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Years down the road record labels and producers began issuing mere throwaways on the B-sides of songs they had really high hopes for, reasoning that if the top half was a hit there was no need to waste a good song on the flip.

After all, you already bought it for the rising hit so it’s not like another quality song thrown in for no extra charge was going to bring in more sales. In fact chances are it’d be largely ignored because so much attention was going to the side everyone was playing and talking about.

Though we’ll see plenty of examples of double-sided hits over the next decade and a half, they might have a point, because here’s a case where Lloyd Price surely would’ve gotten another hit had they simply held this song back and released it as an A-side a few months from now and chose to put dead air on the back half of his instant classic debut instead.


Night Before Last
Most recording sessions in this day and age consisted of the same standard procedure – three hours in the studio to cut four masters which was designed to give record labels two singles, both A & B sides, to be released over the next few months.

Sometimes it didn’t quite work out that way of course… a substandard side or an unexpected hit the first time out might prompt the record company to hurry the artist back in to cut something more appropriate as a follow-up, which is what happened with Lloyd Price after Lawdy Miss Clawdy became a runaway hit when released as his debut. But that’s still to come. Right now, at the end of the day on March 13, 1952, Specialty Records had three other songs to choose from to pair with that obvious breakout tune.

They chose wrong.

Hold on, Mailman Blues clearly was the second best song they captured on tape that day, so how could it be wrong to put that out right away to show the world what Lloyd Price was capable of doing?

The answer is simple… nobody needed more proof after hearing the top side of the record. That was redundant. What Specialty Records had to do was ensure that his second single didn’t represent such a drop off in quality that it soured the public on his abilities, causing them to feel he simply had captured lightning in a bottle that first time out.

Now you might be thinking there was no way to know that the A-side was going to be a hit, let alone one of the biggest records of the year when were deciding what to pair along with it. But wasn’t that the song that had prompted Specialty to sign him in the first place? They certainly didn’t hesitate to put out as the top half of the first single and heavily promote in the trade papers, so it’s not like they had any doubt as to its potential.

So why take the second best song, clearly a potential hit in its own right and the only other song recorded that day that had sensible (read: commercial) lyrics and relegate it to being overshadowed by something that seemed destined for greatness?

Because this is the record industry we’re talking about and bad decisions came as naturally to them as breathing.


Get Ready Brother, This Time You Have To Go
Without giving away TOO much regarding future releases, in order to properly evaluate the choice of this song as the B-side of his debut we do need to at least be cognizant of what became of the other two cuts he recorded that fateful day at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studios the second week of March.

You’d think that when the top half of this single hit, Specialty would be anxious to release songs taken from the same session with the same band – and same guest pianist, Fats Domino – as soon as possible, but instead they brought Price back into the studio in late June as “Clawdy” was about to jump to the #1 position on the charts and had him cut more “appropriate” follow-ups.

Now they managed to get Dave Bartholomew to produce these dates as well and he had the same band with him, minus Domino that is, so it wasn’t as if they were venturing out into uncharted waters on those sides, but what’s important here is that the two remaining cuts from March didn’t get issued until 1954!

That’s right… two YEARS later and that came when Price was headed to the Army and was going to be out of the studio for two more years, so it was clear Specialty viewed those sides as afterthoughts… which leads you to question why they didn’t stick one of THEM on the back of Price’s first single rather than waste Mailman Blues, a solid narrative with a typically great Bartholomew arrangement featuring a rolling boogie by Domino and riffing horns that form a compact and powerful groove.

Maybe Art Rupe was overthinking the storyline here and sensing a topical song like this should be put out while it’s still relevant. In it Price is getting his draft notice from Uncle Sam and being sent to Korea to fight in a war that will ruin the U.S.A.’s previously undefeated status in the ring. The Korean War was already nearing two years old at this point and perhaps Rupe worried peace might be declared if he held this back a few months.

Sound reasoning I suppose, but considering Price himself was sent to Korea when he suited up in 1954, despite the hostilities having ended a year earlier, you can see that doesn’t make much difference. Besides, while the story he crafts is fairly specific, even bitching about the “1,2,3,4” hup-hup marching orders he’d be getting, it’s still secondary in terms of enjoyment to the great musical accompaniment provided by Bartholomew’s well-drilled band, so much so that you could conceivably hear this a half dozen times before putting the pieces together.

Besides, the reason Mailman Blues works isn’t necessarily because of WHAT he’s singing about per say, but rather that he’s singing about something. His other cuts from this session had non-sensical sounds being substituted for lyrics in key spots which made them less appealing, as evidenced by Specialty holding them back so long.

With the band riding shotgun, rather than forced to compensate for a weak vocal and story, this – more than the outlier hit on the top half – was what you had to hope for going forward from Lloyd Price. Instead he emptied his bullets on both sides of this first single and then he and Specialty Records spent years trying to reload.


Tell Me What You Got For Me
This is a weird review… praising a record and yet calling for it to have been removed from the single so that weaker material and lesser performances could take its place.

Then again, that’s also one of the secondary goals around here, trying to make sense of the market and determine whether or not each single was ideal for its time. We’ve criticized companies that issue two singles on the same artist in the same month for convoluted reasons – (see The Swallows on King Records back in December 1951) – and we’ve railed against leaving great songs on the shelf in favor of poorly chosen tracks attempting to court a different audience, something Aladdin Records has been particularly guilty of with Amos Milburn and more recently The Five Keys.

So why wouldn’t we take this opportunity to point out that Specialty Records more or less wasted a potential hit with Mailman Blues when they could’ve easily slapped weaker songs on this single as a B-side that was bound to be passed over by people going crazy over the top half?

Remember, rock ‘n’ roll, like any commercial artistic endeavor, is partly about what gets made, but partly about what gets heard, and in this case Lloyd Price saw his second best effort get needlessly overwhelmed by his best one and that was something that any record label should’ve been able to predict and thus avoid.

Why then do they always seem to screw it up?


(Visit the Artist page of Lloyd Price for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)