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ALADDIN 3141; JULY 1952



Today we have yet another case of A side vs. B side and the question of whether the record company made the best, or at least most sensible, decision on which of the songs to promote.

Ultimately it didn’t matter, as neither side became a hit, even a regional one, but it still remains an interesting topic to look at simply because you had two somewhat atypical choices coming from somebody with a reputation for being slightly one-dimensional as Peppermint Harris could be.

Both sides are appealing in their own way so whichever one they picked wasn’t going to be an egregious mistake, but it would appear the coin flip came down to the intrigue of the flip side and the catchiness of this side.

Not surprisingly the catchier tune prevailed.


My Clock Won’t Wind
Every artist has their go-to approach, the thing they – or their record company – gravitates towards, whether because of past success or their own natural artistic inclanations.

For The Orioles it was romantic heartache. Big Jay McNeely would honk and squeal up a storm on his sax. Down the road Chuck Berry would more often than not launch into a fast-paced guitar intro to hook you right away. Decades later Run-D.M.C. would hit you with a sonic avalanche before launching into their tales.

An artist isn’t necessarily going to do that every time out, but it’s usually their fail-safe plan, the one thing they feel they do best and gives them a musical identity they’re comfortable with.

Peppermint Harris’s hang dog vocals were a trademark, owing partly to his nasal tone which would seem to make other approaches a non-starter. Yet on the other side he got his back up when he suspected romantic infidelity and began issuing threats, which goes against type, and here on I Cry For My Baby, despite the title suggesting it will be one of his normal sad sack deliveries, he instead turns the subject on its head.

Oh don’t get me wrong, he’s still upset about things, but he’s expressing it in a way that, if you’re not paying close attention to the words, you might think he’s about to get lucky tonight.


Searched This Town From Door To Door
Though this has a familiar, straightforward structure that makes it seem relatively by the numbers at first glance, there’s actually a few attributes that seem taken from conflicting sources, even though they blend together seamlessly.

The blaring saxophone of Maxwell Davis that opens this is sort of a mix between rock ‘n’ roll, with its siren-like tone, and a jazz-themed movie score of some film noir which brings to mind a sudden cut in a scene, probably after discovering a dead body before switching abruptly back to the nightclub where people are none the wiser.

Come to think of it, maybe Davis stumbled across the cat that Harris sang so ominously about croaking on the flip side.

Davis quickly downshifts into something more modest as the piano picks things up with its simple lurching pattern it hints at what Howlin’ Wolf would do a few years later on his classic Spoonful… giving it a bouncy, yet deliberate feel which provides the perfect platform for Peppermint Harris to tweak his formula.

Though he’s singing about abject sadness, I Cry For My Baby contains a surprising amount of optimism despite having no narrative reason for that outlook. In between recounting the steps he’s taken to find his former girl, he fantasizes about what a reunion might entail and it’s that mood which dominates, thanks in large part to how it’s being paired with that loping melodic arrangement.

The whole record therefore becomes something of a slight of hand trick by Harris and Davis. He’s despondent as can be, that nasal tone fitting perfectly with the sentiments, and yet in spite of this you’ll be tempted to sing along, right down to commenting on a dog dying, without being able to reconcile the stark images he paints and your own upbeat outlook the song conjures up anyway.

Harris plays his part to perfection, never trying to change his voice to fit in with the illusion of contentment the music suggests, but at the same time never seeming conflicted about giving himself over to that subversive tempo and beat.

All of a sudden, without seeming to have really done much to change his delivery, he’s now given us various wrinkles the last year brought about largely through ancillary means. Maybe that implies it wasn’t his doing necessarily, that a different kind of song topic or an arrangement like this which runs counter to the message, was the reason, but when Harris himself is the one writing and singing the songs and playing off his own image in a way, it’s hard not to applaud him for efforts that manage to continually surprise us in the best way possible.


Send Cold Chills Up And Down My Spine
Sometimes having two really good songs on the same single might seem to prevent one of them from garnering enough spins on its own to crack the charts… or so some resentful artists would have you believe in later years when bemoaning their lack of a hit with records that contain two deserving sides.

That’s probably overstated in most cases, and we don’t know that Peppermint Harris ever made such a claim about this, but if he had we might be inclined to agree.

Which would you choose if you had just one nickel and three minutes before you headed out the door and left the jukebox behind?

It’d probably depend on the the environment, the time of day, the context, the company you were with and your mood, but you really couldn’t go wrong either way. There’s A Dead Cat On The Line was the one more likely to jump out at you as a title on the label and the fact it equals your expectations going in means it’d be a surefire candidate to get it plenty of repeat spins your next visit.

But I Cry For My Baby has a more infectious sound even if the story negates it every turn and so it made for great listening if you were feeling down to chase away your blues with the musical aspects it presents.

Maybe what it tells you is that we’re prone to underrate Harris in the big scheme of things. We’ve praised his best work of course and given them good scores without reservation, but looking back it’s almost as if we’ve considered them to be outliers to a somewhat mundane catalog.

This single however shows that we should start anticipating this level of artistry out of him each time around from now on… although doing so might wind up with us being let down when he fails to live up to this high standard rather than be pleasantly surprised when he exceeds our expectations.

For the time being though let’s just stick with being happy that we got two really good songs for the price of one and let him enjoy it as much as we are.


(Visit the Artist page of Peppermint Harris for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)