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FEDERAL 12016; FEBRUARY 1951

 
 

 

No matter how open-minded you are about this sort of thing there is so much about this record’s content that is morally objectionable, ethically compromised and downright illegal to boot that the idea of liking it, even marginally, is extremely troubling.

How do you then wrestle with your own principles if you callously overlook these issues and absolutely love it regardless of the fact that doing so might be punching your ticket to hell?

Few other styles of music ever raise such questions, probably because few other styles of music seek to use shock and outrage as set-ups for their ultimate pay-offs.

But even in rock ‘n’ roll there are some records that probably should never have been made and this is undoubtedly one of them… yet it’s also one of the single most thrilling performances you’ll ever hear.
 

 

It’s Much, Much, Much Too Bright!
Okay, let’s start off with the troubling aspects of this composition itself and their decision to use a fifteen year old girl in the role of the inexperienced church goer who is seduced… no, is forcibly accosted, possibly raped… by a church deacon, which as we know from years of real-world charges finally being brought to light was not just realistic but all too common.

The Deacon Moves In makes absolutely no attempt to hide any of this as the Deacon of a church and his cohorts coax a teenage girl to join them for some private confessional of some sort, or so she thinks, then when they have her alone ply her with gin in an attempt to loosen her inhibitions and when she resists their advances they shame her, bully her and eventually violently force her to comply with their deviant sexual needs.

It even goes so far as to record her frightened screams – literal screams mind you – as she tries to fight him off amidst the aural recreation of sexual intercourse itself while the others laugh in the background and urge the Deacon on like it’s a game.

If this record was presented as state’s evidence in an assault case “as is” with the victim tearfully corroborating the events on the witness stand the defendants would be spending the next few decades in prison if there were any justice in the courtroom.

Yet because it is merely fiction – and because we are told by the end of the record that her coerced loss of virginity was ultimately appreciated by Esther who even asks them to pass her the bottle of gin so she can further her descent into debauchery – we are somehow expected to approve of this crime set to music.
 

Make You Feel The Spirit
Therein lies the problem. The content is so over-the-top, so repugnant if taken at face value, that if you stop for even a moment to consider a similar situation playing out in real life it will make you sick. Somewhere right now that very thing is happening to a real girl and it will destroy her life and the perpetrators will more than likely get away with it and here we are laughing along with the offenders.

Yet Little Esther is not that victim and The Dominoes are not those perpetrators and the events depicted are not real and are not meant to be perceived as real but rather are intended as an exaggerated farce. The decision to make light of something this vile might be appalling but the manner in which they do so is absolutely intoxicating.

If you stick to your moral principles and choose to pass this record by, you have my sincere and lasting respect.

If you choose to set aside your ethics, assuming you ever had any to begin with, and enjoy The Deacon Moves In for its craftsmanship, its outrageousness and its musical excitement, then you have… to move over, because I’m sitting front row center for this performance, feeling guilty as hell maybe, but unable to resist the wild exhilaration playing out before me.
 


 
 

That True Religion
There’s a very good chance that of all 1,300 rock songs released to date this one embodies the musical spirit of rock ‘n’ roll better than any other.

It is both freewheeling and impeccably constructed, loud and bursting with energy, yet controlled in how it delivers these assaults on the senses. It contains virtually all of the crucial instrumental flourishes rock has made its name on thus far – crashing drums, relentless bass line, boogie piano, honking and squealing saxes and slashing electric guitar – letting them collide in a raucous arrangement that somehow manages to individually highlight each and every one of them without benefit of prolonged solos.

The first eight seconds or so are a record unto itself with how seamlessly the instruments play off one another to set the pace. Clapping hands establish the beat and the… ahh… festive atmosphere of the record as Dee Williams’s piano is hammering away while the horns surge in rhythm on top of that and Pete Lewis’s guitar cuts across the grain with harsh licks of its own.

There’s nothing tentative about this arrangement. It’s rolling along from the first notes, confident in its direction, anxious to get moving yet not overrunning its coverage as they allow Esther to come in without breaking stride.

