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DELUXE 3098; OCTOBER, 1947

 

 

Back in the late 1940’s, and really for another dozen years or so at least, the standard procedure when it came to how most labels went about recording their artists was relatively simple – a three hour session to cut four songs, thus giving the label two singles with corresponding B-sides to put out over the next few months. As a result most acts were in the studio only a few times over the course of a year then went back on the road where they earned their living* with the records largely acting as promotional tools for their next gig.

(* = The label of course would essentially take all the royalties from the hits, charge the artists with the expenses for cutting them, while the artist got a few gaudy baubles – some flashy clothes, a car to tour in – to keep them happy while trying to live off whatever gate receipts they could wrangle from unscrupulous promoters on the road. Not exactly the high life, even for genuine stars. But I digress).

Few record companies deviated much from this pattern unless there was a rather unusual reason.

Roy Brown didn’t yet have an unusual reason to change these plans when he cut his second session for DeLuxe Records in September, 1947. Back in July he’d laid down his first sides for the label, including the record that was just being putting out as he entered the studio again as summer turned to fall and of course nobody yet knew that the response to that record would give them an “unusual reason” to rush him back in the studio again just a month later.

While they certainly had high hopes for Good Rocking Tonight, it being why they signed him that summer in the first place after all, they couldn’t have possibly envisioned the magnitude of its impact and were still treating Brown like anybody else and so his second studio date was carried off in rather predictable fashion. All of which makes this record particularly interesting, if only because we get to see what everyone involved were thinking when their mindsets were still largely unaffected by anything that was about to happen.
 

Something You Don’t Learn In School
Brown’s uniqueness as an artist when starting out could be essentially boiled down to the fact that his vocal delivery was derived largely from his gospel upbringing as a youth, singing in a highly emotional and unrestrained style, but his songs were decidedly secular in nature. The contrast between the two sources created a new wrinkle in popular music… actually more like a massive rift.

More expressive than most so-called “blues shouters” yet just as bawdy in subject matter, the difference may seem slight years later but it was alarming at the time and very influential going forward. Gone seemingly were his pop aspirations (well, almost, as one of the four sides cut at this date was as straight laced as they came) and in its place was a vibrant voice singing as if he’d been expelled from church for not only singing the devil’s music but dancing naked on the altar while chugging the sacramental wine.

If ever there was a song that could be called legitimately dirty, not merely for words – you’ll hear far more explicit language of course as the years roll by on Spontaneous Lunacy , so by the time we get to metal, punk and hip-hop these early examples will seem almost puritan in nature – but rather in the Oedipal nature of the storyline, this is surely the song.

Got your attention yet? Good, I thought that would grab you.

You see, the lesson Brown is learning here is a sexual one. Nothing surprising there I suppose. However the teachers giving him a blow by blow demonstration of the act as it were are… his own parents!

Though they’re unaware of the 12 year old Roy peeping them through the keyhole as his old man drills his old lady, apparently giving the boy quite an unexpected reaction below the belt in the process, the fact is this is borderline incest we’re talking about, at least in terms of his fantasies that result from seeing such a display and so it’s really a bit unsettling.

For all of the suggestiveness and racy double entendres we’ll be soon encountering, even the lewd instrumental replication of the act itself at times that will feature prominently in future raunchy records, the participants in those songs are, for the most part, the singer themselves and a member of the opposite sex unrelated by blood. Technically speaking they are here as well, Roy’s not suggesting his parents were first cousins or brother and sister or anything of that nature, nor does the youngster try and awkwardly join in the bedspring olympics himself, but Roy’s sheer enjoyment in watching them takes on a rather disturbing air.

Now he SAYS he didn’t understand what they were doing, which may in fact be true, but had they been folding laundry or tying fishing lures in the bedroom it’s doubtful the kid would’ve remained hunched over in the hallway, one eye against the keyhole watching the entire incident unfold with rapt attention as his folks… well, let’s just let Roy tell it in his own words, shall we?

