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Every day across this country millions of people throw their money away playing the lottery, desperately hoping to improve their worthless lives through sheer luck… albeit bought and paid for through their own sweat and toil.

It’s a fool’s errand of course but it remains popular because somebody somewhere actually does win and gets a windfall they could never have planned for.

Stories like that, as unlikely it is to happen to any one person specifically, are what gives otherwise ordinary people reason to keep believing that their stock in life can drastically improve overnight, even as they know it probably never will.

The Clovers are an even better example of that fate, because while there certainly was a whole lot of luck involved with their transformation from unoriginal, uninspired and unsuccessful vocal group to rock’s most successful group of the Nineteen-Fifties, they actually achieved this because they took advantage of that good fortune with legitimate talent.

Any thought that after three perfect releases in a row their luck would run out is put to rest here and once this release validated their success, luck no longer seems even remotely a factor in what they’re doing.


The Way They Rock ‘n’ Roll
If any of the following things had not happened we would not be talking about The Clovers as hugely important figures in rock history. Heck, their own descendants might not even be aware that any of them were in a group called The Clovers by this point, that’s how inconsequential they were shaping up to be when Atlantic came knocking on their door.

The reason why the label did was because vocal groups were beginning to make their presence more well-known within rock circles throughout Nineteen-Fifty and so not wanting to be left out, Atlantic needed a group to compete in that stylistic subgenre.

The Clovers though were unlike a lot of those coming along during that time. They had no gospel background like The Dominoes or Larks to draw from. They weren’t blessed with a distinctive lead voice like those groups, or The Five Keys or even going back a little further The Orioles or Ravens.

Instead The Clovers had been singing rather bland pop, albeit with just enough of a soulful undercurrent to make them adaptable to something more authentic like rock ‘n’ roll.

Yet their last bit of luck was that Atlantic’s founder Ahmet Ertegun didn’t envision them simply ramping up the emotional content over their smooth pop deliveries like other acts had, trying to beat them at their own game for which this group was ill-suited, but rather he wanted to bend and shape them into something utterly new.

Something slinky… something lurid… something with a hint of menace… something like Ting-A-Ling, a song Ertegun wrote (as he had most of the other hits, two Number Ones and another that stalled at three on the charts) which means nothing on the surface, yet suggests everything underneath that surface.

In that way the group was, unquestionably, his most daring and successful idea in more than a half-century of leading Atlantic Records.

HIS luck was that The Clovers proved to be surprisingly capable of pulling off such a reinvention. Or was that OUR luck?


A Real Fine Way To Be
Although this song has had some notable remakes of it over the years with Buddy Holly and Aaron Neville both taking a crack at it (and no, the Shabba Ranks song by this name is in fact entirely different, but worthy of its namesake just the same), the composition itself is the weakest by far of the charted sides The Clovers have had coming to Atlantic.

Unlike the other tunes which had interesting plots and characterizations worthy of being filmed, Ting-A-Ling is rather basic… just a horny guy talking about what girls in general do to his psyche. There’s no story, no resolution and not even a good verbal hook as the title phrase is merely a phonetic substitute for something more substantial. It’s certainly not Buddy Bailey’s best lead, as he has a little trouble with a few intentionally stuttered words designed to draw out the lines to fit the structure.

But where the record more than makes up for it is the arrangement.

On this it’s obvious they all learned their lessons well from their first four hits, (let’s not forget the B-side of their last release which was the first to match the A-sides in terms of ambition and structure) in how to present an image that is every bit as important as the story.

In this case, without much story to speak of, the whole thing is built around that shadowy atmosphere they’ve perfected. The feeling that they’re lurking in a dark alley with something ominous afoot. Of course, the thin plot gives no reason why this would be the case… unless we want to read something really sinister into their intent… but it really doesn’t matter much because we’re so captivated by that sound which is achieved through stealthy pacing, the tonal qualities of their harmonies and an almost feline quality of their vocal movements amidst the instruments.

As for the latter department on Ting-A-Ling it’s mostly an illusion. Although the piano is still the primary accompaniment it’s nowhere near as prominent as we think but it’s made up for by another element which is at play here… not instruments, but voices, even though they’re clearly using those voices as if they were being played by musicians.

The early humming gives a saxophone-like feel to this, enough so that when you hear it for a second time after encountering the slow stuttering sax solo mid-way through the record, it only reinforces that connection.

The verbal “ooh-wah” refrains are similar in that regard, though you could even make the case they’re taking the place of a guitar there, even though the sound is different. But it’s obvious that throughout this they’ve crafted the backing vocals to perform what is normally an instrumental duty… almost certainly the handiwork of the brilliant Jesse Stone.

Because of this the record has a warm, almost buzzy sound to it, giving it even more of mysterious edge to it all, pulling you back for more even after your analytical mind has sort of dismissed it for not being nearly as deep as their earlier efforts – making this a first for The Clovers in that the sum is greater than the individual parts.


The Way They Laugh, The Way They Sing
Let’s close this out by returning to the opening theme about how luck factored into The Clovers rise, as we have one more vital component to talk about, namely how this side was never intended to be the hit in the first place.

Though it’d be slightly unfair to call Ting-A-Ling a throwaway, it was definitely the designated B-side all along… something evident by the fact Atlantic released it in mid-June and promoted the flip side for the first six weeks in all of the ads. By the last week of July however it was obvious that this was the hit and only then did they turn their attention to it, and just barely at that since it obviously didn’t need any additional help in that regard.

Afterthought or not, this side of the record hit #1, their third chart topper in four tries.

Yeah, it’s definitely the weakest of those three… we’ll even go so far as to say it’s the weakest of the four cuts they’ve done in this fashion and since we have the other song on this single still to come it may even knock it down to fifth… but if even on an off-day for all involved you can get this kind of performance out of them, who’s complaining?

Give them all the credit in the world, because while they still harbored dreams of singing in a more boring, mannered style, The Clovers bought into this approach wholeheartedly and now are reaping the rewards, proving once again that luck is what you make it.


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