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DELUXE 3306; AUGUST 1950

 
 

 

There’s always a moment in each great artist’s career where we can best appreciate how good they really were.

It usually will come well after they’d enjoyed that first run of hits that made them a star, those initial records that had showcased their natural gifts – in this case the vocal brilliance and thematic instincts – which grabbed people’s attention out of the gate.

More often than not it’d also come after their next flurry of hits which confirmed their genius, those records which had more depth to them where they’d explore new ideas, tighten up their presentation by cutting away all of the excess dross and would hone in on polishing their craft and begin to approach genuine artistry in their work.

At that point, their status assured and with nothing left to prove, the really great artists would take a look around, surveying the landscape while enjoying the view from the mountaintop and allow themselves to fully appreciate how far they’d come and how high they’d managed to climb.

If we were lucky that’s when they’d feel confident enough – and comfortable enough – to simply show off just for the sake of doing it.
 

 

Now The News Is All Over Town
In 1950 Roy Brown, the charter member of the rock club and arguably its most accomplished star to date, was in that position.

His early output had shaped the ground rules of the genre as it took off but it was largely left to others to reap the initial benefits. He’d scored some hits and had plenty of influence but it wasn’t until stage two in his journey that the accolades really started pouring in as the band coalesced behind him and the hits began piling up.

By the fall of 1949 he’d reached his peak with the brilliant Boogie At Midnight and with his position as rock’s most potent act secured he could’ve rested on his laurels and nobody would’ve held it against him. Instead he re-shaped his band, adding the incomparable Edgar Blanchard on guitar and handing him the reins when it came to crafting the musical arrangements behind Roy’s compositions, and the results were truly spectacular.

It was almost as if Brown was determined to use each single of 1950 as a measuring stick of sorts… not to compare himself with others, but to force other artists to try and keep up with him.

Lyrically, musically, stylistically, this run of singles was unmatched. Rather than repeat himself, as was the custom in music at the time, especially for him in the past (and, for that matter, in the future as well) Brown was overflowing with new ideas and was eager to showcase them all.

Love Don’t Love Nobody is one of those songs whose title alone speaks to his creativity, taking a self-pitying sentiment and turning it on its head, making a downbeat theme come alive in an upbeat vocal arrangement.

From that basic concept everything else flows and coming right on the heels of his latest #1 hit, the morose Hard Luck Blues which kicked off the summer, this nearly matched it on the charts to close summer out, stalling at #2. That two such diametrically opposed songs by the same artist could be almost equally popular might seem strange at a glance but while the style they use is radically different, what they both share is far more revealing.
 

How I Cried
One of the things we’ve tried to convey through the genre’s first few years is how aside from the musical differences rock brought to the table the most crucial component that stood it apart from the pop and jazz styles that had dominated the landscape for so long was the focus on emotion.

It’s amazing how much we take the emotional qualities in music for granted today because once upon a time that aspect of music was largely absent. It’s been enlightening trying to put these early rock records into context by comparing them to the mainstream pop hits of era which were completely devoid of any emotional consequence, making the two forms seem even further apart than the louder cruder instrumentation would suggest.

A few reviews back we slaughtered The Four Tunes’ Say When for adhering to the pop mindset that promoted a passive acceptance to heartache and questioned how anyone listening could be moved by a song in which the main character in the story seemed to have no real life stake in its outcome.

Rock music of course played up the emotion from the start, forging a deeper connection to listeners going through, or even just imagining, the same scenarios happening to them. In fact that might be Roy Brown’s most important contribution to rock music, the introduction of unbridled emotionalism to his work, a trait which no rock artist since has been able to ignore, significantly alter or improve upon.

On Love Don’t Love Nobody that emotional commitment forms the heart of the record, giving Brown’s complaints about his wrecked love life the gravitas to transform it from being merely a sob story about a guy getting dumped into a much bigger discourse on the risks of love as a social construct.
 


