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When an up and coming rock vocal group was being asked into covering a pop song rising on the charts they probably didn’t have much say in the matter.

But while it’s hardly fair that one of their few opportunities to make a name for themselves (WHICH name, when it comes to these guys, is another story altogether), there’s a little discussed silver lining with these attempts that might make it worthwhile in the end.

Because the record label is focused on getting a hit with a familiar song they’re going to promote it heavily and ensure that it’s widely distributed.

That guaranteed exposure means that while you and I know that most audiences are going to give only cursory attention to the cover song unless the group really deliver a shockingly different performance than the other two dozen versions available on the market, the single itself has two sides to it.

Which means if you can deliver your best effort on the B-side you might just get something out of these crass commercial reaches after all.


I Don’t Know When
The Hollywood Flames… The Four Flames… Hollywood’s Four Flames… whatever name they were going by this week… were at the mercy of record company whims.

They’d recorded sides for Unique Records, a small boutique label in the fall, only to see those same songs leased to Specialty Records who put them out on their newly created Fidelity subsidiary, swapping out B-sides, re-naming the group, confusing everybody including probably their own friends and family who may have doubted that any of these records were actually them.

“What record are you pretending to have cut this week, guys? Johnnie Ray’s latest hit? The Weavers? Maybe you’re really Rosemary Clooney in drag!”, their buddies surely scoffed at them.

But apparently Art Rupe, owner of Fidelity, was impressed enough to have the group come in to cut a hasty cover of Wheel Of Fortune in a shortsighted attempt to grab some of the spillover sales of that pop hit in the rock market. It worked well enough too, at least on the West Coast, but The Four Flames – as they were called here – had to know that this wasn’t their musical future, churning out covers and hoping for the best.

To carve out their own careers they needed originals and so not letting this opportunity pass them by they managed to record a self-penned song, Later, to appear on the flip side, even though it appears that the group member who wrote it – Clyde “Thin Man” Tillis – wasn’t even ON the recording!

The group would become famous for their fluctuating lineup and Tillis, who at the time was their second tenor, is replaced by Willie Ray Rockwell, another longtime, but in-and-out member in good standing. Since Tillis surely wrote it with himself in mind as the lead, Rockwell is left to step into that role here.

But while the song as written is okay and Rockwell’s lead is fine, the rest of the group and the musicians behind them fall a little short and as a result let this opportunity to make some headway slip away.


Still My Friend
Of course any session for a rock group on an independent label – especially their first for said label – has to raise the question of exactly how much time and effort was put into getting acclimated with the hired musicians and working out something more than a quick head arrangement, especially for a song that was merely going to serve as the flip for the real reason they were all there.

While that explains the subpar effort to bolster this with a stronger musical track, it doesn’t excuse it and thus the blame falls to Specialty Records more than the group itself.

The basic concept of Later is a sound one for their purposes however and with the escalating saxophone to kick it off – a series of notes and pauses climbing the scale – you do get a decent introduction to the song and hope for the best going forward.

Unfortunately though that sax provides the only real melodic contribution behind the vocals after that as the drummer is arguably the most notable musician here in that he’s tasked with holding a steady beat for them to sing over.

Because of this sparseness of the track however we’re left with three of The Four Flames as the primary conveyors of the song’s melodic thread and they’re not quite up to the task. They’re not awful by any means, their early wordless contributions behind Rockwell are perfectly acceptable as is their sung interlude. But as the song hits the midway point and they have to carry more of the load they drop the ball.

The “darling I am leaving now” line wanders off-key by the end, unable to hold the note as it stretches out, and one or more of them is excessively nasal in the low end. They improve on the next line and handle the rest of the song well and it’s not like that one glitch in the middle is sinking the entire record.

However, what they’re doing is relatively simplistic. They’re all singing the same part rather than layering one thing on top of another to create a more dynamic bridge. The result is a flat sound rather than something that jumps out at you. If you had a high tenor floating over it for instance, or someone throwing in a counterpoint, maybe some overlapping and intertwining parts it’d be more than simply an interlude, it’d be a highlight instead.

But that said, while it’s not at all memorable it’s acceptable enough even if it remains relatively unambitious. The problem though is that with a story that merely presents a good idea (a guy telling his girl off because she doesn’t love him and then immediately going off to hit on other girls) without providing more cutting put-downs or a more rewarding aftermath where he’s surrounded by adoring females as a final “F You” to the one who wasn’t attentive enough, the song really does need something with a little more bite to it vocally or instrumentally to make a lasting impression.

I Will See You Later
So what we have here is a missed opportunity even though when looked at from more traditional expectations the song serves its purpose.

As a B-side it’s a good enough effort, showcasing them doing something that’s more in their wheelhouse than the pop-oriented top side and one which gets one of them, even if he’s absent on the recording, a writing credit.

But these weren’t normal circumstances because of the nature of that A-side and so when looked at from that perspective Later has to be considered a minor disappointment.

In order to capitalize on their chances here The Four Flames had to come up with something that would have audiences walking away from this record with a really positive impression of the group. Had they been able to get a small local hit with their own material, suggesting this was an act to keep an eye on, then the ball is back in their court. Specialty, or another label like it, would be actively pursuing them as opposed to the group hoping to entice someone into giving them another chance and simply taking whatever opportunity presented itself, no matter how dubious an offer it really was.

Instead this is just good enough to keep them on the hamster wheel a little longer.


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