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REGAL 3258; APRIL 1950



For somebody as multi-talented as Paul Gayten was, recognition for his own individual achievements at times seemed to be somewhat lacking.

Though he scored numerous hits as a songwriter, a producer, an arranger and a bandleader and was the first great talent scout in rock ‘n’ roll on top of that, his own résumé as a standalone artist to date had resulted in just one hit… and that came with a soft ballad in the months just before rock ‘n’ roll came into being and changed his course – as well as all of black music – forever.

So while scoring his greatest success commercially with the top side of this release in which he shared credit with Annie Laurie, on this side he’s by himself again and thus it’s surely destined to be overlooked.


How Could You Be So Unkind?
One of the things that’s so frustrating about researching music this far in the past is that while we can uncover a lot of technical minutiae about it – recording dates, promotional efforts, sales, airplay and general reception to the work itself – it’s a lot harder to get a true sense of what fans at the time were actually aware of when it comes to the records they were busy listening to.

In 1950 the biggest market for rock ‘n’ roll was in jukebox spins and even though we’ve all seen these colorful devices in movies, books and online enough to know what they were about, the fact is the information they provided you at the time as to who were making these records was rather skimpy.

The jukeboxes had the song title and the artist listed next to the number you’d press after depositing your nickel. That’s it.

You may see the record spinning on the turntable within the box as it played, but that didn’t afford you the opportunity to read the label credits to see who wrote them, who produced them, or even in some cases what band was credited behind a singer, and so in that regard chances are Paul Gayten’s name was much less widely known by consumers who were digging the music he was recording with other acts (Laurie, Ed Gorman, Chubby Newsom, Larry Darnell et. all) who’d been getting the name recognition when their records hit.

Sure there were still those who did actually purchase the records for themselves but that also leads us to ask if they were studying the smaller printed credits with any real knowledge of the functions those people had in creating that music. Not to say that we’re any more intelligent (or curious) as human beings today, but it’s just that along the way the role of writers and producers began to be widely publicized which simply alerted the masses to their importance and as a result people began paying more attention to them.

But back in 1950 the first producer to become a household name for their work, Mitch Miller, was only just starting to become singled out in the press for his creative contribitions to all the hit records he was overseeing, and so for a style like rock, which seemed miles away from the pop music Miller was involved with, chances are the names of Paul Gayten, Dave Bartholomew and Maxwell Davis were completely overlooked by the audience on most of the records they created.

The only caveat to that being that they’d get their chance for acclaim when they were the artist in question on that record, which brings us to the aptly titled You Ought To Know, almost as if he was making his own case to have his efforts more widely appreciated.

Unfortunately though if he was looking for widespread credit from rock fans, then this dreary performance was hardly the right vehicle to ensure it.

I Know I’d Lose My Mind
If it wasn’t personal recognition and adulation he was looking for, then pairing this slow emotionally morbid song with a more heart-rendering duet on the top side made perfect sense. Give the audience two distinctly different options on each single – right from Marketing 101.

But no matter how well he carried out his job on You Ought To Know, its stark funereal sound was bound to be somewhat off-putting to many who embraced the optimistic heartfelt longing on the hit side.

That being said though there’s always times in life when you need to express some misery and if so, this is for you, because Gayten sounds positively suicidal for much of this.

Of course hearing the moaning trumpets open this don’t help to give it a spry feeling by design and while usually those infernal horns are a blight on a rock song that is trying to appear lively and exuberant, that’s certainly not the case here where the goal is to be as bleak as possible, something confirmed when Gayten comes into the picture, his voice aching with despair and sadness, practically crying on our shoulder.

The usual suspects are at work here, namely an untrue woman and the singer’s fragile ego, a deadly combination in the realm of popular music where it seems those two forces are inexorably drawn together for our voyeuristic pleasure. Unfortunately Gayten’s breakdown of the particulars in his own case don’t add many juicy details but he sounds genuinely distraught, almost as if he were being put through the emotional ringer in the harsh glare of a public spotlight as some form of cruel penance.

