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ATLANTIC 941; JUNE 1951

 
 

 

Though it’s rarely thought of this way, the saying “What have you done for me lately?” goes both ways.

When you’re on a losing streak your efforts are criticized because the outcome is below par while people tend to forget earlier successes and the question of whether you’ll ever live up to your potential begins to haunt your every move.

Yet when you’re winning nobody remembers the struggles it took to get to this point as the top female rock act found out when Cash Box magazine gave this release their Award Of The Week and kicked off the review of the record by stating… “Ruth Brown, who apparently doesn’t know how to turn out anything but smash hits, has another one here”.

But it’s worth remembering that at this time last year she’d gone a year without showing anything… now she can’t miss.

How quickly things change.
 

 

Come Home Late At Night
The odyssey of Atlantic Records in their early days is one of a lot of false steps, some bad decisions, a few good ones to offset those… and one monumental talent coming into her own who seemed to right the ship all by herself.

That someone was Ruth Brown and the Atlantic ship floated on her hits starting last fall with Teardrops From My Eyes, not only one of the biggest smashes ever – 11 weeks at #1, the longest by a female on the R&B Charts for the next forty years – but more importantly it was the record which once and for all determined the company’s musical course.

Tough rolling grooves with honking saxes, a steady beat and singers whose attitudes in delivering songs would be just as important as their vocal skills.

Yet rarely did such game plans come to fruition so rapidly, as within the next few months the company signed multiple long-term stars starting with The Clovers, then The Cardinals and pulled off a coup in snatching up Big Joe Turner, all of whom gave them huge hits in the first half of 1951.

But it was still Ruth Brown who stood tallest among them, as her follow up – I’ll Wait For You – was a top three hit last winter and now once again with I Know they’re attempting to pull more sales from the same template.

Motown Records would become famous for this tactic, producing de facto sequel records to hits that were closely patterned after their predecessors, yet changed just enough to feel fresh. The follow-ups, though very good, were rarely better than the first and audiences would respond with slightly less enthusiasm each time out.

The same is true here, as this takes the same lurching rhythm as the last two sides, tweaks it enough to make its source not quite as obvious, but gives Brown far less lyrical ground to cover in the process.

Though it didn’t do quite as well as the last time out it was still a Top Ten hit so they were surely satisfied. But now that the whole roster was overflowing with talent the bar was raised and to keep pace you’d have to reach ever higher… and that went for even the one who set the bar so high to begin with.
 


 
 

Ain’t No Kiss As Sweet As Mine
This is one of those songs that might work best if you listen to it twice in a row.

The reason for this is because the chorus which kicks it off is the weakest aspect of the record as it’s simply the two word title repeated ad nauseum while the horns play their circular riff behind her.

Eight times they cycle through it over 36 seconds and if you turned the record off at that point I Know you wouldn’t be able to a soul what this song was about or why you should keep listening to find out. It’s drawn out to the point of farce and all of Ruth’s formidable talent can only do so much to keep it mildly interesting. With the horns unable to do more themselves, never giving any indication they’re building towards an exciting climax, it becomes an exercise in patience to stay focused that long.

But if you do your patience will be rewarded for once Brown actually gets to divulge the story it’s a good one, as her man is out on the town having fun – presumably with other girls – while Ruth waits for him each night.

Her own patience here is remarkable, as she tells him she basically understands and respects his needs and rather than scold him for looking for them elsewhere she’s going to try and win back his affections by simply offering more in that department…

“More what” you ask? More of everything. Sex, attention, romance and catering to his every whim. Hardly a feminist ideal but no doubt effective in the short term before his wandering eye returns… as they always do.

The trouble here isn’t Brown’s performance, which manages to balance the sultriness of her pitch to him with a palpable sense of unease that she has to resort to such things to keep her man. Nor is it the lines themselves, which when taken individually are pretty juicy.

Rather the issue with them is they don’t tell a coherent story… in fact it’s a confusing one if you follow closely along. Oh, the plot itself is pretty clear, but Rudy Toombs (unless you think Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson did more than simply cut themselves in on his composition and actually pitched in with lyrics of their own) seems to assemble a bunch of good lines from stories with different objectives and cram them all together.

So at one point she’s telling this guy to hurry and the very next is saying “take your time”. Maybe she means hurry into the bedroom and THEN take your time, but later on she gives advice to women by saying you need to keep your man tied to your side to keep them, but the very next line – which also makes for Brown‘s best delivery in the song – she warns those same women that SHE’LL sleep with THEIR man if they don’t heed her advice.

Let’s just say that this neighborhood would be a lot of fun to visit for a wild night out but you might want to think twice about moving in with everyone hopping from bed to bed like this.
 


 

Feelin’ Kinda Groovy
By this point in the game Atlantic’s Jesse Stone knew exactly how to put together the musical arrangements needed to connect and while the basic structure provided by the melodic similarities of the earlier hits remains the same, he’s got a slower pace to work with here which provides him with some new opportunities.

Since the tenor sax of Budd Johnson has been so vital to these records it’s no wonder he’s back for an encore on I Know, his horn rising from the others who are delivering that repetitive riff, almost as if it’s getting restless just waiting to strike.

Stone draws the suspense out by not giving us the solo in the expected slot in the song but instead holds it back for another mini-stanza which provides Johnson with the perfect vocal cue as Brown suggestively coos, “I know what’s on your mind” as he then launches into the erotic payoff that’s worth the wait.

With another sax answering and the interlocking rhythms of the piano, drums and the rest of the horns bubbling like a cauldron throughout the production, this is a record that is always simmering without boiling over, giving it a very good vibe that you’ll happily ride again and again.

It breaks no new ground, offers a slightly conflicting perspective and the main hook only starts to grow on you after you’ve already absorbed the entire song – maybe a couple of times at that – but all of the components themselves are solid, from Brown to the band, and so even if it IS of slightly lesser quality than her earlier sides, it’s still more than good enough not to ask for your money back.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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