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DELUXE 3302; APRIL 1950

 
 

 

Rock ‘n’ roll’s eternal image is that of youth, attaching itself like a brand to those who buy it as well as those who make it… but when starting out it took awhile for it to become a full-fledged youth movement rather than simply showcasing a younger perspective.

But by 1950 it was becoming clear that the audience for this music was skewing younger than other styles and coupled with the fact that the influx of new artists joining its ranks were becoming ever more youthful as well that image quickly became fixed.
 

 

I Know I Can’t Grow Old
Roy Brown, the man credited for inventing rock ‘n’ roll itself, had been just 22 himself when he launched the genre three years ago, so he was hardly in danger of being seen as over the hill by 1950 and with a dozen hits to his credit since then it was clear he wasn’t exactly losing touch with the audience, but it’s telling that now even he seemed to be aware that in this brand of music time could slip away pretty quickly.

All of which may have been why he seemed determined to publicly re-state his allegiance to the name brand in as clear a manner as possible – by accentuating that youthful attitude that now defined rock music to the masses.

This is a dangerous thing in theory. We know how music can fall prey to excessive marketing ploys by record labels and even back in 1950 there was plenty of companies trying to capitalize on any apparent trend to cash in on consumer interest, but I Feel That Young Man’s Rhythm thankfully doesn’t have a hint of those shallow aims. The roles which Roy Brown controls – his lyrics and his vocals – are solid through and through, giving us a slam bang rocker that mixed unrepentant sexual boasts on paper with hell-raising glee on tape.

It does however have some musical issues that conflict with the overall message Brown’s imparting, in the process showing just how much of a struggle it is to remain forever young in rock ‘n’ roll no matter how hard you try.
 

Five On Friday, Five On Saturday Too
Brown has shown in most of his original material over the past few years that he was a very gifted songwriter whether creating ribald anthems for the ages or casting himself as someone to be pitied for his inexperience and self-inflicted troubles.

He’s consistently dropped us into situations that are uniquely conceived and told with a good eye for detail, allowing them to come to life even if at times they are more just brief scenes rather than full stories, yet maybe because we’re so taken with his expressive voice we pay more attention to that aspect of his performances without giving proper credit to the more mundane aspect of his craft which are the thematic ideas themselves. Here though it’d be hard to overlook.

I Feel That Young Man’s Rhythm is the story of life distilled to one very simple premise – relevance.

On the surface Brown is playing the strutting barnyard rooster, confidently bragging about how many times he’s getting laid. He’s not lacking for pride that’s for sure, you almost expect him to whip it out and show you what he’s using in his conquests.

Yet the more he goes on, actually checking off how long and how often he’s doing the deed at one point, you can’t help but see that underneath his swagger he’s clearly got some doubt as to how long he can keep this up. The title line of the song acts as his rueful admission that he’s already fully aware how unlikely it is that he’ll be able to get a “gang of young woman all 19 years old” to satisfy his carnal needs forever and the prospect of growing older scares the hell out of him which is why he’s determined to constantly prove his virility every chance he gets.

It’s not to impress others, it’s merely to reassure himself.

That perspective alone is worth an entire essay in a psychological study, as Roy’s pinpointing the exact time where you’re still living IN the moment even as that moment threatens to pass you by, all the while being completely aware of this transition yet steadfastly denying it just to keep up the front. It’s almost as if he’s singing this while looking over his shoulder at mortality creeping up on him, hoping that by his vocal power and enthusiasm alone he can keep Father Time at bay a little longer.

In the end he may actually do just that.
 

I’ve Got A Mighty Rock
On ANY Roy Brown record, whether he was singing a story of pathos and emotional depth or childish scrawls, you know the focal point will be on the speaker rattling projection of his magnificent voice and the surgical precision he uses to deliver each line.

All of those attributes are indeed present and account for here, sometimes rather predictably, such as the way he relies on an abundance of “Wellllllls” and “Yeahhhhhs” as lyrical placeholders at the start of his lines, allowing his voice to swell to epic proportions. But though they’re familiar benchmarks taken from his same old bag of tricks, they rarely fail to impress.

