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Getting ahead in business comes down to accumulating assets.

Music is a business of course and the assets a record label has are primarily their artists. Looking back at rock’s first six years it’s not hard to see the companies that succeeded were the ones who realized this and built their rosters accordingly, while those who lucked into one artist with some hits but failed to recruit other equally promising acts quickly fell behind and in many cases dropped out of the race altogether.

Last year Atlantic Records – a dark horse candidate from the start – managed to catch frontrunner King Records and in 1952 they finally pulled ahead. But even they were not immune to questionable decisions along the way, such as shedding a talented singer like Odelle Turner after her promising debut single.

That Atlantic managed to hold onto that lead on the competition speaks well of their conditioning, but then again maybe the fact their rivals didn’t pick up a discarded asset like Turner when she became available tells you why the rest of the pack were struggling to catch up.


Tryin’ To Make Right Out Of Wrong
These are Atlantic Records’ glory days… that three or four year stretch when they were the envy of the business with the best producer in Jesse Stone, who gets credited on the label here for his contributions along with the top session musicians available who gave their records a vibrant and modern sound. They also had an owner who embraced this music and seemed to genuinely like and understand it – and if you believe the writing credits also had the capability to come up with great material himself.

But without the artists themselves none of that might’ve made much difference. In Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner and The Clovers you had the best female solo act in rock, arguably the top male solo act in rock and the top vocal group in rock, a trifecta that was impossible to beat.

Like the New York Yankees of this era with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, there’s a reason why pennants flew over the stadium in the Bronx, just as there was a reason why Atlantic Records had more #1 hits than any other company during this run.

But here’s where we see the first signs of Atlantic’s narrow vision. You can certainly make the case it didn’t hurt them much, but the label had a second tier of talented acts who never got much of a chance to excel, for once they failed to match the consistent success of the label’s heavy hitters they were pushed aside or let go altogether.

The Cardinals would’ve been a top vocal group for most companies, yet on Atlantic they were in the shadow of the far different sounding Clovers. When The Diamonds came along and got a hit you’d think that would make them a priority, but no, they were shoved aside when Atlantic got the game changing Drifters.

Older acts who had given the company their early credibility like Joe Morris and Stick McGhee would soon be shown the door as well.

Meanwhile in Odelle Turner whose Draggin’ Hours was another solid effort for a rookie in the studio, Atlantic found themselves with someone to give them a slightly bluesier take on rock ‘n’ roll that set her apart from the dominant female at the label, Ruth Brown. Yet you had to enjoy this while it lasted because inexplicably Turner would never get another release.

Sometimes it seems that success is a company’s own greatest enemy.

You Got Your Hooks In Me
Unlike the more commercial top side, which was self-penned, this song was written by Jesse Stone and it gives Odelle Turner a really good balance for his first – and only – single.

Whereas Alarm Clock Boogie was an uptempo, slightly suggestive, rocking party on wax with vivacious vocals and a rolling rhythm, this is the opposite of that… a slow lurching groove with downbeat lyrics and a more contemplative vocal which Turner handles just as well.

Of course that means this isn’t designed to be catchy – which is another way to say that this would be an unexpected hit – but that makes it an ideal B-side, giving listeners a different vibe to enjoy while allowing Turner to show off different skills.

As admirable as that is however, Draggin’ Hours is far from a great song, even though the music immediately puts its hooks in you with that intentionally droning melodic rhythm that gets intermittent guitar fills by Rector Bailey with nice tone and tension. The piano becomes a little more varied along the way and while the horns are discreet and only used to add color to the track, it does give the arrangement additional layers to unpeel.

A sax solo would’ve done wonders for it though just to break up the purposefully monotonous feel it employs. By the second half you’re longing for a tempo change that never comes and as a result your mind starts to wander, especially because the lyrics which started off alright become a little more clunky as time goes on – the stanza ending with “April showers” is like Turner trying to dance the rhumba with her shoelaces tied together.

It doesn’t help that as a story it’s something we’ve heard plenty of times before. A couple has a fight but aren’t about to break up over it. He leaves for awhile, she stays at home wondering and worrying until he returns and they make up. It’s well written in terms of accurately portraying her conflicting emotions and contains a few clever lines that stand out, but with no real action to speak of it becomes merely a study in internal coping mechanisms, certainly a realistic view of a rocky romance but not necessarily an exciting one for a record.

Yet Turner does manage to make it come alive enough to keep you invested, her vocal inflections combined with a string of confident choices regarding her delivery shows this was someone who could’ve been one of the more versatile singers on the label.

I Tried To Do Without You
One thing we’ve learned when it comes to record companies so far is that certain decisions are hard to explain, harder to defend and impossible to understand.

Atlantic’s press release says Turner signed a three year deal, a bigger commitment than the usual pact which ran two years, or in some cases saw an untested artist get just a single session with an option, but despite the build-up for her Turner never got another chance in the studio and half of her tracks from that first date were left on the shelf.

It’s hard to believe that Atlantic was worried about Turner cutting into Brown’s sales, for while both had shown they could do uptempo cuts, Draggin’ Hours is a style that Brown would’ve struggled with.

Chances are had she been given this Ruth would’ve turned this more into a torch lament (and certainly might’ve done a good job with it in that regard), whereas Turner’s earthier performance isn’t nearly as showy but has the potential to forge a deeper connection with listeners who can relate to the situation from their own experiences.

Obviously we don’t know why Atlantic soured on her, but it can’t be the overall quality of either side of her solitary record, and it’s certainly not her vocal talent or her compatibility with the musicians in either approach they use, all of which are really good.

Did they just get so caught up with their runaway hits that it caused them to completely overlook a potentially valuable addition to their team, because if nothing else they should’ve at least put out the follow-up in summer and see if they could get some interest for something they already had laying around.

Business isn’t always fair though and even the most successful companies screw things up just as much as they get things right.

The sad part of this is that the neglected artists from Atlantic’s heyday would’ve kept plenty of other labels going strong.


(Visit the Artist page of Odelle Turner for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)