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There are times in life where you can be right, but still be wrong.

Or maybe the better way to put it is you make the wrong choice but do it for the right reasons.

Such was the case when Atlantic initially chose this song to serve as the A-side for The Clovers latest single only to have the flip be the one the audiences preferred as it vaulted to #1 on the charts while this still made the Top Ten, but languished in the bottom half despite the heavy promotion for it.

But end results aside, Atlantic wasn’t wrong to choose this by any means. It’s the better composition for sure, but just not the better bet for mass consumption.


I Never Would’ve Guessed
The style which had gotten The Clovers four hits over their first three singles with Atlantic was utterly unique in rock vocal group circles.

They were not romantic balladeers crooning smooth harmonies, nor were they singing uptempo gospel-fueled numbers designed to get you dancing. Instead they were crafting atmospheric gems that hinted at deeper mysteries… either through more complex scenarios, or because they favored a lurching tempo with smokey saxophones, tinkling pianos and slightly foreboding vocal support from the rest of the group.

Since they were the only ones doing this they weren’t even facing competition from interlopers determined to steal some of their thunder by ripping off that approach. As a result, their unique formula was able to remain fresh to listeners a lot longer than you’d expect, which gave Atlantic Records every reason to keep trying to draw water from that same well for as long as they could.

They didn’t stray too far from that on both sides of this single. Ting-A-Ling became their third number one hit utilizing that same construct, although thematically it wasn’t quite as deep as their best sides to date, something the nonsensical title which served as the vocal hook accentuated.

It’s still a great record thanks to its arrangement, but you can at least see why the powers that be thought it a little less likely to meet with widespread approval than Wonder Where My Baby’s Gone, a song that plainly states its intentions to give you a plot that suggests all sorts of intrigue in addition to the usual slinky arrangement that made their records so enticing.

Written by The Clovers own Bill Harris, their guitarist and leader of their stage band who rarely got a chance to show off his skills to any great extent on record, you’d think that he’d take this opportunity to give himself a little bigger part, but he too understood perfectly well that you don’t mess with success, you just seek to refine it.


Left Me This Morning
The intro is a minimalist work of art using their trademark crystalline piano notes and a huffing saxophone conjuring up vestiges of Night Train which had been such a big instrumental hit earlier this year.

Harris’s guitar is there too, faintly adding some shimmering sliding notes every so often, all of which take a back seat to the mesmerizing chanting of the title line by the group who take their sweet time in singing it, adding immeasurably to the tension and anticipation for what follows.

As evidenced by that stark moody sound, the basic impression Wonder Where My Baby’s Gone delivers is one we’ve come to expect out of The Clovers, pulling you in with a somber tone which forms the song’s primary hook. But the interesting thing Harris came up with is to use the verses to give it more punch.

Usually it’s the reverse… the stanzas are slower and less explosive than the chorus, but by flipping that here it keeps you off balance as lead singer Buddy Bailey comes leaping out of the shadows to further the story as he describes how shocked he was to discover his baby dumped him for reasons unknown.

As he transitions back to the drowsy delivery with the others on the chorus you regain your footing, the differences not being so alarming as to confuse anybody, but it definitely gives more impact to the ensuing plot twists when presented in such an in-your-face manner.

The name-dropping of the group’s home town of Washington D.C. in the next stanza is a nice touch, and the way in which Bailey more forcefully demands her return gives the song some added drama.

Unfortunately they don’t follow up on that… at all! The first half is the set up, and a good one at that, especially with the promise of some sort of confrontation, or at least explanation still to come. But the second half, while sounding great with the guys “oohing” seductively with the unexpected addition of a floating tenor, doesn’t provide a pay off for the plot. There’s literally no more story, no action, no resolution… no further lyrics at all!

We’re left to Wonder Where My Baby’s Gone ourselves, as we never find out why she left, where she went, or if they get back together or even see each other again. The many possibilities here, including his mistreating her, her being kidnapped, abducted by aliens or hooking up with another guy, are never revealed or even remotely suggested.

My guess is she got tired of the fact he was buzzed all the time, either from too much booze or too much weed, either of which would fit with his lethargic demeanor… and would also explain why he never got around to concluding this tale for us, as he simply nodded off before he was through. Who knows, maybe she was a mirage in his inebriated state and never actually existed.

Yet even without a proper ending to the story the scenery is so good that we tend to overlook it. The instrumental blend is perfectly suited to such a sluggish attitude, while the vocal hook doubles down on that feeling until we’re pulled under its spell. Even the one moment where the arrangement seems to open its eyes and lifts its head to peer into the distance with the last few notes of the saxophone, we’re still left without a clear answer to what’s out there.

It might be frustrating for those who want some form of closure, but I’ll be damned if I wouldn’t listen over and over again just to try and pick up a few more furtive clues, knowing all the while they’re not anywhere to be found… just like the girl herself.


Sittin’ All Alone
As an indication of just how high the bar The Clovers had set was at this point, you could rightly say this was the weakest of their Atlantic singles because neither side was perfect, yet both songs were great all the same giving them their second consecutive two-sided hit.

That the company had initially felt this was more commercial may be seen as an error in judgment, the chorus here being maybe a little TOO downcast to have quite enough appeal, but what it does offer is more ambiguity and atmosphere which were the group’s most potent weapons.

You can’t go wrong with any of the group’s songs so far that were done in this same basic style and if push comes to shove we’d say Wonder Where My Baby’s Gone has a tiny edge over the bigger hit found on the flip side, thanks to the first half which sets such a vivid scene.

But if you find the lack of a proper final chapter to be a sore point we could hardly blame you for choosing the other side. Both were worthy of being hits, yet neither was quite up to the level of their biggest achievements so far.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad problem to have.


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