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DOMINO 350, MAY 1950



For a kid not yet out of his teens, Joseph August, a/k/a/ Mr. Google Eyes, sure gets around.

This is his fourth release – on three different labels! – in the span of ten months. Like the others this one also made a little bit of noise commercially – cracking the regional charts in Baltimore of all places – but as with all the rest, while the positive response to it may have helped keep him in demand around the industry it wasn’t enough to propel him to any real level of stardom.


The Days Are Gettin’ Longer
Trying to make some sense of Mr. Google Eyes’ discography is a lesson in frustration, despite some big stops along the way that you’d think might make it easier. But in early rock ‘n’ roll nothing was ever easy, especially when it came to mostly independent record labels trying desperately to score a hit and make enough money just to keep the lights on in the studio another month.

As a result of this hand to mouth organization model, struggling companies couldn’t very well sign long term deals with these artists when none of them knew if they’d still be in business six months later. So that’s why you see promising acts like Mr. Google Eyes hopping from one imprint to another in short order.

His stop today is Domino Records, a short-lived label operating out of New York that hired René Hall as their musical director. For rock fans this is obviously a good sign that Domino might actually become a player in the industry, as Hall – who would go on to great acclaim as an arranger and producer by the late 1950’s – had already been getting his feet wet in those roles for another more established NYC label, Jubilee Records, where he also cut records under his own name.

Unfortunately Domino Records didn’t have the type of artists to make this partnership pay dividends… outside of Mr. Google Eyes that is, who while still more of a raw talent than a disciplined artist, is someone who as a native of New Orleans still in his teens has the requisite background and natural generational instincts to make some headway in rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s clear that he’s doing all he can to hone in on that image with Rock My Soul, a song that contains the right raw elements for its time but can’t quite take advantage of them thanks to an outdated mindset surrounding them.

Don’t Sing Me No Lullaby
Since we just praised René Hall, mostly for his future endeavors, though he certainly performed capably over the last few month for Jubilee Records, we might as well start by addressing the elephant in the room here which is the arrangement of this cut is largely responsible for holding it back.

That’s not to say that Rock My Soul was going to be a runaway hit with just a few tweaks, nor does it mean that the overall impression it does manage to create is altogether lacking. It’s got a few things going for it that Hall deserves credit for, but it also has one very glaring weakness for which ultimately he has to take responsibility.

Let’s focus on the drawbacks of this record to begin with since that’s what proves to be the aspect that the good parts constantly have to struggle to overcome… namely the horns which sound a few years out of date. To be fair this is still an all too common occurrence with quite a few rock arrangements, though they’re growing more infrequent with each passing month, something which makes the shortcomings here all the more noticeable.

By now you know the drill with these critiques, the old school approach favoring massed horns playing in lockstep in the higher registers doesn’t provide the necessary muscle to get things off on the right foot, making much of what follows seem forced and artificial as the other elements try to break away from the straitjacket those horns placed them in.

This is all the more evident here because of the type of song this is trying to be. It’s a gospel-influenced raver, the kind that August’s idol Roy Brown specialized in, and these overly mannered bandstand horns are an anathema to that approach.

If they’d just been grafted onto the intro that’d be bad enough, but at least the ensuing two minutes and fifty seconds would’ve been untainted by them, but instead they keep making frequent reappearances throughout this, sadistically reminding us we’re never quite as far removed from the repressive musical past as we in the rock universe of 1950 would like to think.


My Only Consolation
Okay… so now that you’ve been completely discouraged from seeking this song out and for all I know have given up entirely on the subsequent careers of Mr. Google Eyes AND René Hall… and quite possibly have even thrown in the towel on life itself as a result of these critical comments on a few wayward horns from seventy years ago, we can move on to what actually works quite well on this record, which is pretty much everything else.

Once Mr. Google Eyes jumps in what immediately comes to the forefront are the more accepted bedrocks of the style … IE. actual rhythm courtesy of piano, bass, drums and hand-claps which shows that his idea was right in line with what the rest of rock ‘n’ roll was busy celebrating. His voice is strong, his delivery is confident and his lyrics, while fairly broad in their proclamations, are spot on in their targets.

The basic message he’s imparting is one of spirited good times which comes across as a generational unity because of how it’s being addressed. In other words, he speaking to those like himself, eager rambunctious kids who are excited about the future and determined to seize the opportunities laid out before them. Because it’s non-specific in its descriptions you could probably substitute other meanings if you wanted, but it’s doubtful they’d be as galvanizing as the simple expression of boundless youth coming together to toast themselves in song.

Even though Rock My Soul doesn’t really lay out a story, has no plot and subsists mainly on attitude alone, there are some good lines found within that reflect this youthful self-indulgence, giving off sort of a cocky worldview that acknowledges the obstacles still facing them all in life while then casting them aside to focus on the joys that are still to be found… and by “joys” I mean those girls in skin-tight dresses who throw you alluring come hither stares over their shoulders that reduce your knees to jelly.

That August puts this across by using a religious-type framework complete with call and response vocals on the chorus, like a deviant choir of sexual carnivores, is fittingly audacious… which is apparently why someone more pious and responsible felt the need to throw cold water on their lustful boasting with those archaic horns.

In the end it’s a tall order for a mere kid to fully overcome, for while Mr. Google Eyes frantically shouts ”Rock! Rock! Rock!” for all he’s worth, he’s being assaulted for his bravado by those enlisted with backing him up.

Only the final tenor sax counterpoint down the stretch breaks free of this stifling oppression and gives you the impression that had Hall – a guitarist remember, not a horn player himself, so maybe that had something to do with the missteps – simply left the other horns in their cases and transferred all of the responsibility to that searing tenor this would’ve been one of the best releases of the spring. Instead, while it’s still pretty good, it’s not quite good enough to be a huge hit, primarily because we see very clearly how much better it could’ve been had they remembered to check their calendars to see what year we were in.

Ain’t Got No Time To Lose
So many components go into a record that if any one of them comes up short it can throw the entire finished product into disarray. On top of that every figure involved in a song’s production has competing elements within their OWN personas that have to be resolved before we get an idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Mr. Google Eyes’ youthful exuberance was the driving force behind Rock My Soul yet it’s entirely possible that his youth and inexperience meant he was less likely to force his will on older musicians in the studio, or that they’d be less apt to listen if he tried coaxing them into submitting to his vision.

René Hall – and no doubt the individual horn players under his command – were all skilled musicians capable of playing rock ‘n’ roll properly if they so desired, yet their preconceptions as to how they’d be best deployed was out of step with the current landscape. Consequently Hall had to have a greater awareness of the market they were attempting to reach and a firmer hand in insisting they meet those expectations while brass and reed section needed the humility to accept a different game plan if asked.

The fact that these divergent components were tasked with coming together and putting aside their different views for the sake of a record was of course no different than what existed in the studio for thousands of other records made by hundreds of other artists for dozens of other labels and so you can’t say the circumstances alone were at fault.

If anything what this record’s failure to live up to its potential shows is that it’s probably a lot more remarkable than we’re giving credit for when everything does manage to come together in a cohesive and artistically satisfying way.


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