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Instant success is often the biggest obstacle to lasting success in any walk of life.

Beginner’s luck is nice but since your initial lack of skill wasn’t a detriment that first time around it gives you the perfect excuse to not putting in the work on improving yourself in the future.

Catching lightning in a bottle is certainly an impressive feat but it also leads to walking around for the rest of your life carrying around a lot of empty bottles waiting for it to magically happen again.

In music it’s not necessarily a lack of effort following an unexpected breakthrough hit that prevents you from scoring more hits, but rather it’s the constant attempts to recapture the exact formula that got you that hit that does you in, as Little Caesar found out the hard way.


Will Make You Lose Your Life… What, Again?
As time goes on and the music of the past gets reduced to only a few hits for each era, the fleeting presence of someone like Little Caesar in the early 50’s rock pantheon is no different than a lot of one hit wonders from other time frames whose only memorable record was a uniquely creative left-field hit.

As it stands to reason that every condensed time period tends to be defined by a handful of similar sounding broader stylistic trends, records like Little Caesar’s Goodbye Baby, a morbidly melodramatic break-up record that ends in actual death, shakes up that dominant image in a pretty big way. Not only do you get a different voice amidst the roll call of familiar stars, but you also get a song that sounds utterly unlike anything else being done, thereby allowing it to stand out.

Of course that wasn’t his first attempt to craft such a gothic record, as his previous release The River ended with his suicide. Once the aforementioned follow-up, in which we get two deaths for the price of one, hit big nationally, it was inevitable that they’d turn that approach into a cottage industry, even though it’s hard to have something stand out when they keep doing it over and over again.

That’s especially true when that “something” is as gimmicky as the soap opera styled scripts Caesar is working with on Lying Woman, his latest effort to recapture that brand of extreme storytelling, replete with spoken set-ups and sound effects.

Because that’s not the normal way songs are presented on record it runs the risk of being seen as a cheap exploitative scam, giving you merely a variation of what you already bought and paid for because they don’t have the confidence to try something new.

The sad thing however is this record could have stood on its own had it been the only one of its kind to get issued, but when it loses the shock value element because we’ve heard the bizarre presentation before it’s hardly surprising that listeners had become numb to something that seemed more like a radio drama fit for shows like Suspense, Dragnet or Gangbusters than a rock ‘n’ roll record.

Quick! My Husband’s Coming!
Little Caesar holds one distinction among rock artists of this era in that upon release his records have been widely banned from airplay.

Now this tends to make for good press releases which in turn promotes sales, as people want to hear what the fuss is all about, but it may not actually have much impact in 1952 America, simply because the number of radio stations playing rock ‘n’ roll was still pretty limited.

But if there were some stations that dropped Lying Woman from their playlists it’s easy enough to see why as this opens up with the sounds of kissing – in lieu of what they REALLY were up to in bed – which is interrupted by the woman’s husband returning home, at which point Caesar makes a hasty exit out the window… without bothering to open it first.

Infidelity was hardly a new concept to mid-century America, people have more or less always been underhanded sneaks, but singing about it for entertainment value was a bridge too far in this day and age and so somebody somewhere was going to get upset about this… and not just Rusty’s husband.

The aspect which remains intact from past efforts is Margaret (Rusty) Russell taking on the female voice, here appearing only in that spoken prelude, though she does get label credit this time around. But what follows her brief scene (presumably after cleaning up his own blood brought about by the cut glass he dove through to get away) is all Caesar as he’s singing about the ramifications of dealing with a two-timer in a way that absolves himself of guilt, claiming he had no idea she was married, but then backing that up by advising other men to avoid falling into such traps themselves.

Now granted, he’s largely concerned with becoming the victim of an angry husband’s violent retribution, something the record mercifully steers clear of for once, but he’s delivering this with solemn sincerity that makes it go over fairly well.

It’s not a very lively record however after the dramatic opening, as the music is pretty somber and low-key throughout the song with Que Martyn’s sax taking on the primary responsive voice in the arrangement. But the scant melody at least feels appropriate for the plot and allows you to focus on Caesar, whose measured delivery never wavers.

The “problem” with Lying Woman, at least in terms of its hit potential, is that it’s not what you’d call a participatory song (unless you are in bed with somebody who is not your spouse I guess) and as such it’s something you can only appreciate by sitting back and quietly observing it from a distance.

That’s certainly possible, and it’s done well enough to justify that response, but considering that all of Little Caesar’s records take this approach, and they’re coming out one after another after another, it’s bound to get a little weary.

In other words, in the midst of a party, or hanging out with your friends at whatever place has a jukebox in it, is everybody really going to want to stop what they’re doing, sit silently for two minutes as this plays out, then jump up and go back to socializing as if nothing happened?

Hardly. So as a result of this we have a record that’s done pretty well that is also done in by its very construct.


You’ll Be Sorry If You Don’t Tell Her To Go Away
To be fair, it’s not like this record bombed or anything. It charted briefly in Philly and probably sold well enough around California where Caesar was from.

Since record labels care only about sales, the controversy Lying Woman stirred up, whether genuine or exaggerated, couldn’t have hurt in that department, though the repetitiveness of the approach used to to create that perceived tumult certainly could.

But one question that I haven’t seen addressed and seems kind of important is with all of these filmic presentations, just how did Little Caesar handle his stage appearances which is what most artists relied on to make their money when labels like Recorded In Hollywood didn’t pay royalties.

These kinds of songs might be good to open or close a performance but if every other song over a two or three hour set on the bandstand was in the same vein thematically with no musical attributes to serve as a distraction via dancing, how did audiences respond and what exactly were they supposed to do?

If they were smart, Caesar’s manager would have sold popcorn and treated it like a movie or a stage play and at least cleaned up on the concessions.


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