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One of the most enduring criticisms of rock ‘n’ roll as a whole over the years is that it is a crudely monotonous music; a noisy, rhythmic cacophony designed to appeal to the base impulses of its listeners.

We know of course this isn’t true – well… not entirely at least – and that particular condemnation is more an elitist rebuke of rock’s primary audience rather than a critique of the musical attributes of its artists.

But while there is far more musical variance contained within rock as a whole than its critics would ever deign to acknowledge – or how else to explain such widely disparate styles as doo wop and hip-hop, punk and funk, Philly soul and Seattle grunge all being key components of rock ‘n’ roll over the years? – the fact remains that most artists stick closely to just one or two attributes rather than indiscriminately sample from it all.

That each artist chooses different attributes is what makes the genre as a whole so eclectic. But what of those artists who attempt to run the stylistic gamut and try their hand at a good deal more than just one or two brands of rock? At what point do they step too far away from their own strengths and start to lose their firm grip on their artistic vision? When does their wildly disparate sounding records begin to frustrate and potentially even alienate their core fan base who want more of what they found so appealing in the past?

If each and every release by the same musician sounds as if it was coming from somebody entirely different is that more of an artistic dream or a commercial nightmare?

Lay Me Down To Sleep
There was arguably no figure who was more multi-talented in 1940’s rock ‘n’ roll than Paul Gayten, but while that at least positioned him to remain relevant should any one area of rock start to recede, it didn’t necessarily guarantee that he’d find equal success in all of his divergent stylistic pursuits.

Gayten had first made a name for himself way back in mid-1947 hitting with True, lightweight ballad fare through and through, yet the flip side – Your Hands Ain’t Clean – was rock ‘n’ roll in all but name. In the months that followed he continued to try and bridge the wide stylistic divide by alternating high class and low brow releases, while at the same venturing into jazzier sounds from time to time. He also confounded listeners who’d expected to hear his voice emanating from the speakers by also releasing instrumental sides which featured his piano skills.

In addition to all of this he was also producing and playing on sides credited to Annie Laurie, a female vocalist who he’d launched to fame around the same time as his own mid-1947 breakthrough by playing on her crossover hit Since I Fell For You. Yet her records which followed similarly veered between styles, genres and moods, some of it squarely within the rock realm, while others barely hinted at an association with this seedier side of music.

But over time the songs that stuck with rock – including his work with Chubby Newsom and Eddie Gorman – was what succeeded which seemed to lead to one inescapable conclusion: If Gayten wanted to excel he’d be wise to follow the main rock thoroughfare, the one built on the very basic attributes its critics called… what was it again? Oh yes, “crudely monotonous”.

Songs aiming squarely at the sweaty inhabitants of the juke joints on the edge of town, those getting down to the “noisy rhythmic cacophony” artists like Gayten were kicking up to appeal to this audience’s base impulses.

Of course he does no such thing on Gayten’s Nightmare.

No, to give in to delivering what was now expected from him would be TOO easy. Too calculating. Too unchallenging for an iconoclast like Paul Gayten, a man who seemed bound and determined to show off his versatility and abundant creativity even at the expense of losing his way on the road to stardom.

Scream And Scream Again
If you were going to unintentionally sabotage your own chances for churning out pleasantly redundant hits then there were worst ways to do it than by striving to come up with something unique. I mean if creativity is your greatest fault as an artist that’s one of the better flaws to have, all things considered.

Unfortunately it’s not the attempts at being overly creative that does in Gayten’s Nightmare, but rather the fact that his creativity peters out with his initial concept of the music contained within.

For starters this is an instrumental and so as we’ve said countless times you need a memorable hook to make listeners aware of what they’re hearing – since there are no words to do that – and to stick in their minds enough so that they can seek the record out after first hearing it.

Gayten does that admirably with the intro which replicates the creeping cartoon-like tension which builds anticipation, whether for the spooky scene that would invariably follow such a lead in on the big screen, or in the confines of a record which should then deliver something suitably chilling immediately after to cement that image in your head.

