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FEDERAL 12010; JANUARY 1951

 
 

 

You know must be doing something right when a new group releases their first two singles in a matter of weeks and they all manage to raise the bar on an entire style of rock ‘n’ roll in the process.

That this one, the fourth side and the weakest, is still something pretty impressive shows that their reputation wasn’t overblown, their genius wasn’t a fluke and their success wasn’t simply a matter of good timing.
 

 

Each Time I Try
Back in the summer of 1948 a new vocal group came onto the scene and immediately shook things up with not just the massive success of their debut – a #1 hit on the R&B Charts that also amazingly crossed into the Pop listings briefly – but also with how it set into motion a shift in the approach vocal groups would take from then on.

Sonny Til’s emotional investment in the songs he sang with The Orioles may not seem like that big of a deal today, but at the time it was transformative and made them among the most influential groups of rock’s first decade.

By 1951 however The Orioles had ceded ground to newer acts and even though they still were widely popular and highly respected, they’d fallen prey almost from the very start to the siren call of pop acceptance and consequently rarely looked to branch out from the heartache inspired ballads they’d specialized in.

The pace was the same, the instrumentation was the same and the song’s structures and deliveries were the same… still very well sung by Til who remained committed to the sentiments he was asked to convey, but their work was no longer exciting and cutting edge.

It was time for a new leader in the field.

As if their first release last month didn’t state their qualifications loud and clear, The Dominoes followed up the hit Do Something For Me, which brought a new level of vocal intensity to the arena, with another radical example of just how much this new group was aiming to shake up the scene as they completely transformed the pop smash Harbor Lights into something that probably seemed profane to the music community at large.

But here on the original “No” Says My Heart they scale things back a lot… it’s a very simple straightforward song with very little instrumental or vocal accompaniment… which means much like The Orioles had frequently done with hoping Sonny Til could elevate a song on his own, The Dominoes are banking almost entirely on lead singer Clyde McPhatter to make this stand out.

No suspense is needed here because he obviously does just that as soon as he opens his mouth.
 


 
 

Give Me A Sign That You’ll Be Mine
There’s two “versions” of this song… it’s the same recording but one has been butchered for release on albums back in the day – to fit more songs onto the playlist – and of course that’s the one that was used by pretty much every reissue label in the CD era (as well as the Spotify selection above).

So much for diligent tape research. Good job guys, glad to see you’re living up to the decidedly low standards set by the original companies. It’s amazing any of us still listen to and appreciate music with so much incompetency at its core when it comes to business decisions. But I digress.

Anyway, while the widely available versions clock in at just over a minute and a half, barely qualifying as a song since so much is removed, the full length version of “No” Says My Heart is over three minutes and naturally expands the story a lot, making what had seemed like a just a few passing comments set to music blossom into a full psychological dissertation on Clyde McPhatter’s fears over revealing he’s in love with a particular girl.

In the “extended” version there are some really good lines that got cut – “there is desire burning like fire” among them. It still starts fairly abruptly, no real lead in, but it builds nicely because he doesn’t launch right into the soaring title line as they finagled it on the edited version, instead he goes down rather than up the first time through which allows the song as a whole to build properly.

The plot deepens, the emotional stakes do as well, as now we now get a greater sense of just how much he’s wrestling over this decision. Whereas in the abbreviated version he’s in turmoil without much cause that we can see, here he’s expressing far more complex fears and desires which allows you to relate to – and sympathize with – his problems. Besides, hearing Clyde McPhatter singing more is never a bad thing.
 

I Want To Care, I Want To Dare
Truthfully the set-up sounds an awful lot like what Sonny Til always put himself through when it came to the girls he fell for and you definitely wouldn’t be surprised if Billy Ward wrote this with The Orioles sides as a template.

This becomes even more apparent when you actually get to hear the unexpurgated take on the song because they blatantly fall back on a favorite device of The Orioles, namely the baritone bridge delivering the exact same lyrics as the lead. Here it’s Joe Lamont who manages to add some emotional textures of his own, but after having listened to Clyde pour his heart out over this girl we’re now being asked to suspend belief that this was real and accept Lamont wringing his hands over the same exact thing?

It doesn’t work. It’s an overused gimmick when The Orioles do it and now The Dominoes are threatening to fall into the same trap when they have so many different tools with which to work than their predecessors. You can certainly understand why Ward, who had little experience as a rock songwriter, would do this, but you can also see why it was bound to be eliminated soon.

Had the edits merely taken THAT out, you’d applaud their post-production work on “No” Says My Heart, but with just light instrumentation – Ward’s piano, some faint drumming and a haunting echoing guitar, plus wordless sighs and moans by the other Dominoes – it’s made it an even starker production. The original single is a little more fleshed out, it’s effective in a minimalist sort of way and fits the theme more or less, but it definitely is the least dynamic song in their output to date no matter which one you come across.
 


 

My Mind Says Yes
The first review of this song here was for the edited version and its flaws were pretty evident – choppy structure, no chance to set the scene let alone carry it to a sensible conclusion and no depth to the arrangement making it seem almost like a run through rather than a finished performance.

So the actual released version of “No” Says My Heart is a much different experience and you’d think it would shore up all of those man-made deficiencies caused by cutting the finished recording to pieces, and while it’s definitely better it’s still getting the same score, albeit for slightly different reasons.

The plot is much stronger and McPhatter is too, not that he wasn’t brilliant even being cut down to fit a smaller package, but here he gets to display far more sides to his character as well as his vocal technique and that’s always welcome since he’s among the four or five the best singers rock ‘n’ roll has ever produced.

But the concept of the song and its ties to The Orioles with a middle eight that stunts the momentum that had been built, breaking the spell McPhatter had set that got you to really believe he was in some barren tenement trying to talk himself into taking the plunge and admitting he likes this girl and taking his chances, means that in either rendition this remains second tier Dominoes.

Then again, second tier by them is still pretty damn special for anyone else.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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