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Life is unfair.

I probably don’t need to tell you that, but everyone needs to be reminded once in awhile, particularly when someone else is the unfortunate victim of life’s cruel form of torture, just so no one thinks that by saying it you’re merely looking for an excuse for your own failures along the way.

Here the person being made to suffer is Little Willie Littlefield, a star while he was on Modern Records where he scored a series of best sellers who somehow couldn’t buy a hit once he moved to Federal Records and gradually began to fade from prominence the further in the past his success had been.

The unfair part is when you realize that it was at Federal where he really hit his creative and artistic stride, all culminating with this single, a two-sided gem of rare quality that was completely overlooked at the time.


I Turn Over To Kiss My Woman
I know what you’re saying, so just stop now. Yes, the flip side of this single might just be the only reason Little Willie Littlefield is remembered in the Twenty-First Century, and so while it may have been a commercial misfire at the time, the long term popularity for that song has evened up the score for him in the fairness department by guaranteeing he wasn’t going to be forgotten altogether by history.

Point taken.

But here’s the counterpoint… shouldn’t Little Willie Littlefield have been afforded the acclaim this work deserved AT THE TIME, when it would actually do him some good?!

Furthermore, you could even make the argument that the belated attention paid to K.C. Loving on the top half of this single winds up obscuring the great song and performance buried on its flip side here today, which is hardly fair either.

Now granted, the fact that Pleading At Midnight becomes much easier to find because of what it shares a single with means that it’s now more YOUR fault for ignoring it than it’s “life’s fault” for being unfair to him, but the fact remains that just as Littlefield should’ve been reaching his zenith as a star in 1952 he was already falling out of the sky altogether.

Now add in the fact that more of the credit for the top half goes to Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, who wrote it, than Littlefield anyway (admittedly not completely undeservingly), you can see why Willie would have reason to feel life was being unduly harsh on him.

This grudge that life has against Littlefield might be confirmed though when you see that he was the one who wrote the song we have before us now, meaning there wasn’t someone else to get the credit in his stead, but rather there was no credit being handed out to anyone for this side.

That’s the real shame here, because this is really one of his finest efforts and while certainly not as indelible as the other half, it’s nearly just as good.

‘Til My Eyes Turned Cherry Red
Opening with a pounding piano and a hoarse but somewhat fiery vocal tone, the record is generic… in the best sense of the word that is.

These are the kind of reliable mid-tempo rockers with attitude that the genre made its name on as we find that Little Willie Littlefield’s woman has left him in the night and his emotions upon discovering this run the gamut from disbelief to pissed off to broken-hearted.

Though hardly breaking new ground thematically, Pleading At Midnight is still told in an efficient way with a good eye for detail, even quoting her goodbye note, and allowing the shifting emotions to rise to the surface as he processes the information. The lyrics are uniformly well-crafted with the payoff for each line being entirely fitting for the build up they received along the way all while Willie’s riding the melody and emphasizing the natural rhythm with engaging confidence.

None of it might qualify as a wholly original approach but he’s gotten to the point where he’s so proficient at this sort of thing that seeing him in action on something like this is what you hope for each time out, where each inflection of his voice is absolutely perfect for the role.

As for the arrangement… well, this is vintage era Maxwell Davis, which is enough to put your mind at ease. Though he’s got a pretty basic structure to work with, he’s not mailing it in by any means and wisely lets Littlefield’s piano carry the load during the verses which means Willie is the one setting the pace and matching it with his vocals so everything is working in tandem.

Davis breaks things up before it gets monotonous with a tight sax solo of his own during the instrumental break which alters the melodic components enough to keep it interesting while simultaneously reflecting the internal battle the singer is undergoing in trying to fight through the pain of the events he’s singing about.

The one drawback you might find, and then only if you look for it, is a vague similarity to his breakthrough hit from 1949, It’s Midnight (No Place To Go).

Obviously the hour is the same, which doesn’t mean a whole lot since it’s one of two hours of the day that has a name to it rather than just a number, and is by far the more eventful of the two, but certainly you’re not being overly cynical to think the connection might’ve been on Willie’s mind while writing this.

Though the tempo is a bit faster, it does have a similar gait to it and the despondent tone is a prominent feature of both. Without having it pointed out you might think it’s merely coincidental, but this IS the music industry we’re talking about and if record companies are prone to try and revisit successful ideas from the past, it stands to reason that artists might as well, especially when Littlefield’s gone awhile without a certified hit. The only difference being that he, like most talented artists, are more creative – and thus less obvious – if they were to use something from the past as “inspiration”.


Life Ain’t What It Used To Be
But whether it was conceived for that reason or not, the results are still impressive. It’s an easy song to get into, one that has a relentless drive to it, strong expressive vocals, a solid story and showcases everybody’s talents in a collective rather than individualistic manner.

Though it’s not going to be a popular statement, there’s even a chance that – familiarity aside – you might be just as easily captivated by Pleading At Midnight when hearing it in passing as you would the far more famous top side.

Granted, it’s not as good of a composition nor does it have as perfect an arrangement, and it definitely isn’t as distinctive as that one is, but Little Willie’s vocal might be better, or at least less flawed, and you gotta admit as it’s rolling effortlessly along that you can’t help but groove to it despite the downbeat subject.

Yet what chance did either side have to make their mark when it was released at the same time as his duet with Little Esther and just a few weeks after his last solo release which was just as good as this single? Federal Records may have assumed he had an unlimited supply of great songs in him and were in no danger of running low, but it’d have been nice to see them spaced out enough to give time for each one to catch on. Instead this came and went without notice, just another record lost in the shuffle.

In the end the fact that this song seems cut from the same cloth as other records holds it back from equaling its more lauded partner on the single, but it still stands as an underrated entry into Littlefield’s catalog and yet another piece of evidence that in 1952 Little Willie was at his artistic apex even though he was all washed up as a hitmaker.

See, I toldja life’s not fair.


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