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SAVOY 845; APRIL 1952



Though the scores at the bottom of every review obviously say otherwise, this site is designed to be a fairly objective history of rock ‘n’ roll, not merely one person’s subjective opinion on what is good and what isn’t.

The reviews are written to tell the individual story on each record and to explain the artist’s position in their career at the time, as well as detail the progress of the record label and larger music scene going on around them. When added together the bigger story of rock’s evolution is bound to emerge.

If it was all just one person spouting off about what they liked, tossing out scores without explaining the reasons, giving you release numbers without analyzing the sounds pouring out of the speakers and merely saying who made them rather than telling their stories in the bargain, what good would that be?

So the goal when writing these is to remove yourself as much as possible from the equation, even as it’s inevitable that tastes will filter in and shade the narratives.

But the one area where I think the personal reaction distinctly adds to the reviews is when an artist continually surprises whoever is writing about them. That’s what shows the need for giving everything an equal chance to impress and how it leads to uncovering things that otherwise would’ve remained cast aside altogether, providing a friendly reminder of how that aspect has always been the other goal of this eccentric project from the very start… to listen to everything with an open mind.


I Love You Madly
So going into this I knew who The Four Buddies were and was aware they had a sizable hit the first time out, thinking it nothing but a decent vocal group ballad that was soon overwhelmed by more exhilarating records in the same general field. That they seemed to then fall prey to the fairly common trend of trying to recapture that success with subsequent releases that didn’t stray too far from formula, meeting with diminishing commercial and creative returns each time out, was fairly predictable.

It’s a story that we’ll see time and time again around here.

But that’s only the headlines at a glance. A casual awareness of a story based on a quick television report or an article you read while sitting in a waiting room. The real story – or at least the more interesting aspects of that story – can only be seen by getting to know each and every record as they come along.

That’s when The Four Buddies showed they were much more impressive. Their debut hit, I Will Wait, maybe at risk for being too quiet, too introspective and too tame when in the midst of more vibrant uptempo classics, or more modernly familiar ballads for that matter, suddenly had its distinct charms become much more apparent when sitting down and studying it without any distractions.

Their follow-ups proved almost as magical and each time out, despite being consistently impressed with what preceded it in their catalog, there was still this sense of dread, like the balloon was going to burst and they’d come crashing back down to earth. At times admittedly it seemed like that was the case, but here again they go soaring back into the clouds.

You’re Part Of Me on its surface would appear to be something almost designed to be a creative lead balloon… another slow aching ballad, one perhaps trying too hard to find that elusive hit quality that seemed to desert them. But that’s not giving them nearly enough credit, for while it does have some surface qualities associated with their biggest sellers, how could it not? It’s a ballad for goodness sakes… what can they do but sing it slowly and tenderly?

In every other way it’s completely original in construction highlighting new viewpoints and new arrangements and shows once again why it’s always best to throw preconceptions out the window and let every record tell its own story.

It also shows once again why The Four Buddies are the group around here who have managed to provide more pleasant surprises each time out than almost anyone.

What Else Can Thrill Me?
The guitar that kicks this off cuts through your senses with the precision of a scalpel, making sure each note is properly placed and goes deep enough to penetrate the surface without being so harsh that it obscures the beauty of what’s being played.

Those first nine seconds where nothing else is heard have almost a dream-like quality to them, sort of like those moments in the morning where you emerge from a deep sleep still unsure of where you are but welcoming the sunshine streaming through the window.

What follows lives up to that opening and then some, as Larry Harrison’s voice enters with a drawn out soulful cry that is every bit as technically impressive as it is emotionally compelling.

As the song’s writer as well, Harrison knows what he’s going for on You’re Part Of Me and it’s not to merely spill a bunch of shallow platitudes to a girl like so many lesser vocal group tunes do. Though what he’s saying is genuine in how it’s trying to be profound while using earth-bound examples rather than attempting to reach for the stars to show his love for her, his message isn’t found so much in WHAT he’s saying, but rather how earnestly he’s expressing it.

Love can be painful even when it’s reciprocated, simply because you’re overwhelmed with feelings that few human beings can properly get a hold of and fewer still can control. Harrison, by letting his voice go while reining in any urge to express it in ornate and artificial descriptions, makes you feel his desires in their truest sense.

It’s telling that he doesn’t seem to be worried about the girl’s response. The lyrics slowly reveal they once were together but she left him, and while he’s certainly longing for her to return, for much of the time he’s singing as if it’s inevitable they’ll be with each other forever, making it far more powerful than if he were merely begging and pleading for her to come back.

The others are hardly just passing time on the sidelines either as they provide a beautifully understated harmony bed while Harrison pours his soul out. Bass vocalist Tommy Carter gets some absolutely perfect interjections of his own in what was sadly his final recording session with the group as well as a few vocal lines to deliver which add balance to the overall group performance.

Once again there are elements here that sound a few years ahead of their time, from the “doo-doo-doos” of Carter in the transitions to the way they all join together to double Harrison on the bridge and some of the instrumental touches that don’t jump out at you but are vital in putting across the tenuous mood all the same.

When Harrison soars into a spine-tingling falsetto for the closing and holds it until the record fades, you shake your head in wonder that they were able to shock you so thoroughly once again.


I’ll Gladly Bear The Cost
Hits are determined by such a complex and unpredictable series of interconnected events and responses by an audience that – at this point anyway – is far outside our ability to relate to them fully, so we can’t second guess them with any certainty despite our desire to at times. But considering The Four Buddies DID find immediate success and then saw their ability to connect with that same fan base start to dwindle little by little despite records that – with a few exceptions – largely maintained their quality, their lack of further hits is hard to fathom.

The assumption you’d make is that with more “exciting” gospel based vocal groups like The Dominoes on the scene, and more idiosyncratic groups like The Clovers to offer a totally different option, it wasn’t surprising that groups specializing in more plaintive ballads would be left behind.

But there’s absolutely nothing mild about You’re Part Of Me. It’s dramatic, it builds intensity as it goes, it’s got a very deep arrangement filled with vocal and instrumental highlights and it features a lead vocal that – dare I say – comes shockingly close to reaching even the Clyde McPhatter level at certain points.

Maybe it was Savoy Records fault for letting their once deep rock roster crumble until the red and gold label was bound to be passed over by rock fans who now sought out Atlantic and King and Imperial and Specialty instead.

Or maybe, like almost happened with me, it was a false impression of what The Four Buddies brought to the table that caused too many listeners to not anxiously race to the jukebox to hear what they came up with this time around.

Yeah, that still happens far too often, even when you should know better. I’m ashamed to say that this was a review I went into with little more than mild curiosity, despite being knocked out by them in the past, and yet it’s another one of theirs I wrap up by saying, “damn, these guys were great”.

You’d think I might’ve learned my lesson by now.


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