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These are the records that aren’t very enjoyable to write about. Not that the song or performance itself is at fault per say, but rather that there’s so little information on the group – their only release that we know of – that it’s kind of like telling someone about a movie you’ve never seen.

Of course we can HEAR the record, which obviously helps, but when we do start discussing it the first thing anyone will likely say is… “Are you sure this is rock ‘n’ roll enough to include?”

If not, there’s our “out”, it’s near enough to the edge of the genre that we can skip over it without feeling guilty we passed it by.

Yet here it is all the same. So aren’t you the least bit curious to find out why?


Oceans And Mountains… A Study In Contrast
Here’s the why…

As rock ‘n’ roll evolves the borders that define the genre’s edge are in constant flux. The jazzier inclinations of the earliest bands have morphed into something more uniquely distinctive, a more aggressive sound with a different focus in their instrumentation, further distancing themselves from those uncertain origins. Thus an act still incorporating those earlier attributes in 1952 are no longer connected to rock’s main stem.

Similarly the rock vocal group approach when it came to ballads has found its footing in time, accentuating the emotional elements while largely dropping the milder deliveries favored by pop music, all while adding more intricate backing vocals along with – usually – some more interesting musical accompaniment.

Yet that line is never clearly drawn. There’s some who seem to brush against it and still make the grade, like The Orioles whose credentials as a rock act gives them certain leeway.

So to fully understand that border it becomes more instructive to choose another group without those deeper bonds which give them a free pass into the club and instead who have to justify their inclusion while trying to walk that line between the two genres.

Thus we come to The Carnations, an East Coast group with one single to their name, both sides skirting the edge of pop music with Tree In The Meadow being a bastardized version of a recent pop song to boot.

And yet the group along with Derby Records seem to be fully aware that they can’t go all-in on that genteel approach if they want to succeed in this day and age, or at least if they want to reach the audience they were after.

So we get a song straddling that border between genres… too pop for our tastes but not so much so that we can ignore it altogether.

My Thoughts Always Lie
The framework to this starts off with a music box motif with delicate chimes almost struggling uphill before settling in. It’s an effective, if slightly overused, device, but considering the topic it works well enough to set the vocals up.

The lead has got a nice voice, a breathy tenor that draws out the lines to their breaking point which draws from a deeper emotional reservoir than the pop renditions had and represents the first way it deviates from the source material which tended to get more to the point.

Here’s where we should probably reiterate for those who are usually unconcerned about such things the difference between a cover and a remake. The former is a record that comes right on the heels of the original – or at least a newly released record of a standard that is starting to make commercial noise – that attempts to siphon off some of its sales. Covers are meant to compete directly with the current record even if it’s aiming at a slightly different audience.

A remake is a new rendition of an older song that stands alone in the current marketplace.

This is clearly a remake, as the original was cut way back in 1948 as were the flurry of cover versions, but it’s also remake in a more literal sense of the word because it’s completely recrafted. The melody is the same, one of the stanzas and the hook is as well, but the rest of the lyrics are brand new.

My guess is they remembered the song but forgot – or never knew – the lyrics, or misheard them and essentially made them up as they went. The original songwriter, Billy Reid, whose band cut the first version with vocalist Dorothy Squires, still gets credit, deservedly so, but even he might be left scratching his head after hearing what The Carnations do to Tree In The Meadow.

Yet the basic concept remains unchanged. It’s a love song with a maudlin bent to it, the one surviving section ends with the tag-line “I love you ‘til I die”. The group’s singing is really nice at times when they’re simply harmonizing behind the lead, but when they’re asked to do more it falls apart. The bass can’t get low enough, can’t stay in key and can’t find the melody with a compass and the fact they give him the bridge to sing is an atrocity.

Even so, the lead is what they want you to focus on and he carries it off just well enough to make it palatable. Meanwhile the melody gently sways, inching the song forward, the chimes provide enough of touchstone to keep things grounded and if the original lyrics are pretty banal – as pop songs tended to be at that time – and the reimagined lyrics are completely incomprehensible, at least they’re delivered with some sincerity.

But as to who was going to really be moved by this… my guess is not many outside of a few street corner groups who used it as practice and with little effort were able to surpass it before moving on to something more challenging.


Carved Upon That Tree
If you scan the list of artists who took a swing this over the years you’ll see (outside of possibly Conway Twitty in 1961) there’s nobody very close to rock ‘n’ roll besides The Carnations here and we have serious doubts as to their stylistic allegiance considering we have little more to go on than this lone single.

In other words this tune itself was pop music, as evidenced by the likes of Margaret Whiting (who scored the biggest hit with it), The Four Preps and The Lettermen releasing it in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s respectively, all among the defining pop acts of their eras.

But we know that rock vocal groups were constantly seeking familiar melodic songs to try and work out something new with and if The Carnations failed to really deliver a thoroughly new arrangement, they at least came up with new words to Tree In The Meadow for whatever that’s worth.

In the end probably not much, but at the very least you do get a chance to see just how treacherous it could be trying to incorporate something from the good side of town into a music that was far more comfortable residing across the tracks.

The very things that made pop so appealing to the mainstream – the gentle melodic flow, the tender heartfelt lyrics and the sappy sentimentality – were things that were more often than not thoroughly corrupted by rock ‘n’ roll. While The Carnations add just enough emotional wrinkles here to give it some tentative credibility in rock, they’re ultimately backing themselves into a corner they won’t be able to escape from by sticking too closely to what rock was constantly trying to distance itself from.