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When we say a record is “of its time” it’s a statement that seems fairly obvious and thus unecessary.

Of course these seventy year old records are OF that time. That’s the whole point of this project, isn’t it? Putting the records back into the context of the time they were released in and trying to evaluate them from that perspective rather than a modern one to see how rock ‘n’ roll as a whole evolved over time.

But along the way there are these little subsections of time where the sounds that came to define that era, or a certain style within that era, never really made it OUT of that era to be appreciated quite as much later on.

This is one of them… a prime example of the relatively short-lived period in the rock vocal group idiom where rambunctiousness superseded refinement and as a result records like this seem stuck IN that time and perhaps less accessible to those from another time, or those who just simply prefer another time along the vocal group path.


Out Of My Sight
For the first three or four years of rock ‘n’ roll we saw how vital the vocal group idiom was when it came to increasing rock’s artistic scope and commercial potential. Though The Ravens had a whiff of novelty to their upbeat approach thanks to Jimmy Ricks’ bass leads, they subsisted musically on the infectious rolling rhythms of those performances, tight harmonies and vaguely lecherous themes.

But they were more or less outliers in the style as a whole, because it was the next huge group, The Orioles with their romantic heartfelt ballads which truly defined the next three years… and, with some adjustments to take the style further away from their pop influences, is one that is still going strong in 1952. This was defined by certain key features, the first of them being that it was largely song-oriented by nature with technically precise renderings of slower material and an emphasis on melody combined with the controlled emotion of the lead singer with just faint atmospheric backing by the others.

The Cardinals in fact were one group drawn directly from that blueprint… at least until lead signer Ernie Warren was drafted last winter and they had little choice but to alter their approach to what we see on She Rocks, a song that contains none of those qualities at all.

Instead it is emblematic of the loose “vocal jam” period that covered roughly 1952-1954 which relied on creating a vibrant, somewhat sloppy, feeling to create the energy that groups were beginning to realize was so important, but did so before the songwriters, producers and musicians fully knew how to add to that in order to create genuine excitement in the process.


Makes Me Feel So Doggone Fine
Give credit to both Atlantic Records for allowing The Cardinals to take their music in another direction now that Leander Tarver was on board singing lead rather than Earnie Warren and give credit to the group themselves for embracing this change with some genuine enthusiasm in the hopes of breaking out with a pair of racy songs that comprised this single.

It’s not designed to be anywhere near as impressive vocally as what the group originally made their name on. In fact it is designed to sound almost as if it were an off-the-cuff performance, one which will have to rely on their enthusiasm to get the point across rather than the quality of the composition or accompanying arrangement.

But you can certainly see WHY this became much more commonplace during this time, as the first generation of kids who grew up with rock ‘n’ roll over the last few years and had been singing it as amateurs were now transitioning to professional careers and carrying over some of those lessons learned while woodshedding. In the process they were opening up an entirely new approach to be mined commercially.

Where things tended to go off the rails in this plan was the record labels and their producers hadn’t quite figured out how to match the loose-limbed feeling of the vocals with a more structured arrangement. She Rocks features a swelling piano and drum intro before those two instruments shift their focus considerably, with the piano going from a sense of foreboding to delivering lighter treble fills, while the drums take on the more insistent power being the voices. They give some good licks to a guitar but fail to include the obvious tenor solo to hammer home the freewheeling attitude the song wants to project.

Tarver on lead has a more earthy voice than Warren ever did, along with a cruder more straightforward delivery, something designed to be accentuated here while the others wail along in unison behind him, showing what was to be one of the main sources of the appeal of this style – the camaraderie of hearing a bunch of friends infectiously singing together.

Unfortunately, other than on the bridge where he seems to adopt his more natural tone to good effect, that goal is lessened considerably by the choice to have Tarver be a little too theatrical throughout his performance, leaning hard into unique, almost comical, phrasing in order to help disguise the story of his sexually insatiable girlfriend.

Maybe, like on the The Bump on the flip side, the label was wary of releasing a song in which blatant sex was delivered straight with no chaser. After all, when he’s telling us that his girl is begging him to “thrill me until I’m tired” it’s kind of hard to pretend it’s about something else entirely, so it would seem Tarver adopted this more slush-mouthed delivery to conceal some of the racy details from casual disapproving ears who might be listening in, even if undercuts the record’s effectiveness in the process.

But while we can criticize that decision to obscure the ribald content from here to kingdom come, the rest of She Rocks works pretty well, especially the buoyant non-sensical backing vocals of the others which helps to establish that style going forward. When they get to sing actual lines with real words they’re no less impressive and it’s not hard to get caught up by their enthusiasm, while the story itself is sure to bring a smile to your face with some surprisingly blunt lines about the deed in question.

It’s a fun record, certainly an enjoyable one in the right setting, yet also an example of one that’s not all it could’ve been had they took a step back and figured out how to emphasize the very things they spend so much time trying to downplay.


There’s No Stopping
This period has hardly been forgotten by history, certainly not by rock vocal group centric listeners, but it’s generally just a few hits, or the tighter, slightly more streamlined and polished examples that followed in its wake which have come to define it.

The Crows’ commercially groundbreaking Gee is maybe the pinnacle of the exact approach seen here, but there were plenty of less revered records like Turn Me Loose by The Lamplighters, The Jewels’ original take on Hearts Of Stone or The Marylanders’ doing Good Ol’ 99 that were emblematic of this approach.

What they all have in common are swirling bursts of vocal energy backed by driving instrumentation that created a decidedly ramshackle feel. It was far simpler than what preceded it, not to mention what was still to come in the glory days of doo-wop where they retained this energy but fused it to far more complex vocal and instrumental arrangements. Even so however, while this earlier period may not always be as lovingly cherished by the hardcore aficionados, no one could claim that it didn’t have its day in the sun.

She Rocks is a good example of it but also a case study in why it was destined to morph into something a little more refined, such as when Atlantic came out with Money Honey by The Drifters, not only having better vocalists but a more polished story and the kind of instrumental support to add greatly to the overall impression rather than simply help to contribute to the chaotic feel as happens here.

Seeing as how this was the same label with the same producers, studio and musicians as that later game-changer, and The Cardinals were good vocalists in their own right, it’s fairly easy to see how this record could’ve been tightened up to get a similar result, but if it had been the very thing this record embodies starts to become less apparent.

In the end its imperfections are part of its charms. The record lets you down but lifts you up at the same time… a brief moment in time where the ground was shifting yet again and it was up to artists, labels and the audience themselves to decide what paths to pursue going forward.

This may have just been a bend in the road, but it was one that ultimately helped to steer the music in new directions.


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