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OKEH 6916; AUGUST 1952



The reign was brief… just a few short months in late 1949 and early 1950… but the impact during that stint was immense as Larry Darnell introduced a new style of rock ‘n’ roll to the masses, scoring two huge hits in the process.

But following the mild interest in his follow-ups, which was to be expected after such a breakthrough, the audience for his work more or less dried up, not because Darnell had been unworthy of that initial acclaim, but because his material became too predictable, too cautious and too pop-oriented, as Regal Records – and later OKeh – pegged him as a potential crossover artist and turned their back on the edge of your seat drama he specialized in.

Now that such stupid dreams have fizzled out, what’s left is a talented young veteran artist who is left to try and rebuild that once promising career. Not surprisingly, one of the record labels responsible for his downfall in the first place, are now trying to recapture his success by looking backwards rather than forwards.


What Else Can A Cat Do?
That’s an introduction we could’ve – and would’ve – written for his NEXT single on OKeh Records, issued this same month… if we bothered to review it that is.

Then again, we already DID review it, sort of, when it was one of those two massive hits from 1949, the two-part I’ll Get Along Somehow, which put Larry Darnell on the map thanks to the dramatic spoken recitation he added, turning a simple break-up scene into a fully staged emotional saga instead.

Though we can’t be entirely sure of the order of things, we do know that Ruth Brown, who covered that song back in 1949 with limited success – both aesthetically and commercially – has just released a new version of Part Two, titled Three Letters, which is better performed than her first go-round on it, but completely unsuited for 1952 rock ‘n’ roll.

Based on the fact that Darnell just released Singin’ My Blues this month, then immediately came out with a remake (or re-issue, if they had gotten ownership of the Regal cut) of the aforementioned two part song, we assume the label did so in response to Brown’s release, surely figuring that since Ruth was now the unquestioned Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, then Darnell might get some renewed interest if they acted quickly with the same song.

But all of that is beneath us – and beneath them. We’re in the business of looking forward rather than back, which unfortunately record labels are not, which is also why that even when coming up with new material, like the record we’re looking at today, they can’t help but draw heavily from the success of the past.

But somebody should’ve told them all – OKeh, Atlantic, Brown and Darnell alike – that in rock ‘n’ roll it’s not yesterday that matters, it’s today and today this kind of thing is already old hat.

It’s A Mean Old World
We’ll give them credit for this much… if you’re going to revisit old glories you need to at least make your intentions somewhat ambiguous at first, otherwise nobody’s going to let the record play long enough to hear what you’ve done.

Here they don’t have that problem as the part that’s so obviously swiped from his most indelible song – the spoken interlude – comes halfway through, by which point I supposed you’ll decide that since you’ve already come this far you might as well not bail on it now.

Then again, maybe you’ve already decided this underwhelming side wasn’t going to be worth the investment, and having only dropped a nickel into the jukebox, or less than a buck for the single, you figure you’ll cut your losses based on what you’ve heard the first thirty seconds or so and won’t ever find out that Larry Darnell was trying desperately to remind you of what once made him so unique, but which now – three years later – only makes him seem rather desperate.

It’s not entirely his fault of course, since he didn’t write Singin’ My Blues, but while Leroy Kirkland didn’t do his artist any favors in reviving this routine, he at least did try and come up with something a little different to frame it with, as he’s got Darnell surrounded by delicate guitar (surely Kirkland’s own) and moaning horns to create a pensive mood while Larry wallows in self-pity.

The record thankfully veers away from the over-the-top melodrama we’ve come to expect, but it still gives us too little information to really feel sorry for Larry, who uses generalities about his pitiful situation rather than delve into the details, thereby making it more universal I suppose for those sticking with this who might feel a greater connection to his sorrow as a result.

Darnell is still a good enough actor to pull off the requisite emotional undercurrents, but it’s too gimmicky a presentation by this point for anyone to really care about his predicament which revolves around having no girl, no hope to get one, no supportive record company… you know the usual tropes. He sounds okay, even when he drops into a speaking voice to address whatever girl he’s trying to win over with shallow sympathy, but the routine has lost its charm.

We DID perk up a bit when the horns swelled and the drums crashed as he shifted into this section, but as soon as they died down our interest waned again.

Still, that led directly to the only part we actually got to brief look at Larry Darnell the person, simply because it seems that he’s more or less speaking off the top of his head rather than reading the lyrics somebody else wrote for him, which with this type of delivery would be as awkward and phony as it gets.

So as a result the worst idea they came up with becomes the best part of a record that is better off avoided, not that it’s so terrible that we can’t stomach it, but rather because it’s so calculating we don’t want to show the smallest glimmer of interest and give them any more bright ideas like this in the future.

Two weeks later they do it anyway, but that’s the record business for ya.


I’ll Stay At Home
The odds of Larry Darnell ever becoming a consistent hitmaker and enduring star was pretty small even from the very start.

Though possessed with a good voice, he hasn’t shown much vocal versatility yet and the longer we go without seeing signs that he was at least capable of a more robust fiery delivery on faster songs, the more we start to assume that kind of thing just wasn’t in his nature.

Furthermore, even if he HAD been surrounded by more creative people with broader vision, there’s still the natural human inclination to go back to the same well you drew water from yourself, especially if you’ve come up dry a few times in a row.

Old cheers echo in your ears a long time when you haven’t earned that response lately, and though he had nothing to do with the creation of Singin’ My Blues, he probably wasn’t averse to trying this sort of thing again if it might get him back on top.

What he really needed was the kind of thing that was in short supply in the music biz… someone who utterly ignored his past success, surveyed the current rock landscape and then tried figuring out how Larry Darnell and his unique attributes could take advantage of that today.

What he got stuck with instead were a bunch of people who didn’t understand the current landscape because it wasn’t mapped out for them, and thus could only keep returning to yesterday.


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