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On this extended tour through rock history we’ve been pretty unsparing when it comes to criticizing record label owners for their universally bad judgement, their lying, cheating and double dealing and just their overall stupidity when it comes to actually knowing their business.

They’re easy targets of course but when you constantly make moves that anybody with even half a brain could tell was counterproductive then it’s hard not to unload on them.

Today we put Jubilee Records owner Jerry Blaine in the cross-hairs for having the brilliant idea of issuing singles by Sonny Til, the lead singer of The Orioles, while at the exact same time releasing Orioles singles with Sonny on lead.

That’d be stupid enough of course, splitting the attention and diluting the impact of both potentially, but just as bad is the fact that rather than use this as a chance to have Sonny tackle an entirely different approach musically, something he may not be able to do with the other members oohing and ahhing behind him, instead this is merely a typical Orioles ballad without the other Orioles on it.

Congratulations Jerry Blaine, you’ve now proven you can stand shoulder to shoulder with your peers in the industry… dimwitted and shortsighted morons, every last one of them.


A Dream So Divine
According to Sonny Til, the reason these solo records were cut in the first place was because of fan demand, as he said people were saying they’d like to hear him “do other things”, apparently without the group.

I don’t buy it.

The Orioles released as many singles as any rock artist in the late 1940’s and early 50’s and though their fans certainly knew who the lead singer was, they certainly weren’t being deprived of hearing him since all of the records featured him out front and often with minimal support of the others.

If the fans meant “do other things” as in… I dunno, maybe sing a song with a BEAT to it rather than a ballad, okay, that I’d buy (and maybe they DID mean that and he and Jubilee misinterpreted it) but this had nothing to do with the fans other than Blaine trying to get more of their money by appearing to offer them something extra… something special… but hardly anything different.

Even the flip, I Never Knew, is more weepy pop treacle that they’d been dishing out far too often.

As for this side, which admittedly works a lot better, it’s still just Sonny Til singing achingly slow songs of yearning desire without ruffling any feathers.

The only difference though is My Prayer is a much better song than a lot of the crap The Orioles cut. Yes, this too was a pop standard, but it was a beautiful one with a lilting melody making it hard not to fall under the spell it cast when sung by someone with his vocal gifts.

But don’t let Sonny kid you for an instant, this wasn’t some generous thank you to the fans, record companies didn’t believe in that. This was a way to squeeze a few more nickels out of the group’s loyal constituency.

A calculated con job in other words… it just happened to be a very pretty con job which ensured you wouldn’t get too mad at them for trying to put one over on you.

While Hearts Are Aglow
The origins of the song itself are kind of morbid, as the original French title for the 1926 instrumental translated to “Before Dying”. In 1939 lyrics were added which brightened it up so to speak and it became a huge hit for both Glenn Miller and The Ink Spots, the latter version which undoubtedly spurred on Til and later The Platters who cut the definitive take on it.

As a song it’s interesting that the melody is carried almost entirely by the lyrics, so much so that the backing music for all of the versions can be all but unrecognizable before the singing starts. Of course this plays right into Sonny Til’s hands as with or without The Orioles in tow the bulk of their records had skeletal arrangements that gave little hint of the song’s character until Sonny opened his mouth.

Because the vocal melody is so indelible though it’s the kind of song that Sonny can get a lot of mileage out of without worrying too much about neutering it as often happened when the group tackled pop material. On My Prayer the entire point is is to show quiet romantic desperation, something Til does with virtually all of his material whether it calls for it or not.

He sounds great here for the most part with his pensive delivery but it’s undoubtedly being helped by the fact you know exactly where it’s going. If the song isn’t familiar already to you – at the time because of the earlier renditions by the aforementioned Miller and Ink Spots, both of which were Top Three smashes – or in the years since when The Platters record became a touchstone of romantic 50’s rock, maybe you’d be a little more impatient with Til’s halting reading of the song.

There are times where his pauses are indeed a little TOO much, almost as if he’s trying to make sure you are aware of his uncertainty which causes him to telegraph it. But it matters little because the framework of the song is so durable and they go to great lengths to set it off using a delicate piano as the primary musical support which only adds to the fragile impression it gives off,

While normally such sparse backing would be cause for concern, this is played really well, giving the melody more heft than most other versions had done, almost as if this was the leash pulling the hesitant singer along with it. Though it could’ve been made better with some subdued harmonies from The Orioles behind him, the lack of their voices doesn’t mean some of them aren’t involved, as group member Johnny Reed is playing organ here which – although it is kept well in the back – faintly replicates the sort of wordless humming the other singers might’ve been called upon to contribute.

It certainly could’ve used a more forceful mid-section to give the song a more emotional payoff – after all, if he’s this wrapped up in the girl he shouldn’t be so passive with his feelings for the duration – but Jubilee was so tied to this gentle presentation with Sonny that they didn’t want to rock the boat and so we get a capsulized piano concerto instead of something more dynamic which drags it down some before coming back strong in the end.

But on the whole the record achieves its artistic goal, which is to be held in sway by his performance, even if it falls well short of reaching its more cynically avaricious goal which was to double down on the label’s one consistent commercial entity.


At The End Of The Day
Hindsight may be 20/20 but even at the time you didn’t need glasses to tell Jubilee they were making a mistake here by releasing this as a Sonny Til solo endeavor.

Their problem had always been The Orioles had difficulty finding good material, especially once group manager and songwriter Deborah Chessler stepped away, and so they stuck doggedly to trying to adhere to an outdated pop-crossover mentality that limited their options because it was such a narrow scope. This required an endless supply of songs with a melody that would stick in your head on first listen and a story that bolstered its appeal, especially if it could take advantage of the image that Sonny Til had crafted as the guy forever hoping for a love that he was too insecure to believe was within his grasp.

Those weren’t always easy to find and what they came up with rarely were very deep.

But My Prayer was undoubtedly IT in that regard, a perfect vehicle to convey the inner turmoil he faced when he was dreaming about a girl who might actually want to be with him too if only he could find the courage to ask her. But instead of using the full force of The Orioles – vocally as well as in terms of name recognition (remember, Sonny’s name was never out in front of the group on their records) – Jerry Blaine tried to get cute here and quite possibly cost themselves a hit… or if not a hit, a record that would have the enduring impact of a hit had the entire group been on it.

Instead he may have been hedging his bets as with Tommy Gaither’s death the previous fall along with increasingly unreliable behavior by some other members, maybe the long-term viability of The Orioles was beginning to look suspect.

So by branching off Sonny, giving him his own releases to build up his name separate from the group, he would still have a marketable artist should the group fall apart and in the meantime he could get two records that might draw interest instead of only one.

The prayer that rock fans had however was simply that record company owners would stop trying to deceive them and just give them the music they craved without any strings attached.


(Visit the Artist page of Sonny Til for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)