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If you’re following the history of rock ‘n’ roll along with us here, it’s not too difficult to have a rough sense of what we’ll be talking about simply by looking at the release dates from month to month to see what’s on the horizon.

Though the content of the reviews themselves may provide some surprises along the way, maybe elicit some outrage over our assessments if they differ from your own, there’s probably nothing truly unexpected cropping up from one day to the next.

So let’s try and change that today by looking at a still largely unknown guitarist who will soon help transform the dominant sound of rock ‘n’ roll with his session work for others. But rather than spend too much time on examining his uninspired cover record of a pop hit, let’s focus more on something that will soon be a blight on the music scene of the late Nineteen-Fifties.

It might not make for a happy day… or a happy review… but at least for once it’s something you probably didn’t think you’d encounter when showing up here.


Ever Since You Said Those Words
In the late 1950’s, with rock ‘n’ roll now an undeniable cultural and commercial force, the more well-to-do record companies began to recruit young white male singers in the hopes of passing them off as sort of rock ‘n’ roll-lite.

They were primarily ballad singers, usually accompanied by a lightly strummed guitar (whether their own or a sessionist) and the songs were about young love minus any acknowledgement of hormones which might lead to sex and thus put the record companies knee deep in the very thing they were desperately trying to avoid in the first place.

When we get to them we’ll call them what they are… Young Pop… and while they will sell a lot of records and give the industry hope that they’d stifled the true rock movement in the process, we know it was just a temporary thing that owed its success to the massive marketing blitz more than genuine musical appeal of the audience they were trying to corrupt with blandness.

You surely know the names of the Young Pop acts we’re talking about. Jimmie Rodgers, George Hamilton IV, Bobby Helms, Marty Robbins, Tommy Sands, Charlie Gracie… largely guys who’d come from, or would go into, country music which fit their more sedate style.

Trying to peg the start of this movement has always been sort of imprecise because these artists tend to differ from – yet dovetail with – the teen idol brigade, who brought a more pre-fabricated innocence to the table. As a result some people might say the Young Pop act started with Sonny James in 1956 or with Jim Lowe that same year, or perhaps Boyd Bennett the year before, though he was probably a little too “rambunctious” for that role as he didn’t concentrate on ballads.

But the answer isn’t actually hard to find, you just have to go back a little further, as the true culprit is unquestionably Don Howard in 1952. Granted he was never pushed by the industry to be a counter to more authentic rock ‘n’ roll at the time, but rather that his style was the exact prototype that these later charlatans would follow.

He was 18 years old when he recorded Oh Happy Day, a sappy and sleepy lightweight tune with a faint rhythm provided by the guitar. It’s inoffensive, maybe even moderately pleasant, but most importantly it’s utterly non-threatening… so much so that no strict parent would block the door if he showed up to escort their virginal daughter to a dance.

So what exactly is Mickey Baker of all people doing covering this? It’s certainly not a song the rock fan of 1952 would be interested in, it’s a sluggish tempo that doesn’t lend itself to much guitar improvisation and to top it off he’s being asked to sing as if he were a lovesick white teenager.

This isn’t going to turn out well.

For Now I Have You
The original record was not only sung by Don Howard, but written by him as well, as his last name was Kaplow, though he used his first and middle name as his artist moniker, making him a lot like Kendrick Lamar (Duckworth) in that regard… the first and only time I assure you that such a comparison will ever be made in this universe.

In any event, Don had recorded the song himself in his garage and it was issued on the tiny Triple A label before being picked up by Essex records for wider distribution. Let’s not shortchange the kid, it was a big hit and inspired a raft of cover versions by everybody from The Four Knights to Lawrence Welk.

Mickey Baker was last person you’d think would cut it. Though he could sing alright, and would at times when paired up with Sylvia Vanderpool in the mid-to-late 50’s, he was primarily a guitarist and his first release on Savoy had been two instrumentals. But Oh Happy Day wasn’t the kind of song to make for a good instrumental because the pace was slow, the melody was thin and the style was so nondescript.

So they had him sing it, even though total silence might’ve made for a better – and more commercial – rock record.

Baker shows that he can be just as bland as Don Howard, which is a compliment to his mimicry skills, but an insult to his manhood. He manages to sound like someone who never got laid, never expects to get laid, and never will get laid. He’s leaning into that dreamy tone for all he’s worth, and with a better, and less adenoidal, voice than Howard, and if you didn’t know who he was, what he looked like and what his background was, you might expect to see Mickey blushing in homeroom when a cute girl happened to glance his way.

To be fair the rock audience, even in 1952, may have been able to relate to that predicament, but they did not want to voluntarily want to identify with those sentiments… at least not without expressing more anguish in the process.

The fact that this is supposed to be a song about actually GETTING a girl runs counter to the way its expressed. He’s so somnolent here that you’d think he’d been drugged, and that goes not only for Baker, but Howard on the original as well.

It’s one thing to take your newfound relationship in stride and not start jumping around as if you can’t believe you got lucky, but this is more like you’re so bored by the prospect of being together that you’re looking forward to taking her to a movie so you can catch a nap when the lights go down.

By sticking to the exact same approach, Baker becomes no better than the society accepted image of awkward adolescent ineptitude when it comes to love that rock ‘n’ roll was designed to violently overthrow.


Skies Of Gray
While we scoff at this type of song being an accurate reflection of the feelings kids having their first real relationships were experiencing, we can see precisely WHY it became the prototype for the Young Pop movement that would be plague the industry in a few years time.

In an adult controlled society the biggest threat to those in power is a rebellious minority, especially one that is younger and more antagonistic of authority in general and who are determined to cast it – and everything it stands for – aside.

So the powers that be had to constantly keep the thumb of oppression on the underclass, be they women, racial minorities or teenagers and young adults. By promoting a homogenized society, where passions of every kind (sexual, political, musical) were suppressed by any means necessary, then the status quo would endure and those at the top of that food chain wouldn’t have their positions threatened.

Rock ‘n’ roll upended that game plan by providing kids with evidence that the kinds of freedoms extolled in those wild records were in fact desirable and far more widespread than adults professed them to be and were there for the taking if you simply removed the shackles placed on you by the ruling class.

Naturally that meant it had to be squashed and when the industry couldn’t convince kids to listen to Perry Como and The McGuire Sisters, they turned to building up Young Pop idols to keep the masses in line with songs of controlled desire like Oh Happy Day, where clothes remained on, lust was held in check and virtue was rigidly maintained.

But we know what happened… kids quickly rebelled at being force fed such tripe and those kinds of inoffensive singers and songs increasingly fell by the wayside as the Sixties progressed, thankfully never to return outside Christian Youth Camps indoctrination rituals.

The original of this record was the first attempt to curtail that crucial evolutionary step and Savoy Records unwittingly showed why they too would soon be left behind as they encouraged one of their few remaining rock acts to embrace it rather than revolt against it.


(Visit the Artist page of Mickey “Guitar” Baker for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)