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SAVOY 789; JUNE 1951

 
 

 

There are twelve months in every year and depending on your specific location in the world the seasons are often most notable for their accompanying weather.

The Four Buddies were from Baltimore on the mid-Atlantic coast in the United States, their record company, Savoy was just a little north of that, and the majority of the group’s fan base were probably also located in similar climates where summer is a temporary respite from harsher weather that marks much of the three other seasons of the year.

But summer is also emblematic of freedom from responsibilities in life – school kids are out of class for a couple of months while in the adult world the summer is when people tend to take their two week sojourns from the office so they can to get outside and enjoy the longer sunny days.

Though the group recorded this in the midst of winter and the label issued it just as summer was starting, not ending, the sentiments within bring to mind the downcast mood that settles over so many people as autumn rushes to meet you before you’re ever truly ready.
 

 

As Cold As Can Be
Arguably at no point since rock’s initial flurry of activity have so many new artists come along staking their claim for stardom in such a short time. That this current mad rush centered largely on the vocal group scene marks a huge turning point in the direction of rock overall, one filled with opportunities for those like The Four Buddies, but one also fraught with the peril of being lost in the stampede.

Bursting onto the scene back in December 1950 with a Top Ten hit makes it seem they were positioned nicely to be leaders in the style, but since that time more and more top flight groups have flooded into the arena, each one bringing something equally distinctive which quickly resulted in some huge hits along with some enduring classics that missed the charts but gave enormous depth to this rapidly growing field.

With so much to choose from, each of these group’s releases have to present them at their very best and give them a way to stand out.

The Four Buddies style was in some ways too subtle to forcibly grab your attention like the racy gospel-fused Dominoes could, or to pique your interest with a sly, almost sinister, quality like The Clovers had recently done. With The Larks, The Swallows, The Cardinals and The Five Keys joining The Orioles as viable contenders for the top slot among the balladeers it meant this particular niche was becoming increasingly crowded which was hardly good news for even a song as delicately beautiful as My Summer’s Gone.

Though the last few years saw Christmas songs – or winter-themed songs that became Christmas tunes over time – released in the spring with no effect on their sales, the timing of this song’s release seems to throw an added obstacle into play for the group to deal with. Surely no kid who was celebrating the start of ten uninterrupted weeks of freedom from school was going to want to even think about that pardon being revoked as the title of this suggests.

But had they listened to it a little more closely they’d have found out the story is more allegorical, using the seasonal shift as a backdrop for the temporary loss of a girlfriend, something that would negatively impact anybody regardless of the temperature outside.
 


 
 

The Flowers Have Had Their Play
While this qualifies more or less as a ballad, there’s a notable skip in its step that belies its sad nature, giving the record a modicum of hope bubbling under the despondent lyrics and delivery of Larry Harrison.

With ace session guitarist René Hall adding tasteful licks after the dramatic Harrison lead-in, there’s a modernity to the arrangement which is another sign of the shift from the often stark mindset of the 1940’s vocal group ballad scene and the more vibrant current landscape a year into the next decade.

Hall’s stays busy percolating behind the group without ever getting in the way and his presence suggests the optimism that Harrison is reluctant to voice even though by his own admission the separation of he and his girl isn’t permanent. Of course he doesn’t elaborate much on that pertinent aspect of the story because he’s too busy waxing poetic about how crushed he feels about it using very descriptive – and very accurate – meteorological descriptions to relate how this temporary split is affecting him like the gloomier weather that’s forthcoming.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition that works well to convey his emotional despair as the imagery of bare trees, brown grass and dark clouds sets a pretty dire mood, but unless you’re really tuned in to uncovering the cause of all this, something which is mentioned only in passing midway through, maybe My Summer’s Gone is a little TOO convincing and you’ll find this to be akin to The Farmer’s Almanac set to music.

Luckily that music is first rate though with a discreetly surging melody carried by Harrison’s impeccable lead and featuring a nice bass interlude by Tommy Carter which on one hand makes the scene even more ominous thanks to his deeper tones, yet also lifts things up because he’s not as wrought with despair as Harrison is.

The vocal arrangement as a whole uses the members to the song’s fullest advantage, having Carter’s bass act as the bridge between lines – sort of hinting at what The Spaniels’ Gerald Gregory will do in a few years time on arguably the most famous bass vocal part in rock history – while the others are singing wordless harmonies that are slightly haunting in their ghostly tones, yet reassuring in their constant presence.

When they all come together to deliver the climatic lines of each section their blend is sublime and since they’re climbing the scale here it seems to offer the possibilities of brighter skies ahead.

It’d be hard to put together a more well-constructed song than this and with such great individual performances from everyone involved you’d have to focus on the smallest of nits to pick (the slight mangling of the words “autumn” and “particularly” for instance) if you wanted to cast shadows on this one.
 


 

My Dreams Don’t Dream The Same
So far after three releases The Four Buddies are near perfect on their A-sides with three amazingly good performances that should have made them the favored heavyweights in this division but as the months ticked by they fell to contender status when their second single was just a regional hit and then when this one, with all its brilliance, spent just one week on one regional chart in Virginia it sent the group down the ladder back to the status of unranked challengers destined for the undercard.

Record sales and jukebox hits can tell us a lot about the music in question and while we sometimes disagree with their collective choices, those listeners were the intended audience, not us here in the next century, and we always have to keep that in mind.

But hits don’t necessarily tell us everything about the value of each and every artist and there are times when those whose skills would seem deserving of more accolades wind up falling short.

My Summer’s Gone is as good as virtually anything on the market in the summer of 1951 and considering their career was only a few months old there’s absolutely no way they should have been facing the fall just yet, no matter what the song’s lyrics suggest.

Maybe it was a case of too many artists for too few chart spots and not enough slots on the jukeboxes to fit them all. Maybe it was something else we can only speculate on, such as bad timing for the title in question.

But what can’t be disputed is the quality of the record itself which is the equivalent of a beautiful hot sunny day in July.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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