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DECCA 48156; MAY 1950

 
 

 

These are the kinds of records – and the kind of artists – who are rapidly becoming less prominent in rock’s story the further we go along.

The slightly old fashioned borderline acts and songs, hinting at rock without truly believing in it, are destined to be left behind the more rock ‘n’ roll becomes entrenched as the primary form of young black music in America during the 1950’s. In addition to that however they’re also seeing their chances for a stable career suffer now that the aspirational pop crossover dreams sparked by the success of The Ink Spots and their ilk a decade earlier is on the wane.

Left with no comfortable home The Blenders, and many like them who were straddling eras to begin with, are left to wander around aimlessly in the countryside, hoping to stumble across a warm bed and hot meal from time to time to keep their strength and their spirits up.

This might not be more than just some leftover soup and a blanket for the hayloft, but it’ll at least get them out of the cold before they head on down the road tomorrow in search of something with a little more sustenance.
 

 

Please Don’t Say We’re Through
If this record were the only thing The Blenders released that peeked in on rock ‘n’ roll, it wouldn’t have gotten included here, nor would the group have probably been mentioned on these pages.

But since they formed as sort of a Ravens pastiche last fall with the better than expected Come Back Baby Blues, then their subsequent progress – or lack thereof – is worth following, if only to see if and when they’ll fall by the wayside.

If Gone (My Baby’s Gone) was any indication that moment wouldn’t be too long in coming, as this suffers from a total lack of conviction in their delivery, something which may be expected since this marks their first appearance after being signed to Decca Records where they surely had to be thoroughly deloused before being instructed in the proper way to hold their pinkies out while sipping tea and other cultural necessities now that they were going to rub elbows with the crème de la crème of high society.

Actually, it’s funny to see the lengths the major labels went to in first finding plausible rock vocal acts to sign up, and then how they systematically attempted to shorn them of their authenticity once they were on board.

Columbia had made the mistake last year in letting The Five Scamps have far too much leeway in their first session which resulted in a genuine rock classic – Red Hot – before they whipped them back into shape and drilled that kind of gleeful misconduct out of them.

Decca seemed to be taking fewer chances with The Blenders, first assigning them to their Coral subsidiary before changing their minds and keeping them on the more prestigious parent label, perhaps thinking the aura of respectability alone would keep them in line. Just to be sure though they may have insisted Ollie Jones take the lead here rather than letting bass vocalist James DeLoach do his best Jimmy Ricks impersonation and give anyone in the corporate offices they were condoning such behavior.

In the future Jones would prove his allegiance to rock but now he seems more than content to toe the line, no doubt thinking Decca was going to give them the kind of promotional push they’d given The Ink Spots lo those many years ago, propelling them into the upper echelon of black culture.

Which one of us is going to draw the short straw and have to burst their bubble?
 

I Don’t Know What To Do
Well, let’s start off with the nicest thing we can say about Decca Records’ mindset at this juncture which is they’ve at least recognized that it’s no longer 1940 when it comes to how they’re framing their vocal groups. Of course that doesn’t quite mean they’re fully aware it’s 1950 either, but they’re a little closer to it than we might’ve wagered heading into this.

All of which is to say that while The Blenders indeed prove they have good voices, a nice blend and can sing, it doesn’t mean that the WAY in which they choose to sing – or are forced to sing – on Gone (My Baby’s Gone) is entirely fitting for rock ‘n’ roll circa 1950, at least if they want to be ahead of the curve rather than lagging behind.

On one hand you can certainly say that it’s a good sign that The Blenders have it in them to be more than merely Ravens-lite, something which was never a good bet for lasting relevance in a field where the original (and far superior) Ravens were not in any danger of flying south for the winter and leaving an opening for someone to sit on their perch any time soon.

Since Ollie Jones has a nice voice as opposed to a great voice, his tenor airy enough to feel effervescent without being so light that it floats away in stilted pop attempts like Maithe Marshall was prone to do for The Ravens, by spotlighting him it sort of removes them from competing directly with those rival birds and gives them a chance to create their own sound.

