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How’s that saying go again?

One for the money… two for the show… three to get ready… and The Four Flames must go?

Okay, that’s a little harsh maybe, but in the winter of 1952 this song was inescapable and what started off as a fairly nice pop ditty has become like an infestation of termites or a rash that won’t go away with more cover versions coming out every week it seems.

Sometimes in these cases it’s not the quality of the rendition that makes listening to the same song insufferable, but rather the repetitiveness alone which is hard to take.

But then again, if the quality of this record was a little better we probably would’ve come up with a new tagline for that saying that opened this review, wouldn’t we? So with that said it might be wise not to place any heavy bets on this spin of the wheel.


Spinning Around
After showing promise with their earliest efforts way back in 1950, The Four Flames, who recorded under a bewildering number of similarly burning aliases, almost saw that flame go out when they had trouble getting signed to another label.

No longer, as they’ve had more singles come out on more record labels lately than is deemed advisable… often the same songs and same renditions on different labels with different B-sides!

But while this flurry of interest can’t be bad for their burgeoning careers, it’s not necessarily doing them a whole lot of good either when their name keeps changing and the records are hardly very memorable.

So you might say that jumping on the bandwagon to rush out a copy of the hottest song in the country is a wise, if somewhat calculating move.

It didn’t turn out that way though, so maybe a smarter way to look at it is to realize that when the axle of that bandwagon is already bending and creaking from the weight of all of the other artists along for the ride, it’s quite possible that bandwagon might lose its Wheel Of Fortune – if not two wheels – from having four more guys pile on like this.

But in the music business in the early 1950’s there’s always room for one or two more cover versions (lookout, here comes Maurice King and his entire band of Wolverines… make room, fellas!), so we can’t act surprised.

Of course if any of these artists from any field, but especially rock, actually tried to radically re-imagine the song we could at least congratulate them for taking a chance whether they succeeded at it aesthetically or not, but sadly as The Four Flames show in today’s musical landscape that was never realistically on the table for any of them.

A Kiss And A Sigh
One thing about the cover craze that dominated the first quarter century or so of the record industry that doesn’t make sense to those of us who were born decades after it died out in the mid 1950’s, is how any singer tasked with doing their own version of somebody else’s song could possibly invest it with any real emotions.

Now granted, a lot of the biggest songs in rock history that followed were written by outside contributors, or were even remakes of older material, so it wasn’t a requirement for great records to be self-penned and reflect the artist’s own feelings, but even so it became increasingly hard to sound really convincing while singing the same song as a half dozen other people at the same time.

Maybe it was the audience’s perception that made this seem harder than it was, but listening to The Four Flames try and work up enthusiasm for Wheel Of Fortune shows that for some it was already getting very hard to do.

You never once believe these guys were facing the conflicting emotions of the character in the song… the guy who is hoping to find someone to love at random, even while knowing how unlikely those odds are.

Part of this is because they’re not allowed to bring anything of their own to the table. They sing the same stuttering refrain that we’ve heard everybody else do to open it. The melody is taken at the same tempo with the same light emphasis by the lead singer. There’s no momentary diversion where he pours his heart out in anguish, nor is there a flippant nonchalance that he adopts to try and pretend this uncertainty doesn’t bother him.

There may not be a lot of ways to shake this up, but sticking to the exact same formula means the only change from other renditions is the texture of the voices themselves and since The Four Flames aren’t really too enthusiastic about cutting this by the sounds of it, even that doesn’t stand out much.

Please Let It Be Now
The group cut this at the end of January after multiple other versions have hit the streets and a few of them had already started to dent the charts and so through no fault of their own the song itself is old hat to us by now with no tension or surprises in either the story or the melody.

That’s always the case with a rash of cover versions… you wind up listening to the records differently than you would with something new. On Wheel Of Fortune we’re subconsciously comparing it to what we’ve already heard and judging it in relation to what we like best from a host of other options.

But frankly even if The Four Flames’ take on it had come out earlier this doesn’t stand out compared to either the pop or rock versions. They’re not singing it as well as The Cardinals did in the rock side of the ledger and with the lackluster way they deliver this the stakes don’t seem nearly as monumental as the best pop sides led by Kay Starr.

With no instrumental muscle behind them and a few group vocals that are skewing pop in the arrangement, this is something that is almost begging to be passed over.

Luckily for them there were plenty of other renditions to allow it to be lost in the shuffle.


Will The Arrow Point My Way
Because the song itself is so ubiquitous, and has a nice lilting melody and a good story even if The Four Flames don’t really lay into selling that story convincingly, it’s probably easy to give it the benefit of the doubt.

That doesn’t mean it would necessarily be anyone’s idea of an above average rock record for its day, but if it mingles in your memory with a half dozen other versions until the best aspects of the others blend in with the weakest aspects of this and sort of cancels everything out, well… that’s understandable I guess.

But taken in strict isolation where it can be listened to repeatedly and assessed for its own qualities against other average rock songs of the winter of 1952, it doesn’t hold up as well – familiar melody or not. There are a few nice moments by David Ford in the lead, but they’re fleeting and hardly worth the time to single them out.

Then when you stack this Wheel Of Fortune up against the other wheels on the musical road, it’s plain to see it isn’t going to be getting anybody a fortune.

Like most spins of the wheel in roulette, the ball bounces into another pocket… one you have no money riding on. The croupier pays off the winners and collects the chips of the rest of the suckers and then spins again.

Unless you have a hefty sum riding on a number or color nobody pays it much attention. The wheel keeps spinning, spinning, spinning… as the song says.

What it fails to mention is most of the players, including The Four Flames, keep losing, losing, losing by letting this bet ride far too long.

Time for a new song everybody. The casino has to vacuum the rug now.


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

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
The Cardinals (January, 1952)