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FEDERAL 12068; APRIL 1952



Let’s be honest, it didn’t matter WHAT they put on the back side of this single. A toilet flushing, a three pack a day smoker coughing up a lung, coyotes howling at midnight. You were going to buy the record anyway and play the top side until you wore the grooves down so much you were forced to buy a second copy.

Sure, because it’s The Dominoes, you were going to play this side too just to see what it was, but unless they were trying to set a world’s record for inducing heart-attacks among their fans, they weren’t going to attempt to top the best performance in rock’s young history on the same single… were they?

No, they weren’t. But knowing that, they did the next best thing by giving you something almost experimental in nature and still manage to come away looking pretty damn good.


If You Change Your Mind
Give Billy Ward credit for this much… he sure wasn’t mailing it in yet.

For a guy who had no previous interest in rock ‘n’ roll, or anything resembling it for that matter, he proved to be a damn quick study. Of course it helped that the group was comprised of young kids who’d grown up with it all around them the last few years, and when one of those kids was a generational talent like Clyde McPhatter that obviously didn’t hurt either.

Here on a leftfield composition Deep Sea Blues he gets to show off his emotional investment in a way that was all but unheard of prior to rock’s creation. Even gospel singles rarely allowed singers to get so overwrought back in the 1940’s. Along the way McPhatter makes the sometimes awkward lyrics almost superfluous as he wrings out his soul like a man possessed by spirits that are haunting him.

We need to begin with the song’s structure which sounds utterly unique, starting with dramatically ringing tones on the piano, sounding almost like bells – more on that in a moment – and as McPhatter enters the pictures he’s already lost in despair, a stark figure in the shrouded night, almost an apparition singing from beyond the grave, especially as the story is about suicide as he contemplates drowning himself over his lost love.

As such this is a decidedly morbid song, not only thematically but musically as Ward tries to play up that effect. Interesting though it is experimentally, he must’ve known it’d be tough for listeners not used to something quite so dire and so he inserts two sudden changes of paces, doubling the tempo which lets the rest of The Dominoes add more vibrant replies to McPhatter’s increasingly dramatic statements.

That the statements themselves are fairly mundane detracts only slightly from the jolt the arrangement gives it, showing that the creativity here was outpacing the songwriting in many ways.

The performance of Clyde McPhatter on the other hand can hardly be outpaced by anything.


I’ll Be Waiting For You There
Just a guess but this is probably not going to be many people’s “go to” vocal to highlight the incomparable Clyde McPhatter.

Not as dramatically sung as Without Love, not as effervescent as A Lover’s Question, not as erotic as Honey Love not as commanding as Money Honey and not as exhilarating as the top side of this one, Have Mercy Baby, there’s little of the overt qualities we tend to associate with a galvanizing lead vocal to be found here.

But it is shockingly intense… though that raises the question of whether or not that’s something you want in a rock ballad?

The answer to that is apparently… YES. A few months later Billy Ward would essentially revisit this idea with The Bells, giving them a Top Three hit which caused shrieking pandemonium from the audience at live venues, as it ratchets up the death angle taking it from contemplating suicide to the death of his girl as he recounts the funeral in a grotesquely surreal scene to say the least.

Though clearly serving as a test run for that classic, in some ways Deep Sea Blues is the better song, if a weaker record. The narrative is more focused and measured and not nearly as sensationalized, making this sort of the legitimate news item that would soon become a tabloid story.

While notable for that story the musical side of the equation can’t be fully overlooked as it features a sneaky melody, some great instrumental touches – check out the shifting guitar tones behind Clyde throughout the record – and vocal layering that is really impressive, particularly in how James Van Loan’s slightly deeper tenor answers McPhatter on the “change your mind” line, like an echo up an empty canyon.

But this is still Clyde McPhatter’s show from start to finish, his pure tenor voice cutting through the speakers like a laser, sounding as if he crying bloody tears at times, looking inward until he folds in on himself until the world around him no longer exists.

Yet even in the midst of this he’s able to cut loose with an upbeat and mesmerizing “Oh-oh-ho” in the first sped up section that other singers would sacrifice a rarely used finger if they were able to deliver that kind of thing with such ease any time they felt like it.

As a testament to a great singer this one should be heard more often, but on the back of the career defining smash that is its polar opposite in every way, it was destined to be all but ignored.


Maybe There I Can Forget
Obviously this isn’t the easiest of records to quantify. Despite the success of the even more over the top stylistic quasi-sequel, this song is decidedly non-commercial.

How could it not be, for it’s definitely not a casual listen. To fully appreciate it requires so much concentration just to absorb every nuance and emotion, for if your mind wanders for so much as a second while it plays the dragging tempo combined with losing the narrative before it builds to the emotional payoff will convince you the entire record is plodding and pointless.

One can only imagine what people were thinking in 1952 if they dropped a nickel in the jukebox to hear Deep Sea Blues for the first time, or if someone at a party had the wrong side of the single cued up… you sure couldn’t dance to a dirge like this, and that’s even before you start paying attention to the plot. Talk about a buzzkill.

A lot of records require the right setting to be appreciated. The reflective 3AM lovelorn ballads don’t work as well laying on the beach with a bunch of friends at three in the afternoon for example, but with this one I’m not sure if there IS a proper setting for it and that has to effect how it’s received.

But if for whatever reason you find yourself in a somber reflective mood late one night when the events of the preceding day have already faded into the dark corners of memory while tomorrow’s plans have yet to even be formulated… then, and maybe only then, will this really impress you. But if it does there’s a chance it might actually hit you hard enough to knock you down.


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