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They always say that you only get one chance to make a first impression… so you better make it count.

Good advice, but hardly applicable for a rock vocal group who’ve already released a bunch of singles including a national hit over the past year, right?

Well, no, because it’s not the group that’s making the first impression in this case, it’s the record itself which means the title and subject.

The Cardinals may have been a known quantity by now, although this steps outside their past ballad oriented approach, but every single has its own calling card by way of the title and this one doesn’t seem like something you’d instinctively gravitate towards… unless you knew what it was about.

Or for that matter, unless the record company knew for sure what it was about.


Thrill You, Chill You
We could’ve started the review off with another familiar saying, the one about timing is everything, as The Cardinals had the misfortune of appearing at Atlantic’s doorsteps after The Clovers had just broken loose and became their hottest act overall, not just among the vocal groups.

As a result, despite good early returns and a far different natural style, The Cardinals were sort of treated like second class citizens with the company, especially after the group’s stellar lead, Ernie Warren was drafted last winter.

He was replaced by Leander Tarver who takes center stage on The Bump, one of the first rock dance tunes with the name OF that dance as the title, a practice that would reach its zenith a decade later.

But while I don’t doubt there WAS a dance called The Bump… after all, it’s no sillier than every other dance name that came along… but I wonder just how organic a record this actually was.

In other words, were young rock fans already doing a dance with this name to records with a similar shuffling rhythm, or was this the invention of songwriters and producers who knew that igniting a dance craze might be a sure way to not just a hit record but a series of stylistic follow-ups that would keep The Cardinals in the money while awaiting Warren’s return.

Or was it merely using a prospective dance to get a different type of record into the market that might give the group a more notorious reputation they could exploit down the road?

Whatever the answer, the commercial results were underwhelming and the dance and record didn’t make a ripple. Whether either one deserved to or not is what we’re most concerned with.


Make Your Insides Jump
Remember that in 1952 dancing was still done with partners holding onto one another. The era of the individualistic movements came about in the early 1960’s with the twist and all of its many descendants, something which continues through this day even as the “naming” of dances has largely fallen by the wayside.

So keeping that in mind, the type of dancing you’d envision for a song like The Bump sounds very mechanical. Almost robotic.

It lurches rather than glides. It’s too slow for any seductive shimmying, yet a little too spry to simply squeeze each other as you rock back and forth in a circle. The herky-jerky vocals carry the primary melody and come across sounding sort of harsh as a result. Although Tarver is out front on those vocals he’s being joined in lockstep by the others, all of which gives this something of an authortative air, almost as if you’re being commanded rather than instructed.

It’s not a very welcoming record in other words and the lyrics only exacerbate the problem, starting off by addressing sad girls and gives them the solution to their misery, doing a reputed dance where you DO still hold onto one another, but which sounds suspiciously like sex.

Okay, let’s just drop this silly charade and state that clearly this record IS about sex, they’re just too cowardly to openly proclaim it and not clever enough to turn it into a sly commentary on the oppressive nature of society regarding such topics.

As a result they don’t get their intended payoff because of how they artificially hide it, for while the lyrics certainly make far more sense if they’re discussing no-strings-attached boinking as a cure-all for fizzled relationships, the presentation doesn’t exactly conjure up… well… “bumping and grinding”.

Again, the pace is the problem here, as is the lack of any wild vocal or instrumental histrionics. It’s well played, and the saxophone in particular is contributing a very good circular riff, but it only contributes to the ambiguity of the record. If The Bump is indeed a sexual act there needs to be more sweaty action involved, and if it’s a dance they’re describing there needs to be… more sweaty action involved.

Funny how that description suits both activities, isn’t it?

The musical side of this, as inappropriate as it seems for either one of those possibilities, is still good enough to earn some listens even if while it spins you keep all your clothes on and remain seated without so much as a single involuntary leg twitch, making this not quite an abject failure, but hardly a success either.


When You Feel It Get You
Chalk this up to unclear goals… or if you prefer to be a little more conspiratorial, let’s call it trying to blur the line between an unacceptable song topic for 1952 and using a confusing one as a smokescreen.

Here’s the thing though, a year ago the biggest rock hit was Sixty Minute Man, a record that made no attempt to hide or downplay its sexual subject matter. It was so huge that it managed to cross into the Pop Top Twenty, showing that sex sells.

Furthermore by this point there’ve been other sex-related songs including a couple by Atlantic themselves. So why make The Bump so intentionally misleading?

Tell us it’s about screwing… come right out and call it The Hump instead if you really want to be blatant about it… but don’t disguise your intentions, because as long as you do we’re forced to take it at face value and try and make sense of a dance that doesn’t sound as if it’s anything anyone would want to do, while if we catch on that it’s actually about sex we’re going to be let down that somehow they manage to even make THAT subject sound as if it’s not something anyone would want to do.

In other words they turned a possibly fun and interesting song into one best appreciated by wallflowers… no matter which act you were envisioning.


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