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REGAL 3310; JANUARY 1951



For somebody who’s been about as successful as you can be… with his last two releases both landing in the Top Five – his third and fourth to do so along with a fifth that went Top Ten in just over a year as a recording artist – there’s something strange about the way Larry Darnell is being handled.

Almost as if Regal Records themselves didn’t believe it would last.

With an atypical, heavily dramatic style, maybe it was just they didn’t see any comparisons to him artistically to better be able to gauge his continued prospects. Or maybe, like so many record companies, they just didn’t trust him to evolve.

But it’s kind of hard to evolve when despite your success you’re being asked to go back to the beginning and try the same things again… or more likely it was because of that success that they were asking.


I’ll Follow You Near And Far
When compared to the rest of the rock stars of his day Larry Darnell was nothing if not unique.

With his flexible voice that featured remarkably clear gleaming tones, his penchant for theatrical performances that were designed to wring you out emotionally, and the fact that his records had a classy sheen applied to them with their arrangements that hinted at pop while mostly avoiding the artificial trappings that usually involved, Darnell was in a category of his own.

That made his records stand out of course, giving the rock fan who had no shortage of honking saxes, crooning vocal groups and ribald shouters to choose from, an occasional alternative to break up the proceedings.

But here he is revisiting the past already with Don’t Go, Don’t Go which not-so-subtly borrows its melodic structure, its instrumental padding and vocal delivery from his biggest hit to date, For You My Love, giving the sense that Regal Records were somehow not satisfied that his other records reached the heights they did… simply because that other song had gone even higher.

That’s not entirely true though because this was cut way back in May of 1950 before his latest pair of hits had been recorded OR released and it was simply held back so long that it looks like a desperate attempt to recapture his biggest success to date. But it’s still a troubling sign that they’d already be stuck for ideas after just eight months and have to resort to this to begin with.

Now shamelessly ripping off earlier work in the singles era was nothing new of course. We’ve seen it with the biggest stars to date… Amos Milburn, Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris, The Ravens, The Orioles… you name them, they’ve gone back for second and third helpings from the same dish, sometimes improving them sonically by bolstering their arrangements, other times merely duplicating what worked before with a much less compelling story making them seem like trite rip-offs, so why would Darnell be any different?

But what all of these artists – or their record labels – should be answering is why wouldn’t you bet on them to come up with something new? After all, if he managed it once… err, twice actually… right out of the gate wouldn’t that indicate he were capable of even more if given the chance?

You’d think so, but this is the record biz where past glories based on risks once taken are widely celebrated while risks yet to be taken in order to seek more glory are assiduously avoided if at all possible.

I Don’t Know What I’ll Do
Maybe the fact that Larry Darnell wasn’t a songwriter hampered his cause in this regard. Surely it limited his role in shaping his career if nothing else because he was being handed compositions to sing rather than telling the label what he brought to the session that he was going to sing whether they liked it or not.

But Regal Records, to their credit, weren’t skimping on production and were casting a wide net in other ways – the flip side being a show-tune styled performance of That Old Feeling which sure wasn’t going to be appeal to rock fans but might lure in listeners bemoaning the lack of cabaret material on the hit parade!

With Don’t Go, Don’t Go however they stick to formula and while Howard Biggs – who’d taken over for Paul Gayten overseeing most of Regal’s productions, including Darnell’s – was a good enough writer to make this thinly veiled companion piece to an earlier smash seem somewhat different at a glance because of a different perspective in the lyrics (substituting dismay over a break up for the longing desire to get together in the first place on the “original”), everything else about it is mere imitation.

We get the same vocal cadences almost to the letter and since Darnell’s voice is so distinctive it makes noticing the similarities even easier than if he’d been able to alter his tone, or rough it up a little to disguise the intent.

After a different introduction – this one much more rousing, which is odd considering the theme the song is using – they revert back to giving us a similar horn accompaniment from what we heard a year ago, heavy on the higher end horns – trumpet, alto, trombone, even a clarinet – all playing a sliding rhythm rather than hard riffing. This one is faster paced but it gives much the same impression.


Helpless As A Man Can Be
But the biggest offender is the melody which is lifted wholesale and ensures the aforementioned qualities will remain more or less the same and that comes down to Biggs who it would seem treated this more like an assignment than a creative exercise, flipping through Darnell’s back catalog for inspiration and then taking the easy way out by just regurgitating what he – and others – liked best.

They may have changed up the order of things – the stop-time semi-spoken bridge comes before the break rather than after it here for instance – but it’s hardly even being discreet about the similarities and sad to say that may have been by design, hoping to ensure the same response from people who they felt apparently had the disposable income to buy the same thing twice.

There’s no way for Darnell to re-shape Don’t Go, Don’t Go in any meaningful way without forcing a complete overhaul of the song and arrangement. Other vocal approaches would be out of place, or at least out of reach in his natural range, and fighting against the band would only result in a pile up.

So instead he falls back on what’s worked before, using the same touches at the same points hoping it’ll still fit the altered viewpoint of the character … and it DOES in some ways at that. He sounds really good anyway, but it’s just that he sounds exactly the way we’ve already heard him sound which means there’s nothing new to contemplate with him.

Like most repeat experiences without the thrill of the unexpected, the joy of discovering something new and processing those feelings it elicits the first time you hear it, the overall effect is going to be lessened no matter how well they pull it off from a technical point of view.

Forget Those Things I Used To Do
Not to place all the blame, or even most of it, on this record in particular, but it’s somewhat telling that Larry Darnell’s days as a hitmaker were now over.

He’d still sell records, still be a reliable headliner for a few more years, still be in demand when other record companies came calling, but his momentum ended with Don’t Go, Don’t Go and he never got it back.

Maybe you can say that he was so idiosyncratic that it was bound to happen and that what made him successful to begin with also limited the appeal the more you heard him, but that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when you don’t even try to branch out here. By sticking so closely to the past it kept you from having any effect on the future.

For proof of that look no further than some singers who had some similar qualities who were coming along now… Clyde McPhatter had a similar crystal clear glassy tenor and dramatic readings yet each time out the song structures changed dramatically and he was allowed to show much more versatility in the process. While it might be a stretch to say that Regal should’ve put a vocal group around Darnell to alter a song’s feel, they wouldn’t have been wrong to swap out those horns for a deeper sound, or to put the focus on guitar or cut a piano boogie to shake things up.

But if they were already falling back on old habits after such a successful first year, then once the hits stopped coming they were bound to become even less experimental in trying to recapture their spot when Darnell briefly stood near the top of rock ‘n’ roll’s summit.


(Visit the Artist page of Larry Darnell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)