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The question is right there in front of you and so it has to be asked…

When a new group, featuring two members of an even better and more popular group they just left, releases their first single with each one of them taking lead on a different side… which one do you do push?

The other side has the better lead vocal performance, but this one has the more identifiable voice. Of course when neither song is all that great and the overall production is nothing special on either one, I guess it doesn’t really matter, does it?

Carry on then. Forget I asked.


You Got Me Loving You Now
It’s a peculiar phenomenon writing about records seventy years old and trying to do so as if we were encountering them for the first time – and as if we were there AT that time, rather than in the present.

The point is of course to evaluate it all as it happens to try and determine which sounds we think should take hold, which are creative dead-ends and which are shallow and exploitative in one way or another.

But not everybody reads them as such. Fans of particular eras or styles have much narrower vision than that and it stands to reason will be very defensive about anything that pokes holes in what they love, especially knowing that aside from this site and a few others there’s not much NEW insight being offered on these ancient songs, artists and styles today. (Go ahead, just try and find even one tenth this many words being written about this song anywhere else, I dare you!)

I can’t imagine there’s a lot of closet Checkers fans out there. They were an off-shoot group of The Dominoes (who still DO have passionate fans, though dwindling in number by the day… whoops, there goes another into the ground!), but their commercial track record was basically non-existent, as in no national hits, although a few songs did get some recognition then and in the years since.

But they’re a part – a small part maybe, but still a part – of a much more fervent legion of fans of a popular rock subgenre annoyingly referred to as “doo wop” and as such, those fans surely believe The Checkers’ legacy, such as it is, needs to be vehemently defended so as not to demean the style as a whole.

To be fair, we will be praising a number of their records still to come… just not this one. The other half, Flame In My Heart, featured a nice lead by Charlie White, save for a few missteps along the way, but featured a weak arrangement on a bland song with a dreadful spoken word bridge by Bill Brown and so while it’s listenable, it’s also forgettable and unambitious.

If they’d taken another pass at it, shored up the few deficiencies, it’d be average at best, maybe a notch above that if White learned how to properly use melisma instead of half-assing it, but it’s still not a good enough song as written, nor an inventive enough group performance to stand out, whether you love the style as a whole or not.

Well, get ready for the same criticisms here because Oh Oh Oh Baby is just as dismissible. In fact, with slightly higher expectations since Brown is the one singing lead throughout, it might even be a little more disappointing in the end.

Like the other side it’s not grating to listen to and you can surely get some mild pleasure from it, but when we know what Brown was capable of with a great song, thrilling arrangement and top notch vocal support, it’s hard to conceive how anyone could think that his subpar lead on a forgettable song with nothing else to make it stand out is worth a passionate defense, let alone deserving of high praise.

But we know better. Somewhere there’s a few greying seniors who will insist this too is a lost classic.

I wish it was.


Keep Me In The Mood
When Bill Brown took his first lead for The Dominoes on Chicken Blues, the flip side of their very first single, we know exactly what Billy Ward’s intent was… to try and replicate the success of The Ravens by having his high tenor Clyde McPhatter handle one side of a single à la Maithe Marshall, while Brown, their bass vocalist, took the other side as Jimmy Ricks always did for that group.

Brown may not have been in Ricky’s class – nobody was – but he was damn good all the same and on Sixty Minute Man he did something that not even Ricks had done – nor would McPhatter do with the group – which was score a #1 single that crossed onto the Pop Charts despite (or maybe because of) its obscene content.

But it wasn’t just the sexual euphemisms contained in the lyrics, or the shouts and cries of McPhatter and the others in the background which along with the stabbing guitars called attention to the content which made it so potent. It was also Brown’s deep resonant voice rolling along with a smile that suggested he was singing that song right about the sixty-FIRST minute… as in just after the deed had finished.

That’s what made it so compelling, his playful mirth which mixed well with his imposing bass voice.

Which is why Oh Oh Oh Baby is so disappointing. Writer and producer Henry Glover is clearly trying hard to conjure up the same general atmosphere, but not only is the song without much lyrical merit, and the backing uninspired, but Brown himself somehow sounds… different.

It’s hard to say just HOW he’s changed though. The pace is roughly the same, so he’s not rushing his vocals, yet he seems a little out of step, like he’s hurrying to catch up at times rather than riding out front. Then you think he must’ve raised the pitch slightly from his best lead, but that’s not entirely true either, yet instead of sounding slyly lecherous he comes across as more comical here, though not in a good way. Since the story only hints at naughtiness there’s no wink and grin enjoyment of the subject matter to tide you over either.

The side qualities in the arrangement – hand claps, a sax break with some disengaged cries – are pretty transparent attempts to remind you of where you heard this done with Brown in the past, which frankly does it no good. Why would they want us to consciously think of a much better record by a much better group?

This one isn’t going to offend you to hear, but you can take that two ways. As a record it’s certainly acceptable to put in your playlist for 1952, slightly below par but close enough to earn a pass.

But as a performance it’s something that we WANT to sound offensive and instead we get the G rated edition, suitable for the whole family, which means the real rock fan heads for the door if not jumps out the window to look somewhere else.


Makes Me Holler “Ow!”
You’ll notice that neither of these sides by The Checkers even earn an average grade, something I’m sure that will be met with derision from the aforementioned vocal group fan club who takes these things far too personally.

Even if you’re not one of them you still might feel that I’m being unduly harsh on records that have some good aspects to them. Nobody misses a note here, Brown’s not trying to pull off something he’d be better off leaving be and even the backing vocals are more engaged than on the other half of the single. If nothing else both of these sides are fairly representative of the style for this day and age which should at least make them “average” for the purposes of our historical endeavors here.

But Oh Oh Oh Baby doesn’t stand out for those decent attributes, instead it’s the shortcomings that define it. Nothing jumps out at you… not the story, lyrics, arrangement or vocals. None might be bad, but none are particularly noteworthy either.

The biggest problem however is that this is more derivative by intent and so with heightened expectations comes a greater chance for disapproval. Instead of trying to water this down so as not to offend, they should’ve gone in the opposite direction and ramped up the innuendo and let the band and other voices go wild in support.

Maybe they still wouldn’t have matched its inspiration, they certainly wouldn’t have without a better composition than this, but I’ll guarantee you one thing… those who are meekly defending songs like these because they’re afraid they’ll be cast into the void forever as long as idiots like me are giving them middling scores, wouldn’t have anything to worry about in that regard if The Checkers went for broke instead.

For even when you fall short you still get a lot further off the ground when you aim high.


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