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KING 4541; JUNE 1952



They weren’t the first pairing of this sort by a long shot, and this single wasn’t even their first hit together, but the success of this was a sign that this would be more of a lasting partnership than most rock instrumentalists would have with the vocal talent they brought on board over the past few years.

For most musicians who’d found fame with rock instrumentals in the late 1940’s the fading commercial potential for that type of record in this new decade forced them to make stylistic concessions such as bringing in singers… which sort of made them little more than glorified backing bands should they succeed, which may be why not many of these singers lasted very long with any of the bands they joined.

After all, what bandleader wants to play second fiddle to a mere employee?

But since Thompson himself hadn’t sought stardom in the first place as a lead artist when he landed totally unexpected back to back #1 hits in 1948, this might very well have been a return to the normalcy he craved all along.


I’ll Understand Somehow
It probably goes without saying that the problem with a lot of these pairings between an established instrumental star and a novice singer is that the star wants the added appeal of having someone to bring personality and variety to their records and live gigs without wanting to be upstaged in the process.

Yet if you hire somebody only modestly talented you won’t get the benefits of having a good singer on board and yet you’ll still be conceding a good deal of the spotlight to them anyway.

Then if you do manage to find a talented vocalist who’s to say they won’t – or another record company won’t – see the benefit in having them go out and try and become a headliner in their own right.

So it’s almost as if you need to find somebody good enough to draw interest, yet not so good they become more interesting than the musician, someone who is comfortable at the front of the stage without wanting to hog the stage and who is skilled enough and ambitious enough to head into this field in the first place without having the all-consuming desire or talent to do it all on their own.

Someone like… Lula Reed.

On the surface Reed was almost too quirky to become a star. Her nasal squeak of a voice was an acquired taste and while she was definitely an attractive dish in person (as the saying went back then) she certainly didn’t give any indication on record that she would make an effective seductress.

Yet in small doses, such as one side of a single, her unusual vocal technique was remarkably alluring, as Let’s Call It A Day proved, hitting #7 on the national charts in mid-summer, the second of two hits she and Thompson scored this season.

Now you might be inclined to think that this was merely one of those instances where after a breakthrough hit like I’ll Drown In My Tears, a curious public sought out the follow-up only to be disappointed in the results and quickly discarded it. But that wasn’t the case at all, for while it’s true this doesn’t quite live up to that previous song, it’s pretty damn close.

The public agreed as this spent six weeks on the charts and confirmed that for all of her unique tonal attributes Lula Reed had a commercial sound after all.


Let’s Put The Toys Away
Aside from being a good record this is a great example of division of labor when it comes to making music.

Sonny Thompson was a good pianist, great bandleader and excellent songwriter, but here he defers on the latter to Henry Glover, also an excellent musician in his day who has long been King Records’ top producer and in that capacity has written some of the best songs on the most successful rock label to date.

Some artists would balk at handing over control like this, but Thompson doesn’t mind at all. A good song is a good song and Glover’s credentials speak for themselves. So Sonny is content with playing his role, keeping the band tight and probably even ceding the arranging duties to Glover as well.

But it’s a sign of mutual respect that Glover gives Thompson such a featured role here, for even with Sonny writing the songs and arrangements he’d frequently deferred to saxophones and guitars along the way. Yet here Glover has him kick things off with a beguiling piano intro that comes across as focused yet meandering in its route… call it unhurried but definitely not lethargic and it’s that hitch in its stride that gives this such a warmly inviting mood from the start.

The horns fall in after awhile with economical precision and there’s a guitar briefly slashing its way into view, but it’s Thompson’s quirky fills and riffs that stick out and define the arrangement. His subsequent solo is hardly what you’d call either melodic or rhythmic in the best sense, yet it fits the distracted frustration of Reed who turns in another captivating vocal lead on Let’s Call It A Day, expressing dismay at her boyfriend’s shortcomings but finds that she is no longer willing to try and work things out in the hopes things will change.

The lyrics Glover gives her are on target with those sentiments, laying out the problem with just enough allusions to the deeper issues without making it too specific. He ably fits the words to her unusual vocal pattern – that choppy, fragmented, stutter-step delivery of hers – which gives it a sense of real-time contemplation on her part, as if she’s trying to put into words her feelings in a way that will be effective in getting the point across to the guy she’s dumping without hurting HIS feelings too much in the process.

It’s a mature song in that way, yet it’s not an “adult song” for 1952 because it’s not shying away from the internal emotional baggage the way so much pop music of the day always did. This was where rock excelled, dealing with the messy real life conflicts that allowed it to connect with its listeners who demanded realism in the music they sought out.

In spite of how it exposes some raw nerves in Reed’s psyche, this never pushes you away and makes you uncomfortable looking in on her plight. To the contrary actually, as the gently swaying horns and her resolute determination to be the one making the final decision, even if she was forced into it by his actions, give this a resiliency that manages to pull you in even more.


If You Don’t Love Me Now
Hit records have different ways of impressing you. Some have such a catchy melody or hook that makes it impossible to turn away. Others have such a supercharged performance that you are swept up by its power. Still others are so poignant in the story they tell, or so humorous or clever, that you feel as if the secrets of the world are being revealed to you in concise and entertaining fashion.

The way Let’s Call It A Day captures you isn’t as dynamic as those methods, but in a weird sort of way their approach might be more difficult because what works so well here is the way it’s constructed, which means it’s not as obvious at a casual glance.

Yet it’s the manner in which every detail – none of which are eye-catching in isolation – all come together within the larger arrangement, each one locking into place and building off everything around them, that allows this to hold up so well under repeated listens.

It’s a record that values craftsmanship… three disparate entities all bringing to the table their own unique talents and blending together seamlessly in the process.

Music is by and large a collaborative effort and a record like this shows why the best collaborations work so well.


(Visit the Artist pages of Sonny Thompson and Lula Reed for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)