No tags :(

Share it




As if you needed to take life advice from listening to music, the career trajectory of this group shows why you can’t assume that early success means smooth sailing from there on in.

Just because you got off to a great start in something doesn’t mean that you have it made. Races are rarely won simply by who gets out of the blocks faster, once you’re going down the track you have to keep pouring on the jets to put more distance between you and the competition so they can’t catch up.

In the waning days of 1950 The Four Buddies may have looked as if they were going to be sitting in the winners circle when all was said and done, especially when they continued to release great records along the way. But when their rivals for the vocal group crown hit their stride they’ve left this group in the dust and now the early favorites seem to be pulling up lame before they cross the finish line.


Please Let Me Make Amends
Despite what the introduction to today’s review might have you thinking, this isn’t a story about a singing group with runaway egos, who let their initial success go to their heads and began putting for no effort in the recording studio and treated live appearances as simply a way to bask in the glory and pick up groupies rather than put on a good show for their audience.

For starters it’s doubtful they were ever paid enough to act like big shots in the first place, so it tends to be kind of hard to live it up when you need to borrow a dollar to buy breakfast on the road.

Rather this is more of a cautionary tale when it comes to trying to navigate the ever-changing landscape of rock ‘n’ roll, where the sound that you helped pioneer could be knocked aside by more galvanizing advances made by others.

Balladeers can always connect with a specific song, but it’s harder to continually hit when the competition is so much more dynamic, unique and attention getting. That’s not their fault per say, you have to do what suits you best stylistically, but let’s just say you also have to know what the WRONG response to make when faced with declining interest.

Had The Four Buddies started swilling nitroglycerin in an attempt to out-rock The Dominoes, that would’ve been a mistake. If they loaded up on booze and weed to project more of a slinky menace than The Clovers, that too would’ve been a bad move. But what they did here, though seemingly more in line with their own persona, was just as bad, if not worse.

What’s The Matter With Me? they ask…

Okay… well, let me tell you exactly what’s the matter with this change in direction. I’m warning you though, despite our warm relationship in the past and all the praise I’ve heaped upon you for your best work I’m not going to hold back on my criticism here just because I feel bad that you’re facing increasing disinterest from the masses.

Everything I Do Seems Wrong
First the good. The song was written by group member Larry Harrison and it’s always a good sign when artists, particularly vocal groups, take firmer control over their material rather than let the record label come up with what they think are suitable candidates for airplay.

Now the bad news… everything else!

Well, not everything maybe. Some of Harrison’s lead is fairly nice, but fairly nice isn’t going to cut it when the rest of the arrangement, both vocal and musical, sounds as if it’s taken from The Hilltoppers or some other boring white pop vocal group popular at the time.

We just got done saying that ballad oriented rock vocal groups had a tougher time standing out in a field where the biggest hit makers were more dynamic, so the worst thing to do is to somehow become even LESS dynamic than you were before!

I don’t quite know where to place the blame for this. Harrison wrote the song, but maybe he envisioned it being framed differently. Yet I’m sure that he and his Buddies were the ones who worked out the vocal arrangement if nothing else, even if the producer came up with the dry white bread musical backing they’re stuck with here.

At least there’s plenty of blame to go around. The story itself is the definition of pathetic as Harrison is asking rhetorically What’s The Matter With Me? when the answer is staring him in the face every time he looks in the mirror. He’s weak, ineffectual and full of crushing internal doubt, yet he’s somehow expecting a woman to look past these unappealing qualities and do what… take pity on him and agree to date him, possibly marry him, so she can spend the rest of her days taking care of his fragile ego, coddling him and trying to build up his self-esteem?

He’s not even presenting any conflict to give us a reason to care, no reasonable backstory that tells us he and a girl were happy and everything seemed to be going well when suddenly it all fell apart inexplicably and now he’s asking what went wrong, genuinely confused by the sudden turn of events.

Instead he’s just whining like a bitch and begging for our sympathy.

But at least he’s singing with a modicum of emotion while doing so, which is more we can say for the others who for the majority of the record are so bad, so syrupy, so revoltingly pop by nature, that the only thing that keeps us from being even more unrelenting in our criticism of them is the fact that the saxophone that opens this has been castrated before stepping foot in the studio, letting us know we’re in for something irredeemable before they even open their mouths to sing.

The latter half of the performance improves incrementally, starting with a nice bass interjection by Tommy Carter during the bridge, and the emotional urgency is taken up a notch by the group after that, but considering how low it started that’s a bit like saying you didn’t get bed sores in the hospital after having your legs amputated at the knee.


I Don’t See Why We Can’t Get Along
Every time we’re faced with a rock vocal group who starts leaning pop we say the same thing… there are two distinct markets that, at least during this era, do not overlap in any way, shape or form.

If you found success in rock, which The Four Buddies undeniably did, then abandoning it for pop aspirations will not win over new converts in that field while soiling your reputation with rock fans who still were holding out hope for you to reward their patience.

In other words there is no universe in which this… whatever it is… could be successful. No young black rock act was going to appeal to middle-aged white housewives in 1952 America no matter how they emasculated themselves in their attempts to appear docile and harmless, both musically and sexually.

What’s The Matter With Me? The real question is… what isn’t?

Here’s one time where we not only agree with Herman Lubinsky’s predilection for stiffing artists out of their royalties, but actually think he should’ve mugged them on the way out of the studio and stolen their lunch money and cab fare home to boot!

Even that might not have been enough restitution for this one.


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