 

Box Your Head In
The opening to this is as catchy as can be… rolling drums, claves, piano and horns sounding as if they escaped from a mariachi band… all of which are vitally necessary to distract us from the violent and inexcusable lyrics that follow wherein Preston drags his cheating girlfriend home after he catches her with another man – his best friend no less – and proceeds to beat her senseless until “she’s almost dead”.

Well then… that gives us something more to consider, doesn’t it?

Now of course there’s absolutely no way this can be excused, the scene he paints is horrifying, deplorable and brutally offensive. We’ve gone to great lengths to hold multiple artists, The Velvetones and Clarence Samuels in particular, accountable for such flagrantly repulsive songs in the past and if we’re being consistent we have to lay the hammer down on Mr. Preston as well.

The lines aren’t even trying to be ambiguous about it either, as his only concern is about being too loud in throwing her to the floor because the neighbors will hear.

Very courteous of him, though I’m guessing he’s not worried about disturbing them but rather having them bust down the door to fend him off with a machete or golf club or something.

But throughout this chilling description of the hurt he’s going to lay on this poor girl Preston’s singing is as invigorating as he’s ever sounded. Put any other words in his mouth – up to and including total gibberish – and this might be vying for a perfect score, he’s that good. His tone is warm and rich, coming as it does from his larynx rather his nose for once, and he’s added a lilt to his voice which sounds so inviting that you’d think he was telling you about his new sailboat or the green peppers he grew in his garden rather than casually recounting a terrifying act of domestic violence.

Now add in the mesmerizing Caribbean vibe of the backing track which is so captivating that you’d buy this record as an instrumental… which come to think of it might not have been a bad idea for Preston’s freedom if and when charges are brought up for his appalling actions.

Even the songwriting, if you can put aside the ramifications of the acts being described, are remarkably clever and well-drawn. The latter two words in Estellina Bim Bam are his euphemisms for beating Estellina up, as in “I’m gonna give you the bim bam”, which is maddeningly appealing when delivered this way. The frequent switching off from singing to speaking is incredibly effective as it gives him the chance to play this character to the hilt and the way in which the words flow in both approaches is really inventive, flipping words around, drawing others out and making it all sound like a funny nursery rhyme.

But what’s funny about assault and battery?

With no acceptable answer to that question you probably think this is headed for the red numbers and ol’ Jimmy is headed to the pen where if he’s not put in solitary confinement somebody will take care of him with a shiv in the rib-cage if there’s any justice in the world.

Yet that’s not what is going to happen and if I can’t defend it maybe I can explain that decision without jeopardizing my credibility in the process.
 

Stop Your Messin’ Up
There are countless movies in which the characters are sickening examples of human beings. The Godfather (Part One and Two) are considered two of the best ten or twenty films in history by critics and fans alike and every one of the major characters should burn in hell. Yet somehow knowing this you still find yourself wrapped up in their story and rooting in some way for them to prevail in their twisted saga.

That’s hardly an isolated example either, be it movies or literature… or music. There are countless legendary songs about murder, drugs and all sorts of unethical behavior that don’t pass muster with the standards of basic morality, just as there are artists who are detestable people in real life who sell millions of records that we have or will be praising at some point along the way.

Where do you fall on them?

I don’t know the answer to that and even reaching back for the easy get out of jail free card Preston had in his back pocket, the fact he’d quit music in a few years and become a minister, hardly gets him a pass since the clergy has long been a cesspool of some of the most unethical people on the planet protected by an organized publicity campaign of epic proportions to hide and/or cover for their sins.

But all that being said Estellina Bim Bam is a really good song… with a really bad story at its core. We can raise a few relevant questions about its content, such as why Jimmy is the one singing in the first person for most of the song before switching to a third party observer lecturing Mr. Brown, who suddenly appears out of the blue and appears to be the perpetrator of this crime and it’s “him” who replies to Preston using a different accent than the one he’d been singing with until then.

We can also speculate that when judging by Preston’s early position here he’s very likely just venting over his failure to keep his woman satisfied and his threats are therefore fairly hollow (threatening to “bim bam” his buddy Sam too, which comes across as merely comical), and though he does go on to describe his monstrous overreaction in rather gruesome detail it’s entirely possible he’s just envisioning this in his mind to relieve his frustrations without ever actually confronting her for real over her transgressions.

But I doubt any of those hold much weight.

What DOES hold weight, at least when it comes to music appreciation, is the sound of the record and this one sounds incredible. Thus it’s up to each person to try and balance out the obvious positives with the undeniable negatives and which could wind up resulting in a score that varies between impossibly high to the lowest of lows, all of which would be defensible depending on what you were taking into account.
 


 

Hear The Uproar
Maybe it’s not for nothing that this might just be Jimmy Preston’s most obscure single on Gotham Records.

But whether that had anything to do with the subject matter – and I doubt that it did – there’s some perverse justice in that outcome, because going by just the musical qualities of the two sides of this single this might just be Preston’s best effort in his career, yet it’s totally forgotten.

Is that punishment enough for the atrocities committed in Estellina Bim Bam? Probably not, but it’ll have to do, because no matter how much of a moral stand I want to take on this I find myself coming back to it over and over again because the power of the performance is more compelling than the revulsion over the (admittedly entirely fictional) situation laid out in the song itself.

He’s going to be docked for it to be sure, but not as much as he probably should be, which ultimately says a lot more about people’s tolerance for bad behavior when wrapped in an appealing package than any of us is probably comfortable admitting.

Now if Preston had just used “Bim Bam” as a colorful euphemism for sex instead it would’ve worked just as well and then this might getting a well earned ★ 10 ★ for his efforts. The lesson being that boinking someone is a lot more admissible than boxing their head in.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Jimmy Preston for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)