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ALADDIN 3130; APRIL 1952



In a month of all-time rock classics – and a few that should’ve been – it would appear that it’s going to be an uphill battle for somebody as quirky and defiantly hard to pin-down stylistically as Peppermint Harris to find a way to be heard, much less appreciated for his decidedly low-key contributions to rock ‘n’ roll.

But then again, maybe low expectations work to his advantage, for rather than be slightly let down by a decent record as you might be from an artist with far more star wattage, with Harris the same outcome might be viewed as a minor achievement worth noting.

With the proper buzz on it might even be thought of as a bit more charming than even that.


I Know Darn Well I Can’t Quit
Okay, let’s admit it right out of the chute… this is about as obvious a rip-off of Peppermint Harris’s chart topping hit from last year, I Got Loaded, easing off ever so much on the sleepy drunken vocals that highlighted that one to indicate a slightly different outlook.

So you must be thinking, as we often do when confronted with de facto remakes of big sellers by the same act who seem more often than not to collect a paycheck (skimpy though it may be) from Aladdin Records, that this must be a complete waste of time and money, for why buy this one when you can just dig out the “original” and play that instead?

Well, because every now and then instead of merely serving up an unimaginative copy they come up with a fairly clever sequel that would explain why Harris, who reputedly gave up the bottle after his drunken escapades in the past, is Right Back On It.

Now admittedly that doesn’t give this much wiggle room seeing as how this uses a very similar – maybe slightly sped up and more jaunty sounding – musical arrangement featuring guitar and clattering piano, but the real measure of this is going to come from the story.

If all they’re going to do is rehash the same plot, bring back the same characters put them in the same setting and come to the same conclusion, we’ll keep our distance. But if they actually pick up the story a few months after they left off and tell us how Harris, as determined as he was to go straight, fell off the wagon yet again maybe we’ll sidle up to the bar to see how this one plays out.

As long as we don’t have to strain ourselves to catch him as he falls, he’s at least earned the right to let gravity take its effect and see if he bounces when he lands.


Trying To Get My Business Straight
The flaw in these kinds of songs is easy to spot. They need to have a similar, if identical, melody to remind you of what OTHER song you loved, but when they also make the mistake of coming up with the same basic vocal hook or phrase, then you know that no effort went into crafting this.

But Peppermint Harris and Maxwell Davis weren’t so crass as that. Yeah, sure, they simply affixed a new story on an old arrangement, but they made sure the story was just as well written… and maybe, line for line, slightly more creative.

The key here is how Harris sets up the story, not taking the easy route of reminding you of where he was at the end of the hit, in a hazy drunken stupor, but instead describing where he’s been since then. It helps that he doesn’t do this chronologically, but rather episodically, telling compact vignettes that lead directly into the admission that he’s Right Back On It – the booze that is.

Each one presents his struggles to stay sober using a different scenario where either frustration or temptation or cursed fate weakened his resolve and got him to start drinking again. All of these are – despite their brevity – vividly descriptive, humorous and, as delivered by his sad sack vocals, endearingly pathetic which livens up the song in ways that the more somber and resigned I Got Loaded did not.

Now that doesn’t mean it’s better. Remakes rarely are and without the backstory that first song provides this one wouldn’t make as much sense, but you don’t ever get the feeling you’re being cheated on this, which is about the highest compliment that a re-worked song can receive.

Sure Davis could’ve, and maybe should’ve, added a staggering sax solo to give this a bit different feel while still staying true to the basic atmosphere they’ve created, but the biggest potholes they were facing with this idea are ones they managed to nimbly sidestep, much to our surprise.

Since the character Harris embodies didn’t suddenly cease to exist at the end of the first song, at least in the abstract, it stands to reason that if he can be revisited with new plot elements added, even if he winds up being the same familiar souse we knew so well (provided he still is just as engaging with his smirking vocal), that’s not a bad bargain, all things considered.


Might As Well Take One More Nip
To return to the opening theme, if you go into something with lowered expectations you stand a good chance to be pleasantly surprised.

That being said though, reviving this another time down the road would be a mistake and show that Aladdin Records (who let’s not forget were thrilled to get an offbeat original idea from Peppermint Harris as soon as he signed with them that gave them a massive hit) really had no faith he could pull it off again. In fact, owner Eddie Mesner’s name in the writing credits might be one of the few times in the history of record industry where that type of chiseling cut-in actually may have been earned, as he was surely responsible for “urging” them to do this in the first place.

But while that behind the scenes mindset threatens to invalidate the legitimacy of Right Back On It, the creativity factor of Harris and Davis was still high enough to offset any lack of confidence by the Mesners that he’d be able to come up with something completely different that was just as good. This obviously doesn’t have that chance to be completely different, or just as good, but it can be different enough and good enough to suffice.

We certainly don’t want to spend every night of the week at the same run-down watering holes listening to him carry on, no matter how pleasant his company is for a lush, but this one time it’s nice to catch up with him to see how he’s doing.

We’re not paying for the drinks or carrying him home after all, just acting as amused observers of life’s downtrodden creatures at the mercy of record company owners that drive you to drink. That kind of thing can happen to anybody in this line of work.


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