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ATLANTIC 868; DECEMBER, 1948

 
 

 

Whoever claimed this cockamamie project would be a piece of cake obviously never ate cake.

If you’re a fan of sacarastic rhetorical questions it’s hard to beat this one: What could be easier than reviewing almost every rock single released since the dawn of the music in 1947, many of which were barely heard at the time, perhaps never heard since and were made by artists who frequently disappeared from sight mere moments after their lone recording session for a label that existed for all of a few weeks?

Yet for some reason – insanity is the best guess – here we are trying to do just that.

You’d think that of all of the potential candidates for review in the late 1940’s those appearing on one of the few record labels from that era to last into modern times – Atlantic Records – would be among the easier reviews to do. There’s no shortage of books, websites and glowing testimonials for that company even today and therefore even if the artist being focused on from 1948 was hardly remembered at least we’d have something more tangible to build that review on.

Naturally we screwed it up…

But since everybody should own up to their mistakes in life and take steps to correct them, here then is the revised review, subject as always to further change should events warrant.
 

 

Backtracking
The original review for this record was posted the last day of August 2017 and this new edition is going up in early July 2019. The musical aspect of that first review is incorporated here with minimal and somewhat incidental alterations, since the record we heard is at least the record we reviewed.

But the artist we thought was recording that record was in fact NOT the artist who was actually recording that record, even though his chosen moniker was the same as the artist we assumed WAS doing the recording…

Didja get all that? If not, don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

So here’s the low-down, the mea culpa and the grateful acknowledgement to a highly informed reader who graciously brought this to our attention, all rolled into one:

On June 17, 2019 there was a new comment waiting to be approved… not one of the occasional spam messages trying slip advertisements for sneakers onto these pages, or the ones telling me I have duplicate content which is holding down my search engine numbers, something their service can fix (for the record I DON’T have duplicate content, in case you were prone to believe the spam). Instead this new message was from an actual reader who politely informed me that this Manhattan Paul was an entirely different figure than the saxophonist Manhattan Paul Bascomb I’d written about elsewhere on the site.

The commentator should know since he happens to be a musician himself who played with Paul Bascomb in the early 1980’s. His name is Yves François, he’s a well known jazz trumpeter and he’s got Youtube videos and a website you can check out – and you should, he’s a heckuva good musician.

Anyway, he said that the Manhattan Paul who made THIS record, Hard Ridin’ Mama, was a singer from New Jersey who’d made records with Tab Smith, as well as with… you guessed it, Paul Bascomb, which is where the confusion arises.

Now I don’t mind being wrong, or admitting when I am wrong for that matter, but certainly this particular error was a little more understandable. I’m not making excuses or anything (well not exactly), but when two figures both use the name Manhattan Paul and then have the audacity to work together on top of that which therefore mixes their catalogs together you can see how this can lead to some confusion.

So this then is my attempts to correct that.
 

Takes Her Pony With Her Anywhere She Goes
The Manhattan Paul who sings on this was primarily a ballad singer who’d also recorded with Ace Harris in the early 1940’s, then later for Manor Records with two saxophonists of note, Tab Smith and our Paul… Paul Bascomb.

Why the parents of either Paul couldn’t have named them Peter or DeShawn instead and saved us the confusion is one of life’s quirky fates I suppose.

THIS Manhattan Paul usually sang with a light tone – on his ballads anyway – but not here on the uptempo rocker. Why he chose to switch up his style is beyond me, other than the fact that rock ‘n’ roll was becoming increasingly popular and nightclub styled ballad singing, at least on record, was about to embark on a commercial dry spell that’s lasted seventy years and counting.

We’ll keep you posted if that style is poised to make a comeback… but don’t hold your breath.

