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As a music fan, whenever you’re pleasantly surprised by a new artist, let alone being really impressed by them, there’s always the nagging fear that it won’t last. That somehow the artist merely caught lightning in a bottle.

Part of this skepticism is brought about by the fact that there are so many artists over the years whose best work comes right out of the gate and they never again come close to matching it.

That would appear to be the case with The Four Buddies, wouldn’t it? Since they don’t have a name that rings loudly throughout the halls of rock history, surely there must be a reason for that beyond just the general neglect of this era… right?

Well, that’s not so clear cut, even after hearing this one.


I’d Give You Anything Your Heart Desires
The slight of hand trick that we’re doing here each day, writing about each release that came out seventy one years ago while mostly trying not to acknowledge what was to follow so we’re not always referencing things to come, is a mixed bag.

On one hand it seems like a good idea to focus strictly on how these records impacted the rock landscape the moment they came out and leave it at that, but on the other hand it’s hard not to let future developments work their way into the conversation.

The Four Buddies subsequent catalog is available to be heard but hasn’t been exhaustively covered so with them we could feign ignorance and just take each song as it comes. But since we already laid out a case for I Will Wait setting the structural blueprint of the early to mid-50’s doo wop ballad approach yesterday, we might as well let the cat out of the bag and say that The Four Buddies would record mostly ballads over the course of their careers, much like their Baltimore neighbors The Orioles.

That might explain why there’s a certain historical neglect for their work, for while ballads are a vital part of rock, they don’t always stir the masses like uptempo rockers do. Furthermore, as The Orioles, Ravens and countless others to this point have shown, rock vocal groups tackling ballads have an alarming tendency to revert back to pop mannerisms at times, running the risk of negating the credit they’d get for their groundbreaking work on other records.

Does any of this impact the legacy of The Four Buddies, or is it just the fact they were technically a one-hit wonder who couldn’t match their debut with something equally good to remain in the spotlight long enough to be better remembered?

Or is it possible that Just To See You Smile Again might reveal that they were not cut out for rock all along and their one successful song was little more than an outlier?

Valid questions all.


All Kinds Of Jewelry
Right away all sorts of alarm bells go off as the record starts with a languid guitar using a nice tone to deliver a somewhat tepid melodic riff. It’s not that it’s a purely pop styled attribute per say, but it’s got a hint of something leaning in that direction. The piano isn’t too dainty in what it plays but it’s also not laying heavily on the left hand to provide much rhythm either, so while it’s too early to rush to judgement, if you’re easing away from the speakers you probably couldn’t be blamed for having those fears.

When Larry Harrison enters the frame those fears seem a lot more warranted as he’s dropped down from high end of his range that he featured to perfection on the top side and is singing with too much stress on his vocal chords here, almost trying to shape the words with his larynx rather than his mouth.

Again, it’s not quite pop delivery but it’s also not nearly as convincing in the rock field as we were hoping for thus far.

Luckily he’s got three other buddies to help him find his way and it’s with them that Just To See You Smile Again starts to get its footing.

Most impressive is bass Tommy Carter whose first “doo-doo-doo-doo” comes twenty seconds in and returns us to the backing that we were so impressed with on the other side of the single. These nonsensical interjections of course will become standard operating procedure on doo wop over the next dozen years or so, but at this point it was still novel enough that it stands out and lets you take some of your focus off Harrison’s shakier lead for awhile.

But Harrison isn’t throwing in the towel by any means and while he’s chosen the wrong technical approach for this, as it goes on he steadies himself enough to overlook a few of his questionable choices such as the choppiness in his voice as he over-enunciates each syllable, particularly as he repeatedly butchers the line about having “the wings of a pheasant”, as he says “peasant” instead which of course is a notoriously wingless beggar.

That part is so poorly executed as he tries to stick with a bad idea too long that you might be cashing in your chips on him. But when you’re just about to disregard his performance altogether he winds up having a few lines that are really well done to offset that.

Of particular note is how he starts stretching notes, modulating his voice and taking the melody a few steps beyond what was written on the page. He doesn’t do this quite enough to transform the song but it definitely shows signs that he was going to be adaptable to more adventurish experimentation in the future which bodes well for their output still to come.

Build A Castle
Focusing on the vocals, which naturally take center stage here, means we’ve yet to talk about how this may technically qualify as a ballad but it’s certainly a peppier ballad than the dramatic slow crawl style they specialized in which shows, at least at this point, they were still open to more diversity, something to keep in mind if we get around to criticizing them down the road for becoming repetitive as their pals The Orioles did.

But that’s probably inevitable when you score big out of the gate with a ballad and record companies can only envision replicating those sales by completely recreating the same feel of the song that got them that hit ad nauseum.

As for the moderately paced Just To See You Smile Again which was written by group member John Carroll, its melody strongly resembles the standard These Foolish Things, which may be why John soon changed his name to Gregory to avoid litigation. Unfortunately they’d have been better off cutting that song instead because these lyrics aren’t quite up to the task by relying so much on his hollow offers of material goods to boost this girl’s spirits that you almost get the sense she’s working in a department store. We get no idea of what made her so dejected in the first place, no insight into her personality and little evidence as to just how close Harrison is to her. They might be married and going through tough times, or she could just be someone he only knew in passing, the lyrics don’t differentiate between those two extremes.

As such it’s hard to really feel any emotion for them. He sounds as if he’s genuinely trying to cheer her up but is doing a pretty poor job of it so if we have any sympathy it’s probably for him for using the wrong tactics on her. Stop trying to buy her happiness with things he admits he can’t afford anyway for starters and try showing her a good time instead.

Then again characters in songs often need real life lessons that can’t be conveyed in three minutes or less and this just becomes another example of that.

I Wish That I Had The World For One Hour
So if this were actually December 1950 and you just spent your week’s bus fare on this record and will be walking to school or work for the next few days, you’ll have plenty of time to think of what the future holds for The Four Buddies.

The hit side of course would suggest they’d be huge stars, but we’ve already tempered those expectations because we know it’s never just ONE record that determines these things, but rather their ability to show consistency from one side to the next.

What Just To See You Smile Again tells you is… they have a chance. There’s some good signs to be found within, from the voices themselves – individually and collectively – and how they use them, some of the time anyway. But there’s also some bad decisions brought about by inexperience or following someone else’s directives rather than their own instincts, unless of course it was their instincts all along that were failing them.

Either way, though this was too sloppy to be worth betting the farm on them, they were clearly talented enough to have staying power yet not so dynamic as to have success assured them just by showing up. It turns out that’s pretty much what their final scouting report would’ve said about them too when all was said and done.


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