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CORAL 65040; NOVEMBER 1950

 
 

 

This is the last we’ll be seeing of these Drifters… but that’s probably for the best as in a few years time another Drifters outfit will storm the rock ‘n’ roll shore and render these guys little more than a curiosity at best and an annoying distraction at worst.

But while this group of Drifters remain something of a mystery – in terms of personel, their musical background and Coral Records’ intent with them – at times they put forth a fairly honest effort to fit into rock ‘n’ roll and if it didn’t pan out for them in this field maybe they were able to get honest jobs delivering singing telegrams or settling into a job doing the early show at a supper club in the suburbs.

If nothing else chances are none of their competitors for those jobs ever cut a pair of rock records once upon a time.
 

 

I Crawled Beneath The Bed
Whoever these guys were – whether they’d always been known under this name singing other styles, or if they just recently formed and managed to secure a contract with Coral Records, a subsidiary of major label Decca – the obvious conclusion we have to draw from hearing their four sides, only three of which we’ll be covering, is that rock ‘n’ roll was not where their interests truly lay.

That’s not to say however that they weren’t game about trying it on for size as their first side cut back at their only session in July, Wine-Head Woman, was a good theme and half of a good performance before they lost their way at the mid-point and struggled to cross the finish line.

The flip, I’m The Caring Kind, was decently sung with a nice melodic passage entering the choruses, but was as close to pop as we’d like to venture on these pages which also explains why the B-side to THIS release, I Had To Find Out For Myself, is nowhere to be found here.

That one is 100% pop and not very inspiring even in that less challenging style. They have good enough voices but are almost devoid of emotion and as a result the performance is as artificial sounding as you can get… which makes you wonder why Coral didn’t decide to slot them alongside their resident stars, The Ames Brothers, in an attempt to double down on their pop vocal group successes.

But that’s neither here nor there, for obviously the label was thinking in terms of making inroads into rock ‘n’ roll and as such And I Shook is a fairly respectable effort in many ways, from the concept itself to the lyrical approach topped off by a more than acceptable lead.

Of course what ultimately does them in winds up being the lack of conviction of The Drifters themselves.
 

Warm Me Up
Probably the single best attribute of this song is the title itself, three words that might mean a lot of different things… some guy named Presley got All Shook Up in a good way when he encountered girls, while Mobb Deep terrorized the Shook Ones back in Queens a few decades later.

Rather than settle on any one description, The Drifters come up with several, changing the meaning of And I Shook slightly each time through. It works well, forcing you to pay closer attention to the lyrics which are pretty solid all things considered.

The lead singer, who sounds the most comfortable with rock ‘n’ roll deliveries among the group, is revealing all of the various ways he’s been shaken by things over the years, ranging from physically shaking when his girlfriend locked him outside in the cold, to how she threatened to sic her cop father on him, and how he he hid from burglars and left his girlfriend to fend them off while he hid under the bed. Since she seems to be the root of many of his problems maybe the most humorous example is how he trembled with fear when he was told to put the ring on her finger and vow “til death do we part”.

In other words he’s admitting his cowardice knows no bounds and as a result it’s pretty funny to see him fall apart in a different way for each stanza.

His delivery is good, not trying to be comical with any exaggerated vocal tics, but rather just letting his exasperation at every turn convey the humor. It’s never laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s mildly amusing throughout the record and manages not to be stupid, demeaning – even to him – and fairly clever in the situations being described.

If it was left solely up to the lead vocals and story, this would probably be an average rock record for the day… not something you’d necessarily believe they could top next time out (if they got a next time, that is), but certainly a record to be modestly pleased with.

Unfortunately the other Drifters are going to shake their leader down before this is all over and change that opinion.
 

I’ll Feel Mighty Happy When I Don’t Feel This Way
Vocal group records may be placing most of their money on letting a strong lead singer carry the weight of the performance on their shoulders, but without a good supporting cast even the best frontman can stumble trying to hold up so much dead weight.

These Drifters are exactly that kind of dead weight they warn you about.

Again, it must be stated that their voices and even their vocal blend is technically okay. Nobody’s wandering off key or missing entrances or anything. Yet it seems obvious that while the lead singer and the record company themselves are positioning And I Shook for the rock market, the other guys are operating under the mistaken belief that they’re going to be singing backup for Perry Como or something.

Go have a listen to the mid-50’s pop cover group The Crew Cuts who never found a rock song they weren’t willing to massacre. They used the same kind of open throat backing vocals as The Drifters do here, using the front of their larynx rather than the back which give their voices a bouncy sheen rather than the urgency required to sell the material. In this case it completely shifts the meaning of this song without uttering a word.

The fact that these guys were Black Americans rather than white Canadians is about all that keeps them from entering some alternate musical universe altogether. They’re a little better – key words “a little” – when they offer a few vocal lines to lead into the main performance, but that’s just in comparison to their weak “wa-wa-wah”s and “ooh-wee, ooh-wee”s the rest of the time. No wonder the lead singer is shaking so much with these guys backing him up.

The musical backing is less grating than the backing vocals as this starts off with a fairly nice piano and guitar interplay that’s hardly very emphatic but at least is catchy enough to draw your attention. The rest of the time we get very little in the way of accompaniment, just some guitar figures between the lines and a faint rhythmic bed.

Obviously if this was being overseen by a competent producer they’d have brought in a saxophone and let the drummer and pianist find a solid beat to bring to the forefront, hopefully to drown out the other singers who apparently drifted in from singing commercial jingles down the hall.
 

I’ll Tell Him What You Did
In the big scheme of things about the only thing these Drifters really contributed was a growing sense among the more respectable record companies that this music wasn’t fit for their image, especially if it wasn’t going to get them any hits.

That none of them seemed to realize it wasn’t rock music itself that was at fault for the lack of interest but rather the compromised efforts of artists forced into posing as rockers to satisfy the conflicted aims of the companies themselves.

That this aggregation calling themselves The Drifters failed to make a mark wasn’t surprising, but that they – or rather the one singing lead – managed to make a halfway decent impression on And I Shook tells you that it was remotely possible to create this music in a laboratory so to speak, provided you didn’t taint the formula with any non-believers.

Maybe it was good that they failed with these halfhearted attempts at rock though, for if they’d tried just a little more earnestly and succeeded in getting a few strong sellers then it’s almost inevitable that rock ‘n’ roll would’ve been immediately corrupted by their ilk and turned into novelty drivel.

The next Drifters we meet with their racy songs and emotion-drenched performances will help to ensure that the major labels wouldn’t have much stomach for jumping on the bandwagon once the commercial potency of this music crossed demographic barriers previously viewed as unbreachable.

By then it was too late for them to put a more acceptable veneer on the music and they were forced to sit back and watch their once mighty empire burn to ashes at the hands of rock ‘n’ roll.
 
 
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