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SAVOY 817; SETEPMBER 1951

 
 

 

In the 1950’s any time you saw a rock vocal group release a single with two pop songs on it, whether a standard or a cover of a current rising hit – or both, you probably should dive for cover, lock the doors, close the windows and get ready to fumigate the room if you came in contact with it.

There was virtually no upside to this scenario, for even if the songs themselves held a shred of musical merit, you were almost certain to have it steam cleaned by the record company in search of pop acceptance.

For a group like The Four Buddies who already were leaning heavily on ballads, albeit very good ballads, the chances this single would turn out badly was all but assured.

Yet the other side was not just tolerable, but actually good and so – warily – you allow your hopes to be raised for this side as well… before those hopes are immediately crushed once the record starts to spin.
 

 

Take Away The Violins
The group we didn’t talk about at all when covering the other side of this record was The Four Aces who in just a few months time would cut their own version of Heart And Soul in a bouncier rendition than most white pop acts ever had tried before and which may have had some influence on the biggest rock hit of that song by The Cleftones ten years from now… at least the jauntier pacing of it.

The Four Aces just missed the Top Ten with their rendition on Decca Records who signed them after seeing them score an even bigger hit (#4 Billboard; #1 Cash Box) on their own self-funded Victoria Records with THIS song which The Four Buddies covered almost immediately after it was released in August.

Who knows, maybe the two groups made a trade, The Four Buddies taking Sin (It’s No Sin) in exchange for a song to be sung later. Coincidence or not, the eight of them – Aces and Buddies – tackling the same two songs at roughly the same time at least gives us the chance to examine the differences in style to sort of put the larger music scene of 1951 in perspective for anyone interested in such things.

With a piano and organ working in tandem behind their voices The Four Aces introduce themselves to the world with what might be the first white pop vocal group truly OF the 1950’s, rather than simply recording IN the 1950’s.

What I mean is, even with groups who’ve recently broken through to a huge audience like last year’s top vocal group, The Ames Brothers, their style had been a carryover from the 1940’s – smooth harmonies that seemed to sliiiiiiiiiide over the notes rather than digging their teeth into them. Polite and mannered to a fault.

The Four Aces were different – you might even say they were rock influenced, not in a way that is particularly appealing to an actual rock fan mind you, but they were the first pop vocal act of this era to really lean hard into expressing emotion in their singing. Granted it was a stilted and overly dramatic display of emotion, but compared to what preceded it there was still a modicum of shock value to those used to far more neutered performances in pop circles.

Maybe the best way to describe the difference is to say that while old school pop vocalists pined for a girl and rock vocalists lusted for them, The Four Aces’ lead singer Al Alberts always sounded as if he were psychologically anguished over her and may have to be locked up for his own safety if the relationship didn’t come to fruition.

So the question is when covering their song would The Four Buddies follow suit or put their own stamp on the material to bring it back in line with rock’s dominant approach?
 

The Music Deep Within Would Cease To Be
Unfortunately we don’t have the answer you’re hoping for if you’re a self-respecting rock fan. The Four Buddies are not only copying The Four Aces’ style, but they’re actually butchering that style and making worse in the process.

I’d never say that Al Alberts was a better singer than Larry Harrison, but if you choose to invade another man’s turf you better expect him to have a significant home court advantage and Harrison is trying to slug it out – or sing it out as it were – in Albert’s preferred style and only winds up making himself look bad and (I can’t believe I’m writing this) making The Four Aces rendition look a lot more palatable by comparison.

Though the musical arrangement is different, with guitar rather than keys of any kind featured as the primary accompaniment, the vocal arrangement more or less attempts to replicate the showy artifice of the Aces with their melodramatic whoops and consequently it misfires from the start. While the first notes sung by Harrison sound good by comparison, he quickly sheds any emotional authenticity and tries to ham it up in pop fashion, replacing complex and often conflicting feelings with the surface attributes of a single one… in this case apparently confusion.

I dunno, maybe it’s just me who’s confused as to why a rock vocal group who have released four singles so far, each one containing a really good – even great – performance on one side, have chosen to keep up their streak of subpar flip-sides by tackling something as lightweight as Sin (It’s No Sin).

There’s no story of any worth to be found here, just a rumination on the travails of love that is about as shallow as a puddle and not nearly as tasteful. The lyrics have all the nuance of a greeting card couplet, while the plot – such as it is – concerns a guy whose girl is leaving and he’s using the discarded Act Two from a junior high stage play to express his feelings for her in a way that I’m guessing made her hop on the boat even faster and force the skipper to cast off immediately under threat of being thrown to the sharks.

Honestly, if he started reciting, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways…” you’d have fully expected it… and considered it a vast improvement!

The others are all but silent behind him, either unsure of their parts, mortally embarrassed by this assignment, or just trying not to laugh as Harrison pulls out all the stops to sound as bland as possible. At least until the very end that is, when he remembers who he is, who their audience is and who will be mocking them mercilessly when they go back home and face their friends and families who will probably disown the lot of them for this abomination.
 

The Beating There Within
Some things just do not go together. Milk and ketchup. Beaches and business suits. Pop deliveries and rock groups. It’s like trying to read in the dark, you may make out a word or two by chance, but you aren’t getting anything meaningful out of the book that way.

Clearly The Four Buddies could’ve sung Sin (It’s No Sin) with a much different delivery more suited to their own style and while the song itself wouldn’t have been any better, the performance might have been interesting if nothing else… but not this.

Not when you’re giving aid and comfort to the enemy who are attempting to halt your advancement on their positions at the top of the musical kingdom, who are in fact trying to drive you back with a counteroffensive and force you to throw up the white flag and surrender and remain in subjugation for eternity. Rock ‘n’ roll is gaining ground by the day and here come The Four Buddies working as double agents against their own interests.

You can say it wasn’t their choice and the song was forced upon them by Savoy and I wouldn’t doubt it for an instant. You can also make the case that anything to draw attention to rock ‘n’ roll can’t possibly hurt it, especially because you could argue that the last few bars sung by Harrison where he displays a far more passionate intensity would be the sucker punch to the face of the pop fans lured in by the title and held captive by the first two excruciatingly tepid minutes of the record, only to be shown in the end the difference rock music held for curiosity seekers in that final refrain.

But there’s no way you could ever convince me that stooping so low as to try to use a song this vapid and a performance this lame for ANY purpose wasn’t a sin.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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