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APOLLO 1177; DECEMBER 1950

 
 

 

Though this isn’t their first commercially released record, it is the first under the name they’d keep using… though even this is technically not true, as they were billed for this first record as The Five Larks before dropping the number for subsequent releases.

It’s also not the most auspicious debut for them, but then again nothing about this group was ever cut and dried. Immensely talented and versatile they seemed most of the time to not care about what path they pursued or what image they crafted as long as they got to sing for a living.

Here they sing well, but they’re not singing anything we as rock fans would normally be interested in, yet because of their impending career leap as such a vital group it’s one we’re more or less obligated to cover all the same.
 

 

Lost At Sea
For the full convoluted story of The Larks you’ll need to go back and read the review for the really good Lemon Squeezer which was released for Regent Records under the name The 4 Barons (and even that probably won’t be enough to fill in all of the blanks). But for those who want a digestible version in this review they began as a gospel group and in the fall of 1950 set out to cut some records in that field… for seemingly every record label in the New York/New Jersey area in a single day.

They may have sang gospel music but clearly didn’t follow the gospel, at least when it came to telling the truth (they’d used different group names AND different individual names when signing contracts for four… count ‘em, FOUR… different labels) and their web of lies came crashing down when somebody recognized them from an earlier stop and the gig was up.

Apollo Records were the ones who made the hardest push to keep them and thus they got a long term contract out of their subterfuge after all. Though they’d sang gospel for them too at that October session as The Southern Harmonaires – and would get two releases under that name on Apollo, one in January 1951, the other belatedly in 1958 – Apollo didn’t want a gospel group, which is surprising since the label’s foundation was their gospel line led by the immortal Mahalia Jackson.

Instead they wanted a rock group and naming themselves after a bird to fit in with the growing trend started by The Ravens, Orioles and Robins over the past few years, in December 1950 The Larks were born.

But they still seemed unsure of just what kind of music to pursue within that format. They’d had no problem doing secular material as The 4 Barons for Regent, but now they were sort of casting about for something when they decided upon a cover of the pop hit My Heart Cries For You, written by famed orchestra leader Percy Faith and a big seller for Guy Mitchell (#2), Dinah Shore (#3) and Vic Damone (#4) with many others slipping into the listings as well.

As for The Larks version… well, let’s just say if they didn’t go on to be one of the more revered rock vocal groups of the early 50’s nobody would have any idea this existed.
 
 

Since You Left Me
So the song itself… is… well, it’s a typical pop number of 1950, which tells you that it’s not anything an aspiring rock group, even a rock group who until recently was a gospel group… should be trying to get a handle on.

The strange thing is though they don’t treat it like a pop song exactly, though they also don’t treat it enough like a rock song, but rather for much of it they’re singing in unison like it was gospel, their voices backed by an organ no less, so if you close your eyes you might think you were in church.

Until you listen to the song itself that is and suddenly wonder where the heck you are. Minnesota?… Arizona?… both of which are referred to in the lyrics. Or some special circle of hell where you can’t get your bearings musically.

Oh, their voices sound nice together and Gene Mumford’s solo turns are typically graceful, but this sounds more like a makeshift arrangement by a group that was used to one way of singing and would still adapt anything and everything to that format… which of course was probably the case.

But that doesn’t do My Heart Cries For You any favors as a record, though to our ears none of the other versions are anything special either. The story is shallow and superficial and frankly rather disturbing as somebody is chasing a woman who apparently is trying to evade him and he keeps popping up all over the country, smiling and asking her to return with him.

The fact these two were a couple at some point and she hightailed it out of there tells you about all you need to know about this guy’s desperate persistence. About all we can say for him is he doesn’t sound homicidal, but then again if demented intensity was a giveaway for bludgeoning somebody to death in a cabin in the woods then I’m sure even The Larks would figure out to mask their intentions with docile politeness.

Insipid songs like this that were so popular at the time tended to be carried almost entirely by their melodies and judging by the number of cover versions that charted – far more than we already listed – it would seem that the majority of people humming along to this tune weren’t listening to the words much, at least beyond the chorus which paints this story as little more than heartfelt longing for someone.

If that’s all it takes to sway you, then maybe The Larks rendition will win you over too, but rock fans were far more savvy than your average pop consumer of the day and wisely steered clear of this altogether.
 


 

Please Come Back To Me
Considering Apollo Records fought off three other record companies to “win” the rights to The Larks this seems a rather bewildering choice with which to launch their proper career. Not only was it a song that already everybody in America who could carry a tune in a bucket had seemingly recorded, up to and including your doddering old Aunt Hilda, but My Heart Cries For You wasn’t something that played to the group’s strengths… or to the company’s vision for them.

It was admirable that after some fitful starts down the rock path in the past Apollo Records was now willing to commit to the idiom with a group that showed promise, but this initial release doesn’t even attempt to make that decision pay off in any sensible way.

As debut records in rock go (if you can even call it that considering they’d had multiple gospel sides and one full-fledged rocker released under alternate names) this might just be one of the more incomprehensible we’ll encounter over the years and certainly no indication of what these guys were capable of in the right setting.

The crying you hear might not be your heart after all, it might be the rock fan moaning in frustration over the fact that every last person running a record label at the time can’t hear the music they’re mindlessly churning out since their heads are so far up their asses.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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