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You never have to ask anyone whether they’d rather have a truly great song or a really bad song because unless they’re actively looking to deride something piss-poor for the fun of it then every true music fan wants to at least hear a record where every component works well to achieve its goal.

But we enter a gray area when it comes to records that fall into the middle ground, because there are so many different ways to wind up more or less average that it makes your choices on which type of “fair” record you want to hear highly personal.

Would you prefer a song that was generic by nature and never aspired to be more than that, yet met those lowered expectations without much trouble, or would you rather have a song like this, where there are some really good elements that wind up getting pulled back down by missteps that were entirely avoidable.

The end result in both cases may be the same, but the frustration with this kind of record before us today will surely be a lot higher.


Just In Time
Because Laurie Tate had such a short career on record – just two recording sessions over a five month period in 1950 with eight sides (four singles) coming out of those dates – there hasn’t been much exploration into her work besides merely stating the obvious… that she was a somewhat shrill singer with two hits to her credit including Atlantic’s first chart topper.

Impressive credentials for such a short run, but since Atlantic was just now entering their peak years, kicked off by Tate and Joe Morris but ultimately reaching even higher plateaus thanks to the work of other bigger names, it’s easy to see why Tate’s achievements don’t get more than a passing mention when looking at the label’s storied history and even that credit is far from assured these days.

Now add to the fact that her voice doesn’t have the pleasing tone that would make her sides more easily embraced if they were to be rediscovered and even the fact that Morris himself, though with a much deeper and more diverse résumé, died young and failed to have the crossover hits to make his name recognizable in the years since, it’s understandable – if not excusable – why Laurie Tate has more or less vanished from most accounts of early rock ‘n’ roll.

Having already critiqued her vocals and having said in the intro that You’re My Darling was ultimately a frustrating record, you might think that she was deserving of that seven decades of neglect. But instead what studying her limited output shows you is that while she had definite drawbacks, she was also skilled in more ways than some of her peers because she actually wrote much of her own material, including their biggest hit, Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere.

These songs were all well crafted and showed a real affinity for good stories and tight structures, but unfortunately it was also her own and Morris’s weaker attributes which sometimes kept the songs from reaching their full potential.

You Need Me, I Know You Do
Tate’s intense scream to kick this off ensures you’ll pay attention – and might cause you to switch it off before it really gets going – but once she gets that out of her system she settles down and delivers one of her more restrained vocal performances for the most part, sticking to a lower register for long stretches and impressing with her control, something not always evident when she climbs the ladder in search of those notes that only dogs tend to hear.

To her credit You’re My Darling has a solid, very discreet sort of melody, one that gradually works its way inside your ear and leaves a pleasant memory. Though it’s co-written by Morris, who you may assume came up with the music while Tate crafted the lyrics since he was the musician, I’d suspect he was more a shaper of the finished product simply because Tate wrote another song where Ahmet Ertegun took himself a co-writing credit and that would suggest she was the one who in fact came up with the songs – title, lyrics and basic melody – on all of them.

Just a hunch, not provable, but we know for sure that Tate wasn’t the one horning in on any one else’s credit, whereas the bandleader and label owner were more likely suspects for that.

Regardless, if you listen carefully you’ll note its similarities to Johnny Ace’s 1953 hit Saving My Love For You… not enough to quibble over writing credits for the latter but more along the lines of the way a song floating in and out of your consciousness has ways of subtly influencing your own work.

So Tate’s song has definite melodic allure and when she allows that to take center stage it works quite well. The story finds her trying to convince a wayward fella that she’s the right girl for him. It almost sounds like she’s reading a letter she wrote to him, kind of giving it one last edit before sending it out as she’s recounting various points in their relationship, promising him a good future and at times coming close to desperation as she more or less pleads with him to take her up on the offer.

Because she’s so deferential and subservient in what she says Tate comes across as someone not quite mature enough to make these decisions and although we know it’d hurt if he rejected her, we also can tell it’d surely be for the best. Being devoted to someone you had to beg to take you in the first place is no way to go through life.

It is however fairly effective as an emotional hook for a song because we start to feel sympathy for her even if we’re rooting against her getting what she craves.


We Can See It Through
What doesn’t work so well are their smaller choices, both in the arrangement itself and Tate’s tendency to over-emote.

The comparison to make for her is clearly Little Esther, as that’s what Joe Morris had in mind when he hired her in an attempt to replicate what Johnny Otis was able to do throughout 1950 thanks to the girl with the reedy voice that became the year’s biggest star.

Whether trying to distance herself from Esther, or whether she’s just determined to show off her prodigious volume yet again, Tate doesn’t let the song simmer in its juices long enough. Esther would’ve left it in the pot until the meat literally fell off the bone, but Tate unleashes her torment midway through, which is understandable from a real-life perspective I suppose, but musically it doesn’t work as well because it threatens to destroy the mood she’s worked so hard to build.

The other misstep with You’re My Darling is the pedestrian backing by Morris and company. You understand what they’re thinking in trying to provide as stark a backdrop as they can to let her emotional wounds fester, but the horn charts are the aural equivalent of watching paint dry. They’re flat and colorless and worst of all, add no weight to her plight. It’s by the numbers 1940’s stock arranging and undercuts much of what the song is attempting to do.

The piano and guitar breathe some life into things but the with such uninspiring support song hinges on Tate, both her composition itself and her interpretation of the character and while she falters at times she still manages to pull enough out of it to make the record worthwhile.

Maybe it’s a half notch below the flip-side but they’re close enough to give them roughly equal billing, yet the frustration comes with knowing that each of them could’ve been substantially better with just a few simple tweaks.


(Visit the Artist page of Joe Morris as well as Laurie Tate for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)