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What do you do when the very thing that helped you to get your big break – the ability to reasonably sound like another massively popular performer – suddenly becomes a commercial detriment when that other artist sees their own popularity decline?

The closer you stuck to that prototype the more likely you are to be seen as completely irrelevant now that the original brand is not flying off the shelves anymore.

Though Mickey Champion was talented enough on her own to not have to reside in Little Esther’s shadow, the die had been cast and no matter what she did her fate seemed to have already been sealed.


What Can It Be That’s Making Such A Fool Out Of Me?
In some cases, okay in Varetta Dillard’s case specifically, the record company (in Dillard’s case Savoy) had more or less forced her to sound like someone else (Ruth Brown in that instance), even though it was not her natural delivery. It got them all a big hit on a great record with Easy Easy Baby, but it shortchanged Dillard’s own identity and probably made it harder to sustain a lasting career as a result.

But Mickey Champion is somewhat different because her similarity to Little Esther came about more naturally. She may have been emphasizing the connection but it doesn’t seem as if she was just artificially adopting it as a marketing ploy.

Furthermore, while the other side of this single – I’m Not Crying Anymore – was hardly a candidate for commercial success itself, as it was veering way too far into pop territory with its supper club piano backing, at least it attempted something different than her normal output using a more sophisticated delivery. It also allowed Champion to display much stronger, clearer tones than Esther was capable of at this stage of her own career, thereby putting a little bit of distance between them, at least in terms of perception… if only by a matter of degrees.

Yet in spite of this, Champion was destined to be seen as a doppelganger and we all know not to really take them too seriously, thinking – perhaps wrongly – that they wouldn’t have even gotten a chance to record if not for their shared attributes with someone bigger who came along first.

Which means that it’s usually those of us in the gallery skeptically asking someone like her, What Have You Got that will convince us you’re more than a glorified impressionist… a copy-cat with no artistic outlook of your own.

Unfortunately this time around when asked this question, her answer isn’t very convincing.

Baby, What Did You Do?
If you were to listen to the other side first, then flip it over and hear the piano that opens this one, you might give up and go out to rob a bank or mug an old lady or deface a statue of some venerated white guy long forgotten just so that you’d feel the vibrant rush of chaos and anarchy rushing through your veins that rock ‘n’ roll was suppose to supply in more controlled limited doses.

But once the piano subsides, or at least shifts its style a little bit so as not to seem so polite, and Mickey Champion’s voice comes in, the song at least displays a little more vibrant spirit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hardly inspiring rioting in the streets, but at least she’s working to change the desultory answer of What Have You Got from “nothing” to something showing some life.

When she lets her voice go she shows that it’s technically more impressive than Esther’s ever was, hitting and holding notes with strength and confidence. Unfortunately the song itself – written by the usually reliable pen of Jessie Mae Robinson – is pretty mundane, as she’s merely expressing her joy over the guy who’s captured her heart.

No offense to this nameless fella, but hearing a girl gush over a guy is kind of the pre-marital equivilant of being forced to look at somebody’s baby pictures after you’re hanging out with married couples. The only thing here that really makes us curious to learn more about her guy is the way in which she stops using words and makes various grunting, squealing and sighing sounds – none of it sexual, mind you, just reflective of how she’s at a loss for words about how great he is.

Then again, maybe we like that because we don’t have to sit through the actual plaudits themselves. Not that they’re badly written, but they’re rather pointless. She starts off in love, she ends in love, there’s no obstacle being overcome, no uncertainty to wade through. It’s a forgettable three minute advertisement, not the riveting hour long drama those kind of mindless commercials tend appears in.

The arrangement doesn’t add much beyond giving Maxwell Davis a way to alter his saxophone’s tone and delivery to almost make it sound like a trombone at times (there was no trombone here, in case you were thinking it), before giving us a good sax solo that ramps up the sultriness just a smidge, but otherwise the record’s presentation is pretty uneventful.

The second half just repeats what we’ve already heard, making this seem like the record’s on a loop rather than a more involved plot and as a result this release won’t do any of them much good, other than just keeping Mickey Champion’s name in the public eye perhaps, which for all we know at this point might actually be considered a minor victory.


Why Don’t You Tell Me, Daddy
We’re not breaking any news to tell you that the quality of all records begins with the song itself and while it’s hardly terrible, this is in no way a notable composition that grabs your attention and gives Mickey Champion something to really sink her teeth into.

She gives it her all and squeezes more juice out of it than the song might deserve, but ultimately our follow-up to hearing What Have You Got is going to be to ask “so, what ELSE have you got?”.

Sometimes it may seem a little harsh to be so dismissive of someone who is clearly trying her best to impress us, especially since she sounds just fine here, but then again so do countless others who have far better and more imaginative material than this.

We won’t lay blame for this at her feet, and it’s certainly decent enough to slip unnoticed into a playlist, but the problem is by now she needs something in the playlist that’s designed to GET her noticed before she runs out of opportunities.


(Visit the Artist page of Mickey Champion for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)