Tags

No tags :(

Share it

DECCA 48158; MAY 1950

 
 

 

Let’s see what fun we have in store for us today, kids…

A pop-leaning group formed to capitalize on a rock group covering a pop song that the aforementioned rock group recently turned into a winner, while this group hopes to duplicate that feat and appeal to the rock fans as well while at the same time trying not to alienate pop fans who might be more inclined to support something a little milder… Didja get all that?

If not, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Like soaking shoelaces in water, tying them into knots and then leaving them out in the cold overnight, this is going to be one tangled mess to try and unravel.
 

 

Stormy Seas
For those who’ve misplaced their scorecards of the recent action on this front, let’s run down all of the relevant particulars with today’s record to get everybody up to speed.

The Blenders had been designed by their founder, Ollie Jones, as a derivative sounding Ravens imitation after the latter group became stars in rock ‘n’ roll over the past three years. Jones himself had been with The Ravens before their rock breakthrough and remained friends with them to this day, which sort of tells you the originals hardly felt threatened by the competition.

Seeing the success of The Ravens and wanting to make inroads into the outer regions of rock without committing to it fully, major label Decca Records signed The Blenders and tried positioning them midway between the more soulful rock vocal group model and a more watered down pop based take-off on that sound.

That’s a tough line to straddle however because rock fans will be dismissive of anything too mild while pop fans will balk at listening to anything too earthy.

The solution – temporary though it might be – fell neatly into their lap when The Ravens covered a sizable pop hit from early spring, Count Every Star, and did wonders with it aesthetically, adding legitimate emotional depth to what otherwise had been fairly shallow platonic readings of it in the pop kingdom. In spite of its brilliance however the record failed to chart for The Ravens even though it arguably was their finest performance.

Naturally Decca figured The Blenders might offer the perfect compromise to hit the commercial jackpot by taking just enough of The Ravens soulful approach to set it apart from the totally stilted pop offerings, while at the same time soft-peddling it by highlighting certain aspects of the pop approach in a manner that would draw in mainstream listeners.

The hope therefore is that The Blenders version of Count Every Star would offer the best of both worlds and have widespread appeal… unless of course those stylistic compromises managed to alienate both the rock and the pop audience equally, thereby pleasing nobody.
 

Heaven Knows I Miss You
Certainly AS a pop record this is slightly more rock-infused than the lion’s share of renditions on the market, thanks in part to the lead vocal being taken by bass James DeLoach. The interesting thing of course is that The Ravens version (which is the very reason The Blenders jumped on the bandwagon for this song, just to compete with theirs) WASN’T led by their bass Jimmy Ricks, but rather new tenor Louis Heyward with Ricky only adding his distinctive ambiance in the blend.

As a result – if you wanted to really stretch a point – you could even try and make the argument that The Blenders version is The Ravens record you might’ve EXPECTED to get… albeit with a lesser quality, though still decent, bass voice out front in DeLoach. But that would be pushing things, for while DeLoach, or really any effective bass singer, is going to have a certain degree of soulfulness in his delivery, at least when compared to your usual tenor or baritone pop singer, that is almost exclusively the result of his natural tone rather than any added inflections he brings to his singing.

That might’ve been Decca Records’ most ingenious move actually, deceptively framing Count Every Star as being rock-leaning by simply giving it to the singer whose vocal chords would naturally give the impression of rock soulfulness while at the same time telling him to deliver it in a pure pop manner.

The thing is, they do sing it fairly well and as a song – no matter who does it in what style – it’s a very pleasantly melodic tune. The two big pop hits of this both had baritone leads and so DeLoach is not all that far away from it, but just enough to give it the patina of being something different.

Is that enough to fool rock fans? No, certainly not when measuring it against The Ravens, but when contrasting it with Dick Haymes or Ray Anthony then yes, I’m fairly confident you’d choose this take on it over those even more mannered performances. When DeLoach rises up on the word “star” and then drops back down on “when you do” there’s a chance you might even be convinced this is more of a rock interpretation than it really is.

If that’s your momentary impression however let me quickly direct your attention back to the REST of the record to dispel that myth once and for all.
 

Cried, Cried For You
Muted horns, porcelain piano notes, brushed drums, the absence of any discernible rhythm, faint indistinct airy humming by the other Blenders… right away you know this record slipped in the back door of the rock establishment when somebody wasn’t looking.

Its slow pace alone might not be disqualifying, after all there’s plenty of slow ballads in rock, but it’s the calm and tranquil way in which that pace takes root that gives them away. It’s a pleasant stroll they’re taking you on, whereas the best rock ballads are halting and unsure of themselves at times, the seeming indecision of their deliveries which best reflects the emotional turmoil rock tends to plumb in those types of songs.

This on the other hand is simply meandering by choice, letting the stately melody wind its way through the garden on a spring afternoon… their footing is sure, their gait is leisurely and their attention is elsewhere. There’s no depth of feeling in such a reading, no angst nor urgent yearning. It’s a daydream, something designed to be transparently elusive.

When the other Blenders come in to add their harmonies to Count Every Star their voices give away their true allegiance, carefully enunciating their vowels with open throated blandness until they sound like any one of a hundred faceless studio “chorals” that frequently backed pop singers, it might as well be Sammy Kaye’s “Kaydets” or Norman Luboff Choir behind DeLoach for all the distinctiveness they’re adding to this.

The entire arrangement is built on a stately orderly procession that’s devoid of any semblance of underlying emotional consequence. In pop this is what’s expected and appreciated – and using a pop-oriented context I’d be far more forgiving of it – but The Blenders were created as a rival to The Ravens, not The Ames Brothers… who by the by actually sound more authentic in their records than The Blenders do here… and so no matter how “nice” it might appear in a vacuum, the bar they have to reach to pass muster in rock is far too high for this drab effort to come close to reaching.
 

Fireflys And Alibis
Once again we’re faced with a unique – and interesting – situation that speaks to rock’s growing appeal where even the major labels are disingenuously hoping to take advantage of it to pull its fans towards their more demure pop offerings. That’s certainly is a sign that rock ‘n’ roll is at least affecting their thinking more than they’d want to let on.

But in spite of that they’re still unwilling to concede that any of it is worth replicating otherwise they’d have had The Blenders serve up a record that could legitimately compete with The Ravens by taking their formula and applying it to Count Every Star while doubling down on the very thing the Ravens usually did so well – yet avoided altogether this time around – by letting their bass tackle the lead and really lay into it.

Instead everyone involved shallowly looked at rock as merely a means to an end, and not a very well-thought out one at that. The Blenders were hardly established enough to be able to attract a wide rock fan base with any of their records on name recognition alone and one listen to this tepid interpretation would send any self-respecting rocker scurrying back to the chicken shacks and juke joints for an unfiltered alternative to this polite drivel.

Meanwhile the pop audience was going to stick with Ray Anthony and Dick Haymes and Hugo Winterhalter for even more genteel readings of this material, all of which leaves The Blenders out in the cold with every constituency. In this case though we don’t have any sympathy for them… for that’s the price you pay when you trust the musical establishment.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of The Blenders for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)
 
 
 

 
Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
 
The Ravens (April, 1950)