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SPECIALTY 375; SEPTEMBER 1950

 
 

 

Rock ‘n’ roll has been known for a good many things over time… its critics charged it with being nothing more than idiotic noise, an affront to good music and a blight on the culture. Its fans vehemently disagreed and championed rock’s lack of inhibitions, defiant attitude and its celebration of hedonistic good times as its primary appeal.

Its overriding image through the years has always been one of rebellion, but that one-size fits all label tends to obscure the greater scope of rock’s enduring strength which is how it always was ahead of the curve when it came to addressing all of the vast complexities of human emotions in an honest and direct fashion.

When it came to plundering the darkest corners of the soul and examining the doubts, confusion and insecurities that people tend to want to keep concealed from the world at large, nobody in rock’s long history ever was as fearless in doing so than Percy Mayfield, providing a voice for everybody who wanted to ask life’s often unanswerable questions but didn’t have the courage to do so.
 

 

If It’s Not Asking Too Much
During the summer of 1950 one of the voices most heard on jukeboxes and radio by rock fans was an artist who hadn’t been in a studio in well over a year.

In fact the song in question was the second time in two years that the artist recorded it and while Supreme Records was able to move a few more copies than Gru-V-Tone had a year earlier it still sold very little which might not be too surprising considering the artist was practically a complete unknown, singing in a laid-back introspective style that was utterly unique to rock’s already dominant images of bravado on one hand or anguish on the other.

But in the spring of 1950 another small Los Angeles based label called Recorded in Hollywood picked up this failed single and were able to somehow get it heard, turning Two Years Of Torture into a sizable regional hit, as well as spawning a cover version by one of the biggest names in the field when Amos Milburn tackled it, all of which helped to set into motion one of the more unlikely ascents to stardom of any rock act yet.

When Specialty Records learned that its originator Percy Mayfield wasn’t signed to any label they tracked him down and rushed to get him in the studio before the ink had dried on his new contract with them. Maybe they were just shallowly seeking to take advantage of the recent flurry of interest in him, or maybe Art Rupe – as he later stated – was really moved by Mayfield’s aching vulnerability on record and wanted to see if he might have more of this in him.

He did of course. Mayfield was a prolific writer whose bleak outlook on love and life was tempered by his realism, startlingly good wordplay and knack for catchy melodies to frame them in, but nobody involved, no matter how optimistic they were about his chances at truly breaking through, could’ve anticipated that his debut for the label, Please Send Me Someone To Love, would reverberate as it did across the land… and across the decades to come.

If rock has an anthem fit for every mood then this is unquestionably the one which claims that title for all of those conflicted souls who teeter precariously between hope and despair.
 


 
 

Show The World
The sound of this record is that of resignation… almost tranquility after wrestling with internal demons and coming out on the losing end. There’s a peacefulness in accepting this fate that comes across in both Mayfield’s voice and the discreet tasteful arrangement that envelops him.

It’s the sound of another sleepless night, of the waning hum of late traffic in the distance and the unceasing ticking of the clock that no longer torments your mind because you’ve long since gotten used to it after lying awake while your mind is wracked with questions that have no answers.

The initial surging of the horns command your attention right away before they downshift to lead into a tinkling piano, providing a slower meditative aura that is some peak level arranging by Maxwell Davis as he ensures the ebb and flow of the understated rhythm contributes to the calming effect the record has on you as Mayfield spins his daydream.

As with all of his songs the lyrics of Please Send Me Someone To Love are so sturdy they might as well have been carved in granite, but what stands out aren’t simply the impressive individual lines, but the entire binary nature of the premise itself.

Going by the title alone you’d think that this would be little more than a lonely man asking the gods to send a girl to share his life with, an understandable, if somewhat selfish, plea. But while that definitely is a major theme of the song it’s by no means the overriding one.

Instead Mayfield expands his vision, spinning it outward until he’s using a far more existential approach, the idea that people’s individual miseries are inexorably tied to the well-being of the world at large.

This is such a risky maneuver to make because there are so many ways it can go wrong starting with the fact that three minute rock records are not supposed to be cerebral by nature. Even if you were to have them accept the larger questions he poses there’s few singers OR writers who could avoid discussing this theme without coming off as either far too shallow or far too pretentious.

But Mayfield never trips up, navigating this obstacle course with an agility and lightness of touch that is quite astonishing. His vocal abilities, always underrated because his stuffy baritone voice itself is pretty average, helps a lot here because his phrasing is flawless, giving you the sense that he’s never reciting scripted lines but is actually coming up with them in the moment, formulating his ideas in real time and blending them seamlessly with his emotions to paint three-dimensional picture of life itself.

