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MODERN 20-754; JUNE 1950



Though neither side of this record made the charts, this is apparently the side that got slightly more interest as it was deemed a “territorial tip” in Los Angeles.

Granted that kind of thing hardly means much – if anything – but it’s interesting to note that it was this rather lyrically unfocused, even confusing, side which was the one that had a glimmer of commercial appeal while the far more pointed – but musically ponderous – relationship critique on the other side drew no interest.

Chalk it up to yet another sign that rock ‘n’ roll was always slightly more focused on moving the hips rather than the heart.


The Tax They Held From You
A record is a roughly three minute (in this case exactly three) rush of melody, rhythm, vocals and instrumentation combining to create an aural ambiance that is capable of penetrating your soul before it even stops spinning.

In the best case scenario that is.

In most cases however it takes awhile to work through all of those elements and figure out what it is, what it means, what it’s saying and how it’s saying it.

On first listen Happy Pay Day has some of the requisite attributes that make for an enjoyable listening experience – a forceful opening, a good solid riff on the saxophone with some nice piano flourishes and a bouncy vocal that borders on catchy with sort of a child-like sing-songy patter.

In other words, you’d probably stop to take a listen if you heard it while passing by a radio or jukebox that was spinning it.

But once you stopped in your tracks and started paying closer attention to it your initial interest would probably be met by confusion and possibly outright dismissal of it because very little about this record makes much sense.

Well, that’s not entirely true, the subject matter at least is sensible as it’s a song celebrating the cashing of one’s paycheck at the end of a long week and as such its music suggests that this money will not be spending much time in the person’s pocket, but rather be quickly and rashly spent on fun and games… all of which will thereby ensure that same person has to be back in work on Monday to get enough dough to live on to the next payday.

But while no doubt there’s just as much appeal in writing a blog about the importance of prudent financial investment as there is writing about rock ‘n’ roll history we’ve chosen the latter as the topic of this website and so we’ll stick with that side of the equation and leave the former to Merrill Lynch.

However, it’s likely that even Merrill Lynch might be able to say a few things about constructing a more sharply focused song about money than they all manage to do here, for while a lot of the surface qualities of this tune are interesting, the deeper you get the weaker those investments look.

You’re Next Young Man
This is one of those records where your knowledge of the English language is a detriment to your enjoyment of it because the best aspect about this is simply how it sounds in the broadest sense.

That opening wherein the sax and drums trade off in a dramatic back and forth exchange is particularly winning and when the tenor wrests control of the track and starts to swing in a rhythmic, yet still melodic, fashion while Littlefield adds color with his accent notes on the keys you are close to being hooked.

If nothing else they could’ve kept this up for the next two and a half minutes and had a really good instrumental. Unfortunately Happy Pay Day had to add a story to the mix and trip themselves up.

This was a cover record of a record already cut twice, first by Austin McCoy, in the waning days of 1949, then as an instrumental by Sonny Burke in the spring of 1950.

It was written by Jack Holmes and Eddie Brandt and features a very bouncy melody. It’s actually easier to see this working as the instrumental for Burke where the title wouldn’t necessarily mean anything, because indeed the lyrics look as though they were added after the fact because in taking the title literally they try and craft a story to fit into the musical cadences and fail miserably at it.

But the vocal version came first so apparently it was done with the story in mind all along which is certainly not something to be proud of.

Come Get Your Money
The setting of this puts us in the middle of the physical act of handing out paychecks to a group of employees but it’s hard to envision the kind of responses Littlefield is crowing about actually taking place at any office building, factory, farm or house off ill repute for that matter.

The lyrics are little more than fragmentary comments with no set-up and no follow through. What’s worse is Littlefield sounds like a guy who might just be getting his first paycheck… after falling off the turnip truck that is. There’s a genial spirit to his voice even as he mentions how much gets kept by the government for taxes, and none of it seems to be a genuine reaction to people getting paid.

If you found out Happy Pay Day was written by a first grader who was asked to describe getting paid, that’d I’d believe, but not adults who were already in the workforce and viewed their jobs as little more than a means to an end. There’s a cheerful naivety to this that just doesn’t connect and with the lines themselves being so “incomplete” sounding, the effect is disconcerting rather than liberating.

When he returns after the long instrumental break – which is by far the best aspect of this – he wraps up the “story” so succinctly and so inarticulately that you wonder how this guy got a job doing anything more than sweeping up a floor in the first place. This isn’t a song intent on telling a story but rather is something that coveys only a shallow and casual impression of a story.

But then again at the end of a work week I’m sure most people don’t sit around after they get paid describing their 40 hours of labor in great detail, they just go out to blow the loot on drinking, dancing and listening to music, which is where this record starts to earn some of that money back.


Give A Little Back
During his time at Modern Records a lot of different musicians backed Little Willie Littlefield but the primary ones centered around saxophonist/producer Maxwell Davis and this sounds like one of his specialties.

It’s easy to see the appeal of a song with such a lilting rhythm to it to a sax player who was looking for an uptempo side to pair with a ballad.

The McCoy version had been cut for the Bihari Brothers on RPM Records… and of course the Biharis also owned Modern Records where Littlefield was signed and so it’s likely Davis either supervised the McCoy session, or at least had access to it after the fact (it does NOT sound like he played on it, at least you hope not, as it’s more guitar and trumpet led, though there’s a cruder sax in there as well).

But on Littlefield’s take on Happy Pay Day things improve greatly. Comparing it to McCoy’s, which is the closer rendition in spirit to Littlefield’s, the entire production is beefed up with added muscle, the saxes romping and drums kicking.

Comparing it to the Burke instrumental however Davis changes it by stripping it of all the showroom gloss, removing the ostentatious opening and focusing intently on that rhythm.

Needless to say he improves on both, the sax playing more sinewy lines in between the lines before the solo comes along and delivers a warm enveloping sound while those drums and Willie’s piano keeps the rhythm from slacking off.

There’s nothing fancy about it, but it’s carried out with steely-eyed focus that gives that melody the perfect launching pad to work its way into your brain.

But Maxwell Davis was hardly the only one who understood the melody had appeal, for two years later the same song appeared under a different title, The Blacksmith Blues (with vastly better lyrics it should be noted), that Ella Mae Morse turned into a Top Three hit and which subsequently resulted in countless cover versions of its own – not to mention a lawsuit over the song by a different writer who claimed it was stolen from an even earlier tune!

Truthfully as catchy as the intertwined melody and rhythm are, none of the records are great, and while arguably Davis and Littlefield make the most of those elements even they should’ve discarded the lyrics altogether and just cut it as an instrumental.

I’ll Be On My Way
This is a song with a tangled history that’s far more interesting than the resulting records.

It hardly makes much sense that two middle-aged white songwriters would have their song cut by a black artist (McCoy) in a style far removed from anything else they did which somehow in turn led to a white big band cutting the same song as an instrumental. Something doesn’t jibe with that specific sequence of events, but even with all that said it’s still a lot of hullabaloo over nothing.

Happy Pay Day didn’t result in a pay day for Little Willie Littlefield and its doubtful that Nelson Riddle and Billy May, the two legendary Capitol Records arrangers responsible for Morse’s The Blacksmith Blues ever heard what Maxwell Davis did to the song.

What that means is you can chalk this one up to long forgotten trivia and hope that next time around Willie and his pals will ditch this kind of work no matter what the bosses are offering in terms of compensation and stick to originals which are not only a lot more suited for his style, but also a lot less convoluted to write about in the future.


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