But on the other hand when that resulting sound is devoid of the kind of emotional grit – or gospel-esque passion – that are soon to become cornerstones of the blossoming rock vocal group sect, then you sort of wonder why they bothered leaving the Ricks-derived arrangements behind for the time being, for at least that had been an aesthetically and commercially successful prototype to follow if you’re looking to make a name for your act.

So what we get here instead is a light guitar setting a decidedly tepid scene before Jones comes in, his voice almost shimmering, which is a pleasant effect for sure, but in the process it fails to penetrate your consciousness, content instead to glide over it without even really trying to sink its hooks into you with more urgency, lust or ache.

The others voices “ooh” and “ahh” just fine, though what they’re contributing is hardly earth-shattering at least their presence and the way in which they’re deployed brings this much closer to the rock vocal group template than they would’ve gotten otherwise. It’s just that it’s like putting nice wrapping paper and a fancy bow on an empty box. It’ll look good under the tree, but it’s hardly the present you want to open.
 


 

Hoping And Praying
Some of this could have been alleviated with a deeper song, though it’s worth saying that a deeper song would’ve required a deeper reading of it by Jones to really put it over, and maybe that was out of the question.

Or it could be that Gone (My Baby’s Gone) actually IS a lot deeper than we think, but we didn’t notice because of how casually it’s being sung. Either way Jones is the one who must take responsibility for its shortcomings since he wrote it as well as sings it, so after picking apart the latter we now get to rake him over the coals for the songwriting as well.

The idea itself is perfectly appropriate for rock, but break-up songs, whether describing the events that led to the split or simply bemoaning the after-effects, are so common-place in all of music that in order to stand out you need to either frame it in a unique fashion, use very colorful details to make it distinctive or pour on the heartbreak in how you tell us about it.

Jones and The Blenders do none of that here. The musical structure is predictable, the narrative framework is bland, the lyrics are generic to the point of being stupifyingly simplistic, and as already documented the vocal approach of Jones is technically precise but emotionally detached. Then again we’d have really shredded him had he started over-emoting lines such as “She left me, now I’m feeling blue.”. Mmm, that’s hardly the kind of shocking revelations that would justify him being on the verge of an emotional breakdown so we can certainly comprehend why he chose to understate it.

Actually, there ARE some aspects of this that are at least worthy of psychological examination, though hardly in a good way. At one point Jones discards what’s left of his self-respect and tells his former girlfriend, who DUMPED him keep in mind, that in spite of her sleeping with every guy in town he’ll promise to look the other way regarding her affairs if she’ll at least put up the front of dating him.

No wonder Jones didn’t want to sound more enthusiastic in his reading of the song, I’m sure he was dreading going home and facing his family after they heard him on this record!

There’s only one point during any of this does he really bear down, letting his voice soar momentarily in the middle eight sounding as if he’s suddenly remembered what type of music they were supposed to be carrying off, but when he realizes there’s nothing under that surface worth getting excited about he tones things back down, surely hoping you don’t notice their futile masquerading as a legitimate rock act.
 

Helpless As Can Be
It probably doesn’t do much good here to once again state that grades are handed out based on the context of the song to the genre – not to mention being purely subjective and thus nothing to be taken very seriously.

When it comes to vocal group aficionados who’ve deigned to go back this far in rock’s story, there seems to be a lot who appreciate – even prefer – the more pop-sounding sides, apparently finding enough appeal in the voices alone to overlook the lack of substance in the songs.

But while I’ve got no problem complimenting those voices on Gone (My Baby’s Gone) I can’t see the sense in promoting a style of singing which would’ve dragged rock forcibly closer to pop music had it been successful, thereby eliminating the need to pursue the more ground-breaking, exhilarating and memorable efforts still to come over the next decade.

You may think there’s room for both, and when talking about releases across the entire musical spectrum you’re certainly right, but when it comes to picking out which records deserve to be hits and in the process advance rock ‘n’ roll as a unique and vibrant style unto itself there’s a lot less that qualifies as being even moderately acceptable and this pleasant but irrelevant pap sure ain’t it.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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