No tags :(

Share it




Well… it was nice while it lasted.

After repeatedly praising the discipline it took for Billy Ward, a Julliard trained vocal coach and composer, to forsake his desire to conquer pop music in order to give Ralph Bass of Federal Records the rock hits he craved, Ward has now given in to the dark side of the force and gone pop.

That he did so with the full assent of Bass himself is troubling on the surface, but as we’ll see there’s every chance that Ralphie boy was playing possum on this and using it to convince his suddenly restless musical goldmine in Florsheim shoes that rock ‘n’ roll was the way to go after all.


Can’t You See That I Love You, I Really Do!
Unless you wandered in here unwittingly for the first time, unaware of what we do around these parts, you’ll surely recall that just a few days back we reviewed the last single by The Dominoes, another two-sided gem featuring another great song that would soon hit the charts in I’d Be Satisfied.

Unfortunately the one guy who wasn’t satisfied was Billy Ward, the group’s founder and musical director who still harbored dreams of being politely ignored at all of the top nightclubs in the land by snooty white ladies and their rich bored husbands… like the rest of the pop stars who graced their stages.

Apparently unimpressed by the rabid devotion of young black rock fans who worshipped his group, he still felt this brand of music was beneath him and wanted to show he could churn out bland and sappy songs that would stir nobody’s interest… even if they somehow managed to crawl up the the pop charts.

It’s troubling that he failed to realize the depth of musical passion that rock fans had for their favorite acts compared to the casual attention paid to even sizable hit records by older pop listeners. Then again, it constantly needs to be said that when Black Artists have been denied that privilege for decades with only sporadic exceptions to that rule, like The Ink Spots or Nat Cole, that even the slimmest possibility of breaking into that world and being “accepted” by those who look down on you in every other way seemed pretty enticing.

Thus he was granted the opportunity to cut original pop material by Ralph Bass… with one deviously clever condition. Federal would release both his latest rock single AND this two-sided pop offering at the same time, promoting both equally and making it a point to explain the different musical approaches for the polar opposite audiences so that nobody was misled.

Clearly Bass knew what would happen, even if Ward remained strangely oblivious to it. The Dominoes had no name recognition among white middle-aged listeners and thus even if Yours Forever was a really good performance of a really good song in the exact style that audience favored, they’d largely remain unaware of it, especially since pop radio would never play it, thereby causing it to flop commercially.

Since all but one of the rock records The Dominoes released had been a hit (the exception, maybe not surprisingly, being a pop standard), and those fans would be clamoring for the simultaneously released rock sides we just covered, it was more or less assured that single would sell far more, make the charts and prove to Ward, hopefully once and for all, that rock ‘n’ roll, not pop music, was the way to be successful.

Bass was right, that’s what happened, but even with this defeat on his record, Ward was persistent in his belief that the record company, the rock fans AND the disinterested pop audience, were all wrong in their assessment.


If You Promise You Will Be True
Let’s state the obvious first and go from there.

Any time you have in his prime Clyde McPhatter singing lead on any song, up to and maybe even including Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart, the record probably can’t be ALL bad.

Even this attempt at the kind of desexualized romantic songs that pop music specialized in was at least written by Billy Ward who as we’ve seen time and time again had a knack for good melodies and vibrant and relevant lyrics. The latter might be in short supply here, or at least toned down considerably from his more appropriate compositions for a rock group, but he still was using the same dictionary to find words in, so it stood to reason there’d be something of value within.

Welllllllll… okay, if that’s the low bar we’re setting then I’ll begrudgingly admit it’s not atrocious, at least not as bad as you’d expect for aiming so low. But then again it’s not really good either.

The positives are Yours Forever has a catchy melody. Not one that you necessarily WANT to catch mind you, but like a head cold in the middle of winter sometimes you catch them even when you protect yourself against them and then can’t seem to shake for a week or more once it’s in your system.

That’s the case here as well. The bright bouncy tune is hard to get out of your head, like most annoying tunes such as those you’ll find in radio ads or children’s songs. This is better than that for sure, the bridge more so than the verses, but that’s not much of a compliment if all it can do is beat a commercial for Chevrolets.

The lyrics though are another matter altogether, as they’re appropriate for the kind of music largely preferred by those who are determined to remain a virgin until their honeymoon… if not a few weeks later! They’re hollow sentiments endlessly repeated with no story beyond the basic pledge of lifelong devotion they offer up.

Clyde’s normal delivery is also forced to change because of these expectations, which doesn’t do the record any good. Gone is what’s been referred to his “hard gospel” tone, and it’s been replaced with a lighter airier sound, like a balloon floating away. The voice itself is still exquisite, but the delivery is shallow and insincere compared to what we’re used to out of him.

When he hands off to somebody else – James Van Loan or Joe Lamont I’m not sure – the deeper more ragged voice helps bring a little more earthiness to the proceedings, but only by degrees, because the message they’re singing hasn’t changed. That, almost as much as the tepid style itself, is what distances it from the brand of rock ‘n’ roll they previously excelled in.

The fact they actually featured drums keeping a steady beat and some light guitar embellishments in addition to the piano foundation at least shows they didn’t go overboard and bring in an orchestra to turn this into a full-blown pop ditty.

But then again a half-blown pop ditty isn’t what we asked for out them either, so we can hardly consider ourselves lucky.


You Know I Can’t Live Without You
Needless to say, rock audiences – by which I mean the entire Dominoes fandom – didn’t care that this was the same group on the same label performing a tune written by the same writer as always with the same lead singer they adored. They avoided it like the plague and rightly so.

Not that it isn’t slightly better than some equally compromised pop-leaning material from lesser acts, but this isn’t what we came here for. It’s kind of like going out on a date with a morally loose harlot expecting some hot and heavy action and only getting just a quick peck on the cheek at the end of the night.

But one record, no matter how distasteful, we can dismiss. The real question we’d be asking at the time would center on their future prospects after this sudden shift in their focus and to try and get some idea of how this might play out we’d be watching to see what the adult pop fans of the day thought of Yours Forever. That is, had they actually heard it a few times mixed in unobtrusively with their usual Jo Stafford, Patti Page and Eddie Fisher records.

Would The Dominoes mere presence in that hallowed company (even with a song clearly catering to their milquetoast tastes) cause shocked revulsion? Casual indifference? Mild curiosity? Pleasantly surprised approval?

The absolute best they could hope for would be The Dominoes being as unobtrusively acceptable to that audience as our old friends The Four Tunes, or more recently The Four Knights, on the airwaves. A tolerated presence every now and then, but never sought out specifically by those listeners and hardly missed if they were dropped from those playlists.

By contrast their wholehearted defection to that rival camp would’ve been met with open rebellion from rock fans.

Why anyone would prefer the former demographic who could care less about you, rather than the latter fan base who worshipped you, is beyond me. As they’ll eventually find out though, if they keep trying this sort of thing they’ll wind up with neither of them in the end.


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