I looked at the old man
Thought he was acting like a fool
Cause the pencil he was using
Wasn’t the kind we used in school

 

 

Our Story Reaches Its Climax
Maybe they weren’t doing it right… I don’t know… but Roy later goes to his father to ask for an explanation and his father gives it to him…

An explanation that is! This record may be a bit explicit but it’s not out and out perverted, so get your mind out of the gutter, people!

That Roy is singing this with such dramatic feeling tells me he enjoyed watching their carnal performance far too much for my comfort, making it one of the few off-color early rockers that I don’t get at least get a grin out of hearing.

It’s also a bit of a let-down musically. This offers Roy in a little more bluesy vein than on his first sides. It’s also much slower than what he delivered last time out as the guitar takes precedence in the arrangement, no horns found here at all, though the piano is omnipresent, all of which gives it a bit different feel. Not bad in terms of a contrast from his earlier sides, but nothing special either, certainly no real improvement.

The song itself comes across as more of an after hours crowd pleaser, something used to quell a riot in a dingy nightclub after too many drinks in the cramped confines have led some of the patrons to insulting each other’s manners, looks, clothes and intelligence. Just before bottles are about to be broken to be used as weapons or guns are being drawn and the hearse is pulling up to the door ready to solicit some business the band would strike this up to divert attention from the perceived slights and everyone would drunkenly hoot and holler along with the suggestive implications of the lyrics thereby staving off the bloodshed that might’ve occurred otherwise.

I suppose in that sense it’d be effective – after all, nobody wants to see the night end by having the law swoop in to haul everyone off to the hoosegow – and if everyone is already juiced enough to be aroused by this you’d probably be just as happy to go along with the overriding (albeit disturbing) spirit if found yourself there among them. But as a record, without the rowdy cries from such a setting aiding and abetting your enjoyment of the mild perversions contained within, it falls short.
 

What actually winds up being most interesting about Special Lesson No. 1 from a purely historical perspective is that it was clearly done without any inkling that Good Rocking Tonight was going to set some sort of stylistic template to follow. They seemed to be heading back towards a style that was already a winner for others before rock changed the rules. Though it isn’t quite pure blues in nature, Roy’s voice just wasn’t going to go along with that plan no matter what anybody felt, it’s at least leaning somewhat in that direction. A bit more uptown maybe but certainly containing more of the melancholy feeling that the blues often exhibited.

But then again I’d be melancholy too if I was forced to sing about such a personal, and surely somewhat traumatic, recollection. This is frankly something Roy should’ve kept between him and his shrink.
 

The Afterglow
Before we have the Department Of Social Services breathing down our collective necks let’s briefly return to the opening of the review, the part about the standard recording session and release schedules that most independent labels of the time adhered to.

This second session seems to confirm that they were looking at Brown’s career in fairly conventional terms still. They had wanted to get that magical song down on record and released, which they did, but now were unsure of where else to take it, especially with no feedback from the public to go off of yet. So to hedge their bets they came up with four rather typically styled songs in an attempt to reach whichever market was deemed to be the most promising: a bluesy side (this one), a sprightly, somewhat contrived novelty sounding tune (musically, not a lyrical novelty) that served as the flip to this with Woman’s A Wonderful Thing, then a pop-slanted ballad and lastly a somewhat generic, but certainly enthusiastic, rocking boogie we’ll review down the road when it gets released. In other words they were covering all of their stylistic bases as they knew them to be heading INTO the fall of ’47, as in “before the musical world turned upside down” thanks to his first record. Within a few weeks however the game itself would change once Good Rocking Tonight started to hit big and they’d hurry him back into the studio to come up with something to capitalize fully on the new ground rules he himself had set forth earlier.

Rather than let the records they’d just cut sit on the shelf collecting dust they rushed them both out in rapid succession just hoping to pick up some quick sales on the buzz of their breakthrough while they then set out to consolidate their ideas and work on properly following that up in the same style. The songs he’d write for that endeavor would confirm where his true musical faith lay all along.

Until then however we’re forced to deal with this on its own terms. On those merits, while it certainly could be called an interesting and well performed song, it’s still rather disconcerting to hear and ultimately a lesson best learned on your own.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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