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There are little more than thin lines separating confidence, cockiness and arrogance.

Confidence is internal, a quiet self-assurance that you’re going to succeed no matter the situation. Others can see it in you, but you aren’t concerned if they don’t.

Cockiness is external, the point where you’re so confident in yourself that you want others to see it, but you still manage to do so in an endearing way… almost as if you yourself are amused by it all and with self-deprecating smile here and there let people know that sometimes even you can’t believe you’re as good as you are.

Arrogance though is something else altogether, building yourself up to the point where you don’t think you CAN fail, then announcing it publicly so you can antagonize others so they’ll root against you, allowing you to gloat if you back up your boasts in the end.

Though at times all three may fall short in their efforts, it’s only the third category where that failure is universally celebrated because others felt they had it coming.


My Heart Has No Light
Up until now, unless you knew the behind the scenes details of his iron-fisted dictatorship over the group he put together, you would likely say that Billy Ward was batting a thousand in his career overseeing The Dominoes.

Though not each and every side of every single record was flawless, the best of those sides certainly had been and those which fell short were often not that far off from the others lofty heights.

More crucially to his reputation though was the fact that Ward had seemed to fully embrace rock ‘n’ roll despite not having a natural affinity for it, as the confidence he showed when Ralph Bass played him a series of recent rock hits in the fall of 1950 after he had tried to sell the producer on pop sides he’d written, was astonishing. Ward told him dismissively that he could write as many of those kinds of songs as he wished, to which Bass replied, “Write me one!” and Ward did better than that, penning lots of them in short order.

With these records becoming huge hits, Ward’s cockiness became apparent as he continually challenged himself to come up with even better material, more rousing arrangements while crafting a more dynamic stage show to go with it, seemingly throwing down the gauntlet to other acts that dared to challenge their supremacy in the rock field.

But having seemingly vanquished most of their rivals, now Ward’s arrogance began to show itself as he figured their position as rock’s top artists gave him the freedom to renew his quest to move into the pop field and prove to the world that he could succeed there in much the same way. When Bass gave him the means with which to do so by releasing two singles – one for each market – simultaneously, he was certain that his attempts at crossing over would be vindicated.

Yet he was so smug about it that rather than let Clyde McPhatter handle both sides, he gave I’m Lonely to his personal valet, Johnny Oliver, to sing, despite not being a member of The Dominoes now or at any other time… partly to stick it to the group who were balking at Ward’s heavy-handed control.

Though arguably the better song AND performance than the slightly more lightweight top half, this was not the way to establish The Dominoes as pop stars, nor was it going to placate the group’s rock fans who were left to wonder why their tastes were suddenly being so brazenly ignored.


I Miss Your Sweet Kiss
On the surface this side of the single has more of a rock DNA than the other, even if the reasons are largely just a matter of perception.

Both sides qualify as being more “spry” than strictly uptempo, but the pace on each of them is quick enough that you’d expect them both to have a very aggressive rock-like feel to them. But with Clyde McPhatter using a more timid vocal approach on Yours Forever that illusion is broken since we know the intensity he’s capable of when it comes to songs where the intent on rocking is unambiguous.

By contrast since we don’t have much experience hearing Johnny Oliver sing lead – this being his second such performance with the group after No Room – we’re apt not to have our expectations set in stone when it comes to how he’s delivering this.

Now toss in slightly more robust backing vocals by the other Dominoes behind him here and it sort of influences your reaction to I’m Lonely, giving it the feel of being a modestly rocking track even if those elements are downplayed in relation to their normal output.

But where you should really be convinced that this was something intended for ears other than our own is the way Oliver draws the words out, overenunciating them, stretching them out, almost massaging them to take away any hint of sexual desire which otherwise might be read into lyrics detailing the longing he has for his estranged girlfriend. The bridge is especially egregious in this regard, almost risking losing any trace of the rock influence this had been mildly exhibiting during the verses.

To be fair, Oliver’s voice sounds pretty good during the rest of the song. The guy could sing… not to the level of the other Dominoes we’ve heard in lead roles maybe, but certainly good enough to be more than acceptable in any field, including rock. His slightly questionable diction choices on this were surely Billy Ward’s doing, but he manages to make them just emotional enough to pass muster, so we can’t complain too much about him embodying the worst pop traits as we feared would be the case.

For that however we return to Ward, who not only whitewashes the story itself from his usual tawdry subjects, but also robs it of the lyrical depth he was accustomed to providing. It’s almost as if he was so intent on not offending anybody with the content that he decided to provide only a sketch outline rather than a full in-depth treatment of the plot.

Much like the other side this just skims the surface of the scenario and while it sounds more vibrant, especially when McPhatter takes the bridge and then hands back to Oliver allowing you to appreciate the difference in their vocal tones to the fullest, it’s still not something exciting enough for rock fans to really embrace, nor was it quite bland enough to quell the fears of pop fans who might’ve taken a chance on it against their better judgment.


Never Thought We’d Part
Though this is actually the better of the two sides, both of them are obviously below average rock songs since they each are so clearly aiming to bring pop listeners into the fold by taming down everything The Dominoes did well.

The fact that Billy Ward still included some rock touches in each song spares them from total condemnation, but it might’ve actually been better for him if he instead chose to treat The Dominoes like a totally different group altogether on these sides and swaddle them with strings and other ornate trappings so as not to cruelly taunt the rock fans by giving them something that they can talk themselves into as being slightly better than they actually are.

Obviously the presence of Johnny Oliver in the lead on I’m Lonely gave him the opportunity to do that if he wanted, but by by hedging his bets and thinking he could gain pop fans while not completely alienating rock fans he only ensured that neither would embrace it.

In the end what strikes us as arrogant isn’t his desire to move into pop per say… as stated, widespread pop acceptance was the holy grail for talented black artists precisely because it WAS largely closed off to them for generations. Instead it’s the utter disdain for the rock fan who made his group big enough stars to afford him this opportunity to begin with which we can’t condone.

It was now obvious that should these lighter pop offerings succeed, he’d turn his back on rock without a second thought… something he’d wind up doing eventually even without much success in these efforts.

Consequently rock fans had no choice but to make their displeasure known by flat-out ignoring these latest offerings by a group who previously could do no wrong in their eyes, but from now on would always have to be met with a fair amount of suspicion.

That’s the price you’re gonna have to pay from here on in, Billy. But after this slap in the face to your true fans, you can’t say you didn’t have it coming.


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