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The direction Atlantic Records steered their newest signees, The Clovers, into upon their arrival at the label a year ago had been a work in progress even as they were notching Number One hits with them, but here, with the B-side of their third single, that work is finished and the transformation is complete.

Though it’s likely they were pretty certain of the pending results of the experiment, they went to great lengths to test their theory as the first two times out they’d offered audiences a clear choice between rock ‘n’ roll of the future and timid pop of the past and both times the audience made the only sensible choice, going with the sultry rock sides.

Maybe Atlantic just didn’t have the stockpile of good material to have all four of the first two singles reflect this new direction, or maybe they wanted to prove a point to the group by showing them the utter lack of interest by the marketplace for the more reserved offerings The Clovers may have preferred, but now the debate was over and the course was clear.

From here on in it’d be nothing but cutting edge rock ‘n’ roll and as a result they’d have a legitimate chance for scoring hits with both sides of each and every release.


I Know This Is Real
Finding a distinct style to both fit into the current rock landscape while at the same time standing out as unique within that field is hardly the easiest thing to do.

Most of the time artists and their record labels look for popular templates and either imitate those outright or at best tweak them slightly to offer variations on a theme, thereby appearing fresh while not deviating too much from what has a verifiable track record off success.

The big leaps on music tend to happen when ambitious newcomers on the scene have their own ideas about what they want to do and are so determined to prove they’re right that they push back against any attempts to slot them in an already carved out spaces.

The Clovers were no such group. They had an affinity for sounds that had long since fell from favor and if left to their own devices might’ve gotten a few releases for some tiny labels in that style that appealed to nobody, or if they were fortunate maybe they’d have attracted the attention of a major label who still fervently hoped that those older styles would come back into vogue and would’ve tried promoting them in a sure-to-fail plot to tamp down the rising tide of rock ‘n’ roll.

Instead The Clovers landed at Atlantic who saw the writing on the wall and “convinced” them to sing rock… but the route they chose wasn’t exactly a sound with previous appeal. Instead of a clear tenor singing tunes of lovesick yearning, or a bass rolling along with lecherous intent, The Clovers put together a weird mix of traits. Smokey low tenor leads singing mid-tempo songs with vocals that still fell a half step behind the expected beat giving their records an almost lethargic air about them.

But since this was intentional and since that rhythm did keep churning steadily, it made them appear more cool than lackadaisical, in control rather than desperate, even as they were publicly longing for a girl in the Middle Of The Night who by the sounds of it might actually reject their advances.

Yet when sung this way, never breaking their self-assured façade, they somehow make it seem as though their success is a forgone conclusion.


Your Love Is All I Crave
The attitude that defined so many hits of The Clovers was perfect for an early Nineteen Fifties culture gravitating towards Marlon Brando’s mumbled surliness with a hint of Montgomery Clift’s wounded pride thrown in for good measure.

Direct in their desires, but somewhat purposefully inarticulate compared to the open expressions of love – or lust – favored by so many of their contemporizes.

The pop vocal acts presented themselves without artifice, offering themselves up to be either accepted or rejected by females as if they themselves had no say in the matter. The majority of rock vocal groups on the other hand were more assertive in their wants and needs… unless we’re talking about The Orioles who took the complete opposite approach and looked to appear so unsure of themselves that they’d win a girl’s sympathy.

The Clovers however were much more ambiguous in their approach. On Don’t You Know I Love You they were asking for a girl to reciprocate their love, but doing so in a way that seemed to suggest they were conflicted over it… showing interest and yet pulling away at the same time. On Fool, Fool, Fool they appeared to have failed in their quest for love and admonished themselves in a self-loathing lecture, denouncing the girl at the same time in a sad – though not angry – manner, which in turn is likely to get the girl to feel rejected by their response and thus apt to return to him without him having to beg and lose face.

This was love as psychological warfare where nothing is ever straightforward and Middle Of The Night picks up on that, with The Clovers coming across as the seducers thanks to some slowly chanted backing vocals as Buddy Bailey is methodically telling the girl what he expects out of her even as he’s in no way assured of getting it.

In other words he’s keeping her off balance, altering the message, the urgency and the underlying meaning of things every step of the way, but all with the same endgame in place to get her to consent of her own volition.

This is the beauty of the English language, how on the surface it simply appears to be a come-on to a girl, but the more you understand the nuance being used, the more effective the lyrics become. Notice how he subtly shifts from telling her he wants her as if the decision is all hers to make and all he’s doing is fervently hoping she’ll say yes… just up to the point that is where he eases into a direct command, telling her “come to me and make things right in the middle of the night”.

It’s a master class in the art of coercive suggestion for at no point does Bailey ever come across as overly aggressive which makes the whole thing go down easier, whether you’re the girl being lured into his bed or merely the listener enticed into spinning the record again.


When The Stars Are Up Above
All of this wouldn’t work nearly as well without the precise blend of voices in the arrangement, one that intentionally finds a sonic middle ground devoid of the floating high tenor while also downplaying the more emphatic interjections of the bass voice.

It’s an alluring, hypnotic and soothing sound, exactly the type of delivery that hypnotists or psychiatrists aim for in order to get you to relax and give in to suggestion.

Bailey’s voice rises and falls incrementally rather than making great leaps, more concerned with maintaining a very steady course than impressing with his range and by sticking in the pocket his soulful croon becomes all the more mesmerizing until you’re unable to pull away.

The musical side of Middle Of The Night follows the same basic course, establishing a rock solid foundation characterized by crisp drums and pulsating bass and punctuated by piano and a discreet tenor saxophone, both making repeated smaller incursions rather than showy interruptions.

Even the sax solo is an exercise in moderation, each note more concerned with tonal qualities than with turning your head. As a result the horn sways rather than surges, keeping you in the trance the vocals established as opposed to jolting you out of it to make a more indulgent statement.

It takes a lot of self-confidence at times for musicians – and singers – to underplay for the greater good, but it already is a hallmark of everything good The Clovers have done and that bodes well for their continuing success in a style where everyone else seems to be vying to see who can startle you the most with more extreme measures.

From Now Until Eternity
We all know that as much as music lovers crave aesthetic brilliance, oftentimes the only assurance of continued creative advances comes down to enjoying ongoing commercial success and in that sense this B-side virtually guaranteed that The Clovers direction would remain unchanged for the foreseeable future.

Middle Of the Night reached #3 on the charts, giving the group their first of three consecutive double-sided hits and making them without question the biggest rock act of the present day following two straight chart toppers before the A-side of this, One Mint Julep, stalled at #2 (in an impressive 18 week stay in the Top Ten).

But what is so notable is how they’ve done this, for even as they used the same backing musicians, songwriters and producers as the rest of the Atlantic roster, their records were utterly distinctive, utilizing far different textures that went beyond just the qualities of their voices alone.

Likewise they remained unlike any of the other vocal groups in rock at the time, less dynamic perhaps, but more intoxicating.

Now with their commercial dominance established, it was obvious that The Clovers didn’t just stand apart from them all in a creative sense, but they stood above them as well.


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