 
 

Doggone You Love, I’m Through With You!
The lyrical depth here is really special as Brown starts off in a nasty mood, cursing love with the passion of someone who had it taken unexpectedly from him and is still reeling from the loss. It’s personal pain projected onto a larger canvas as he’s trying to come to grips with how something so wonderful can wind up causing such misery.

The existential questions loom large here, mainly the enigma that sits at the core of the emotion itself… love is something that needs reciprocation to blossom and so while you might be infatuated with somebody, if that somebody has no feelings for you in return it’s often worse than never finding love to begin with.

He manages to convey this by showing frustration – calling love “the devil” is a particularly nice overreaction – as well as laying out enough details of his own failed relationship to bring it to life.

If that were all he had to offer Love Don’t Love Nobody would be good enough to win over most listeners, but where he really tops himself is in the unexpectedly humorous conclusion. We were never under the impression that he was going to become a monk, swearing off women entirely, for it was clear all along that he was just bummed out over a break-up and was venting to alleviate the anguish of being dumped. But we knew the whole time – as he did – that it was really just a temporary setback.

He finally admits this in the final stanzas as still fearing rejection but determined to not put himself in a position for heartbreak he sets his sights significantly lower so he can find someone not traditionally appealing who will just be grateful for a man to call her own thereby assuring himself of a willing partner while lessening the chance of her tossing him out on his ear down the road.

All of this is sold with relish, his voice soaring at times until you feel every conflicting emotion deep in your own soul, letting you know that unlike the pop singers of the world who sang about love without giving any indication they had any experience with it, Brown had lived every second of the roller coaster ride in real life.
 

Rock At Home
Matching him step for step on this journey is the band, the vaunted Mighty Mighty Men who add to this with some of their best playing on record and arguably the tightest arrangement Brown ever enjoyed.

It kicks off with Edgar Blanchard’s snakey guitar line which is joined by crying horns while drums and hand-claps establish the rhythm and ensures that this isn’t mistaken for a weeper, or for that matter that Brown’s diatribe isn’t taken too seriously.

From there the music flows like water, allowing you to ride its crest without fully noticing the specific attributes it’s using until they come to the forefront during the two breaks. The first of them features the saxophones being played by old faithfuls Batman Rankins and Johnny Fonetenette, one horn droning, the other riffing. It’s an arrangement that highlights the “roll” in rock ‘n’ roll, giving the impression of constant movement while shifting between two vastly different rhythms.

In the second break Blanchard takes over, his more deliberate solo stirring your senses with how he squeezes out the notes judiciously, letting them hang in the air until the tension nearly overwhelms you before dashing off a few more.

As if that weren’t enough Love Don’t Love Nobody closes strong when the trumpet joins the fray in the final stretch as Roy is wailing away, suggesting that the entire ordeal he’s been going through is finally passing and things are returning to normal in the love life of the first King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
 


 

Living Like A King
Sometimes you take it for granted when everything falls into place perfectly on a record and it’s only when comparing them to other records where one or two elements are just a bit off that you really appreciate their quality.

But even with all of the stellar singles in Roy Brown’s career to date it stands out in almost every way.

The vocal performance is flawless as Roy embodies the character he sketched out, the emotional highs and lows coming through loud and clear as he comes to grip with his fate. The structure of the record, from the lyrical twists and turns to the cathartic chorus, right down to the seemingly tossed off throwaway comments heading into the break, never step wrong while the arrangement and instrumental prowess behind him are as good as it gets.

Love Don’t Love Nobody may not be the single best record he ever made, but if you said it was you wouldn’t get many who’d be willing to argue against it too vociferously.

This was Roy Brown reveling in his position as rock’s ruling power. It wouldn’t last forever of course, nobody’s reign is ever quite as durable as they think in moments like this, but while it lasts it’s still a sight to behold.

In the middle of 1950 rock itself loved Roy Brown for all he’d given it and with this masterpiece he showed he loved it right back.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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