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SAVOY 789; JUNE 1951



Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend.

What that means is the more data you have when making an assessment of something, the more accurate that assessment will be and in the case of The Four Buddies we have a definite trend emerging after three singles… actually two trends that are diametrically opposed.

The first is their A-sides are all top of the line performances, so if you were drafting artists as if you were picking teams in 7th grade gym class they’d be among the very first chosen.

The second – more troubling – trend tells you something else entirely however and that is if you were to judge them strictly by their B-sides they’d be among the final selections for the team in that gym class along with the fat kids, the uncoordinated geeks and the one who wore the same clothes to school every day for the last month and apparently hadn’t yet discovered deodorant existed.


What Happened To You?
Though we’ve delved into this topic on occasion in the past it’s worth reiterating that in the day of the single release artists and audiences tended to get more out of a high quality B-side than the record label did.

A great A-side was all it took to sell a record in big numbers or to have it spend a long time in the jukeboxes where it was assured of raking in the nickels week after week.

If it had a worthless B-side that would hardly effect its marketability. There may have been a tipping point related to the A-side’s strength, wherein a “pretty good” lead side might benefit from an equally solid B-side, but even that was no sure thing.

As a result record companies sometimes felt that pairing a great song with another great song was counterproductive, for it’d be better to hold back that second great tune for a later release.

But in their effort to be sure not to waste any potential hits on the B-sides they were always going to err on the side of “awful” when it came to selecting what song would be paired with a surefire winner like their first three A-sides had all been.

That unfortunate trend continues with Why At A Time Like This ensuring The Four Buddies were now going to be oh for three when it came to getting some mileage out of their flip sides.

This one conceivably has some promise, but their wayward performance assures this is yet another song that had virtually no chance to draw any interest on its own.

I Can’t Get A Kiss
This was written by group member Bert Palmer which is the one upside to it, allowing him to… well, I was about to say get writing royalties but I’m sure Herman Lubinsky found a loophole to get out of paying those.

The song as written is a pretty good look at the confusion over young love – Palmer was barely in his twenties and obviously inexperienced by the sound of this – wherein he can’t understand how a girl would agree to date him but then suddenly seem distant and cold and lose all interest in him.

There’s not any deep psychological analysis in the story but there are a few good lines that show his resiliency and inventiveness in trying to change her mind. But the truth of the matter is it’s not the girl in question whose lukewarm feelings for him that should be his main concern, but rather he should be asking why the group’s lead singer Larry Harrison is trying to actively ruin his chances to get this girl back… or to get a hit record out of the deal.

The first time you hear this you assume it’s been mastered at the wrong speed… or was a joke… or at best, an experiment gone awry. Harrison, whose singing in full voice has been sublime on their best sides, tries to sing Why At A Time Like This in falsetto and fails miserably. His voice can’t handle it, the sound is strained and forced and he fluctuates between it and dropping back down into his more natural range, but always with the intent on going back up and so even those stretches are shaky.

If you want to be exceedingly generous you could say it was a bit of acting in his performance, trying to replicate someone who was so distraught over the lack of affection from his so-called girlfriend that he’d been crying before the tapes rolled, but that type of method acting would’ve been almost unprecedented at the time. Besides it has to work in order to be worth doing and this does not work at all.

The other group members aren’t given a whole lot to do in order to try and redeem it, mostly wordless “oohing” along with Tommy Carter’s bass “do-do-do-do’s” in the transitions. When they all sing in unison it gets even worse as most of them are off key and not even Carter’s taglines are particularly good.

The guitar is a nice distraction but even that’s not enough to save this. Maybe we can be a little more sympathetic as it was cut at their very first session last October but since then they’d cut a bunch of songs that went unreleased to give the label plenty of better options rather than hauling a surefire dud like this out of mothballs.

Some, like the dreadful pop exercise of It Could’ve Been Me, thankfully stayed on the shelves, but something like Moonlight In Your Eyes or Close To You, though hardly great songs, were at least a competent performances showing them in a much better light than this obvious misfire and you wonder why Savoy pulled this one to issue, B-side or not.


I Know What You Need
Because the very thing in the spotlight here is the worst aspect of the record – and one easily rectified with a second take after the producer explained why singing out of your range was such a bad idea – it’s tempting to crucify this and throw it out with the trash altogether.

But then when you look at some of those other songs that went unreleased, even the better sung ones, you’ll see they were already veering uncomfortably towards pop in most of them, whereas at least Why At A Time Like This is a more genuine composition with a rawness that fits even if it does go unintentionally overboard.

There’s a halfway decent song underneath this, the melody is nice and the downward spiral harmony in the close shows some inventiveness, but this is definitely a conceptual failing when it came to their vocal approach and gives us a little more insight as to why The Four Buddies, for all their highlights to date, may not have been the best bets to continually produce great records over the long haul.

The more times you see anybody, whether a 7th grader trying to play volleyball in gym class without getting knocked unconscious by the ball, or a rock group trying to come up with six good sides rather than just three, the better we can judge their full skill set.

They’re still a group everyone should look forward to hearing from based on their A-sides, but their B-sides reveal that we should probably lower our expectations for their future endeavors just a little.


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