What she’s singing of course is what makes The Deacon Moves In so dicey, but HOW she’s singing it is right in line with the vibrant mood they’re setting. For someone who’d just started writing rock ‘n’ roll songs, Billy Ward’s script here is masterful – at least in terms of construction, not content. He crams so much information into the narrative – introducing the characters and their personas, describing the scene, establishing the plot and detailing all of the action in unambiguous terms – that this really should be taught in writing classes as every word and every inflection was perfectly chosen.

Somehow it manages to be vivid yet succinct, helped enormously by both the actors in the roles – Esther’s naïve “Sister Pigeon” and Charlie White’s horny Deacon – who bring this to life in a rousing back and forth exchange, their lines trading off in ways that Esther and Mel Walker never did. The rapid fire exchanges, shifting perspectives and the commentary from the peanut gallery comprised of the other Dominoes (presumably peaking through the windows or hiding in the closet) means there’s not a second of wasted time here.

While there’s no shortage of valid criticism over the action being described, it’s also eerily accurate in terms of how the Deacon is using coercion to have his way with her, how he sidesteps her early questions, tries convincing her this is all part of her spiritual obligation, and how even when she fights back he’s remaining calm because he’s stronger than she is and is just going to take what he wants knowing she can’t stop him.

As I said – reprehensible, but then again its depictions are so clearly drawn that arguably no record thus far in rock has presented a more striking story, let alone one told so efficiently and colorfully as this.
 

Do You Really Think I’m Gonna Weaken?
Having laid out the lurid side of the equation it’s only fair to describe how they get around these issues and somehow wind up with Esther asking for more gin and more sex, all in the span of two and a half minutes!

A lot of it has to do with how playful they make The Deacon Moves In sound from the very start in spite of its subject which is no mean feat.

From the other Dominoes chiming in as the two protagonists struggle, describing the Deacon’s success with this plan of action (apparently she’s not his first victim) to the cinematic presentation with Lewis’s thrusting guitar lines simulating the actual sex itself and the infectious feel of the arrangement as a whole, it takes on the appearance of a wild party rather than a heinous crime.

The music bolsters this impression, the horns swirling, the beat pounding, the communal nature of it being reinforced by the hand claps and the Dominoes harmonizing on the choruses.

Esther’s reversal though is key to alleviating whatever guilt you have from enjoying it, as once she “feels the spirit” she’s completely won over and even legitimately sounds drunk by the end, not just from the effects of the alcohol he poured down her throat, but from the discovery of sexual pleasure itself.

Somehow all of this comes off as… if not harmless at least acceptable in this unusual context… even perversely fun, like you’re joining them in sticking it to the pop music community by taking part in such ribald acts. Since Esther is placated by the end of the story and since the story itself is clearly meant as risqué humor, not a tutorial on how to get away with sexual assault, your conscious might not even be nagging you when you hit play… again and again and again.
 


 

Should I Start Praying?
When critics called rock ‘n’ roll “The Devil’s Music” this is exactly the kind of record they were referring to.

It’s noisy, crude and racy, even without the implications of statutory rape being factored in.

But it’s also meant to titillate and shock you, holding nothing back and offering no contrived ethical hand-washing with a final line to take them off the hook. If that’s not the rock ‘n’ roll attitude – good and bad – in a nutshell, then I don’t know what is.

When judging records like The Deacon Moves In there’s no chance for a consensus to be reached on even what aspects of it are – or should be – taken into account. If you put it in the red numbers for unapologetically depicting one of the most indefensible acts man can commit you’d be entirely justified.

But if you argued its lyrics should seen as merely a staged production and not taken literally, you’d probably be find that was what the participants themselves all thought at the time and thus it’d be more defensible.

What I think is inarguable though, whether you find it acceptable or not, is that this may just be the best sounding record that Little Esther would ever be associated with… certainly the most explosive one, which in rock tends to mean the same thing.

But “explosive” has dual connotations. On one hand it means super-charged and exciting. On the other hand it means dangerous and potentially destructive.

This record is one of the few we’ve seen so far that fit both descriptions perfectly.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Little Esther and The Dominoes for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)