The waltzing progression sets this up perfectly as the horns drop out and a cold-blooded scream rips through the speakers leading to dead silence before Gayten rips off a treble laden solo. But that’s where the original idea simply withers and dies as nothing he plays comes close to matching the initial mood, or even tries to for that matter, despite throwing in more screams along the way which now sound completely out of place since nothing you’ve heard since the opening three seconds calls for such a response.

The music is like a patchwork quilt of an indeterminate design. The initial salvo on piano is his attempt to elicit some barrelhouse excitement but it doesn’t build to anything as the best of those do, but rather just provides a brief glimpse of its components while missing one of the most vital – namely the heavy left hand which should form the rhythmic underpinning. Without that it’s missing half the appeal, if not more, and you hope that wherever he takes it next has more of a sensible direction in which to head.

But instead he completely trips you up, as well as himself, by injecting a snippet of the children’s song Frère Jacques into it, followed by a scream, followed by another round of the same familiar nursery rhyme melody and yet another scream.

You can’t blame someone for screaming, but you can call into question why they’re screaming in terror when they should be screaming in angry frustration over the realization that Gayten clearly is just improvising this off the cuff.

Night Terrors
Though Gayten’s creative urges are admirable, here they were poorly executed as this sounds more like an experiment that wound seeing the light of day rather than a legitimate well-crafted attempt to reach an audience.

His piano playing is haphazard by nature, a largely unmelodic compilation of half-formed riffs which are hampered further by being cut short before they can fully come together and give some sense of what they’re trying to accomplish… unless they’re merely trying to mimic a nightmare in their fragmentary construction.

When the horns come in it tightens a little but hardly bolsters your impressions, which remain weak and confusing. Only after Lee Allen emerges with a solo, hardly a great one at that, does it begin to take shape and by now we’re halfway through the record.

Yet even here his solo wanders too much, never giving us anything we can instantly recall even immediately after it ends, nothing to forcibly assert itself into our consciousness, nothing that sounds well planned or containing any definite intent beyond fulfilling the basic requirement rock instrumentals seem to have for a sax solo. As the horns start to trade back and forth it just disintegrates into chaos again.

Maybe that was the point after all. A tongue-in-cheek commentary on the slapdash qualities rock itself often seemed to call for. Maybe Gayten was snidely commenting on the rudimentary aspects of the musical form he was being enlisted to promote.

Or maybe Gayten was just having a bad day.

Since obviously we’re without the benefit of having any insight into his mindset at the time we’ll stick with the latter explanation because it seems most relevant when listening to Gayten’s Nightmare, an underwhelming record that had at its core an interesting and slightly experimental nugget of creativity that just never got fleshed out as it should’ve considering the assemblage of talents involved.


When You Awaken
Had they built upon the idea of mounting suspense capped off by unexpected musical explosions they might’ve had something here – the type of pictorial sonic landscape that would come to fruition years down the road, something able to set a vivid visual scene in the minds of listeners by using only musical cues and atmospheric melodies.

Instead Gayten uses the concept merely as a gimmick and not a very substantial one at that.

Give him credit for thinking of it, for being stubbornly creative enough to want to explore something as idiosyncratic as this appears to be, but the end results are decidedly lacking and ultimately failed experiments are just that, failures, at least when it comes to assessing their value as individual commercial and artistic entities.

If there was one positive takeaway from Gayten’s Nightmare it might be that it showed how rock artists weren’t all alike in spite of what critics might insist… that their diverse backgrounds and interests and ideas were what made rock ‘n’ roll such a bubbling cauldron of creativity over the years.

Not all experiments work however and since it was obvious this one was a creative dead-end it’s at least reassuring to know he’d be back in the laboratory soon and would get plenty of chances to try again.


(Visit the Artist page of Paul Gayten for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)