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DELUXE 1128; DECEMBER 1947

 
 


And so we close out rock’s first calendar year – 1947 – the same way we started it, with Roy Brown.

Somewhat surprisingly this is already the seventh Roy Brown review we’re doing, all in the span of just four short months. If we were handing out Rock Artist Of The Year awards there’s no question Brown would be the landslide winner for 1947, not just for the sheer volume of recordings he contributed to rock’s early canon, but also the general quality and overall influence of those records.

The real question though would be how he’d do from 1948-onward. Many is the breakout performer who seemed on top of the world one minute and then fell off the edge of the earth soon after when they never came close to matching what they’d done in that one magical season. What was to say he wouldn’t be Peter Frampton twenty years before the fact?

As 1947 drew to a close any anti-rock factions who hoped Brown may be the first one headed down that road to oblivion, the creator of a burgeoning style who flames out when it proves to be his only moment of inspiration, thus perhaps taking the whole clamorous music down with him, must’ve been sorely disappointed to hear this. For while Miss Fanny Brown, like the flip, Mighty Mighty Man, don’t exactly surpass his first moment of brilliance it does show that the earlier moment in question wasn’t simply a fluke, but rather it had been the start of something noteworthy after all.

More than anything it proved that both Brown and the music itself had more up their sleeve to hold your interest heading into the new year.
 

Lay That Lovin’ Down
It’s nonetheless disheartening in a way to hear the trumpet kick this record off, the last remaining vestige from a bygone era when that horn, rather than the more exciting tenor sax, still took center stage. The beat that follows is more prancing than stampeding, showing Brown isn’t beholden to the precise components that had gotten him this far to begin with. While it’s certainly true that this arrangement isn’t BETTER than Good Rocking Tonight, far from it actually, the fact he deviated from that approach right away speaks well of his willingness to try other things.

The lyrics describe the soon to be notorious Miss Fanny Brown (hopefully no relation to Roy, though as those who read the review for Special Lesson No. 1 must surely remember, we have reason to worry) who is having a wild fling with the inexperienced Roy. By the sound of it Fanny is perhaps the real life model for Blanche DuBoise in the New Orleans-set A Streetcar Named Desire, a sexual cougar preying on young boys, as he wails,

She’s forty years old and she ain’t young no more
But she’s got a new kinda loving that’ll bring you back for more.

The scandalous nature of the affair isn’t glossed over, there seems to be some shame involved for him no matter his enjoyment of the act itself. The call and response vocals with the backing band replying “Don’t tell nobody” throughout in Greek chorus fashion emphasize this point while their very presence has a galvanizing effect. It’s one of the first notable examples of the communal nature of rock music, exemplified in a gospel-esque give and take. Rock was already shaping up to be a music that was best enjoyed by joining in the proceedings and helping them along rather than silently observing from the sidelines as was becoming the case in jazz’s more exciting excursions as of late and this is a rousing showcase for that approach.

Even more promising is the nature of the tawdry tale itself, as rock music stakes out the ground on the other side of the morality fence that pop music dared not cross, nor rarely even peaked over unless they wrapped it in an innocent delivery to take the bite off.

In fact it’s a bit of a dirty secret Roy’s imparting here, but his presumed inexperience with the wily ways of this predatory female leaves him unable to cope with her sudden departure – her tryst with him now over she moves on to the next unsuspecting boy in another town, leaving the naïve young Roy stunned to wake up one morning and find her gone.
 


 
 

The Whole Night Through
Though not overtly sexual in nature, and no, in case you were wondering (or hoping), there aren’t any X-rated lyrical surprises that pop up, the picture it paints is one that’s very real and nuanced in just three minutes.

We’re hearing a man… or more accurately a boy becoming a man… on the edge of a life-altering event, one he’s not quite prepared to handle. The fact that most kids stumble their way through the early ups and downs of love, lust and sex, unsure of themselves and painfully aware that their inexperience might prove to be their undoing in any romantic encounter is one of the things that immediately connects the potential young audience for rock to the music that already promises to speak for them and voice their own real life concerns. The situation Brown describes might be a bit implausible for listeners not so worldly to imagine themselves in such a scenario with a vivacious older woman like Miss Fanny Brown, but the underlying emotions he imparts it with definitely hit home.

But relatable or not, as melodramas go this is riveting all the same and Roy Brown proves he’s more than up to playing the role to perfection. When Leroy “Batman” Rankins’ saxophone breaks in with a steamy solo Roy moans over top of it, his despair evident as the sax ramps up the intensity with each note. Brilliant stuff and proof that Brown fully comprehended the emotional impact of this music from the very beginning, something that pop music remained utterly clueless about for years.

The arrangement is really a thing of beauty from this point on. Little details stand out, such as Roy singing about how his tears fell while the piano hammers away on the treble keys, an aural embellishment that’s not heavy handed but tremendously evocative. Even the fade – often an afterthought, even when following an otherwise solid production – shows each moment was carefully crafted beforehand, as Roy’s tone drops, realizing that she is indeed gone for good most likely, and shaking in his head in wonderment repeating as if in a trance that “she caught that morning train” which is answered hauntingly by a distant horn which has you wondering if it came from the studio or the train itself.

Beautifully done all around.
 


 

And Bring You Back For More
Yet exquisite craftsmanship doesn’t always equate with an immediate visceral response, and true to form it’s not a song that’ll jump out at you. It’s a character study with depth, not a rousing party laid on wax.

In fact, to some it may have seemed at the time to be a bit of a let down following Good Rocking Tonight and the even more raucous Roy Brown Boogie for those craving more of the same. But in a way this performance is the really the confirmation of the legitimacy of those earlier records, offering something that isn’t derivative but manages to be equally compelling.

Miss Fanny Brown rewards repeated listens for those willing to pay careful attention to the nuances Brown uses to convey his emotions, from the exhilaration at hooking up with this older seductress to his growing heartbreak over finding out she used him and the shell-shocked despair he closes with. As such it goes a long way in revealing an artistry in the artist, a mind behind the voice, a sense of confidence and direction from all of those involved.

For a style which may have already seemed to its critics to be little more than a haphazard collection of wild rhythms, tasteless sexual themes and an emphasis on gaudy showmanship, this was unquestionably something more than that.

Don’t get me wrong, rock was all those things too, and thankfully so, but rock music could also dig deeper at times and this is proof that it was doing so from the very beginning.

As 1948 dawned the question would now become could they keep it up? But either way, all things considered, they were off to a damn good start and we can’t wait to see what the next year has in store.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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