Last up in the sweepstakes for a girl hardly worth scuffing your loafers waltzing around the floor with is undoubtedly the most desirable of partners on the docket, saxophone great Maxwell Davis who takes pity on the poor lass and tries to boost her reputation by dancing with her.

Not that she’s been a wallflower by any means, as this is the third straight review to feature her, to say nothing of all of the gawky pop acts who’ve asked her for the honor at the Harvest Moon Ball of 1951.

But when the Big Man On Campus – at least in rock circles – adjusts his tie and strides confidently across the floor, the rest of the attendees seem to know right away that if he wants he’ll be taking her home tonight while the rest of them wind up sweeping up the gymnasium of gum wrappers and bobby pins.


Straight, No Chaser
Three reviews which will span more than 3,500 words and it’s only now that we’ll even get to mentioning the reason why this moldy oldie from 1927 was seeing a surge in popularity a quarter century later.

Of course that likely won’t explain to anyone’s satisfaction why the song itself broke through, but hits are hits and once a song connects with an audience, especially in the early 1950’s when cover records were the industry’s most reliable source of revenue, there’s going to be no shortage of competing versions to sift through within a short time.

Annuzio Mantovani was an Italian conductor whose popularity in Great Britain, where he moved to as a child was unrivaled in the 1950’s and early 60’s. Known for an effect called “cascading strings”, a style of arranging designed to replicate the echo in large theaters, Mantovani was actually something of a figurehead on his own records as it was his partner, Ronnie Bright, who came up with that technique and arranged the songs prior to departing in 1952.

Charmaine was one of their signature numbers, a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic – although a stereo re-recording from 1958 is the one most often heard since – and by stripping it of its lyrics they managed to eliminate one of the song’s biggest weaknesses… namely the story itself.

Others followed suit with American orchestra leader Billy May turning in a jazzier instrumental that has a low-key early lounge music sound that conjures up highballs, manicured poodles and the fake smiles of the self-important aspiring jet set.

Maybe the most unique instrumental version came from The Harmonicats who were still attempting to come up with a popular follow-up to their monster 1948 smash Peg O’ My Heart. Jerry Murad’s harmonica, as well played as it might’ve been, was unquestionably a novelty sound for the day and so it would help if the songs he was tackling were familiar and in the final months of 1951 few songs were as well known as this one.

Which is certainly why when searching for instrumental fodder of his own in between producing every viable West Coast rock act under the sun, Maxwell Davis picked up on it and brought her to a much different part of town than any of those other suitors headed.

It may not quite have been across the tracks, but considering the kind of places she’d been with those other acts, Davis’s destination qualifies as a seedy dive by comparison.

Sounds, Man, Sounds!
Unlike his more flamboyant contemporaries on the saxophone, Maxwell Davis was never a showman but rather a craftsman… sometimes a dirty word in rock circles where extravagance is the order of the day.

But Davis’s experience in writing, producing and arranging, not to mention playing behind countless acts in various rock – and blues – styles, meant he instinctively knew what was needed to accentuate a record’s most important qualities and how to do so with a minimum of fuss.

When it comes to Charmaine, a song that Guy Lombardo first made famous all those years ago, the need is fairly obvious – he’s got to give this girl some suggestiveness if he wants to capture the interest of rock fans.

Since all he’s got to work with is the melody however he’s rather limited in what he can do short of completely upending the song and adding different rhythms, writing new parts and transforming it into something utterly new.

He doesn’t do that unfortunately, whether because he’s got too much respect for the song, or because it’s got to remain moderately familiar to listeners in order to connect… or more likely because he doesn’t have the time to waste with something so inconsequential.

As a result he’s left to merely convey a different attitude with HOW he plays, not what he plays. As always with Davis though he’s got no trouble giving a song a makeover as here he’s backed by some discreetly hep drumming and piano to create a nice rhythmic bed while he uses a more sultry tone than either The Ray-O-Vacs’ sax-man Chink Kinney or the great Hal Singer who was still putting in time with The X-Rays, which provides a slightly different aura than any other version on the market.

Davis plays smoke and mirror tricks with the pacing, laying slightly behind the beat for much of the record giving it a casual laid-back vibe that contrasts nicely with the brief moments where he speeds things up to suggest urgency when none is actually present in the song’s construction.

His tone throughout this is superb, not quite as smoky as the other two rock renditions, but still far more opaque than any of the pop versions, none of which ever gave listeners a chance to put some distance between themselves and the records as they spun, fearing they’d lose interest if everything wasn’t blatantly obvious and in your face.

Though everything about this spin around the floor with Charmaine is tight and well-conceived, as you’d expect from anything with Maxwell Davis’s fingerprints on it, the song itself is still pretty slight and there’s only so much that can be done to disguise this.

While that means it can’t quite rise to the level of average – at least for a rock record – it’s still the best version, rock, pop or otherwise, to be released in 1951. While that might not be worth shouting from the rooftops about, it’s a minor victory for rock ‘n’ roll nonetheless that they could make a song this insignificant worth a few spins.


(Visit the Artist page of Maxwell Davis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
The Ray-O-Vacs (November, 1951)
The X-Rays (November, 1951)