Anyway we’re only getting started on the confusion, which is why this has taken weeks to get this reworked review written and posted. As you’ll also learn on the other review under the name Manhattan Paul, the one cut with Bascomb on Manor Records, it turns out that this singer was not ON Rock And Roll, even tough it was credited to him because he DID sing on the flip side of that, Two Ton Tessie. It was one of those split records that we’ve decried around here whenever it happens. Since both of these guys had the same first name Manor Records might’ve felt it was easier to just credit both sides of the record to Manhattan Paul, and indeed each one also says in smaller print, “Vocal By Paul”, even though it clearly wasn’t the SAME Paul.

Anyway, that probably explains why Paul Bascomb, who got some lingering renown for Rock And Roll, which DID feature his band in the forefront, wound up stealing the Manhattan Paul moniker for himself later on down the road.

But he’s nowhere in the vicinity of this record which features the other (the original) singer Manhattan Paul who’s joined by The Three Riffs vocal group backing him, plus George Barclays Orchestra. They cut six songs in their only session for Atlantic who released just one single from that. The flip side of this, I Wish I Didn’t Love You So is a polite, fairly competent but completely outdated song that probably was more in line with what Manhattan Paul was used to singing in clubs.

Yet here on Hard Ridin’ Mama he changes his image pretty convincingly as he climbs in the saddle as it were to try his hand at rock ‘n’ roll.

The results of which surprisingly aren’t bad.
 

Anything You Can Do I Can Do… Better?
This is the second time we’ve encountered this song, as the first attempt by Wynonie Harris came just before his breakthrough as rock’s first superstar a month later and as a theme Hard Ridin’ Mama was right up his alley (an alley strewn with empty liquor bottles and a discarded brassiere… or two) but whether that interpretation of the song was all it could be was another matter.

While we at Spontaneous Lunacy gave it an average rating in February 1948, the ground rules for what would be considered average suddenly changed overnight when Harris’s next release (on a different label), a little ditty called Good Rockin’ Tonight completely overturned the expected standards, raising the bar and rendering anything else as being potentially out of date.

So with plenty of time to absorb those changes, as well as the subsequent rock experiments that followed, the overriding question with this attempt on the same song would be: How will Manhattan Paul adapt this and improve upon it in order to make the grade in this new musical context?

Right off the bat this Hard Ridin’ Mama steps things up with the sax-led intro. Whereas Harris’s straitlaced brass section were playing charts three years out of date, robbing the song of any thrust from the moment its pants were unzipped, these unnamed session aces play a churning riff that lets everybody know what kind of racy fun is on their mind from the get-go. Advantage: Manhattan Paul.

But then there’s the vocals to consider and Wynonie’s voice dripped with experience that Manhattan Paul simply can’t convey. We’ll put aside the fact that Manhattan Paul was homosexual in his own life and focus instead on the character he’s portraying whom we trust has been past first base with a girl before and thus has some idea how to behave in the sack. However no one who’s merely playing a part can possibly compete with the notorious womanizer Harris who reputedly lost his virginity at the age of four with a girl sixteen years his senior, then went on to put so many notches in his bedpost that it looked like a totem pole by the time he was twelve.

Sure enough Paul’s voice is too high, coming off as if he’s more excited than self-assured, whereas Wynonie’s drawn out baritone showed him to be in full control of his emotions and the situation at hand. Advantage: Harris.

The backing vocals are another story entirely though. As briefly touched upon Harris was saddled with aspirants from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, rejected for their lack of singing ability, certainly not any violation of the church’s morals requirement which by the sounds of it they upheld proudly until their wedding night, if not months later.

The Three Riffs may not be quite the suitable brand of perverts that would make this aspect of the record a strong suit, but nor are they the type who assiduously avoided looking at dirty pictures or copping a feel after band practice. They show themselves to at least be familiar with the attitude and desires needed to pull this off. They may be a little lacking in their equipment, but they aren’t ashamed to umm… whip it out and show off what they DO have, and that eagerness bodes well. Advantage: Manhattan Paul.
 

No Guiding Line
The musical accompaniment is often the tipping point for a record’s success or failure, as a poorly conceived arrangement can negate a lot of positives whereas one that’s smartly planned out can overcome deficiencies in other areas.

