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COLUMBIA 30185, FEBRUARY, 1950

 
 

 

Seventy years ago the idea of people taking countless pictures of themselves would’ve been seen as the height of egotism and vanity, something to be made fun of by friends and family and perhaps even give cause for those same friends and family to worry about your mental health.

Surely such narcissism wasn’t normal and it definitely wasn’t socially acceptable behavior to be so blatantly conceited that you’d fill roll after roll of film with pictures of yourself. Yet by the Twenty-First Century while the dictionary definition of “normal” hasn’t changed, what qualifies AS normal when it comes to taking “selfies” certainly has.

Today virtually everybody does it without the slightest hint of self-consciousness.

Yet in 2020 one of the things which would be looked upon with askance, if not seen as being downright odd behavior to engage in with friends and family, was something that was fairly common in 1950 – and even more so in the fifty years preceding that – which was having friends and family casually gather around a piano in the home to sing songs together without any sense of irony, but simply because it’s enjoyable.

That kind of uninhibited act, singing just for the sake of singing, was one of the things that failed to survive the rise of cynicism that defined the transition from the last century to this one and is among the many changes that mark the passing of time.
 

 

I’m Gonna Get It All Before I Get Too Old
Why bring this unusual side topic up to start a review about this particular rock record from back then? Well, because it was the first thing that hit me when listening to it, that “sing-along” nature which opens the record.

Though the ones doing the singing are in fact professional musicians – Billy Ford And His Musical V-8’s, the reigning champs for best group name in rock – they aren’t being paid for their singing ability, which is indeed rather suspect, but instead were in the studio for their instrumental prowess, all of which gives Love Me a somewhat slapdash feel that works to its advantage.

No doubt the majority of listeners can join in on the chorus without worrying that their own inability to stay in tune or their lack of vocal nuance was going to spoil the overall effect. Yet that distinctive amateurish quality that rides shotgun on the rolling piano boogie makes the song all the more inviting and once Mr. Google Eyes jumps into the fray things quickly take on the sheen of professionalism.

In his short tenure on record the teenaged Joseph August has been defined more or less by his enthusiastic vocals that for all of their charm were slightly unwieldy in execution. He had a good enough voice to compensate for his lack of training but the performances sometimes skirted the edge of losing control. Now that’s not necessarily always a bad thing in rock ‘n’ roll but it’s better to achieve that effect through conscious intent rather than haphazard chance.

Here he seems to be harnessing his natural talent and singing with the requisite control needed for such a job without sacrificing the vibrant energy he specializes in while also maintaining the naturally strong projection he’s featured to date.

The song itself aids in this cause because it’s got a good melody for him to ride, rhythmic and fast-paced without being so uptempo that it risks getting away from him. His accenting that staccato rhythm at the two-thirds mark before dropping down softly to finish the thought might just be his best stretch of technical know-how to date, a remarkably confident performance that doesn’t ever try and overreach in an ill-fated attempt to show off as so many singers, young and old, fall prey to.

Now to be perfectly honest he’s never going to have a voice that can fully measure up to the top shelf rock singers who just have more natural skills to work with, but it’s not as August is altogether lacking in any area either and thus his ability to get the maximum out of what he’s got is always going to be what will determine his spot in the pecking order of rock stars.
 

My Point Of Life
Of course the other aspects of stardom also have to do with what you have to work with, namely good material and quality musicians who aid your cause rather than hamper it with misguided accompaniment.

In the case of the former, Love Me is hardly anything groundbreaking in terms of quality, but it doesn’t really have to be as long as the thematic tropes are suitable and it provides him with halfway decent lyrics to deliver the story with. Since August was writing his own material he’ll have no one to blame if he falls short in this department either, but while this is hurt somewhat by inconsistent sentiments – it’s really more a collection of vague statements regarding love and life that don’t always tie-in with one another, nor does it have any plot whatsoever – the individual lines work well enough to carry the day.

As for the band behind him, the jury is still out on Ford and musical mechanics. They were paired up by the owners of Coleman Records the label Mr. Google Eyes was initially signed to before they sold either their existing masters or August’s contract itself to major label Columbia who issued not only the second round of songs he’d made for Coleman in the fall, but issued records on Ford and his band as well, something that would seem to be either a gesture of good-will or a rather surprising estimation of their commercial potential on their own.

Some of what Ford and company are laying down here is quite good, the sax solo in particular fits the bill for rock ‘n’ roll mayhem, honking low and barely staying in key before going up the scale where it’s more comfortable, even stretching itself out for a few high notes along the way, all of which gives this the energy to match Mr. Google Eyes buoyant vocals.

Yet at other times, particularly the cascading trumpet flourishes, feel out of place, giving it a decidedly big-band Vegas showroom vibe that luckily doesn’t last too long but throws you for a loop all the same.

Of course none of this, the authentic rockin’ highs of the sax or the gaudy show-band lows of the trumpet, can explain the presence of that intentionally sloppy introduction that sounds like the New Year’s Eve party at your Uncle Frank’s after a few too many cocktails has prompted Aunt Suzy to sit at the piano as various cousins and in-laws join in the boisterous caterwauling.
 

Stay On The Right Side Of The Track
Ultimately it’s those incongruous parts that make Love Me more of a mixed bag than it might otherwise have been, but in a sense that’s not exactly a negative either.

The best aspects of this record, Mr. Google Eyes showing off his increasing confidence behind a mic, the requisite tenor sax solo and some effective drumming and overall rhythmic sensibilities, on their own probably wouldn’t be enough to make this all too memorable.

You’d enjoy it enough as it played and if you were assessing August’s progress as an artist it’d be hard not to be encouraged by what you heard, but there’s nothing altogether notable about the song or the performance to make it stand out.

But it’s those quirky touches, the out of place blaring trumpet startling you the few times it appears, and especially the inebriated sing-along intro, that give this record much of its character and is what you’ll remember about it long after it stops playing.

In that way it IS kind of like those bygone days of families sitting around the piano – back when families HAD pianos and when the music industry made most of its money selling sheet music before phonographs because ubiquitous in American households – when those nights would be far more memorable than sitting idly by listening to one skilled professional croon a song on a stage.

Music was once a participation sport and you didn’t have to be all that competent to join in. August is plenty competent but on this record at least it’s when he’s juxtaposed against a ragged chorus of well-meaning amateur singers that allows him to make his best impression.

In 2020 that aspect of music-making has largely fallen by the wayside and so rather than hear Mr. Google Eyes surrounded by what sounds like your extended family on a fairly charming record your extended family would instead be taking turns posing for selfies with him and the music involved would be merely the sound of your ringtone that was interrupting the picture taking.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Mr. Google Eyes for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)