His tenor is like polished chrome, bright and flashy, ostentatious at times but something that can’t help but catch your eye – and ears – no matter how often you encounter it. There’s an effortless quality to the way he can rise and fall while holding both the note and the attitude attached to it and on songs like I Feel That Young Man’s Rhythm you can practically see someone like Jackie Wilson studiously taking notes on his technique while listening.

Because this song is designed as a vocal tour de force however it starts to lean a little too heavily on the pyrotechnics in the second half, shedding much of the early lyrical insight in exchange for mightier declarations. This may ensure a more consistent, albeit shallower, response from the typical audience, but in doing so it severs the deeper connection he’d been building with those more ambiguous sentiments that had to earn every reaction by correctly applying the right amount of force to suit each line. We’re still impressed with the raw talent but slightly less appreciative of the skill set he’s calling on to get a rise out of us.

Yet highlights still abound, particularly his interplay with the band, spurring them on like a man possessed when heading into the break as if he’s expecting them to raise their game to match him. If that’s what you’ve been expecting too… well, let’s hope you have something to cushion your fall.
 


 

I Don’t Know What To Do
When reviewing his groundbreaking debut, the immortal Good Rocking Tonight which launched the rock ‘n’ roll era back in 1947, the one criticism that remains a sore point more than seven decades down the road is how the assigned band, that of Bob Ogden, undercut Brown’s performance by affixing an outdated trumpet led arrangement to the song which mistook energy for excitement.

Once Brown’s own band was allowed to join him on record this problem was largely done away with as the saxes, led by Batman Rankins, took control of the tracks and provided a more appropriate harder-edged backing.

But on I Feel That Young Man’s Rhythm those infernal trumpets and a brassier enthusiasm overall in the horn section are back with a vengeance, refuting much of the song’s primal attitude in the process… unless of course it was a perverse way to HIGHLIGHT his fears of not being able to hold back the onrushing tide of ever more youthful competition.

Either way though it was a poor choice, because while the band is playing loud and fast their orderly charts are representative of the very thing he’s trying to dismiss with his cocksure philosophies. As a result it becomes a tug of war that Brown may win but will take far too much out of him to have enough strength left to race across the finish line.

Maybe that’s why the lyrics start to break down in the latter half and why his boasts now start to appear like someone trying to compensate for his own insecurities. When the saxophone handles the first solo he’s still on solid ground, but once that trumpet takes over then our perception of Roy changes with it.

No longer is he the “Mighty Man Brown” going from one conquest to the next with little concern for life, limb or unwanted pregnancies, now he gives the impression of being somebody who only keeps running so that he isn’t forced to stop and take a good look at himself in the mirror.
 

I’m Rockin’ And I Ain’t Stoppin’
Records such as this, with highlights well worth celebrating sitting alongside flaws so glaring that they can’t be brushed aside, are the hardest to evaluate.

Do you let the band’s ill-suited idea of support drag down the singer and relegate the song to the back of the closet, left to gather dust over the years… or do you acknowledge the core of the record, that initial perspective and Brown’s insatiable vocal passion, plus some incredibly precisent lyrical touches, win out over your uneasy skepticism that says they should all know better than to saddle this with anything so outdated?

There’s really no right answer of course, so if you wanted to knock I Feel That Young Man’s Rhythm down a point or two, or even up a point, there’s not much to counter those impressions that haven’t already been aired here.

But we’re going with a slightly more generous assessment of the overall performance, reasoning that ultimately it’s Brown’s legacy that matters most, not the band and he outshines them by more than enough to justify any break we may be guilty of giving him in the score.

Besides, when you have the inventor of rock ‘n’ roll itself stating for the record in early 1950 that “Good Rockin, that’s my name/They better put my rock in the Hall Of Fame”, how can you possibly deny his claims, especially when as of this writing the actual Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, which wouldn’t exist without his coming up with the very music they’re supposedly celebrating, has yet to induct him after thirty-five years and counting.

In the end time must’ve caught up to him at last… but then again, it does for everyone else too, eventually.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICRT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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