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REGENT 1026; NOVEMBER 1950

 
 

 

The first phase of rock ‘n’ roll lasted roughly three years after the music’s debut on record in late summer 1947, during which time it became the voice of a generation of young black listeners who embraced it in all of its forms – from solo singers that wailed with gospel intensity to those who lustily shouted their odes to raunchy topics. There were sax instrumentals that shook the rafters and piano tracks that locked you in a groove.

And there were vocal groups… four guys harmonizing behind a distinctive lead who brought far more soulfulness to the songs than any group outside of gospel had done in popular music before this.

No type of rock during this first period saw the success rate of these vocal groups, as most of the ones who’d given it a shot had scored at least one hit, but maybe because it wasn’t easy to find five guys who sang well together there just hadn’t been all that many who threw in with this brand of music.

That’s about to change.

Phase two of rock ‘n’ roll will have no shortage of groups to choose from and collectively they will define this era like no other.
 

 

Passing Through Your Town
Okay, first thing’s first… the group itself.

Actually there IS no group called The 4 Barons technically speaking, as this collection of singers released just this one record under that name after making the rounds of all – and I mean ALL – of the independent record companies in the Tri-State area in a single day in an effort to launch their career, cutting sides for four labels under four different names in two drastically different styles – gospel, which was their day job, and rock ‘n’ roll, which is what would bring them acclaim.

So The 4 Barons are in fact The Larks, the name with which they’d record under for the next half dozen years. They began however as The Jubilators singing pure gospel in the 1940’s and could’ve easily had a career in that field which was reaching its own zenith as a commercial force before they had their heads turned by rock ‘n’ roll.

But it’s obvious by their initial tour of the recording scene that fateful day in October that they hadn’t made any decisions regarding which path they’d ultimately pursue. When it was Savoy Records though, on their Regent imprint, who issued the first record – the salacious Lemon Squeezer – it sort of made their mind up for them, as it would’ve been kind of hard to return to singing about spiritual delights after partaking so explicitly in earthly delights of the flesh on their debut.

As a result of this record their course was now set for them, The Larks would follow the path of avarice and sin they wouldn’t be the last to do so either, breaking down the barriers between two disparate styles and allowing them to intermingle in a dirty dance that resulted in a lot of illegitimate offspring.

It also kicked off the next age of vocal groups in rock, one that would soon dominate the landscape over the ensuing decade, bringing with it a style and personality that defined the era still to come.
 


 
 

A Low Down Dirty Shame
Okay, second thing you need to know… this song is not about making lemonade. It’s not about citrus at all actually, but rather – and hold onto your hats here, kids – it’s about S. E. X.

That’s right, the group that earlier in the day had been singing songs like I’ve Got Heaven On My Mind and Mother Called My Name now had other things on their mind that they surely didn’t want dear old mother to know about!

We’ve had plenty of racy topics in rock so far – and in the case of Wynonie Harris a few topics that were rather conventional the he treated as if they were obscene – but in terms of being completely unambiguous about their meaning Lemon Squeezer has them all beat.

The group delivers the most salacious lines of the song to kick it off, probably so they’ll have to share the blame if this gets them expelled from church, and it is a lesson in the fine art of sexual euphemisms that every act from now until kingdom come will draw from.

Now I’m not going to give anybody here an anatomy lesson. The fact that you’ve come here voluntarily as a rock ‘n’ roll fan means you’re probably already a degenerate and don’t need to be told what’s what when it comes to the female anatomy.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t appreciate hearing them tell you…

“You’ve got fruit in your basket
Lemons on your shelf
Let me squeeze ‘em baby
Cause you can not squeeze ‘em yourself”

Really anything they sing after that doesn’t matter, you’ve already crossed whatever the acceptable line for decency was in 1950 America.

Bass singer David McNeil has the job of following that up with more detailed – though not more obscene – descriptions of the… umm… “task” at hand as it were.

Naturally he’s singing this with as lecherous a tone as he can manage which makes it sound dirtier than it is, but the lines themselves are fairly obvious all things considered and the bulk of the song is really living off that early couplet and the images it conjures up in the deviant minds of the listeners.

Still, as most of those listeners enjoy fresh fruit they’re hardly complaining if the action doesn’t move beyond just a little squeezing.
 

You Know Just What I Need
So you might wonder where such ribald material originated from if these guys were headed up to the Big Apple and vicinity looking to connect as gospel singers.

The full story of that fateful day can be found in much more entertaining detail at Marv Goldberg’s invaluable website, but the gist of it is for a gospel act they were downright duplicitous, not only changing their group’s name and the material from one stop to the next, but also changing each individual member’s name when signing their contracts with each company to try and cover their tracks.

As such you’re not surprised that group member Allen Bunn would be able to write a song like Lemon Squeezer since they weren’t exactly following the lessons in the Bible in everyday life, just singing about them to make some money.

What IS surprising though is just how effective they are in carrying something like this off considering their backgrounds. There’s no hesitancy in their deliveries, no underselling the humor or treating it like a novelty. They’re fully committed to the entire concept which is a major selling point of the record. It’s sung with a devilish smirk and they’re fully aware of the response it’ll generate. Maybe they figured that since they were using assumed names nobody would know it was them, but as we’ll see soon enough that wasn’t the case.

I guess if you’ve got your hands wrapped around some lady’s lemons it’s probably inevitable that you’ll want to tell somebody about it.
 


 
I Don’t Deny My Name
Though it wasn’t a hit, the song sent ripples through the rock community as more and more songs featuring double entendres began appearing over the next few months with many of those coming from vocal groups as the music seemed to take perverse pride in flaunting the rules of decorum that had been in place for years in all forms of popular music.

Lemon Squeezer gave notice that the ground rules of rock were shifting once again, not just in content but in style. The Larks/Four Barons weren’t directly responsible for the sudden influx of big name vocal groups that will be showing up for the first time over the next few weeks of course, those others had already been signed and were in the studio cutting their own first sessions as this was released, but they were indicative of the change afoot.

Furthermore, though this was definitely an outlier in terms of their approach even once they accepted a contract from Apollo Records to continue in rock ‘n’ roll, the group would go on to have enormous influence when they toned the content down and debuted a more sparse sound and introspective ballads to their repertoire as rockers.

But as an introductory statement it’s hard to beat a song that is so unapologetic in its intent as this.

You know what they say… when life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade, make rock ‘n’ roll your career instead and don’t look back.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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