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Anytime you run into someone who wants to talk rock history (a dreadful experience I assure you, so you’d be wise to run in the other direction as fast as you can) and starts tossing around their shortlist of all-time legends, ask them where they stand on the canonical status of The Clovers.

Two-plus decades into the Twenty-First Century you’re sure to get plenty of puzzled looks from those who are unfamiliar with the group entirely, but if you happen to find someone who actually recognizes the name but then promptly dismisses their claim for that upper echelon of stars, follow it up by asking this…

How many legends have hits that landed in the Top Three of the charts at the time which are fairly obscure in the years since, even among fans of the era, style and group itself?

Here’s one that might just qualify as one of those rare lost smashes that helps to give the group their rightful claim to being deserving of legendary status.


I’ll Wash Away That Memory
Make no mistake about it, The Clovers have a résumé that can stack up with virtually anybody from any period in history – fifteen Top Ten hits to their name – not to mention the added impact of being most responsible for transforming Atlantic Records from being just one of a tightly bunched group of contenders in the independent record company race to being the runaway leader around the track within a year of the group’s arrival at the label.

Not surprisingly with an embarrassment of riches to choose from something was bound to fall by the wayside over time and when the CD era rolled around and The Clovers finally got a Greatest Hits package worthy of their name I Played The Fool was the conspicuous absentee from the rolls, even though it had hit #3 on the charts smack dab in the midst of their prime run.

That oversight was remedied in the future with another collection (offered further down the page for your convenience!), but by this point near the turn of the century how many people were actually listening, still remotely curious about a group that far in the past whose catalog was SO deep that a hit this big could conceivably be left off a previous historical overview without it hurting the overall quality of the compilation?

But when you contemplate why it was initially excluded from consideration, the reasons aren’t hard to guess, whether you tend to go for more conspiratorial theories (Atlantic, still ostensibly run by Ahmet Ertegun in the 1990’s, didn’t have the songwriting or publishing on this to reap further financial reward for its inclusion on their own officially sanctioned hits collection), or if you are seeking merely a musical explanation, as this is just different enough from their primary output to seem to be not quite the best fit when detailing their storied legacy.

Take your pick, though it’s likely both are responsible for it falling by the wayside over time.


My Only Souvenir
Right away you could guess this came from outside sources without having to study the label for the songwriting credits.

It’s a close approximation of their approach maybe, but it strays too far from their primary attributes to be a typical follow up to a bunch of huge hits cut in the same basic style.

The interesting thing however is that I Played The Fool has much more of what you’d call a mainstream feel to it than most of their other work, which seemed to exist in its own unique orbit. So that begs the question, with Ahmet Ertegun penning most of their sides, and one of the classiest freelance songwriters in the rock biz at the time, Rudy Toombs, contributing another in the same basic milieu, just who DID take such liberties with this composition and how did it get into The Clovers hands?

The name on the label was Diane Alexis, who was just a teenager at the time and no more responsible for writing this than you were. Her last name though was Magid and her father Lee Magid was a successful producer for Savoy Records who we’ve talked about before when detailing the sides he oversaw for that label.

Naturally he’d want to keep any freelance writing work he was doing for a rival company from getting back to Herman Lubinsky, who very well may have had him drawn and quartered for such an offense (a grisly form of torture induced death which involved being dragged by a horse, hung, disemboweled and beheaded, which as punishments go admittedly seems a little severe even for Herm!).

But the real question is, did Magid actually write it, or did he merely buy it off someone, if not steal it outright? Any time a white middle-aged executive for independent labels is involved we naturally assume the worst and considering the majority of his scant copyrights also have Lubinsky’s name on them, who we know for absolute certain didn’t write a goddamn thing in his career, I think we can safely say Magid ripped this off from somebody.

Sadly we just don’t know who.


Why Did You Leave Me After All We’ve Planned?
Regardless of the source of the song, it does provide a good change of pace for the group, as this was still identifiable as a Clovers record thanks to Buddy Bailey’s distinctive lead notable by his habit of lagging behind the beat.

Even more telling are his inflections on the line ending with “every-boh-dee kno-oh-ows” which could come from nobody else but him. Yet everything around it seems a little less sultry for a change, immediately pegging this as being out of character for The Clovers. In fact, it’s hardly going out on a limb to say that something like I Played The Fool is probably exactly what they would’ve tried doing had their earlier more seductive sounding records been a little too unusual for mainstream consumption.

Since that wasn’t the case however you can argue this change in their formula was a mistake and stylistically I might agree. We LIKE the songs that sound as if they’re constantly courting trouble with their deliveries when bolstered by a band of reprobates playing with the musical equivalent of switchblades and blackjacks, especially since nobody else was fulfilling that role in rock at the time, at least not in that specific way.

But when it comes to finding a way to diversify their sound and still keep our interest, this definitely did the trick.

The full-voiced backing of the others is more traditional by nature than their usual menacing chants from the shadows, even giving Matthew McQuater a rare chance to sing a more prominent part behind Bailey. Meanwhile the instrumental track, though still reasonably slow, has enough prancing to it that you could actually play this during daylight hours for a change.

Yet in spite of those alterations it’s not so different that we feel its alien to their identity. We still get a great Harold Winley bass interjection, a nice enough melody that sticks in your head along with some good lyrics and a story that holds up well, as it finds Bailey lamenting how he was no match for the more worldly girl he wound up dating.

It’s the second time he’s called himself a fool on record and maybe they figured he just needed a new way to tell us he hasn’t learned his lesson yet.

That’s The Way It Goes
Any way you look at it this is hardly typical fare for The Clovers, though it’s not without its own merits.

Even if you strongly prefer their in-house compositions playing to their strengths which made them so unique, consider this… at least they didn’t revert back to trying to pass muster as a weak pop styled vocal group as you had every right to fear if you knew their backstory and personal tastes.

Sure, I Played The Fool doesn’t sit quite as comfortably alongside the bulk of the their catalog, but in offering up a new wrinkle to their sound without completely negating what we’ve come to love from them in the first place it merely gives them an added dimension, one suitable to be mined in the future in case the shifty-eyed alley-lurking sounds they specialized in fell out of favor.

No, it’s not what they’d made their name on, and I’d wager that if not for their stellar reputation heading into this it might not have done so well commercially, but sometimes as a pitcher you need to throw a curveball for a strike just to keep the hitters off balance so they’re not always sitting on your fastball, and this does that well enough not to argue with the umpires over the call.


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