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Any time some misty-eyed music fan waxes nostalgic about the good old days of music and praises the independent record companies who fostered the environment in which rock ‘n’ roll grew to the cultural behemoth it quickly became… casually hit them upside the head with a shovel, dig a hole next to where they fell, roll them in and fill it back up with the dirt and be on your way.

Why are we advocating such drastic measures? Because people like that have venerated companies such as Atlantic Records for more than a half century now and while it’s true that label may have been comparatively better than many competitors at the time, they were still incredibly dense when it came to their primary job of selecting material to use as singles.

Here is the perfect example of that, as they saddle their biggest solo star with a remake of her own three year old B-side to a single that did nothing for her the first time around and which was itself a quickly-recorded short-sighted cover version of another rock act’s hit in the fall of 1949.

Way to stay current, guys!


Your Little Success Has Gone Right To Your Head
For the full understanding of this story, which is not quite tangled and confusing as it is frustrating, you’ll need to go back and read the entry on Larry Darnell’s terrific breakthrough hit, the two part I’ll Get Along Somehow.

Then of course you’ll have to immediately follow that up with the criticism we leveled at Atlantic for having Ruth Brown cover said song, in the process botching it by initially discarding the second half of it which had been the main selling point of Darnell’s because it included the novel idea of him speaking half of it as if delivering an internal monologue in play, like Hamlet did.

Wait, does that mean Shakespeare was the first rock songwriter? Nah!

Anyway, Atlantic quickly realized their stupidity and pulled the first B-side and replaced it with a version of Part Two of that song and watched them both go down the drain together.

A bad idea to start with done in by even worse decisions by upper management… what else is new in this business?

Well, how about THIS? Three years after the fact they’re releasing a different newly recorded take on the aforementioned Part Two of Ruth Brown’s I’ll Get Along Somehow, a record that few people bought and probably none of the latest generation of rock fans remember and then promoted it as if it were a big deal coming on the heels of a string of hits in a far more current style!

Oh yeah, as if that isn’t enough they’ve renamed it Three Letters to throw off those who felt as though they HAVE heard it before and on top of all that it’s not 1949 anymore and this kind of melodramatic soliloquy over a decidedly low-key musical backing has about as much appeal as reading three actual letters from your crazy Aunt Gertrude while your younger sister plays chopsticks on the family piano.

Yeah, Atlantic Records… the best and the brightest record company in the land!

Three Different Stages In Your Career
Let me start off on a positive note when reviewing the actual performance of Ruth Brown and the band here… for awhile they’re appreciably better than they were three years ago on the same song.

I can’t imagine Brown actually performing this regularly on tour during that time to tighten things up, but I guess anything is possible.

Back in ’49 she played more of a coquettish figure, speaking in a higher tone of voice and sounding intimidated by her man’s recent success as she realizes why he dumped her, even thinking perhaps she didn’t deserve him now that he was a star.

Yet three years later, mirroring her own rise to fame and the confidence that goes with it, Brown sounds much more invigorated as she details the Three Letters he sent her over the years, her voice brimming with casual confidence and a snide undertone as she basically is dismissing his dismissal of HER, in effect telling him she doesn’t need him and may be better off without him, just by the way in which she frames this.

All of that sounds better, but it’s worse for the story. In the first version she embodied the right frame of mind for the plot even though her performance was slight, though when she finally got around to singing she did let herself stretch out nicely which at least balanced the heartbreak with a resolute spirit.

Here though the cockier attitude during the spoken parts gives way to a more melodramatic vocal performance that veers between emotions without much rhyme or reason in relation to the plot. It’s hard to fault the technical qualities of Ruth Brown singing in an impassioned way of course, but the delivery has to match the mood created by the lyrics which need to make sense in relation to the overall story.

This does none of that, but even so isn’t the biggest offense with the record, not when Atlantic follows suit among the labels in trying to revive the blaring brass arrangements we’ve seen of late. (Seriously now, this is four songs in the last five reviews spanning three labels, what the hell were they all thinking in summer of ’52? That rock was making a move to Reno all of a sudden?). But even that’s not the worst aspect of this, especially as the organ at least gives the musical track a softer landing.

Nope, the biggest problem with this record is its mere existence in the first place. It’s something that didn’t need to be recorded and certainly should never have been released… not in 1952, and probably not in 1949 either.


I Gave You Your Start
Ruth Brown – and indeed rock ‘n’ roll in general – was well past this sound in 1952 and there was no need to go back to it.

It is exceedingly doubtful that a fan of either her or the Darnell original thought to themselves that what they needed was another Three Letters, especially one that didn’t reflect any changes to the broader sound the genre as a whole had endured over the past three years, an eternity in the rock singles era.

My guess is that Ruth herself wanted to take another stab at this due to professional pride, feeling she could deliver a better take on the subject now. Okay, let her do that, but shelve it, or give it to her as a Christmas present, ten copies just for her own private use. But putting it out on the market when she was riding high (and backed by the atrocious pop tripe on the flip side, Good For Nothing Joe) is just bad business because it it isn’t very good, isn’t at all current and isn’t going to elevate her standing in any way.

Maybe they’d argue that it contains a different vocal approach which removes it from the failed origins of that first release, but even so it’s not indicative of a new singing style that was popularized since the late forties, but rather one that was brought about by Brown’s growing confidence in her own talents thanks to the hits she’d had since then.

Hits, it should be noted, that sound nothing at all like THIS.

Atlantic Records should never have foisted this on the public who wanted no part of this kind of thing and deserves a lot better out of them – and out of her – than this heated up leftover dish pulled from the back of the fridge.


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

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Larry Darnell (September, 1949)
Ruth Brown (October, 1949)