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Like the flip side of their debut on Apollo Records as a secular group this is hardly the type of material that they’d make their name on. In fact it’s downright peculiar for an act the label was hoping would give them entry into the rock field.

But unlike that other side, a gospel-ish cover of a boring current pop hit, this side is at least really interesting and well done.

But as 1950 drew to a close, a year in which rock had solidified its position as the most promising form of commercial music in America, “interesting” was not going to be quite good enough going forward.


Only Brings Me Misery
Since the standard operating procedure for a recording session has always been to cut four songs, thus giving the label two singles (A and B sides) to issue, it’s somewhat unusual that The Larks, in their first official session for Apollo as a secular act, only cut two songs, not four.

But that decision, while strange, isn’t nearly as strange as what they chose to cut during that early December date, covering two recent releases that fell well outside of rock’s orbit. The pop hit – My Heart Cries For You – was a poor choice, a wimpy song with no depth to it, but at least it was extremely successful in multiple versions and with only Dinah Washington getting sales in the black community (to undoubtedly a slightly older audience than The Larks might reach) it at least made sense from a business standpoint.

But not this which was was originally a country song released by Charlie “Peanut” Faircloth on Decca a month before The Larks cut theirs – and a cover by Eddie Marshall and His Trail Dusters, also a country singer (as if you couldn’t tell), soon followed on RCA as well.

It’s hard to see what the fuss was about listening to those renditions as Coffee, Cigarettes And Tears is a weeper about a man alone with his thoughts – and his vices – after his woman leaves him. The plot is mostly shallow reflection and while the chorus is definitely catchy both country acts are singing it all wrong.

What’s striking about so much country music of the time is how so many sad songs were delivered with an alarming lack of emotion. Faircloth hints at sadness in his version but doesn’t really sell it, while Marshall seems completely unaware what the song is even about, so chipper is he in his reading, both of which mostly try and convey the sorrow through the steel guitar accompaniment and nothing else.

By contrast The Larks, armed only with group member Allen Bunn’s hollow-body semi-acoustic guitar behind their voices for much of this, sound legitimately dejected by the same scenario. They tackle it in unison and in the process they breathe life into the lyrics, giving it a sense of genuine loss that better reflects the mindset behind the lyrics.

It’s still not much more than a still painting as opposed to a movie, but it at least captures the feeling the writers intended.


I Understand Your Sympathy
The biggest change though in their rendition – and what makes the song enjoyable in spite of the downbeat subject – is The Larks’ vocal blend which, while still somewhat alien to rock in the way they deliver it, shows that they had a component to them which would do them well down the road with more appropriate material.

If you’re looking for a simple but fun song to sing so you can practice harmonizing with some friends who can at least carry a tune then this it.

Though there were five Larks, theirs is an arrangement that can be easily reconfigured to be sung with just three people – bass/baritone, tenor and falsetto (or female soprano) – and come out the same. There’s not a lot of changes, there’s a few spots for each to take the lead while the others drop out and it’s so straightforward that with a little practice you can sound pretty good in no time.

That’s the real allure to Coffee, Cigarettes & Tears, the tight communal singing that – as doo wop took hold – would stretch out far beyond this basic example as parts became far more intricate, roles were a lot more tailored to individual voices and as a result the ambitious amateur listening to records would be left with little chance to participate simply because they’d be unable to pick out – and stick with – a single part.

Of course providing the random listener with a first hand tutorial in something that probably won’t get much use in every day life is not the primary requirement of a record and so we’re back to trying to figure out just what this release was designed to accomplish.

Maybe it was to see how effectively they could transform current releases, thereby eliminating the need for original material, or it could be they just wanted to gauge their comfort level in the studio before tackling songs with more potential.

Or maybe the folks at Apollo Records just wanted a lesson in how to sing together.


Fill That Cup Again
As for the fate of the record itself, this was obviously not something that elicited any interest – a new group singing songs from entirely different realms on a label that had little consistency in this market was not a winning combination in any era for any style.

But even so Coffee, Cigarettes And Tears is a fascinating dead end to drive down and it may just turn out that this is catchy enough and intriguing enough for a listener to not mind having reached the end of the road and find nothing lays beyond that.

There’s even a chance you may want to stay another few minutes to hear it again and obviously that’s never a bad thing when it comes to records.

Ultimately that’s not something that can be given too much credit though, for this was not something replicable if they wanted to be stars in rock, and for that matter wasn’t something that rock as a whole would’ve been wise to pursue.

But when it comes to interesting failures you could do a whole lot worse than this rather captivating vocal performance.


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