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REGAL 3245, DECEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

People love to claim they are more adventurous than their actions would attest. Those who think that if they were ever given a chance to go skydiving or play the lead in a stage production of Romeo & Juliet they’d jump at the opportunity, yet if that event actually came to pass they’d claim they’d eaten some bad oysters or their sciatica was acting up and therefore wouldn’t be able to do so.

“Next time I will, they claim disingenuously before slinking off with their tail between their legs, embarrassed at being called out on their false bravado.

In life it’s easy to envision yourself taking chances when you believe those chances will never come your way. Whatever exotic dish you read about in an article that you’d boastfully claim you’d try doesn’t pose a problem to your gastrointestinal system until it’s staring up at you from a menu. Then most people will opt for a simple “soup and salad”, insisting they’re not that hungry after all.

You might think this trait wouldn’t affect something as harmless as listening to music, where there’s really no inherent risk of death, injury, illness or embarrassment involved in merely taking a chance on checking out a record, an artist or a style that seems peculiar or even just something that’s outside their established comfort zone. Yet for all of people’s insistence that what they crave in music is something new and experimental, when faced with that opportunity to hear it a lot of people couldn’t be bothered, dismissing it out of hand before giving it a chance to really make an impression.

Well here’s everybody’s chance to try and make an on-fly-adjustment to their thinking, courtesy of a very versatile and sometimes quirky artist who is fully accepted as being one of the pillars of 1940’s rock ‘n’ roll… because this song is anything but typical 1940’s rock ‘n’ roll.
 

 

Things I Want You To Say
When Paul Gayten first scored a hit on the charts in the early summer of 1947 rock ‘n’ roll hadn’t been introduced to the world, though Your Hands Ain’t Clean, the flip side of that hit of his came pretty close to doing so.

Instead it was the bland ballad True which took the honors and seemed to ensure that Gayten would follow the course that song laid out for him, one of modest aims and pop acceptance. Yet by the fall when Roy Brown had irrevocably changed the landscape with Good Rocking Tonight on the same DeLuxe label that Gayten recorded for, Paul gladly pursued that style as well, making it his primary focus from there on in, though he still would occasionally attempt something outside the rock boundaries, maybe just to keep his options open or perhaps because he had a genuine affinity for those other styles which were slowly losing their commercial pull.

Because Gayten was so multi-talented – a pianist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger, bandleader and producer – he had no shortage of opportunities to branch out on record, especially since he was backing so many others in the studio and overseeing their sessions as well, giving him plenty of different types of artists to work with. Yet it was his own output which remained the most experimental at times, giving us such proto-funk tracks as Hey Little Girl and Stop, plus Dr. Daddy-O, yet he could then turn around and just as easily stick to the basic rock aesthetics on things such as Sally Lou or the flip side of today’s record, Cook’s Tour.

But whatever creative itch he had apparently couldn’t be scratched by those efforts alone and so here on the innocuously – perhaps presciently – named You Shouldn’t, he attempts to come up with a truly unusual hybrid record that might have the record company and the rock audience as well all telling him in no uncertain terms – You Shouldn’t Have!
 

It’s Better To Talk To Me Coldly
I guess the first thing we need to do with this record is to accurately peg the styles he’s borrowing from and melding together before we can try to ascertain whether or not it was a good idea, let alone whether he’s successful in his mad scientist attempts.

That’s easier said than done however, for even if we try and start with the broadest possible genre categorizations there’s no real stylistic prototype to connect this with. It’s got definite pop and jazz inclinations so we’d start there and go back a year or two and check out the biggest names and records of those styles to see if we can find some similarities but they’re mostly vague ones.

With its sparse conga drum intro and the detached female moaning a world less refrain You Shouldn’t is far too exotic for mainstream pop sources. One of the reasons we go to so much trouble to write our Monthly Overviews is to try and establish the context for when these records came out in and we always start those off by choosing one of the biggest hits to set the scene for that month, but just a cursory glance backwards shows nothing even close to this amidst the dippy novelties and melodramatic fare that made up the Pop Charts at the time. So we turn to jazz which had less commercial returns for singles but we certainly know who and what was turning heads in the late 1940’s and this seems just as alien to the be-bop trendsetters and the cool jazz experimenters that were reigning at the time.

What it really is closest to is the avant garde records that would come along in the next decade but that would mean that it was Paul Gayten who was influencing them, not those artists getting Gayten to try and follow this path.

That intro is Henry Mancini-like, one of the devices he often used for the set-up scenes for the incredible TV detective show of the late 1950’s, Peter Gunn. But then we cut to the female vocalist and it takes on a different aura, a dark nightclub maybe on the edge of the rough side of town where daring sophisticates stop in on a Friday night to get their kicks.

