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The follow-up.

Words filled with promise for record companies aiming to capitalize on a recent breakthrough for one of their artists and words filled with trepidation for some music fans who fear that the company will somehow screw things up and sink that artist’s career with a poor creative decision.

It’s a good problem to have though, certainly better than scratching and clawing for that initial hit, because at least here you know the audience will flock to the record to see what you came up with.

Thus far Atlantic Records haven’t had an abundance of hits but their track record in following up the few they’ve managed to get has been somewhat suspect.

Lucky for them Ruth Brown is good enough to render any concerns about not being able to meet those higher expectations all but irrelevant.


The Moon Was High, The Lights Were Low
What makes follow-up records to a big hit so precarious is how easy they are to get wrong.

Stray too far from the formula that was successful and it can leave fans confused and upset, but stick too close to the first record’s game plan and listeners rightly feel it’s nothing more than an inferior rip-off.

Throughout the 1960’s Motown Records got famous by finding the perfect balance… using similar musical cues without merely appropriating the melody and at the same time tweaking the thematic perspective enough to offer a different viewpoint in songs with a shared outlook.

Ruth Brown beat them to it by more than a decade however with I’ll Wait For You, a song which songwriter Rudolph Toombs clearly crafted to conjure up their earlier success, yet deviated from it enough to make it appear fresh and allow it to hold up, even now, seven decades later, without feeling as though they put one over on you.

The shared attributes of the two songs are found in the horn driven melody – slowed down here to almost a lurching tempo – and the combination of lyrical sadness buffeted by hope expressed in Brown’s vocals.

Yet to Toombs’s credit you can’t simply transpose the lyrics of this over the melody of Teardrops From My Eyes even with Budd Johnson on board to provide similar sax work from that hit, just as you can’t dub the lyrics of that earlier song over this backing track.

Instead the similarities are more suggested than openly displayed and while none of the components here reach the heights of what appeared on its predecessor, they’re still pretty damn good in their own right starting with Brown’s brilliant acting performance as she recounts a faded love in a wistful yearning manner.


Though My Heart Is Grieving
Unlike “Teardrops” where she was clearly dumped and was bound and determined to win back her fella, this time around it seems less like a break-up and more like she and this guy drifted apart. She’s lonely – and maybe that’s ALL she is, for she doesn’t sound rapturously burning for him as she did before – and decides to look him up, hoping that they can get together for some hanky panky.

I’ll Wait For You is a booty call, plain and simple, but with Ruth as the one in search of the hook-up rather than the guy. She’s playing it just coy enough that her intent is cloaked in a tentative approach, probably to throw him off and let him think he’s the one who thought to himself, “What the hell, maybe I WILL see her again”, but she’s clearly steering things to their eventual meeting.

If the slower melody of this makes her semi-staccato delivery sound a little clunky at times, she imbues it with such underlying intelligence in terms of what she’s saying – and moreover what she means as she saying it – that it comes off better than perhaps it should.

Of course the few times she holds a note for effect the results are brilliant. Nobody in rock ever rode a single note with more sheer grace than Ruth Brown, knowing just how much pressure to exert at its peak and most impressively how to slide out of it in a way that makes you immediately want to hear it again.

She does that multiple times here – “Iiiiii feel so blue”… “siiiiigned a love so true”… “youuuuuuu miss me too”… “Iiiiiii miss you so”…. “you need my arms arouuuuund you”… “to hoooold you tight” – all of which add immeasurably to how she’s able to connect.

But it’s the very last line of the song when she gives her thesis on this technique, letting her voice soar to the heavens on the title phrase in which she finally reveals her own horniness in unambiguous fashion.

We already knew that Ruth Brown has the ability to turn great songs into sheer perfection, but even here with just a good song to work with she’s able to make it great all by herself.

Baby, Won’t You Do Right?
Ah yes… “all by herself”. That sort of suggests that the rest of this record isn’t up to par, doesn’t it?

If that’s the impression I gave, well, that’s a little too harsh – shame on you for thinking it – but then again it’s not that far off either.

As stated earlier, Toombs’ songwriting (or Jesse Stone’s arranging and Herb Abramson’s production) decision to sort of disguise its “inspiration” and not be accused of merely copying their initial idea means that they slowed this down which gives I’ll Wait For You less of an ebullient spirit. But maybe because it wasn’t as rousing they felt they needed to add something to cover up those dead spots and that’s where they slip up ever so much, choosing some jazzy horn fills to highlight the tempo changes and transitions.

They’re not overwhelming by any means, but they serve as yet another reminder that at this point in rock’s progression the dominant reference point for so many of the behind the scenes figures (producers and session musicians alike) was still naggingly jazz based and that was something that could only be drilled out of them in time.

The rest of their work here is on much more solid ground, the baritone sax providing a subtle pull on the rest of the horns early on as they establish the riff they ride throughout the song. Meanwhile the drummer is never playing as hard as you’d like to really drive the song but he also never loses that metronomic beat which lets the song swing just enough to be catchy despite its slower pace.

The sax solo steps things up by basically just sounding dirty early on and then transitioning to a more orgasmic release which mirrors the true intent of the story, a nice example of the power of suggestion when it comes to music. It’s hardly obscene in a way that would make this truly sizzle, but you don’t miss the implications along the way either.

The difference I guess is even if you’d stripped Brown’s vocals from Teardrops From My Eyes you’d have an infectious instrumental whereas this track absolutely needs her to elevate it, but the music at least provides enough of a foundation to make that possible.


A Love So True
The temptation with this record – which went to Number Three on the national Billboard charts – is to say that it was a prime example of the “follow-up bounce”, a song that does well right away because fans are so anxious to hear what she comes up with next but doesn’t provide enough of allure to keep them coming back after they’ve heard it.

Maybe that WAS the case too, because on those charts anyway I’ll Wait For You stuck around just four weeks in the Top Ten, whereas the last one reigned for an astounding twenty-five weeks!

But listening to Ruth Brown work over a song, even one that’s inferior to the one that inspired it, is like taking a master class on the art of singing and consequently this record still has more than enough going for it to place it high on any playlist for rock’s classic songs of Nineteen Fifty-One. It’s not her best record by a long shot but it shows why she was so potent now that they’d finally figured out what kind of songs she’d excel at.

In that sense it accomplished what follow-ups are intended to do – serve notice that the artist was here to stay… and after this there was absolutely no doubt that Ruth Brown was here for the long haul.


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