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CORAL 65026; MARCH, 1950



As we’ve detailed from the start around here, rock ‘n’ roll’s rise to prominence came about when struggling independent record companies saw a commercial hole waiting to be filled and signed largely untested artists whose lack of polish and aggressive musical and cultural attitudes which made them unwelcome at the dominant major labels of the day.

“Need” meet “opportunity”… now see what you boys can come up with.

What they came up with of course was a new style of music that succeeded precisely because it then hooked up with a more solvent than anticipated post-war young black market who sent it onto the charts and by the close of the 1940’s the unwanted bastard child of the music world had proved its commercial mettle enough for the disdainful major labels to begrudgingly decide to move in on it… albeit without much artistic conviction.

The Beavers provide the perfect test case as to why the majors, even with their advantages in promotion and distribution, could never consistently churn out hits in this field, learning the hard way that no matter how much money you pour into the task of coming up with suitable rock ‘n’ roll records the one thing you can’t buy is authenticity.


Start Out In The Morning
We met The Beavers a few months back and for those who forgot… well, you’re not alone, their work was hardly very memorable.

Though they possessed decent enough voices they didn’t manage to stand out much, either individually or collectively, even on the moderately admirable I Gotta Do It, their first release from October, and so the most pertinent bit of information as to their prospects was the fact that their musical arranger and pianist was Howard Biggs whose previous experience in those roles came with The Ravens whose authenticity as rockers was never in doubt.

That connection is what made The Beavers chances – on paper anyway – strong enough for Coral Records, a new subsidiary of major label Decca which was aiming at the neglected markets such as rock, to take a chance on them. But maybe because Biggs was viewing this as a way to establishing himself in the more respected field of middle-of-the-road pop – yes, you read that right, that was indeed respected in America in 1950 for some inexplicable reason – he was pulling up short in really attempting to stoke the imagination of rock fans with these lukewarm efforts.

This reaches its nadir with what on the surface appears to be a more suitable topic, or at least that’s probably how the company was viewing Big Mouth Mama, a title that suggests some harmless impropriety. Surely that’s the kind of crude put-down these rock heathens gravitate towards, wasn’t it?

You can practically envision the corporate round table discussion over this very subject in the board room of Decca, where a bunch of clueless starched suit wearing white men born in the 1800’s (I know it sounds ancient in the 21st Century but remember this was 1950 so it’d “only” make them fifty-five or sixty years old at the time) debate the essential qualifications for rock music that could appeal to the masses without being SO offensive that it’d run the risk of upsetting their primary constituency in the process.

Yup, unqualified executives making artistic compromises with a group that was hardly ideally suited for rock ‘n’ roll to begin with… it’s hard to see how THIS idea could fail!

Can’t Be Trusted
When going over the group’s qualifications for this role it’s not hard to see where The Beavers come up short. They can all sing okay, that’s not the problem, but they can’t inhabit their roles like a second skin… their makeup shows, their costumes don’t fit and their line readings are stiff and unconvincing.

Big Mouth Mama may be an intentionally stereotypical song to try and dupe the public into thinking they were the real deal, but as transparent as it was in its attempts there’s little doubt that a more qualified group could inject the right attitude with which to sell this with reasonable effectiveness.

The song is a put-down of course which requires a sense of either indignation – if the party singing the tune was hurt by his girlfriend’s actions – or sneering disdain if he was disgusted with her and couldn’t wait to dump her.

Either route would work well enough but instead of choosing one the group tries to remain neutral which right out of the gate sinks its credibility. Johnson is all but whining about her actions to his friends, who in singing the title line and its loose explanation tied to that title sound just as bland and unsuited for the task, and together they come across as just as inexperienced in romance as they do in rock ‘n’ roll.

The gist of the story is she’s a blabbermouth, someone telling all of her man’s secrets just for the adrenaline rush of spreading gossip behind his back.

Annoying? Yes. Untrustworthy? Absolutely. But a capital offense? Hardly.

As such there’s nowhere to take this song – not that any of them really try. You can’t threaten her without coming across as a raving lunatic. You can dump her but if you’re going to do that, just do it, don’t be just as guilty as she is by letting the whole world know why beforehand just to justify your actions.

Or you can suffer in silence… which frankly would’ve made for a much better record come to think of it.

Talks More Than She Walks
The mentality of the major labels, or those like Howard Biggs attempting to conform to a major label’s aesthetics, was to simply take the basic structure of rock – seen here with the jittery musical intro, a shuffle rhythm and some guitar interjections, along with the bouncy harmony vocals – and water it down.

As a result the vocals are too clean, too airy and too sterile to provide any punch. Having gone from The Ravens with Jimmy Ricks as the atom bomb waiting to be dropped into an arrangement to The Beavers, who have the equivalent of a pea shooter for a weapon, was kind of like going from dating Lena Horne, one of the most stunningly beautiful women in the world, to dating Hortence Leanader, one of the notorious spinster ladies on the outskirts of town who’s been known to cause men to drive twelve miles out of their way to avoid her.

The Beavers might not cause that much dismay among rock fans for the lack of prowess, but Big Mouth Mama could desperately use Ricky’s booming voice to lend some gravity to these charges. When they inform us that this girl in question is the one the lead singer is actually cheating on his wife with – meaning HE’S the one with the far more serious offense – that juicy revelation packs little wallop because of the tepid way it’s delivered.

The group’s harmonizing has no fire to it, no chiding contempt (for either Johnson or the girl) and little flair to hook you in if only to admire their arrangement. It’s simply a dry and emotionless reading of a story that needs all of the oomph it can get just to pass muster in the first place.

The same is true of the backing music although it has a few nice traits tossed in – that guitar is welcome when it pops up and Biggs and the drummer at least manage to keep the rhythm from lagging too much – but there’s absolutely nothing explosive to get you to sit up and pay attention.

They don’t even have the proper components on board to deliver an exclamation point if they desired, as instead of an instrumental break this desperately calls for – tenor sax moaning and then wailing with a few random honks thrown in for good measure – they keep singing, shifting their pace just enough to let you know you’re in the bridge but giving you no reason to think anything new will come out of this stretch.

If a scathing put down of a loudmouthed hussy being levied by a philanderer can bore you to tears or put you to sleep, this is surely it. Second graders on the playground have more bite to their insults than these guys show.


Keep Your Big Mouth Closed
Because there’s no glaring technical flaws found within, and because their voices – while lacking character – are at least in tune and blend fairly well, you might expect this to be just casually dismissed rather than cruelly excoriated.

Normally you might be right, but sometimes I feel I go a little TOO easy on the bland and uninspired, giving out (3)’s when they’ve done little to earn even that middling a score. Since The Beavers themselves were drafted into this role by their teacher – ex-Ravens vocal coach and new Decca employee Joe Thomas – and hadn’t exactly set out to become a rock group under their own volition, maybe we COULD be generous and cut them some slack.

But then again, isn’t this exactly the type of thing we want to discourage… or at least show our disapproval of even though it’s now seven decades after the fact. Weren’t these attempts by major labels to shamelessly hop on a bandwagon with halfhearted efforts that looked down their noses at the legitimate rock acts something deserving of being roundly criticized?

I think you know the answer to that and I think if you had posed those same questions to The Beavers at the time if they wouldn’t put up much of an argument when you came to that conclusion either.


(Visit the Artist page of The Beavers for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)