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The problem with breaking out early in your career with a record that is utterly original and unique for the style is that you are not going to be allowed to follow a traditional career path after that.

First impressions are hard to shake after all and if you gave the public something they liked that was completely out of left field, you are bound to be the starting leftfielder for the rest of your career, even if you’re more suited to playing second base.

When the record in question had aspects of it that could be called “gimmicky”, no matter how well they were pulled off, then you’re really in trouble, because how many of the same gimmicks can someone hear before they get tiresome?

Well, apparently we can hear one more, because this is one gimmick that’s got some life to it, even if the lives of the characters in this song have no future to speak of.


Just A Moment!
Death is something that most of you have yet to experience, but are no doubt looking forward to… decades down the road.

Human beings know they’re going to eventually kick the proverbial bucket and either try and put that gruesome thought out of their mind altogether, or they make fun of it to shine some much needed light onto the gloomy prospects of your own inevitable mortality.

Other forms of music certainly didn’t shy away from death as a subject. You could compile a laundry list of classics from gospel, blues and country which find us all gathering around the gravesite for sure, and if pop and jazz were a little hesitant to really delve into it, even they might do so if they could find a way to be rather oblique about it.

Rock ‘n’ roll sort of took a middle ground on the subject, referencing it frequently but only really putting it front and center from time to time. The one who really sparked that trend however was Little Caesar when he released Going Down To The River a few months back, which found him so despondent of his girl’s departure that he was about to commit suicide just after he finished recording that song… which no doubt John Dolphin was happy to hear because then he didn’t even have to PRETEND the check for the session was in the mail since Caesar wouldn’t be around to cash it.

But when it became an unlikely hit, Dolphin put on his bathing suit, snorkel and fins and dove into the river to drag out Caesar’s floating corpse and performed some miraculous resuscitation on it so an exploitative follow-up could be issued.

This time around on Goodbye Baby there’s a twist to the plot, although have no fear they’re not about to alter the formula too much.

After all, records about living long happy lives didn’t pull in the ghouls who were apparently a big constituency in the rock market, so rest assured they made certain the specter of death would loom over this record from start to finish… and boy do we mean “finish”.

I Told You This Would Happen
We’ve always made certain to acknowledge and usually praise producers, writers and arrangers who’ve gone the extra mile to create vivid scenes that are vital in setting the proper mood for the record at hand.

Usually the process is not too involved… a few shouts and screams to simulate a party atmosphere, or maybe something as simple as a murky tone for a distant saxophone to create a feeling of detachment in the character found in their story. In those cases it’s more the effort we’re commending than any innovative new techniques.

But on Goodbye Baby it’s the effort AND the technique which goes far beyond what others in rock have tried in order to make this seem less like a record and more as if it were a stage play or radio drama.

The amazing thing about it is that in spite of how contrived it appears at a glance, it actually works exactly the way they hoped it would.

That’s not to say you have high hopes when the record starts without music, without singing, without anything but a disembodied voice answering a knock on the door. Surely this is just a quick prelude to something more typical, right?

Wrong. This is a full-fledged theater production complete with scripts, stage direction and sound effects, not to mention another cast member who upstages Little Caesar who it turns out is the man at the door returning home to find his wife or girlfriend expecting someone else named John. When she sees it’s Henry – Little Caesar’s real first name – she has to try and cover up (her tracks, I meant, but maybe her naked body as well… hey, this IS a story where we have to create our OWN visuals after all).

As far as I know there’s no information as to who is playing the role of the girlfriend, but whoever it is she’s fantastic. If they gave out the equivalent of Academy Awards for acting on a rock record, she surely would’ve gotten it. She’s thoroughly believable, changing inflections in the smallest of ways to show how she’s thinking on her feet to try and change his perception of what kind of hanky-panky is going on, and she’s nailing each mood shift with hammer-like precision.

Caesar has a much more limited role, as he can’t break the despondent mood he’s in, as he clearly knew beforehand what was going on and this just confirms it. He’s already made up his mind how this is going to end, though presumably WE don’t know, and she sure doesn’t as she’s trying to pacify him with compliments in between his slow mournful harangue.

Que Martin’s band can’t really add much without intruding, but like was found on the best radio dramas of the day the musicians role is merely to contribute subtle touches to the overall atmosphere. The forecast for this record in that department is gloomy with chance of thunderstorms and they accomplish that haunting horns in the distance like storm clouds while the piano’s treble keys are like the first drops of rain.

When the mood shifts and Caesar pulls out the gun to say Goodbye Baby in the most dramatic of ways, the band even take it in stride, their umbrellas already up. The girl on the other hand convincingly conveys the shock, followed by terror and the gasping realization that he’s unable to really even hear any protests in the state he’s in.


Some Sowing You Must Reap
Considering his last record ended with one death, they made the decision to top that by giving this two, as Caesar turns the gun on himself after shooting her, unable to live without her.

It’s almost unfair to call this a song, not just because it uses elements that are not typically found in music, but because most songs, even the best of them, aren’t this well constructed and none seem so chillingly realistic.

Normally you might think that’d be a problem, for most people tend to listen to music for escapist enjoyment, or possibly for comfort if they’re feeling down due to romantic squabbles. But for the latter group, if they listen to Goodbye Baby the coroner is going to get a lot of overtime pay this month because this record became a smash, hitting the Top Five nationally and appearing all over the regional charts in areas well outside of Recorded in Hollywood’s normally rather small distribution radius.

Yes, that qualifies it as a novelty record I suppose, since it’s got a voyeuristic rather than musical appeal, but when something is carried out so effectively it means that unlike most novelties whose appeal is fleeting, this one gives you more to appreciate than you’d think possible for something so morbid.

But then again that too might work to its advantage, forcing you to listen only when you’re looking to analyze it rather than hoping to dance to it, cuddle to it or do the dishes to it.

Though you can’t get much more gimmicky than this (unless I suppose next time out he becomes a serial killer), you also can’t pull off a gimmick with much more credible results than Caesar does here.

Maybe that’s the answer to our problem when it comes to identifying the female voice on this record… we should’ve just checked the obituaries for Los Angeles in late summer 1952 and we surely would have found her.


(Visit the Artist page of Little Caesar for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)