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Though success has a way of making these decisions easier, there’s always an internal tug-of-war between what a singer and a record label want to do, despite not getting the kind of commercial returns they need to keep doing it, and what their recent hits tell them they need to do in order to have hits.

Ruth Brown may have still wanted to sing sophisticated pop with a touch of jazz elegance thrown in, but the world at large, particularly the world she was a part of, didn’t want or need that any more. Atlantic Records also still harbored dreams of reaching a presumably wider more moneyed audience, not yet entirely convinced that rock ‘n’ roll would be the most lucrative path to follow.

Yet their last pure rock release together had just reached the Number One spot on the charts as they entered the studio in December and so the answer to which style to pursue should now be perfectly clear to them all.

Or at least that’s what you’d think.


Don’t Know Which Way Is Home
The way this starts out, with gently swaying big band horns creating a very stuffy vibe you don’t have high hopes for the record… nor any comprehension why on earth it was included in a review of rock ‘n’ roll history other than due to the artist in question.

But then Ruth Brown comes in singing in a style most unbecoming a prissy pop balladeer and you relax a little, knowing that she’s taking this in another direction from the music.

So whose decisions were at war here? Or rather, which party was pulling the other in the rock direction and which was holding it back?

Considering Brown’s confirmed taste for the classier side of music you’d assume she was hoping Standing On The Corner was going to stick to the higher end of the musical spectrum… except it’s HER vocals that are contradicting the arrangement.

One look at the songwriting credits – Ahbert/Brown – might lead you to think that Ahmet Ertegun (under one of his pseudonyms) who was coaxing Brown into delivering a more emotional and forceful vocal. Except Ahmet Ertegun didn’t have a damn thing to do with writing the song. Ruth Brown wrote new lyrics to a traditional blues-based melody and Ertegun stole half the credit.

We know Brown didn’t come up with the arrangement or play any of the instruments and so the parts that veer much closer to rock came entirely from her… showing perhaps that she wasn’t quite the holdout when it came to heading in this direction that she’s usually made out to be.

Regardless the song still exists in two separate planes, the musical side which is dull and and dreary and the vocals which are full of vibrant power and emotional resonance. The dichotomy never makes for an altogether pleasing record so we’re left to pick through the choicest scraps like vultures in the desert after a multi-car accident.


All In A Daze
Twice in the first twenty seconds of her first appearance Ruth Brown slays us with her power, nailing the notes as if her voice was a pneumatic hammer, then for good measure holding them until they stopped struggling.

If for no other reason than that, Standing On The Corner is worth at least one spin because sometimes it’s easy forget what impressive pipes Brown had when she was doing mostly faster paced more rhythmic material that didn’t let her stretch out like this.

In fact maybe that was the impetus for crafting this song to begin with, just to show off her voice in a style that could still be housed under the rock banner now that she was moving firmly into this camp.

But while it does provide a good account of her as a singer, it’s got some serious drawbacks as a composition, especially the more it goes on and Brown is trying to find a dramatic way to describe just how hung up on this guy’s… umm… “loving” she is and takes things a little too far over the line.

I don’t mean in a good, sexually liberated sort of way either, but rather a criminally negligent one as she tells us that “he beat me and he kicked me” and goes on to blame herself, saying “I haven’t been good as I can be”, as if that excuses domestic violence. She reiterates this cringe-worthy admission later, saying:

“He can beat me in the morning
Take all my money too
But if he gives me real good lovin’
He can stay the whole day through”

And with that goes our praise for Ms. Brown’s contributions.

Well not entirely, for the lines themselves – deplorable as the sentiments are – remain fairly well crafted and definitely well sung, but obviously the content can’t be excused and so while we admire the technical qualities she brings to the table, the rest we’ll push away, wipe our hands on the tablecloth and make our exit.

Unfortunately on the way to the door we meet the musicians who remain unmoved by both her impressive wailing and by the troubling revelations, playing as if they’ve been hired for a Debutante’s Ball.

Oh well, we weren’t going to stay and make small talk with them as we headed out the door anyway.

Beggin’ For Your Mercy
We could’ve easily spared Brown the ignominy of having to face the music, no pun intended, by leaving out this shaky compositional effort, especially since she herself admitted she was no great shakes as a songwriter – and this would be just one of three songs she penned while with Atlantic.

But to do so would’ve denied us the chance to rave once again, briefly anyway, about her vocal prowess and to examine the stylistic split that she was still ensnared by at this point in her career.

That in this case anyway it seemed to be Atlantic Records, not Ruth herself, who was pushing Standing On The Corner into the pop-end of the pool, gives us perhaps a little more insight into the mindsets of everyone involved going forward… at least something to file away for the next few times we meet them.

But beyond those two observations there’s not much here to recommend. They say great singers can sing the phone book and make it sound terrific and considering some of the lyrics here are stuff we’d rather not have to hear, we’d have preferred her flipping through that phone book, picking out a melody for the Yellow Pages and taking a crack at that instead.


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