The Aladdin approach with Harris was outdated in conception as they didn’t come up with anything suitable to compliment, let alone match, his wholehearted enthusiasm in singing this ode to an insatiable female lover. The melody was wrapped in ribbons and bows, nothing being emphasized to suggest what was going on behind closed doors, and as a result everything was left to Harris to get across what kind of bump and grind gymnastics were taking place.

The band here makes no such fatal flaws. For starters the drums on this rendition of Hard Ridin’ Mama are given one of the most prominent showcases in rock to date, specifically the way they ramp up the excitement mid-way through, slamming offbeat accents, adding to the cacophony.

The saxes though are the real stars, blowing up a storm and becoming more unhinged as they go along. It’s easy to see what they were listening to going into this affair as the most exuberant aspects of the rock instrumental sides that have come out in the past year are easily seen in this arrangement’s DNA. The mid-section of this record stands as the highlight, even as the backing vocalists endure their worst elongated stretch in the otherwise decent support offered.

I suppose you can knock a little off for the more traditional – and unexceptional – way they close it out, their one nod to a dated approach, but overall the victor in this aspect of the record is never in question. Advantage: Manhattan Paul.
 

And The Decision Goes To…
Tallying up the positives and handing out demerits for the negatives, we come to the fairly clear cut resolution that, with a score of 3 to 1, making it seem like an easy win for Manhattan Paul.

Ahhh, but you’re forgetting the other X factor already hinted it… a recurring theme on Spontaneous Lunacy no less – CONTEXT.
 

 
All songs over the now seventy years and counting of rock’s existence are NOT being compared with one another when determining their scores. A record that gets an (8) for 1952 wouldn’t get the same score had it come out in 1972 or 1992 because times have changed and musical standards have evolved. Weighing the respective merits of songs cut years apart as if they were being judged by the same listeners perspective would reveal far too much about the reviewer’s tastes and experiences themselves and not enough about the songs.

To be fair in our approach, to be accurate in the evaluations, to be representative of the different circumstances the songs came out of the context of the era always must be taken into account. Records are therefore judged against other records of the SAME market period. A song that fits perfectly in 1955 would be woefully out of date by 1965 and that has to be reflected in the scores. A song that might be merely typical for 1985 would be ahead of its time back in 1983 and so that too needs to be shown.

The same is true of the vastly different musical environment of this relatively short span. It may only have been eleven months on the calendar but they were an eventful eleven months and therefore even though this Hard Ridin’ Mama is superior to Harris’s take on the same material, thus is a more enjoyable listening experience, nothing exists in a vacuum. So Manhattan Paul and Atlantic Records only are able to barely keep pace with the evolving rock market for the simple reason that in music the clock never stops spinning.
 

The Follow Up
The stated goal of this site is the chronicle the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll from the beginning right up through the present but in order to do so properly (read: with no glaring factual errors) we occasionally need to double back and revisit a review to get things right.

But we never would’ve known we needed to do so here had we not been alerted to the problem by a reader and for that I’m definitely grateful. The overriding lesson in all of this should be that what matters most is making sure the history that’s being reported is 100% accurate.

Artists have such a limited window of opportunity to make their mark as it is and not all of them manage to leave behind anything of lasting value, so when someone does come along and contribute something worthwhile they sure as hell deserve to have the credit given to them and not to somebody else… even if that somebody else is deserving of credit for something else on these very same pages.. and under that same name.

Manhattan Paul, club vocalist and part-time rock interpreter, doesn’t have me to thank for that in this case but I’m glad I could at least provide the means with which someone could bring it to my attention and allow me to try and set the record straight.

So my thanks to Yves François and my apologies to Manhattan Paul. And now, back to your regularly scheduled reviewing, already in progress.
 
 
SPONTANTEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Manhattan Paul for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)
 
 

 

 
Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
 
Wynonie Harris (February, 1948)