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COLUMBIA 30210; JUNE 1950



A major record label with utter disdain for rock ‘n’ roll debuting a new group in the rock style… something seems a little suspicious here.

It is.

So sit back, pour yourself a drink and learn once again that how despite their wish that rock ‘n’ roll would dry up and blow away, the mainstream music industry wasn’t above trying to capitalize on it when the opportunity arose and then were just as willing to cast it aside without a second thought when their efforts didn’t turn out as they had planned.


They Are Telling Lies To You
The story is the same with this entry as it’s been for most of Columbia’s tentative forays into the rock world to date.

Knowing that there were sales to be had and realizing their prior excursions into the younger black music market were met with derision, yet being afraid of upsetting their bosses and their primary constituency with anything too outlandish, the powers-that-be sought to find artists who could effectively replicate certain elements of rock while toning things down if need be to maintain an aura of dignity.

That proved easier said than done however for the groups in question – The Five Scamps and Chris Powell’s Five Blue Flames – saw the excitement they generated when they didn’t hold back and yet because Columbia Records failed to promote them properly and had no established distributors to get those records into the right neighborhoods these efforts died on the vine causing the company to deem it all a major mistake.

But that didn’t mean they stopped trying. After all, sales were sales and an untapped market that was growing exponentially was nothing to dismiss and so they worked out a new game plan that centered around trying to replicate the one rock group who’d managed to carve out such a distinctive sound for themselves that it should be easy to rip-off without necessarily bringing any new elements to the table.

Since that group in question, The Ravens, had also managed to secure higher class bookings it suggested that there was perhaps a more cultivated audience willing to accept them – or their potential doppelgangers – as a sort of novelty offering, thereby removing the stench of low-class slumming that more generic rockers might bring with them to Columbia’s hallowed doorstep.

Thus began the careers of The Carols, a former gospel group led by Tommy Evans who bore an uncanny vocal resemblance to Jimmy Ricks. It was so impressive in fact that in a few years time it’d be Evans who’d replace him in The Ravens when Ricky flew the coop in the mid-1950’s.

The Carols had switched over to secular music in fact because of Evans’s similarities to Ricks, hoping to find similar success that would allow them to give up their day jobs working on the assembly line in the automotive plants in Detroit, making the title Please Believe In Me rather prescient. Since they weren’t going to make much money as gospel singers why not sell your soul to the Devil in exchange for the chance at some hit records and the fleeting stardom that went with it?

With their new course set they quickly made some connections around Detroit which led to a stint in New York and in turn brought them to the attention of Columbia Records who were presumably placated by their spiritual background to let them enter their offices without armed guards present to sign their contracts.

I’ll Be By Your Side If You Need Me
This starts of pretty well with Evans holding his first notes to establish a little tension before the others come in and they seem to forget that goal entirely, rushing through their vocals a little too quickly.

They sing well though and when Evans takes things down a notch to deliver the verses it has time to settle into a more appropriate groove and that’s when everything starts to come together nicely.

His comparisons to Ricky aren’t unfounded even if he’s not quite in the same class. For starters no bass is as deep or as sonorous as The Ravens legend, but beyond that few singers regardless of their range have the intuitive knowledge of how to deliver their vocals quite as well as Jimmy Ricks does. He was a great singer in addition to having an incomparable vocal instrument with which to work and that’s what set him apart.

Evans is a mere mortal by comparison, his voice definitely conjuring up images of the guiding star of all bass voices in rock, but lacking the full knowledge of how to best use that to sell the material besides merely hitting the right notes. He’s only skimming the surface of the attitude that Ricky would bring to the surface and while it definitely sounds good we know in the master’s hands it would’ve sounded even better.

That being said though even second rate Ravens imitators still have plenty to offer as long as their material and the backing singers aren’t accentuating any pop elements in the hopes of not offending the record buyers who will steer clear of any black group no matter how much you pander to their tastes.

Luckily The Carols manage to keep a lid on any misguided crossover aspirations on Please Believe In Me and acquit themselves well. The group’s two tenors, Richard Coleman and William Davis along with baritone Wilbert Tindle (James Worthy, not the NBA Hall Of Famer, rounded them out doubling as pianist and arranger) provide solid harmonies for the most part and then getting the chance to step into the spotlight during the middle eight showing they could’ve been asked to handle an occasional lead with the assurance of pulling it off with grace.

The best sign of all however when it comes to their intent is found in the fact the lyrics aren’t pandering to the asexual world of white adults who despite their seeming lack of interest in the subject in popular music of the day seemed to have no problem reproducing, as this was smack dab in the middle of the baby boom.

Instead this gives us a story that takes a lighthearted look at the rumors of infidelity that someone like Perry Como would never have touched and there are some genuinely funny lines in it – “If I’m kissing someone new I’m just practicin’ for you!” – which takes the onus off the realization that Evans is probably a serial cheater with more notches on his bed post than a new Boy Scout trying out his first pocketknife.


Trust In Me
The song zips along at a good pace with most of the melodic load being carried by the vocal arrangement rather than the instrumental side of the equation, for we get mostly incidental support by Worthy’s piano and a drummer who is keeping a skittering beat behind them.

But that in of itself is refreshing, especially for a major label who were used to over-embellishing most of their records with expansive string sections, out of place brass and piano players who somehow found it possible to play with a stick shoved up their ass.

This might not be very adventurous, there’s no sax solo which might’ve added an even more subversive element to the mix for instance, but there’s also nothing to get in the way of the vocals.

Please Believe In Me might not be a perfect record but it’s surprising how much of the best aspects of a Ravens production they managed to corral and how they were able to sidestep the more inappropriate ones completely.

Some of the vocal transitions have the initial appearance of stepping wrong but they somehow never do, keeping their feet planted on safer ground while still allowing for different textures to rise to the surface during these sections. It’s a surprisingly confident turn by these studio rookies and the more you hear of it, the more impressed you become.

To put it another way, if The Ravens had come out with this record and used the same arrangement we’d be thrilled and if The Carols don’t quite have the skill-set to be able to reach the those heights they come much closer to matching them here than anyone else has to date.

Of course in the eyes of the respectable music industry even the the thought of venturing into this realm was beneath contempt, as Billboard magazine skewered it in their review, idiotically referring to it as a “hillbilly” song, so you can see why with that kind of reception the blue blood companies chose to tread lightly when it came to this kind of thing.


It’s Because They Envy You
Despite our scorn for their sporadic and halfhearted attempts at embracing rock, Columbia has at least had some good success – aesthetically anyway – with their attempts over the past year, though it definitely seems the closer artists come to achieving rock credibility the more uneasy the company feels about owning up to it which pretty much ensured they’d resist going all-in on tackling this genre.

That would certainly be the case in their dealings with The Carols. Though all four cuts from their April session would be released this summer they weren’t promoted (and perhaps not widely released, since all of the available label scans are from promo issues) and they were never brought back in for another session as instead Columbia set their sights on signing The Ravens themselves, thereby making these imitators rather superfluous.

Understandable though that may have been, what wasn’t as easy to figure out was why The Carols had to go back to the Detroit club scene for the next few years before getting one more chance to cut records in 1953. Rock still needed more groups to fill out their ranks and though as we’ll see not all of their output from this first go-round was up to the standards of Please Believe In Me, this record was more than good enough to earn them another look from somebody.

Maybe the stigma of having gotten their break from a company as respected as Columbia scared off the independent labels who knew that such an image would be a hard thing to overcome when it came to finding acceptance among the rock crowd. Not a very sound theory perhaps, but it makes as much sense as any other explanation.


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