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ATLANTIC 944; AUGUST 1951

 
 

 

For a group that wanted to sing pop harmony and had to be talked into cutting bluesy rock songs when they signed with Atlantic last winter, they sure didn’t waste any time getting acclimated to the style.

This was their second single for the label… and their second chart topper.

It’d be hard to envision a more successful transformation, or for that matter a more convincing argument for why the major labels who had been actively trying to do the same thing with pop acts to capitalize on the ever expanding rock market were doomed for failure.

If your artists aren’t initially comfortable with the style then your writers, producers and session musicians damn well better be and in 1951 Atlantic Records checked off all of those boxes. As a result The Clovers became arguably their most successful experiment in this regard, not only passing muster as a legitimate rock group, but one whose artistic conviction seemed to run so deep on these records that it was nearly impossible to envision that less than a year ago they had no experience with, or interest in, this music at all.
 

 

The First Time That I Met You
When Atlantic Records signed The Clovers last winter after one unspectacular pop-leaning single for tiny Rainbow Records it was a move that could be taken one of two ways if you knew the circumstances.

Either it was a favor to a Washington D.C. mover and shaker in the music biz who may have had a financial stake in the label, or it was a somewhat desperate long shot they were playing because the previous few months had seen rock vocal groups on the scene start to multiply, most of whom scored resounding hits and Atlantic had no group on the roster to try and compete.

Whichever was the case it was Ahmet Ertegun’s concept of how they should sound – and the songs he actually wrote rather than just claimed he did – that catapulted them into stardom, though even he felt they didn’t quite pick up on the way he envisioned things on Don’t You Know I Love You, which he wanted them to sing in even a bluesier fashion than they did.

But it was still far more slinkier than most of the rock vocal groups at the time, both more casual and more suggestive without even delving into topics and lyrics that pushed the boundaries on the matter.

They do this again on Fool, Fool, Fool, another Ertegun-penned song that proved just as potent commercially as their first time out.

If the group themselves had expressed any reservations about their new direction even after the success of their initial effort, then what could they possibly have to protest once this became an even bigger hit spending six weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts.

Whether they liked it or not The Clovers’ future course was now set, Atlantic Records had their new cornerstone act and the rock audiences had years of musical enjoyment to look forward to.
 


 
 

To Fall For You
Usually when a new artist has an unexpected smash hit out of the gate the record company doesn’t want to take any chances at losing the audience and so they conspire to come up with a song that breaks no new ground, sometimes offers no new story and if they’re really desperate will not even attempt to come up with a different melody.

In some ways Atlantic was no different in their thinking, just more skilled when it came to their execution.

Their follow-ups to Ruth Brown’s earth-shaking Teardrops From My Eyes took recognizable components from that song and tweaked them enough to appear fresh and got more hits from the same framework without being accused of passing off mere imitations of the original.

With Fool, Fool, Fool they take a similar approach, starting by keeping the same unhurried pace with a wordless vocal lead-in that has a slightly ominous tone. Because it’s telling us nothing however it allows you to conjure up any image or meaning you want… same as last time.

Not exactly the same though, which is what makes this so alluring. They’ve actually slowed the tempo even further and increased the foreboding vibe delivered by the group by bringing Harold Winley’s deep imposing bass voice out front to trade off with the others. Just as importantly once the lyrics kick in (a full forty seconds into the song!) they’ve switched up the perspective entirely, as last time out Buddy Bailey was coming onto a woman while this time he’s dealing with a breakup.

It may be the same woman – it’d be fitting if it were – but it doesn’t have to be because there’s no lyrical callbacks that would settle the matter and in the process make it far less interesting. Instead we’re left to try and guess what this couple’s story is and why things fell apart, especially since Bailey reveals very little in way of plot other than to show why this affair was doomed from the start.

He may still be hung-up on her, or at least fondly remembers the physical side of the relationship enough to miss her, but mostly this is a self-pitying sob story… on paper that is. On record it’s something far more interesting.
 


 

To Think You Could Love Me Too
Having given ample credit to Ertegun for the idea of how The Clovers should sound and the basic framework of the songs, it’s not the words on the lead sheet that make this record what it is, but rather it’s the performances of the group themselves… the same group that had to be convinced to sing this way in the first place… who allow it to transcend the composition and then some.

How much of this was intentional, how much intuitive and how much was blind luck might never be known, but they managed to keep the same attitude vocally throughout their Atlantic run, sometimes with new lead singers, and so there had to be a collective understanding within the group of what worked right away and Fool, Fool, Fool cements that approach as their default image.

The key to this song is their decision to sing just a half step behind the beat. Unlike most vocal groups at the time who rode the melody, The Clovers act like an anchor to the melody, making the record sound intentionally sluggish, almost as if it’s being played at the wrong speed. The effect this has is a positive one though, for not only does it set them apart from their peers and give them a unique identity, but it also opens up all of the underlying emotions in the song without ever deciding for you which one you’re supposed to connect with.

Is Bailey sad about this split and struggling to get the words out, barely able to admit his loss? Is he being self-critical over his decision to be with her in the first place as the lyrics suggest and singing with contempt for his own choices? Or is he looking for reasons to shift the blame to her and with it deliver a vague but chilling threat in his otherwise innocuous sentiments over still loving her?

Whichever your view – and that view may change from one listen to the next… even one line to the next – you aren’t necessarily wrong and that moral ambiguity adds so many intriguing possibilities to the song that it never grows tiresome.

The backing vocals are the real “offenders” here if you’re reading something sinister into the message, as Winley shines throughout with a remarkably emotive performance, not just the mesmerizing “Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo” stuttering hook, but the way in which he slides down the scale behind the others at one point later on, as if he’s actually physically deflating as he exhales.

Jesse Stone wisely – though not without some risk – doesn’t attempt to duplicate the first hit’s arrangement as there’s no sax solo here, even though one is briefly present in the early going. In fact there’s no instrumental solo at all actually, though Harry Van Walls’s spry piano is sprinkling in notes at every turn. Instead he trusts the singers can capably add all the atmosphere the record needs on their own and is rewarded for that judgement with what has to go down as the best one-two punch any rock artist has delivered to date on their initial two offerings on a label.
 

There Goes My Meat
The strength of rock ‘n’ roll as a whole has always been its diversity at any given time. Other genres had a tendency to be more uniform in their sounds, at least their hit sounds, as stylistic trends periodically swept up everyone in the industry.

Rock though never was content with following just one leader. Early on you had the gospel-esque shouters, the soulful crooners, the honking horns and two different types of vocal group sounds, one earthy and humorous, the other tender and heartfelt.

Now with more vocal groups than ever on the scene you still didn’t see a dominant sound emerging. The Dominoes didn’t sound like The Swallows even though they recorded for the same company. The Cardinals from Baltimore who also recorded on Atlantic didn’t sound anything like their label mates The Clovers from nearby Washington D.C. despite being backed by the same musicians and coached by the same musical arranger in Stone.

In fact no vocal group would sound much like The Clovers despite the massive success of records like Fool, Fool, Fool, a rather surprising quirk in a business known for copy-cat behavior, but a gratifying one because it ensured the group occupied their own special niche that no one dared intrude upon.

This would be their biggest hit, but they had plenty more big ones still to come. It may also be their best record, then again it may be their fifth best, or tenth best.

They was thing about them… no one side stood out over the rest because all of them stood out. They were that good, that prolific and that consistent over the years and though the audiences of 1951 didn’t know what was to follow, they obviously had to be pretty satisfied with what they’d been given so far – two absolutely perfect records in two tries.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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