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Owning an independent record company in the early 1950’s, or in this case a record company and an affiliate label like Leonard Chess did with the new imprint Checker Records, meant you had to be cognizant of narrowly targeting your prospective audiences when you were signing new artists.

Though Chess was still drawing most of his sales at this point with pure blues acts, the label, or its predecessor anyway, Aristocrat, had been built in large part on rock ‘n’ roll only to see the competition leave them in the dust when it came to this genre in the last few years.

Now they were at a crossroads… they could either cut back on their ambition and concentrate solely on what they were currently succeeding with, essentially leaving rock ‘n’ roll to rival labels in the process, or they could cast a wider net and hope to find a rock act who might get them on equal footing with the rest of the field.

They chose the latter and while The Encores weren’t the solution, it’s not because they weren’t without talent… only without an audience, something which falls more on Chess/Checker anyway.

But at least they tried.


Baby I’m Yours
Because their career was practically stillborn, The Encores are simply one of the many who tried and failed to jump on board of a rapidly expanding idiom. There’s no glory in that of course, but no shame in it either.

But what we’re seeing by 1952 is that most vocal groups in this position were no longer the reluctant refugees from pop music being shoehorned into rock ‘n’ roll by a record producer with a mandate from above to get a rock hit as had often been the case in years past.

The groups themselves nowadays were either committed rockers from the start, or at the very least were well-versed enough in rock ‘n’ roll styles to make a valiant effort to fit in.

As such even the misses like When I Look At You have something that’s bound to be reflective of the current state of rock vocal groups rather than the misses of a few years back where the shortcomings of new groups often came down to the fact they were futilely trying to appeal to the 62 year old in the front office who were (pretending to be) signing their paychecks rather than making certain they were aiming directly at the 18 or 22 year old who were the prospective buyers.

One of our first clues with The Encores’ legitimacy in this area is the group wrote this tune themselves, something which is always a positive from our perspective. Granted not everybody who can sing knows how to write a song as well crafted as Cole Porter, but then again Cole Porter wasn’t likely to be writing a rock song that respected the music’s unique requirements if he’d tried his hand at it along the way.

So because this song is going to be expressing their own point of view and stylistic sensibilities if nothing else, it means the resulting record will an authentic look at The Encores and their mindset as they attempted to break into the business and achieve stardom on their own terms rather than somebody else’s.

The One I’m Dreaming Of
There’s a whole lot to like here, much of which leaps from the grooves right away as if wanting to grab your attention to prove they were serious about this endeavor.

For starters there’s the shimmering guitar which may be a little jazzy on the surface but which has a dream-like quality that rock would exploit in coming years on slower songs looking at love. Its effect is to immerse you in the pensive doubt regarding a potential relationship that is far from assured as the lead, his voice soaked in echo, makes his plea to this girl whom he seems not to really know.

To call him a stalker might be a bit much, but he’s clearly fixating over somebody he’s only seen in passing. His one saving grace I suppose, ethically speaking anyway, is that he’s upfront about his desires and is making a formal pitch for her affections rather than hiding in the shrubbery around her home, or climbing ladders to peep at her through the windows.

Because he sounds so sincere, his voice trembling with emotion and halting with its phrasing, he comes across as more of a yearning hopeless romantic than a potential abductor, but it always helps to remember that a lot of rock’s best songs about unrequited love border uncomfortably on psychotic obsession, redeemed only by pretty melodies and tranquil harmonies, both of which When I Look At You feature prominently.

Regardless of their true intent, the surface appearance here remains fairly innocent as they smartly avoid implicating themselves by admitting any impending crime, telling the girl – who surely must be taken aback by these strange guys proclaiming their love for her despite never meeting – that it’s okay if the feelings aren’t reciprocal, they mean her no harm and she shouldn’t trouble herself with trying to ease their heartsick souls.

What makes this go down so easy, even when you’re not trying to find something to prosecute them for, is the gentle touch of the voices, giving each line the impression of floating softly to the ground. It’s hard to be offended or frightened for your safety when their deliveries – both lead and the backing parts – have such grace attached to them.

While the record itself is a delightful listen, it doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness because while the overall vibe given off sounds so good overall, the title line which serves as the recurring hook is lacking a truly memorable framework to set it off. In other words it doesn’t stick with you after it’s done spinning and on songs utilizing this kind of passive approach, both lyrically and melodically, you tend to need either more vibrant wordplay to make a lasting impression, or an insanely catchy line that has you eagerly anticipating hearing every time through.

Still, even if it’s lacking that, and even if the group may be simply hiding their kidnapping scheme in lovely bows and ribbons, the way in which they pull this off probably won’t cause you to stress out over being tossed in a gunny sack in the back of a van and taken across state lines for whatever backwoods marriage they have in store for you.

If they keep singing at least the honeymoon will be entertaining.


You Thrill Me Through And Through
Ambiance is such a huge part of vocal group performances in rock and this is a perfect early example of so much of what went into establishing that enduring mood.

The problem of course was that in mid-1952 the future of this kind of thing was still anything but certain. Though we’ve seen a fair number of tender ballads become big hits in rock’s first half decade, they predominantly featured more timeless compositions, either reworkings of standards that everybody already knew (albeit in a much different form) or rock originals that had the qualities to become standards of sorts in their own right.

When I Look At You doesn’t live up to that high bar, it’s a bit too pedestrian as written, but in every other way this had what it took to at least be a cherished record to spin late at night when you were alone in your room dreaming of the kind of girl who could elicit such sentiments out of you.

What matters in these cases is the aura the record creates… getting you to hold out hope against all common sense that the one you love and are all but unknown to might find you down the road and fall for you as well, finding in you the same vital qualities that you project onto them in your imagination.

Granted these things tend to happen only in your fantasies, but since rock ‘n’ roll is the soundtrack to fantasies for generations of listeners then it helps if there are a few long lost records you might uncover along the way that suit these outlooks to help sustain those dreams of yours just one or two nights longer.


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