In that way it actually makes this a little uncomfortable to hear, giving a sense of eavesdropping on a man’s private torment, especially since the music mostly takes a backseat to his anguished moans with just his own delicate piano at the forefront of the track, the horns now being just faintly heard, more to provide a mournful backdrop rather than a melodic or rhythmic thrust.

All of this is delivered well, managing to not turn into a farce thanks to Gayten’s awareness of just how far he can skirt the edge of emotional disaster before losing us. Though never really known as a great vocalist with lots of range and brilliant tonal qualities, often veering towards a sort of semi-spoken hybrid form of singing sad if he were self-conscious about his perceived shortcomings, but truth be told he’s actually a decent singer with a pretty good voice, one which is strong enough to sell the deeper emotions and yet still supple enough to alter his inflections in an understated manner to get across the more subtle underlying feelings.

But while all of this speaks well of his technical expertise, it comes up well short in judging the audience’s willingness to listen to him unravel on record.

I Guess You Say
Maybe it’s the fear of becoming too morbid that led him to try and alleviate some of the gloom with a quickened pace in the bridge which, while not quite appearing like sunshine after a rainy day, at least has the effect of parting some of the menacing clouds that were starting to form over the listeners heads.

This is a trickier feat to try and pull off than it would first appear. The mood of the record was so despondent – and the lyrics gave no hint that there’d be any relief to his suffering – that any attempt to shift to a more hopeful ambiance and inject some genuine rays of hope into You Ought To Know might come across as utterly false.

He manages to sidestep this to a degree however by not focusing on his OWN feelings and trying to make them seem more optimistic, but rather he addresses the girl herself who’s responsible for his misery. Considering we’d surely been assuming that he was simply singing this to her photograph as he counted out the cyanide pills in some candlelit room one dark and stormy night this actually comes as a bit of a surprise, but a welcome one because it makes it less theatrical and more authentic, especially considering her scoffing at him for being so wrapped up in her to begin with.

It’s a neat trick all things considered, the horns spiraling into a slurry guitar transition that immediately is followed by his piano giving us a nice stutter step move that concludes with the string bass taking over for the final few beats – easily the most impressive, if discreet, arranging feat on the record – and then the tempo kicks up a notch as his vocal tone also brightens, however briefly, to deliver his reply to her that justifies his devotion to her.

At this point however he sinks back into his subservient role, practically crying the final lines which may well earn him an acting award but which leads us to quickly gather our coat and hat and scurry out of the theater before the curtain comes back up and we’re forced to applaud his performance… one which might be impressive but remains all to uncomfortable for rock fans who just wanted to hear a funky song on a jukebox before heading home for night.

Want And Adore You
When records make their artistic aspirations so blatantly obvious there’s always a tendency to be harsher on them than they deserve. We feel as though we’re being manipulated to satisfy the performer’s ego rather than being given a song that was a genuine outpouring of their own creativity.

That may not be entirely fair… surely even if it IS accurate there are plenty of artists who are equally manipulative in their attempts to convey hedonistic good times or salaciously titillating material and we generally don’t condemn them for doing so, even when the results fail to live up to their creative ambitions.

But we’re less forgiving when it comes to records like You Ought To Know, probably because when it comes to a baring of the soul we tend to shy away from expressing similar feelings in public ourselves and so to hear others doing so, even if it’s an entirely fictitious scenario dreamed up for a three minute record, it tends to cut too close to the bone for our comfort.

On this record we can better justify our dismissal of it by simply saying it’s too bleak for our own outlook as music fans without having to address the emotions it brings to the surface. But I’m sure Paul Gayten would hardly be surprised by that reaction because as all artists know it’s when you expose yourself that you’re the most vulnerable to being hurt.

That’s reason enough to cut a no-holds barred rocker instead, so he doesn’t have to worry about getting himself any artistic kudos in the process.


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