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CORAL 65083; MARCH 1952



Like a splinter you just can’t get out, there are some artists who’ve been residing on the periphery of rock ‘n’ roll since its earliest days who remain stubbornly entrenched under our skin no matter what we do.

Every time we take out the tweezers in an attempt to extract them it seems we only succeed in driving them deeper, refusing to give up their status as rock acts even as the rest of the genre speeds past them.

By now Milt Larkin And The X-Rays, an act that was only put together in the first place in order to cover a promising rock song at the end of 1948 which got them an unlikely hit, have become intractably embedded in our flesh until a callous formed over them, assuring – much to our consternation – that we may never be rid of them in this lifetime.


Wonderin’ If I’m Dreamin’
I don’t know who is more offended by the presence of this record in our survey of rock history…

You, the impatient reader who surely wonders why we’re constantly wasting time covering non-essential records like this in the first place when there’s so many more important songs and artists to get to… or me, the underappreciated genius behind this dizzy project who is nearing five whole years of writing about far too many records that nobody in their right mind remembers and few have even heard.

Actually, I think I do know the answer to who is – or was – most offended by having Milt Larkin & The X-Rays come out with a rendition of Walking In The Sunshine after all… it surely had to be Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.

You see, Frank Sinatra had recorded this Bob Merrill composition back in January while his career was still suffering from a confluence of issues beginning with the decline of the crooner era and the maturation of his bobby-soxer audience of the early 1940’s who now had homes and families taking up their time and money rather than having plenty of both to spend on his music.

Though hardly one of his classic sides, it was a good song for him to tackle at the time, a casual lyrical observation on love that had an off-the-cuff sounding patter to it backed by Axel Stordahl’s discreetly high class arrangement. Frank doesn’t quite pull it off smoothly, never comfortably settling into the proper pace to really put it over, but he gets by well enough on charm, phrasing and that still impressive voice.

Of course it wasn’t going to be a hit in 1952 for Sinatra, not with the cloud of him breaking up his marriage a few years earlier with a well-publicized affair with big screen beauty queen Ava Gardner still hanging over his head. How low was he at this time, you ask? Well, next month, in April 1952, he was reduced to playing a county fair in Hawaii and would soon be dropped by the label he once helped to define.

So maybe instead of being irked by a second rate rock act covering his latest effort, Frank should’ve been glad that somebody – ANYBODY – thought highly enough of the song to give it a whirl themselves, even if that person was just Milt Larkin and it too had no chance to become a hit in any field.

I Can Laugh At Thunder
Okay, so maybe I’ve talked you into being mildly curious about the story surrounding the record, but surely, you’re saying to yourself, you have no interest in actually contemplating the artistic merits of the performance.

Normally I’d agree with you and it’d be only out of a sense of ill-advised completeness we’d even be covering this, but to our surprise, while this is hardly an ideal song for any rock act to attempt, Milt Larkin – and especially The X-Rays – do a fairly credible job in breathing a little life into it, dragging it away from the glossy sheen of the Sinatra track and placing it more firmly in a rock environment.

Granted, with these corny lyrics there’s not a whole lot that Larkin can do to make the song sound credible to rock fans, then or now. I mean, the idea that any rocker could do justice to lines such as “Ten below zero, I’m such a hero, I never wear a muffler or a glove” is laughable, but thankfully Larkin treats them as merely a rhythmic device, adding a noticeable hitch in his voice to break the flow up enough to give it sort of a pimp-walk swagger.

It’s not turning water into wine but it serves its purpose which is to give the song a little more strut, something the band led by Hal Singer pick up on and then go about adding some cocky attitude of their own into the mix.

Singer’s responses are just gritty enough to keep us hoping that Coral Records (a subsidiary of Decca let’s remind you, not quite as stuffy a major label as Columbia, but not exactly on the cutting edge of rock either) will allow Singer to cut loose in a solo.

Imagine our surprise when he actually does… not to the point where he’s peeling paint off the studio walls with his squealing tones, but he does give this a whiff of authenticity helped by steady piano and drums to maintain the beat, and if he cools off a little too quickly let’s not forget that on the original version Sinatra was backed by a full bank of horns playing brassy coronation music instead, so everything is relative.

Both Frankie and Milt get a little friskier down the stretch, the former ironically more than the latter (though Larkin does actually sound a little stronger vocally than usual), but while neither of these guys would likely point to this song as a highlight of their output, neither of them embarrass themselves on it by any means.

Is that a compliment? Well, maybe to Larkin it is, though I’m sure Sinatra might take issue with it, but what else is new?

After The Rain Goes
This was most decidedly not the way to court rock audiences in 1952, but then again Coral Records didn’t know that audience was completely different than all of the other so-called secondary markets that major labels had made shallow overtures to in the past.

They viewed the mainstream pop music as the ONLY music really worth anything – artistically or commercially – and as a result they’d always simply covered pop material like Walking In The Sunshine with their country, jazz or more respectable blues acts, thinking those audiences would just be thrilled to be blessed with a rendition of these songs for their very own!

To that end the flip side of this was another song in that vein, While We’re Young, first done in 1946 by the ever-hip Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians and which had since been revived by a number of pop singers including Tony Bennett last year.

Larkin’s “rock” version of that one wasn’t very rock-like as he made the mistake of trying to sing it straight, perhaps to compete with Perry Como’s version which came out at this time as well, though at least Hal Singer turned in a credible sax solo to give it the faintest whiff of rock flavor. But if Coral thought that Black America was desperately longing for this kind of record they were obviously sadly mistaken.

They were also mistaken on the top side too, a composition that has no business being in the repertoire of any self-respecting rock act, but the difference is at least with this one Larkin wasn’t under that same delusion as his label and did just enough to have it be seen as a quirky stylistic curveball rather than an unmitigated disaster.

What the companies, and sometimes the artists themselves, had a hard time realizing however was that the difference between those two outcomes is never very far apart. So while we’re greatly relieved this isn’t the heap of festering garbage that appeared all but certain when looking at the title, it’s still probably best for all rock acts to steer clear of the pop music dumping grounds when scouring for material.


(Visit the Artist page of The X-Rays for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)