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KING 4581; NOVEMBER 1952



The widely held opinion among 50’s rock vocal group aficionados is that the ballad on the flip side of this single is a flawless masterpiece, both a “beautiful” song and a “simply gorgeous” performance and thus a near perfect record.

Meanwhile this song, the rolling uptempo side intended to balance the single out stylistically, is sort of ignored altogether or just sort of passed off without much enthusiasm, at least in what you can find written about the group these days.

But everybody’s ears pick up on different things, everybody’s tastes are not aligned with the majority, and everybody’s views are distinctly their own.

If you’re one who agrees with the masses and think I was way off base in my assessment that the aforementioned ballad was merely good, but definitely not great, my guess is you’ll be even madder when I state that the single DID have a truly great side on it after all.

This one.


I Know How Much You’ve Tried
One of the things that made The Dominoes such a formidable group in their original incarnation wasn’t just the compositions themselves, as great as they were, nor was it simply the endless rehearsals and sterling individual voices themselves, though those certainly helped.

It was also the variety of lead singers they had at their disposal which gave their early catalog such diversity. Clyde McPhatter was obviously the star and as such got the most songs to front, but the others could easily step in and excel on material designed for them while still retaining that unique Dominoes sound thanks to the arrangements and backing voices.

The most distinctive second lead was Bill Brown who fronted their biggest hit Sixty Minute Man along with a few others, all showcasing that warm melodic bass voice that rolled along with indescribable ease.

When he left the group and helped form The Checkers it was obvious his voice was going to be more of the centerpiece than it had been with The Dominoes, but like that group they were going to have various leads to keep their sound varied. With John Carnegie’s high tenor featured Night’s Curtains, the ballad on the other side, it stood to reason that this side would take full advantage of Brown’s honeyed bass vocals and his penchant for more rollicking material.

Though neither side made any impression on the public, upon hearing Let Me Come Back you almost swear that it had to be a hit somewhere. It just sounds as if you’ve been hearing it your whole life and your natural suspicion about the industry at the time prods you to go back and check The Dominoes sides that Brown had led to see if he swiped it from them, altering it just enough to avoid a lawsuit. But no, the similarities are found in his vocal tones and delivery more than the song as written.

And what of the song as written?

Well, it’s as infectious as almost anything you’ll hear.


Mercy, Mercy
A tenor sax and a ghostly floating tenor make for an intoxicating introduction, almost like the voice is somehow swirling around the horn as a visual enhancement to it before more pieces start falling into place.

The rhythm is there too, but only when Bill Brown’s voice enters does that rhythm become more pronounced as the two sounds seem to bounce off each other, ping-ponging around the room with the now prominent backing vocals adding yet another focal point which are terrific in their own right.

Therein lies the genius of Let Me Come Back, particularly the first minute which features one of the most perfect arrangements you’ll ever encounter. There’s interlocking percussion, one of which was apparently overdubbed later on, creating a rhumba rhythm that was soon to catch on as a popular backdrop for a lot of rock vocal group records and here it’s easy to see why, as you can’t help but move your shoulders to it as it barrels along.

It’d be catchy enough as it is, but the voices provide a similar concurrent rhythm of their own because Brown’s lead is fast enough to keep even with it, yet is clearly not following the same cadence pattern, giving it a third rhythmic line to follow. The surprisingly prominent backing vocals soaring wordlessly and adding nonsense syllables behind Brown give us the fourth part of the puzzle, rising and falling in their own way before joining him for the close of those early lines.

If you insist on finding fault with something, your only options are actually both good writing devices. The first being the two bridges, where Brown adopts a staccato delivery that features the others echoing his words two at a time.

The second, which comes between those, is the instrumental break which drops that rhythm altogether to let the sax wail away with the voices alternately hollering encouragement and harmonizing in support. Both of those change-of-pace techniques are very well done but when the main thrust of melody and rhythm is so compelling we find ourselves yearning for its return and when it does come back we’re like an addict who finally gets their fix.

We haven’t even begun to focus on what he’s singing about yet, though as much as we generally care about lyrics in songs they almost don’t matter here because the rest of the components are so addictive. But while the story doesn’t go into much detail the basic theme is a good one as Brown’s apologizing to his girlfriend for various transgressions – lying, cheating… the usual romantic deal killers.

He’s saying all the right things, taking full responsibility, criticizing himself and his weak moral character, and he may in fact be sincere about the promises he’s making to her while asking her Let Me Come Back, but she’s not going to be taking any of that into consideration when she’s mulling over her decision because she’s going to already be won over by just how good he sounds in the attempt.

Hell, she might even be hoping he keeps screwing up – and thus keeps apologizing – just to hear more of this.


I’ve Had A Little Talk With My Own Self, I Know There Can’t Be No One Else
Though it shouldn’t be a case of pitting one side against the other, the fact that it IS the other side of this single which seems to be so widely beloved among fans of this era means that there will likely be some of you looking for reasons to explain why I’m “wrong” and picked the unworthy side to praise so heavily.

Okay, let’s have at it.

One look at the vocal group records with green numbers next to their names around here should be more than enough evidence that I don’t have an inherent bias against ballads, if that’s what you’re thinking. That song also doesn’t fall prey to a few areas that I AM less tolerant about, namely cover records, standards hauled out of cold storage or pop styled deliveries, none of which are the case for the flip side.

I liked Night’s Curtains well enough, but with an unmemorable melody, a cut and dried arrangement and a poor vocal bridge by the others it didn’t stand out beyond its general theme and the heartfelt intensity of John Carnegie’s vocal. It’s still above average, but any more than that would be giving it credit for something I just don’t hear.

By contrast everything about Let Me Come Back jumps out of the speakers, from the startlingly great arrangement dovetailing with some mesmerizing backing vocals while Bill Brown delivers what might just be the most spellbinding lead of his entire career… and that includes his far more famous Dominoes work.

I guess here’s the difference in a nutshell. Great records are ones where you can’t get them out of your head no matter what you do. They lodge themselves in your brain the very first time you hear them and refuse to be evicted no matter how often you listen after that, sometimes even as you’re almost hoping to wear them out so you can move on to something different.

This side by The Checkers is making it exceedingly difficult to move past it and that’s the sign of perfection. The company even reissued it in 1959 on their Federal label, showing that someone else apparently felt the same way about it as I do.

If your own reaction is different and you have no trouble not hearing it again, that’s perfectly okay, but the symptoms I just described are familiar to every music lover somewhere along the line. All of you therefore know as well as I do that when they hit you – whatever song they hit you for – there’s nothing you can do about it… and nothing you’d want to do, other than to play that song again.


(Visit the Artist page of The Checkers for the complete archives of their records reviewed to date)