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CHESS 1521; OCTOBER 1952



Having already let The Clefs in the door despite teetering on the edge of rock’s stylistic precipice, we might as well show what happens when they start leaning even further over that chasm.

Hint…. It won’t end well.

But for their own good all artists, both those who flirt with disaster like this and those who don’t but may be considering it, need to see what happens when you make the wrong choices.


Where’s The One I Love?
One of the things we DON’T do around here is talk directly with the artists, songwriters, musicians and producers themselves… partly because we’re not going to the expense of setting up a séance since all of the relevant parties are long since dead, but also because it’s human nature to be grateful for someone’s time and thus you have a tendency to take everything somebody tells you as fact rather than propaganda.

But that definitely doesn’t mean that first-hand conversations aren’t helpful and when it comes to The Clefs, of whom there was little information to be had, we’re grateful that marvelous Marv Goldberg spoke with some of them to get the stories that help to explain their career choices.

The group stated that they were aware that writing their own material would be paramount to their success (you wish somebody reminded The Five Keys of this), but when it came to their debut single, while Ride On was in fact an original, they chose an ancient standard as the flip side… perhaps thinking the recognizable title and familiar melody would have greater appeal.

Maybe it would… to old people who weren’t even aware Chess Records existed and wouldn’t be interested in rock ‘n’ roll even if they held stock in the company.

But while it would’ve been far smarter had The Clefs never even committed We Three to wax in the first place, one of their sisters had liked the song and felt it was a good fit for them and so after blaming a demented trumpet player named Frank Motley for sinking their chances with his playing on the other side, and having criticized their manager for pairing him up with the group in the first place, we now can add nepotism to the reasons why The Clefs were bound for failure.

Living In A Memory
The song was made famous by The Ink Spots, a group who, as we’ve said before and will continue to say, was vital in proving the commercial viability of black vocal groups in the late 1930’s and 1940’s, but who, for all of their impact, had a decidedly limited artistic vision with how they presented themselves.

Chances are this was forced upon them to a degree by conservative record executives, but there’s also the fact that having tasted success with genteel performances the group themselves were not likely to want to rock the boat and send them all tipping over the bough and into the icy waters.

As anyone can see, there was absolutely no chance of that happening with a song as mild as We Three, but it’s notable that not even the Ink Spots scored with this during their heyday, so what chance was there for an aspiring rock vocal group to reverse that trend in 1952?

The correct answer is NONE!

But that said, The Clefs do show moments that impress you with the quality of their voices give you the fleeting idea that maybe, if you stripped away the rest of the arrangement which is far too poppish, they could’ve connected with this based on those qualities alone.

And then you actually listen to the lyrics and punch yourself in the face for even considering such foolishness because this is pure old school mentality that was prevalent in pop music for years wherein artists were expected to have no passion when expressing thoughts of love, a bland outlook that is not only unrealistic, but unappealing.

Love at its best is supposed to be all-consuming, leading to elation if the one you want is just as crazy about you, but will result in emotional anguish if they’re indifferent to your feelings. But here Scotty Mansfield is forced to be passive in his interest, basically sitting around and just hoping things change, as if he’s got no say in the matter.

If we could ignore the sentiments then this is a much easier listen, as the vocal blend is very nice at times and they’ve rearranged it in a way that takes it far, far away from The Ink Spots 1940 rendition in how the backing singers slide in and out, particularly the floating tenor that appears every so often. The biggest surprise though is the double-time bridge – replacing the maudlin Hoppy Jones spoken recitation that was the hallmark of The Ink Spots sound – which is probably sung by Pavel Bess here and carries a good rhythm with it and starts to transform the record into something much more promising for our needs.

But then just as you’re getting into it your attention is drawn to other more questionable aspects of their performance such as the silly “bop-be-de-bop” backing chants, which takes us back to the pop realm, as if they can’t make up their minds what they want to be. Couple that with the mild horns on the intro to the song and the way that Mansfield treads far too lightly on the insipid “my echo, my shadow and me” line which explains the We Three title, and your loyalties are torn.

When they take it closer to rock, they show what they’re capable of, but the song itself, and much of the approach, is far too pop-oriented to be vanquished completely and so once again The Clefs are sabotaging any real, however far-fetched, shot they have for making inroads as a genuine rock act.

As is so often the case, when you choose the wrong song there’s not much even the best acts can do to overcome the image it saddles you with and as a result The Clefs career on Chess ends as quickly as it began, with a whimper rather than a bang.

Will Wait For You
Some artists leaning pop you know were not really salvageable as potential rock artists. Yeah, they may have the talent to be okay, but not the desire or personal tastes to devote themselves to such pursuits.

The Clefs I think did have what it takes to pass muster in this realm, but my guess is, like a lot of kids starting out – not just in music but in life – they weren’t assertive enough to put their foot down and demand to do things their way.

Adults are not always right… in fact they’re always wrong when it comes to cutting edge music and frankly are often wrong about everything else in life too. You’re captain of your own ship in life and you need to chart your own course, not rely on somebody else’s outmoded maps to get where you want to go.

They should’ve rejected Mansfield’s (surely older) sister’s request to cut We Three on the grounds that as a composition it was far too wussy to make the grade as a rock song. But even if they had decided to do it they should’ve been defiant in HOW it was done and ratcheted up the intensity to overwhelm the message, suggesting they were more distraught than accepting of this one-sided love the song presented.

Maybe they weren’t good enough to be stars, and certainly not to compete with the upper echelon of rock vocal groups in 1952, but they had more than enough ability to be one and done performers who’d have to wait two full years to record again and they have no one to blame but themselves.


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