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There was really nobody else like Percy Mayfield in rock at the time… or since for that matter. He was a mellow-voiced crooner, not a screamer, a wordsmith who required listeners to analyze his meanings up close rather than someone who was reliant on creating excitement that could be absorbed from a distance.

After being one of rock’s breakout artists in 1950 with such a unique style there was every reason to think that once audiences had gotten used to him they’d be less impressed with hearing that same languid delivery as he ruminated over more deep and serious matters and would return to something more predictable… more sensible… leaving him as a brief shooting star in a galaxy with no shortage of bright celestial objects to fix your gaze upon.

But here he is again, unhurried and unchanged in his approach, yet just as compelling as ever.


Before The Night Was Gone
After some promising but mostly localized interest at a few smaller labels in the late 1940’s, Percy Mayfield signed with Specialty Records in the summer of 1950 and on his first release for the label struck gold.

Please Send Me Someone To Love was just a few months old by now and still sitting on top of some regional charts, but already it had the appearance of an enduring standard rather than just a brief sensation.

But that’s a hard thing to live up to so early in a career, especially because the content of that song covered such universal human conditions – romantic love, world peace, racial equality – all of it tied together effortlessly and delivered with weary hope that transcended even the brilliance of the lyrics themselves.

You’d think there’d be an effort to duplicate that in some way this time out, offering up another state of the world address or at the very least narrowing the focus to one of those subjects and letting him expound on it exclusively, but Mayfield wisely sidestepped that altogether, turning his focus to a more familiar topic as he became the latest in a long line of rock artists dealing with a break up.

But the interesting thing about this oft-used subject is the approach he takes within the song, for while he bemoans his Lost Love he also is working on getting her back in a way that is most unusual.

In fact he’s actually refuting one of the key lines of “Send Me” where he told us “I don’t beg for no sympathy” and yet here that’s exactly what he’s doing, begging his ex to return by using his troubled state of mind as the reason he needs her. Yet he’s using such a smooth and seductive manner in the process that you almost get the idea that if she DOES return she’ll find him waiting for her, smiling like the Cheshire Cat, knowing all along that his methods wouldn’t fail.


I Know My Tears Are Wasted
As tantalizing as that possibility is, this song isn’t about a possible reconciliation at all, but rather his tortured mental state that resulted over their split and the way in which he falls back on his established persona as an introspective philosopher to cope with his loss as well as to rebound from it by targeting the sympathies of the girl who dumped him.

They say in life that you are who you are, meaning you can’t put up a front for very long without your true self showing through, and what Percy Mayfield was at his core was a deep thinker who wrestled with often unanswerable questions and never let his emotions lead to poor decisions.

On Lost Love he’s expressing all consuming sadness in a way that almost seems to have drained him spiritually along the way. He’s worn down by his grief, something evident in how he drags out the words in his trademark conversational tone which uses melody as merely the guardrails so he doesn’t lose the musical aspects of what he’s saying, but he’s surprisingly resilient underneath that dour outlook.

Yet even with that despondency as its main focus everything about this record sounds effortless. He seems to exert almost no pressure during his delivery, yet mid-way through you find that you’ve held your breath waiting for each resolution and as a result the pressure in you has been building internally.

Then there’s the way he’s using two disparate techniques to convey this message which seems incompatible if you were to stop and think about it, but because you aren’t expecting that you take it at face value which allows them both to play on your emotions until you’re completely turned around.

On one hand what he’s saying is subservient by nature, telling this girl he’s doomed without her, yet he’s crooning to her in a manner that is designed to almost make her swoon. The way he drags out words, holds notes and drops his voice to draw her – and us – closer is almost devious in its calculated effectiveness. Yet he’s so sincere, so honest in revealing his weaknesses that he knows we will never call him out on it.

It’s fair to say that Mayfield was never a very versatile singer and while he had a good voice, a compelling voice, he didn’t have a brilliant technical instrument with a lot of range to work with. But few singers in rock knew the territory of their voices as well as he did, nor mined them in such a deep fulfilling manner.

His singing here mesmerizes you, making each and every word seem more profound than they ever could on paper and the impact is all the more powerful because of it.

I Need Your Love To Set Me Free
Of course it doesn’t exactly hurt his cause that in Maxwell Davis he has the greatest possible accomplice for this kind of sneak attack on your senses, for no producer, arranger or horn player was more qualified to deliver the goods on something that requires a deft touch.

Davis wisely keeps the focus on Mayfield and his lyrics by never intruding on the vocals nor breaking the mood with an inappropriate instrumental flourishes, but that doesn’t mean he holds back his bag of tricks entirely on Lost Love either.

For starters he hands the intro over to the piano which adds an ever so slight rhythmically melodic bounce to the song so the downshift to Mayfield’s achingly slow vocal pace can establish the mood with a minimum of fuss. But once it does make that transition it’s up to Davis and Jack McVea joining him on sax to keep things interesting enough in the background to never let the atmosphere get stagnant.

As it goes along the horns swell, almost taking on the rhythm of a heart beating with increasing optimism even as Percy is still in misery. It’s all so subtle and discreet that you absorb the shifting ambiance rather than notice it outright and it allows you to appreciate each and every well crafted line that Mayfield delivers, letting them all sink in fully before moving to the next one.

Maybe the best compliment you could give them is to say that despite the downbeat subject matter this is a song that would make for a great slow dance between a couple who have yet to reach that point of breaking up that the song describes.

Because of the solid groundwork that’s been laid the sax break when it does come along sounds like a natural extension of what preceded it and two tenors trade off, one rising with expectations while the other downplays those same fervent hopes so as not to be hurt if they don’t bear fruit.

Exquisite is not a word used to describe most rock arrangements, but this one could be called nothing else.


Please Come Back To Me
It’s no surprise that this was another huge hit – #2 nationally, remaining in the Top Ten for an impressive 17 weeks – and confirmed his unique brand of rock balladry was not a flash in the pan that was appealing solely because it was so different, but that it touched something deep in listeners that even when expressing feelings most want to keep hidden the allure of his performance was too strong to resist.

Usually when someone becomes a star there are a few broad characteristics that the artist has to draw from which makes their popularity seem pre-ordained in a sense. It might be undeniable sex appeal that pulls you in… it could be a sly wit that makes them engaging to listen to… sometimes it’s a boundless energy that sweeps you up in the excitement… or it could be a soulful tenderness that encourages almost a romantic connection with them.

Percy Mayfield didn’t have any of those traits but he was every bit as popular as those who did. His secret weapon was his intelligence and naked vulnerability, the combination of which makes a song like Lost Love so potent to everyone who hears it.

There’s an honesty in his songs that is disarming, a sense of craftsmanship that makes the records timeless and through it all just under the surface is the barely perceptible gleam in his eye that comes from his own awareness of just how effective he is while doing it.

Of course you’ll come back for more. Who wouldn’t when he makes it sound this compelling each time out?


(Visit the Artist page of Percy Mayfield for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)