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The question of what to do with songs like this is one that will never fully be settled around here.

There are some who feel that any song veering so closely to another major genre – in this case mainstream pop, with a hint of jazz – don’t belong anywhere near a rock history chronicle.

But there are others who know that without including these we’re running the risk of shortchanging an important rock artist’s legacy, as well as using them to contrast their main pursuit and – hopefully – show why the rock route was a bolder and braver step for them to take.

So we tend to vacillate on whether or not to include them, sometimes making what seem like random choices, such as the fact we didn’t review the last Ruth Brown pop-oriented B-side while we ARE including this one.

It’d be perfectly natural to want to skip over this since this song will only get you get you more impatient for the kind of music we’re all presumably here for. But while its style might seem a little too genteel for rock’s primary attitude, the chance to hear Brown at the peak of her powers on a song written by two legendary rock composers is kind of hard to pass up.


When You’re Tired Of Being Reckless And Carefree
Rock artists began as music lovers like anyone else and what people hear in their youth tends to make the deepest impression.

That’s why you’ll usually find people claiming the “best” music just happens to be precisely what they listened to in their teen years while they crassly dismiss anything that was released by the time they hit thirty.

Ruth Brown was no different. As we’ve talked about at other times, she originally envisioned herself singing classier pop ballads and had to be coaxed into cutting rock ‘n’ roll. But Atlantic Records, while smart enough to insist on that for her main offerings now, were enamored enough with her voice, her phrasing and her technique on pop material to still allow her to cut songs like Have A Good Time to use as B-sides and keep her happy.

Who knows, maybe because it was currently a rising hit by Tony Bennett, they even brought it to her themselves, thinking that maybe she could break into another market simultaneously.

We all know the potential downside of that should it happen, as Atlantic and Brown may have chosen to turn their back on rock for something potentially more lucrative that carried with it the air of respectability and would open doors in classier nightclubs and potentially even television or other avenues that were off-limits to rock ‘n’ rollers, no matter how successful they were.

Thankfully though we don’t have to contemplate that unwelcome outcome, but it’s not for a lack of talent by any means, for she not only matches the great Bennett line for line here, but brings even more depth and nuance to her performance than he did.


Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me
In the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s the names Boudleaux and Felice Bryant will be revered by rock fans for their work writing the majority of The Everly Brothers hits, along with a few key sides by Roy Orbison and others. This song however was their first to be cut by a rock artist in Ruth Brown, though obviously it wasn’t written FOR her at all.

Actually though, at least the way Tony Bennett sings it, there’s a bit of Johnnie Ray vibes in how it swells in certain lines, and since Ray was influenced heavily by LaVern Baker, the “other” female star at Atlantic this decade (though not quite yet) maybe it’s all connected in a weird sort of way.

The composition itself though is clearly pop by nature, not just the lilting melody played by the always “tasteful” stylings of Percy Faith, but also in the way the sentiments are so defeatist by nature, something that few rock acts would dare showcase in their own songs.

In fact laissez-faire might be the best way to describe mainstream pop music of 1952, as it strenuously avoided making their singers protagonists, choosing to have them be almost a bystander in their own happiness, either waiting for love to find them, longing for it maybe but not ardently pursuing it, or should they find love somehow, not willing to fight for it once it starts slipping from their grasp.

For that reason alone Have A Good Time would seem a poor choice for a rock singer of Ruth Brown’s capabilities… that is until you study it closer and see how she manipulates the meaning of these lines to show a more determined nature befitting a rock ‘n’ roller, even one hiding behind the satin and sequins of pop.

The one thing we could be assured of even without that twist, was that the song presents a great vocal workout for her, allowing her to show off her power, control, sensitivity and restraint in equal measure. But where it really stands apart is how Brown, unlike Bennett who remains passive in this affair, is subtly trying to influence her fella’s actions in how she sings it.

Listen to how she pauses before she says the title line the first time, giving off the impression she’s more hurt by this than she’s letting on by the words alone. Or how she emphasizes the last syllable in the first word of the line when she tells him to indulge in his affair – “pretend it’s true love”, making that word bite without showing anger, but instead revealing how she hurts in saying it.

Brown’s playing on her guy’s emotional connection to her in ways that Bennett refused to do. Whether he felt he had to remain above that sort of thing or not, he was decidedly hands-off in his approach, resigned to being dumped for someone else even as he held out hope she’d return. But Ruth Brown is not going down without a fight, even if she’s determined not to make a scene.

The musical side – by our old friends The James Quintet – seems to also be adhering to a pop mindset on the surface, but there are hints that they’re sticking by her side with how the wordless vocal bed comes across as haunting at times while there are a few guitar licks that add some spice to the mix. Even the sax solo, though hardly what we like to hear, seems to be serving as delaying tactic to let Brown load up for one more tug on his heartstrings.

No, it’s still not close enough to the main thoroughfare of rock ‘n’ roll to recommend in that sense, but it’s about as well done as she can do it without totally capitulating to the pop approach we dread.


I’ll Be Waiting To Welcome You Home
While we’re tempted to call this an indulgence on her part, or Atlantic’s, and thus something we’re prone to dismiss out of hand, we have to admit that what really worries us is the chance that a record like this could possibly find an audience and take Ruth Brown away from us forever because it’s clear how much she identifies with this type of material.

In 1988, just prior to her comeback which resulted with her winning a Tony Award and being inducted to The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, she cut a live album with Have A Good Time as the title track. On it she tackled just four songs from her Atlantic heyday. The other three were her biggest rock hits… this was the fourth – not a hit, not pure rock by any means, but something that obviously connected with her.

Whatever your opinion on rock acts wishing they could be be pop singers, this is something that Ruth Brown did with grace and class from the moment she opened her mouth as a little girl until the day she died. Another artist with equal chops, but one who straddled that line even more than Brown did during his heyday, Roy Hamilton, also cut a good version of this in the mid-1960’s, so you can definitely see what kind of artists it appealed to… ones who knew they were capable of doing far more than they were usually asked.

We can’t fault them for that. You like what you like, whether a fan who can’t carry a tune in a bucket, or an artist who could sing almost anything and make it sound great.

This DOES sound great… in its own way that is… but because it’s not done our way where it makes its rock allegiance clear, we can’t fully reward it for how well its sung.

Suffice it to say though, while this might not be anything you’d offer up to show why Ruth Brown was a great rock act, it’s something you should want to play for anyone doubting she was a great singer regardless of genre.


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