But it’s what he’s telling that matters most and here he stakes his claim as rock’s first great poet and its conscience as well.
 

I Don’t Beg For No Sympathy
It’s all but a given that a mere song with barely over a hundred words, even less if you eliminate the subsequent appearances of the chorus, there’s not going to be much of a chance in solving mankind’s voluminous problems with any kind of analytical depth, but Please Send Me Someone To Love does a pretty good job of laying out the talking points at least.

Though the theme itself is incredibly broad he’s laser-focused on the sentiments behind them, delivering it all in a measured tone that underlines just how cautious he’s being in addressing things which he may see as deeply held beliefs but that might evoke others into accusing him of being a socialist rabble-rouser (this WAS 1950 remember, as McCarthyism’s foul stench was first infiltrating the landscape).

Yet the points themselves are inarguable and the way he presents them with almost a serene state of mind in spite of his anguish, oddly enough increases their impact.

Because he’s not talking down to anybody, not accusing someone directly of committing these social atrocities (primarily addressing race if you read between the lines) it allows each listener to come to grips with the larger sentiments being covered before thinking of how they fit into his critique. Since most people think of themselves as good, kind and fair-minded individuals, they’re going to connect more with the better aspects of this than they have any right to, nodding in agreement rather than being on the defensive if it had been done in a harsh scolding tone instead.

When he transitions to his personal situation, the lack of a soulmate he so desperately craves, you can view it as cynically as you like, even go so far as to insinuate that he’s using the heal the world message to get his foot in the door, or at least to catch the ear of whatever god he’s addressing if you prefer, and that really what he wants is a girlfriend and to hell with the fate of mankind.

But that view, while usually appropriate and often uncomfortably accurate in rock ‘n’ roll circles, doesn’t hold up here because if it were to be taken as fact it’d have to convince you that everything ELSE about this was a lie too, not just the words he’s saying but the manner in which he’s delivering them. Even his request for that elusive partner is done with a humbleness that is disarming, as if he has no belief that he’ll get what he asks for, because… well… why would he?

Why would HIS measly personal problems take precedent to an almighty overseer of the universe if the world’s more pressing problems had been steadfastly ignored by this supposed benevolent deity for centuries? If God himself turns a blind eye to racism, sexism, classism and the injustice that stems from those positions each and every day, then what hope is there for any of us?
 

Peace Will Enter When Hate Is Gone
That’s the genius of the record in the end… the fact that even Percy Mayfield knows this Utopian dream is never going to come to fruition and he’s wearily resigned to that fate.

People are ignorant, spiteful, insecure and power hungry… for all of their accomplishments in the fields of science and technology and the advancements in elevating the standard of living over the years, they’ve utterly failed to become better PEOPLE while doing so.

There’s never a shortage of hatred in this world but there’s always a surplus of lies to excuse that hatred. There’s no lack of evidence as to the widespread value of true equality in a society but there’s an ongoing resistance to actually following through on ensuring it exists and thrives because those who “have” will always want to deny those who don’t from ever getting it.

Please Send Me Someone To Love is a song of a man who has come to understand the futility of it all, someone who’s grappled with the lack of logic, compassion and generosity in people and has no answers left to explain it.

He’s utterly adrift, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

“Unless man puts an end to this damnable sin, hate will put the world in a flame… what a shame”.

Mayfield’s all but given up… on himself, on the heavens and on an uncaring, unjust, unworthy humanity that surrounds him.

But if there truly WAS no hope left, no redeeming qualities in the hearts and souls of those you pass on the streets each day, then who is he singing this for? Himself? To purge his own consciousness of these problems one last time before he calls it a day?

Or is he singing for you… the ones who failed time and time again to live up to the high minded ideals so many espouse but fail to ever deliver on. The ones who listened to this song and liked it enough to make it a huge and enduring hit without actually HEARING what he was saying and who he was addressing.

Maybe he’s more optimistic than he lets on and holds out hope that if people can respond so powerfully to a song like this perhaps deep down they still retain a flicker of decency that he’s not quite ready to give up on. Of course there doesn’t seem to be any sign that will happen in today’s world but the chance still theoretically exists, for the song is still spinning out in the darkness somewhere, furtively hoping that you hear his plea and will finally respond in a way that uplifts us all.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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