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It’s always interesting to watch as an artist gradually makes the climb up the ladder from merely being somebody with potential to a full-fledged star.

Along the way though there are certain benchmarks they need to hit in order to ensure that progression isn’t derailed.

They need a really big hit of course, but that alone is never enough. They also need equally gaudy follow-up hits, for there are lots of acts with one huge smash who can’t capitalize on it and quickly fade away.

Once they’ve wracked up a series of major hits in rapid succession their status is more or less assured, as the record company can count on them to serve as the commercial tent pole for their entire line, while the audience can lay down their money for each subsequent release without having to hear it first, knowing the artist has earned their trust and giving the fan the confidence they won’t regret their purchase.

But this single might just be where Ruth Brown cements her budding legacy with a step that often gets overlooked, as she scores a big hit with a record that can’t come anywhere close to competing with her best efforts, yet nevertheless is still good enough to earn universal respect despite being second rate.

That’s when you know you’ve really made it.


We’re A Great Combination
For those keeping score, this is Ruth Brown’s sixth Top Ten hit in Billboard magazine, five of which have come in the last year and a half, the time when Atlantic Records finally succeeded in finding her stylistic niche with songs made of equal parts rhythm and sass.

All of them have been written by Rudy Toombs, the unsung hero of Atlantic’s rise to prominence, someone whose also chipped in with big hits for The Clovers. But beyond the chart entries it was Toombs, along with producer and Atlantic co-owner Herb Abramson, plus arranger Jesse Stone, who convinced Brown to forsake the pop balladry she preferred and start rocking, at which point she never looked back.

Ironically though, Daddy Daddy would be the last hit Toombs ever wrote for Brown and while he continued penning big songs for a number of artists, they would become far more spread out until by the latter half of the decade his first rate compositions were sporadic at best.

While a few of the ones still to come for others can stand with almost anything he did, it’s a shame that his final definitive pairing with Brown comes on a song that has the right idea but where every element is a fraction of inch off-center… still plenty good with Brown’s acting talent on top of the first rate studio band, but not quite something to make you sit back and really appreciate the intuitive connection the two of them had in their brief time ruling the roost together.


I’ll Try And Show Ya How Much I Need You
Give them all credit for not merely recycling an old formula right down the line, but dock them points for not quite retaining the core musical attributes of her most compelling sides.

Instead this record focuses more on presenting the same image she’s come to embody while trusting that as long as it’s Ruth Brown who’s singing the lines being used to convey that image it won’t require too much effort on her part to win you over.

The two elements they choose are each pretty strong… when taken individually. The musical side of the equation with its funky beats delivered by piano and drums is fairly intoxicating when left alone but unfortunately they entrust Brown with matching that quirky feel with her vocals which doesn’t work nearly as well.

I know… how many times have we said that Brown can sing almost anything? Too often to tally up that’s for sure. But while she certainly doesn’t sound bad here by any means, she also doesn’t sound fully comfortable with the herky jerky pattern they give her. For starters it robs her of one of her greatest vocal attributes in the way she slides across line, holding a note with the right amount of pressure to change its shading before releasing it into the wild again.

By contrast she’s got to try and step lightly here to put each word across in just the right manner and while she doesn’t trip up, she also doesn’t make it sound effortless. As a result Daddy Daddy is almost a mechanical performance, albeit from one of the greatest voices in all of rock, which goes a long way into making it palatable.

The real problem is how they didn’t quite grasp that the musical bed and vocal lines are too similar without complimenting one another. Ideally the track should serve as a raft for the singer to traverse the rapids, flowing with the rhythmic tide in a natural manner. But here the musical water is choppy which forces Brown to try and steer it in the direction they want rather than letting that music guide her vocals.

The second issue is that because of the disjointed melody this causes the lyrics become almost secondary, which is a shame because there’s some good lines and even better sentiments buried in them, as Brown is rhapsodizing over her man in what sounds like the afterglow of sexual bliss, even though there’s no overt mention of where she is or what the circumstances are.

Yet in spite of the comparative clunkiness of this compared to past compositions Toombs has graced her with, Brown is SUCH a good singer that she almost manages to turn water into wine anyway. If there are cracks in her confidence with the material she hides them well and at every chance she gets she manages to find a way to insert one of her go-to maneuvers to get her bearings again.

When all else fails she just needs to hint at how much her aching loins are urging her to throw herself at her fella and we’re willing to overlook the flaws and focus on the details that are only hinted at here and with that we can more or less go to sleep happy, content if not quite elated at the results.


Thrill Your Baby Like I Want’cha To
A record that is deserving of being a hit yet still comes across as something of a let-down, seems to be a contraction that’s not easily reconciled, but as always it helps to remember the context of what we’re dealing with here.

Over time as the hits pile up, music fans grow to appreciate the unique qualities of their favorite artists to the point where if they heard the exact same song with the same basic attributes of the performance itself from a different artist, the record wouldn’t elicit the same response.

But Ruth Brown fans only get a few chances a year to listen to a new record from her and so each one has to be savored, even if the raw materials she’s working with here are not quite up to her usual level.

Yet much of that is made increasingly irrelevant as long as you hear that distinctive vocal squeal of hers, or just the warm honeyed texture of her voice itself. We become forgiving of the shortcomings because we’ve been conditioned to associate the artist, their style and their technique, with something consistently appealing.

In that way, provided they don’t completely upend our expectations… by reverting back to her pop-aspirations let’s say… we’ll convince ourselves that something like this is almost the equal of her greatest work even though it’d be decidedly rare for people to rate it in the upper echelon of her catalog when all is said and done.

Throw in the fact that she’s actually NOT competing with her past work on the charts in the summer of 1952, but rather only needs to provide something that fits into the current landscape, yet is different enough to stand out among the other big records, and it’s not hard to see why this reached #3 nationally.

It may not be Ruth Brown’s best side by a long shot, nor is it rivaling the top shelf contributions of Rudolph Toombs, but both of them are talented enough that even their second tier offerings are able to make you smile, make you dance and make you glad they had one last record in them to give us before going their separate ways.


(Visit the Artist page of Ruth Brown for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)