SAVOY 843; APRIL 1952



Instrumental titles are often better than the music those titles are attached to.

With no lyrics to take from and no narrative story to explain, an artist falls back on a title to conjure up an image to correspond with the music and in early rock a lot of those images they were striving for had a veil of exotic mystery surrounding them.

Unfortunately while an evocative title may be more than enough to convince you to give the record a chance, the music it contains has to do a bit more than that to get you coming back for seconds.


Setting The Mood
Mood music occupies a weird place in people’s appreciation of the art.

It is among the most effective ways of conveying a certain ambiance, of putting you in a moment outside your own experience without a single word being uttered to tell a listener where you are or what you should be feeling, but when it does so it’s almost taken for granted.

Most suspense films wouldn’t have you on the edge of your seat without the accompanying music that lets you know through halting progressions, throbbing undercurrents of rhythm and intermittent stabs of sharp brass, thudding drums or eerie piano keys that danger is lurking around every corner, but take away the visuals and a lot of those same compositions would be too barren to be noticed.

The ones that do follow the more traditional approach of commercial singles, giving you a memorable hook – Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn Theme for instance – to go along with the creeping sense of dread manage to deliver the best of both worlds, but that can be a rarity.

Certainly it’s something that eludes Night Crawler, a valiant attempt to create an appropriate soundtrack for the shadows flickering on alley walls after midnight.

The set up is certainly appropriate for that kind of nocturnal black and white scene… T.J. Fowler’s left hand stutter-stepping along the bass keys in the darkness while his right hand and the higher pitched horns are dancing together under the streetlights, like demons frolicking without a care in the world.

As it goes on though Fowler draws on some jazzier touches – starting with John Lawton’s trumpet – to evoke this world, appropriately enough since jazz was what frequently defined these kinds of tracks on the big screen. But that’s all they are… touches… as the bulk of this is still firmly in the rock idiom with the steady beat, the slowly riffing saxes that are equal parts taunting and inviting. That they’re probably inviting you into a den of inequity is your problem.

The sax solo that comes a little past the halfway point has got the right gravelly tone in its slow pace to appease rock fans, but not the hook needed to reel you all the way in.

Actually, that’s what hampers the entire track. Those individual touches are all well-chosen but they’re trying to bolster something that really isn’t there. It’s got a simple melody but it never captivates, it’s got a insistent beat which never demands you follow, it’s got a series of enticing riffs that never hook you and it features decent performances on each instrument yet none of them stand out.

Whaddaya know, it’s background music after all.


Breaking The Mold
It would take awhile for rock acts to be asked to contribute songs to major motion pictures that weren’t rockploitation flicks where their roles on screen was to sing those songs, or awkward Elvis Presley productions where he played an otherwise non-musical role whose character burst into song for no reason other than he was Elvis Presley.

Even when rock songs DID get utilized – The Shirelles in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, or Paul McCartney getting the title song for the first Roger Moore led James Bond movie, Live And Let Die, it was standalone stuff, hardly integral to the movie’s action or plot. The influx of rock songs in early 1970’s films ushered in the compilation soundtrack, using old records to create a familiar response, and was innovative for its time – Mean Streets and especially American Graffiti – but hardly the same thing as the traditional movie score.

Maybe that’s to be expected for a style of music that was centered more on vocals historically, not to mention 2-3 minute songs which made their points quickly and got out, but there was definitely an untapped resource that Hollywood missed out on by sticking with older composers rather than look to younger rock musicians to come up with songs like Night Crawler.

Wait a minute, you’re probably saying, didn’t we just sort of pan this record and say it was little more than background music lacking compelling hooks and memorable parts?

Yup, and it is. But that’s as a RECORD, where the requirements are different.

As part of a film score however this would actually be pretty good, certainly effective if not noteworthy unto itself. It might be a little busy for a typical noir in a scene with just one character on the screen in imminent peril, but as a transitional piece – say a private eye or a hit man going into and later out of a crowded club, it’d be perfect.

But that’s not what T.J. Fowler or Savoy Records were exactly aiming for with a single, were they? In the context in which it was released, the only context that really matters, this is another fine example of the musicianship of Fowler’s band and his own arranging dexterity.

Then again it’s also another case of failing to find an ear-worm to guarantee it’s not JUST something to have on playing innocuously in the background… unless of course you’re regularly in danger of being wiped out by gangsters in the naked city, in which case this one might just be for you at that.


(Visit the Artist page of T.J. Fowler for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)