When Gayten’s voice comes in to deliver the lyrics it changes outfits yet again, his persona reminiscent of a sleepy eyed lounge singer in some down and out saloon that has seen better days. The kind of guy whose skills have atrophied for lack of use in the proper setting and now he’s left to pick up a few bucks in tips from other wayward children of the night before he then blows those tips on some booze or smack of his own.

Whether he’s actually playing that cinematic part deliberately here or if he’s just not quite capable of crooning in a detached manner at this meandering pace, his voice is a little shaky, almost losing the key at times, not holding notes as long as they should be held at others and almost seeming distracted and bemused at the same time. As an acting job it’s great but without film in the camera and a femme fatale walking into the scene – in black and white, naturally – then it loses a little something. The ambiance is still there but it’s up to your imagination to fill in the details and that’s more than most records have a right to ask, at least for rock ‘n’ roll in 1949.

But then again might this be just rock ‘n’ roll in name only, as in it becomes associated with rock due solely to Paul Gayten’s name being attached to it?

That’s certainly possible, I mean if this same record was put out by some newcomer named Lou Barbosa or Cliff Jackson we might not be so welcoming. But then again, where else would it fit? It’s definitely not something more suited for the pop world of the day, nor the kind of jazz that I’m familiar with from this period, it sure as hell doesn’t fit in the cocktail blues realm either… so what’s left? Your guess is as good as mine.
 


 

Send My Heart On A Spree
As a result of its residency in a musical netherworld the performance is more intriguing than enthralling. You may not be able to pull away from it because of the seductive rhythms and quirky drone of his voice but you aren’t exactly drawn to it because of any excitement the track shows or because he’s got warm dulcet tones when he sings. Quite the opposite actually. He struggles at time to stay on point and it’s like watching a small child who just took their first steps a week earlier try to navigate the room on foot rather than crawling. The anticipation for them falling on their face – both baby and singer – keeps you riveted.

But Gayten never does quite fall down on You Shouldn’t, even if he wobbles a few times, particularly when he deviates from the measured delivery in ballad mode and tries rising in tone and pace to suggest a climax to the drama he’s trying to build throughout the song. It doesn’t always work but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun watching him take such a risky leap.

Yet just when you’ve dismissed his singing and are sure he’s about to send the entire production crashing back down to earth he drops his tone and practically whispers a line that has you anxiously leaning in as if he’s conveying some precious secret. How he manages to pull off such extremes is beyond me, but as long as you keep listening intently waiting to see what comes next does it really matter?

The oddest thing about this all, since Gayten had to know his voice was the weakest aspect of the performance, is how the backing music is designed to simply not get in the way. You’d think he’d want to build the musical side up more to distract from his own vocal shortcomings but instead he dials it down musically. Those drums remain the most alluring part of the song and what are most effective in setting the mood. The horns when they moan behind him in the verses are okay I suppose – less so when they step out on their own and try injecting a more spry attitude in their playing – while his own piano fills in the cracks from time to time. The bass is actually the other instrument that stands out, which shows you just how unusual this record is since acoustic basses rarely get noticed unless one of those behemoths happens to drop onto your foot. It’s a skeletal arrangement by design but a few of the bones in that skeleton are cracked or missing giving it an even more ghoulish appearance.

By the time that disembodied female voice returns – maybe the ghost of the skeleton come to think of it – you’ve got the feeling you’ve just been taken for an elaborate ride that probably was designed to distract you from someone lifting your wallet, or rifling through your bags, but you don’t really object because of how interesting it all seemed. You haven’t gotten anyplace, there’s nothing you’ve seen or heard that you can possibly take from this to add your understanding of rock’s musical sensibilities, and it’s certainly not anything that excited you, in fact you probably feel a little sleepy and even drugged by hearing it… yet you’ll probably be more than willing to hear it again.
 


 

If You Don’t Go For Me
Of course this hardly makes You Shouldn’t a good record in the usual sense of the word. Actually you’d be hard pressed to call this the equal of even an average rock record from this time period, it’s just too far outside any accepted standards of the idiom.

But in terms of giving us another side to Gayten’s creativity this fares much better. There may not have been any plausible next step to take this kind of thing in, but that doesn’t mean as a creative endeavor it wasn’t worth exploring.

It should go without saying that the best rock musicians are never risk averse and Gayten shows that attitude here beyond any doubt. While it’s hard to see the potential pay off for something this weird, giving it an inherent risk of creative failure without the possibility for commercial success to offset that risk, the attempt alone is admirable and so we offer up the following score with an asterisk.

The grade itself might not be enough to pass our class, but he gets an “A” for effort.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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