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Oh boy… what do we do with THIS one?

Ignore it altogether in an effort to protect the reputations of the acclaimed artists who released it?

Make mention of it in our review of the flip-side while saying that it falls mostly outside of rock and thus will be bypassed since it had little to do with the ongoing evolution of rock ‘n’ roll, the entire purpose of this site?

Or do we review it and perhaps ruffle the feathers of those who feel that talented artists releasing records that have no great attributes on top of their conflicted aims need to be coddled and treated with kid gloves?

Well, considering you’re in the midst of reading this, what do you think the answer is?


It May Tear Me Up
This is really one side that we should be excluding from the reviews primarily because it doesn’t fit comfortably in rock ‘n’ roll by choice and thus that would seem to fit in with our recent declaration to speed things up by skipping over these kinds of songs.

But then again this is Little Esther and Johnny Otis we’re talking about, two names that dwarf all competition on the rock scene of 1950 and if they’re stepping outside that realm on their last release of a year they dominated, doesn’t that have at least an impact on the rock landscape going forward?

Is it some portend of the future direction of music that they’d ease away from what made them such stars this past year… or is it simply them spreading their wings a little in an effort to try something a bit different while they had the stature to be afforded some leeway in their material?

We also know that Johnny Otis had come of age in the big band era and dreamed of playing in a classier style of music before fate and time ended those plans and set him hurtling off in another direction entirely. Might this be his belated attempt to see if those dreams could be rekindled?

All of these questions are relevant when examining I Don’t Care, yet all of them will remain unanswered even by delving into it, simply because the truth could lay in any one of those explanations or in none of them, we have no way of knowing because nobody ever asked Johnny about it.

So while it may not be entirely fair to be judging its quality using the parameters of a form of music he wasn’t necessarily aiming for with this, the fact remains the audience most likely to buy or play this record when it was released based on the names adorning the labels were ardent rock fans who were in for a surprise when what they heard coming out of the speakers did not match their expectations.

Ultimately that was who was judging it and their views and ours probably line up pretty closely making this record fair game.


I’m Left Behind
If this was done a little better maybe we’d have been more forgiving (and chosen to omit it) but when you’re trying to be “classier” and fall short you’re sort compounding your sins in a way. Turn your back on us, the rock constituency who supported you so enthusiastically all year, then release something not intended for us but which is also kind of half-assed on top of it is hardly something that should be tolerated.

If this were meant for an entirely different, supposedly more sophisticated big band audience then I Don’t Care wouldn’t have passed muster with them either because it’s not very good using those aesthetic standards as opposed to rock’s benchmarks.

The horn charts are the first sign this is out of rock’s orbit as they’re playing a stately waltz with Johnny’s vibes adding tonal colors to it as it settles into a contemplative mood that is kept well in the background once Esther appears.

She’s got the wrong voice for this kind of drawn out emoting as the slow introspection takes on a different hue coming from her thin range. A fuller voice simply has more shades to choose from and since so much of the melody has to be carried by Esther herself she often seems adrift here, looking for the current to get back into the musical shipping lanes as it were.

That’s not to say she doesn’t have a few nice moments here but they’re fleeting… a word here, a phrase there, nothing that is sustained very long. Some of this is her fault, after delivering a nice breathy tone to start a line she tries stretching out the word “madly” which makes it sound as the record is stuck, while at other times it’s just the way the song is written that does her no favors but it’s still her reading we’re cringing at more often than not.

But that in turn brings us back to the guy who actually gets the lead artist credit and thus should take the lead in the blame game… the estimable Mr. Otis.

I Just Know You’re Gone
Aside from the dated arrangement, the song itself is hardly very deep, meaning you have a underpowered singer delivering rote lines with a framework eight years or more out of date.

If this was the sort of thing that Otis genuinely preferred then it’s frankly amazing he was so effective as a rocker, but maybe the better way to look at this – and all artists for that matter – is that while you aspire to compete in the field that was dominant during your own upbringing, since that’s what first inspired you to get into music, you often times are simply not cut out for it. You’re an observer from that era, not yet a creator and so you’re merely imitating – badly as it turns out.

Look at late 60’s acts who loved doo wop as kids yet can’t figure out how to do it properly when trying to make a record to hearken back to their youth. By contrast when you’re tackling styles that are emerging at the same time you’re coming into your own as an artist, that’s when you take what you hear around you, all of which are forward thinking ideas, then mold it to suit your own image and because it’s fresh it will generally be met with a good response.

Johnny Otis was the perfect example of this. His arrangements had glimmers of big band sophistication in them all along – just the size of his band alone all but ensured this – and that made his records of 1950 sound different than Wynonie Harris or Amos Milburn or Goree Carter, but they were variations on the same basic themes, whereas I Don’t Care is designed to be a throwback with a few faint touches of modernity tossed in so as not to make it completely alien to the fans he and Esther had cultivated these past twelve months.

Yet by leaning too far back they betrayed them… or at least dismissed their tastes which were formed in the present environment… and so this record sank without a trace, a relic of days gone by, neither current enough to make a better impression in 1950, nor good enough to recall the best work of 1942.

Someday You May Remember
Typically speaking record companies would clear their shelves in December, putting subpar sides out during a slow month to fulfill a contract or to get their artists thinking they were not neglecting them. In Savoy’s case they probably knew that both sides of this record were not up to snuff but with the name recognition of the artists maybe they’d get a few sales anyway.

More than anything though a record like this is an indulgence and considering Johnny Otis was so prolific during this calendar year we fully agree that he’s entitled to release something to satisfy his own tastes and inclinations. We can’t fault him for that.

What we CAN fault him for is making a record that is so lacking in every way that after hearing it once you’d likely say I Don’t Care if I ever hear it again.

But he had to know that going in to this one, didn’t he? Yesterday’s memories are not today’s hits in any era.

As a result the best year virtually any artist will ever have in rock history ends with a whimper, a potent reminder to everyone entering a studio to always keep focused on tomorrow.


(Visit the Artist pages of Johnny Otis and Little Esther for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)