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ALADDIN 3141; JULY 1952



…And the winner for the best rock song title of 1952 goes to…

C’mon now, unless you’re one of those poor unimaginative souls who wants to take everything literally in life, you have to at least be mildly intrigued by this title which conjures up so many possible scenarios to consider.

Of course there’s no guarantee that Peppermint Harris will be able to live up to those seven words, or that he’ll even try to figuring that lead-in alone might be enough to pique your curiosity, but while it’s certainly true you can’t judge a book by its cover, when you get something this interesting staring out at you from the jacket that’s more than enough to get you to at least pick it up to see what’s inside.


Where The Lights Are Soft And Low
We all know the strengths and weaknesses of Peppermint Harris, the latter of which is dominated by his excessively nasal tone which, as with all singers, becomes all the more apparent during ballads.

Now that can be something of an asset if he’s mourning a lost love as it’s been known to suggest he’s recently been crying, but it tends to detract from almost any other slower song because it’s just not a very pleasing sound.

Then again, if you had to guess, any rock song calling itself There’s A Dead Cat On The Line probably isn’t going to be a heartfelt ballad, unless Harris is impersonating a particularly sadistic dog who’s happy about the turn of events described. But even if it’s a much different type of song that doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily come up with an approach that will minimize his limitations as a vocalist, let alone take advantage of them in some innovative way.

At least the one area where we have some evidence that Harris might live up to our hopes and expectations is that he can be a really good songwriter and chances are if he uses a provocative title for a song, then it has to be backed up by a storyline that is equally interesting.

To his credit, it definitely is that.


You Know From The Go

The number one relationship killer between people still in the dating stage in life and a surefire winner when it comes to song topics. Funny how that works out isn’t it, as nobody wants to face such things in real life, but peering in at two fictious characters battling over this issue in a song provides a safe enough distance to enjoy it with voyeuristic relish.

The interesting aspect of Peppermint Harris’s diatribe against his potentially two-timing girlfriend is how he frames everything so that it’s speculative rather than cut and dried.

Following a mellow horn intro that intentionally misleads you into thinking this is going to be a different type of song altogether, Harris begins to lay out the charges related to his baby’s duplicity.

Although a good lawyer may indeed be able to get her off since this is mostly circumstantial evidence, she’s certainly guilty of lying and even if nothing happened that would technically constitute “cheating” it doesn’t take much imagination to put one and one together even if you aren’t the kind to jump to conclusions.

To wit: She ditches the show she had told him she was attending to go to a party with a romantic atmosphere instead… later she starts heading out in taxis she hasn’t the cash to pay for… then there’s the fact her beauty shop visits last all day and end up with her drunk and denying any wrongdoing… and finally there’s her explaining that she was merely doing laundry when he comes home to find his bath towels wet after he’s been at work all day (actually this one is plausible if they smell of detergent, but maybe he hadn’t gotten that far yet in the Bulldog Drummond detective manual).

In any event, the clues all point to the one thing he dreads, but rather than be distraught about it, he appears to be thinking of vengeance by ominously vowing There’s A Dead Cat On The Line at every turn.

The manner in those words culminate each incriminating stanza gives the entire record a sinister feel and while his stuffy nasal passages are front and center, they add a surprising element of menace to this, as sometimes a threat sounds even more chilling coming from somebody who may not be intimidating otherwise but who is deadly serious in delivering it, showing he’s been pushed too far.

It’s a testament to Maxwell Davis’s skills that he makes a bare bones arrangement sound surprisingly full thanks to a prominent guitar which adds the appropriate tension while dry drumming and some piano fills for color give this the appearance of lurking in the shadows. Of course it’s undoubtedly helped by the way Harris seizes your focus with his tale and leaves little time for you to glance around the room for other things to capture your attention.

Of course if he is threatening someone, be it the girl or the other guy – or multiple guys for that matter – then chances are he’d want you to notice some of the others more, if only so that during his trial his own defense attorney can cast some aspersions on the charges against him.

We’d tell him that before he followed through on this retribution he might want to ask himself if any girl who was so shady was worth a prison sentence for, but if he listened to us then we’d lose out on a riveting song that more than lives up to its promising moniker.


You Will Find Out Every Time
Having already alluded to his technical limitations as a singer, we should also remind you that Harris’s commercial success in two vastly different approaches, the first in more of a blues motif, the latter with a buzzy rock tune, would suggest that he, or Aladdin Records, would be inclined to try and recycle one, if not both, of those models to try and get more hits.

Not that they didn’t do that at times, but in writing his own material Peppermint Harris didn’t always comply with that game plan and with There’s A Dead Cat On The Line he gives us something else entirely… a loping shuffle full of lyrical color and dire warnings, all contained in a vocal that tweaked his usual delivery just enough to make it even more appealing.

It’s the kind of record that keeps you locked in on the story, trying to determine for yourself whether he’s overreacting due to his own insecurity or if she’s truly running around on him and he’s plotting the gigolo’s demise.

Because it’s his record we’re led to believe the latter is the case and certainly won’t argue the point with him lest we become another potentially stiff feline. But even if we had reason to quibble some, when the record is this unique and memorable, we’d probably just nod along at his accusations in order to hear even more of this.

Come to think of it, in thirty years time they might’ve come out with an extended 12” single version of it with even more damning revelations to unveil. But with your own imagination stoked by the record as it is, we’ll let you come up with a plausible aftermath to this story yourself.


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