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DELUXE 3318; JULY 1951



At this stage of his career, Roy Brown was eminently comfortable with his position as one of rock’s biggest stars.

He was the music’s founder more or less, it was his template of emotional singing over rocking rhythms that formed the genre’s very foundation and helped to give it its name. He wrote the majority of his own material and his litany of hits had reigned supreme over the charts these last three plus years.

Along the way he’d put together one of the finest bands on the scene, equally proficient in the studio as they were on stage and then as they broke apart he simply recruited new musicians that were arguably just as good and kept right on rolling.

By 1951 he was sitting pretty and this record is the sound of someone who was sure it would never end.


I Know I’ll Never Fail
In many ways without looking at the dates records came out you can sort of tell where a lot of artists were in their careers.

Records with more energy than craftsmanship often is the surest sign that someone is just starting out, when their enthusiasm outweighs their discipline and they’ve yet to learn how to focus their ideas once they get in the studio.

The daringly ambitious records which are executed with a shocking degree of cockiness indicates that artist is about to break through and hit their highest creative and commercial peak.

On the downside there are those records which show no new inspiration as the artist is clearly going through the motions, hoping their past acclaim will be enough to carry the day and it’s not hard to pinpoint those releases as the start of their inevitable decline, even as it’s happening.

When the artist in question turns to the Great American Songbook they are officially a few weeks away from the crypt.

The point that Roy Brown’s at now, as described in the lead-in, may not be as musically rewarding as his climb to the top (or as frustrating as his fall from grace) but it’s still really interesting because of how effortlessly he’s still able to draw from his deep reservoir of talent. He’s not chasing hits, he merely expects hits to come to him. He’s not following trends because he was always the one who started them. He’s not worried about failing because… well, because he hasn’t yet.

So he’s in a comfort zone with his music and while being too comfortable will eventually make him soft and cause him to lose his edge – as it does for nearly all artists in that position – for the time being we get to enjoy him living in musical luxury so to speak. Big Town is emblematic of that mindset, a record that shows his casual assurance of every facet of the process.

A well-written song with a tight varied arrangement and a vocal that is the picture of confidently measured control.


Don’t Start Runnin’ Wild
With Edgar Blanchard’s tasteful biting guitar intro we’re officially in a different era than Brown began in. A few years back it’d be horns or piano kicking the records off, but we’re seeing the expanding palette all of rock was utilizing as we got further into the 1950’s and Brown was a key factor in that, if only because his willingness to go beyond his “hit sound” gave credence to this next step on the evolutionary ladder.

After that this settles back into a slightly more typical arrangement with horns the most prominent part thanks to their modest responsorial riffs. While Brown delivers the tale in chapter-like fashion the piano and drums carry the instrumental load.

It’s a mid-tempo pace with an undercurrent of urgency at times, a seeming contradiction that actually is more about the pressure Brown applies on certain lines to convey different moods. He’s not usually credited as a bandleader – and Blanchard was responsible for the musical arrangements at this point – but it all hinges on Roy’s vocal choices and he never steps wrong here, equally concerned with how to best tell the story as he is with how to best sing the song.

As for that story Big Town is the backdrop for the life journey he’s on, starting off dreaming about the place – not so much the specific city itself but rather what it represents… bustling excitement and opportunity. Giving in to this nagging itch he abruptly leaves his family, though he does give his wife a chance to express her grief over his departure, and heads out to sow some more wild oats.

We’d normally pause here and lodge a strongly worded criticism of how wrong he was to abdicate his responsibilities to his wife and kid… surely a mid-life crisis even though he was not yet thirty (although considering Brown died at the tragically young age of 55, apparently he knew something we did not as he was right at the mid-way point when this came out)… but despite our objections to his fictitious life choices, as a plot this is shaping up to be really interesting, especially because of how leisurely it unfolds.

After the trumpet adds some pathos to his journey, Brown hooks up with a “hep gal” and has a great time living it up – “she spent all my money” – before she dumps him unceremoniously- “now she don’t want my kind of jive” – and in the most sharp-eyed line of the song, responds to his begging to reconsider by telling him – “I meet your kind every day, in every hole and every dive”.

That’s a pulp novel put to music if ever there was one.

Naturally that’s when he sees the error of his ways and has to beg for a nickel to call his wife and… well, that’s where he leaves us hanging, the phone ringing without any indication of whether she’ll answer it, let alone take him back.

That’s how to write a song, boys and girls.


We Really Had A Time
Though the musical side of the equation fits the narrative okay, it doesn’t add much beyond that guitar lead-in and so if you don’t focus carefully on the story – and aren’t inclined to compare it to the usual fare in rock compositions for the time where this stands out as something much more cinematic in nature – the record might be seen as something “nice” but hardly too consequential.

I’ll be honest, at glance I’d think so too. Big Town doesn’t jump out at you and so if you had a nickel burning a hole in your pocket in 1951 and had twenty selections on a jukebox this might not be the one you’d pick.

Heck, it might not even be one you’d gravitate towards if you had a quarter to spend on five songs!

That would explain it charting for a lone week at #8 nationally… big name recognition gets the song the initial interest but few repeat listens and little word of mouth to spur it on to additional buys or spins.

Yet if you bought the record, took it home and had the time to listen to it a couple of times without distraction this is a song that really shows his skill. The story is great, starting with a decent plot but investing it with so much detail and so many emotional swings that it shows the difference between this type of songwriting which would flourish in the future and the more predictable “let’s have a basic set-up to get to a catchy chorus” form that was in fashion now.

Of course the best of THOSE songs are every bit the equal of this one, but this one, in its own unique way, is really good as well. It may take a little more time to appreciate, but ultimately it’s worth the effort.

Besides, when a guy is on the top of his game like Roy Brown is now, how could anyone not grant him that courtesy?


(Visit the Artist page of Roy Brown for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)