No tags :(

Share it

FEDERAL 12087; JULY 1952



Usually as an artist still seeking the make a name for yourself it’s a good thing when you have a record that attracts attention, is a little bit racy and comes out on a label that knows what it’s doing when it comes to production, distribution and which has a good reputation in the community.

None of that helped The Four Jacks whose shot at glory wouldn’t last much longer after this.

So what went wrong? Why did a talented group on a good label with a song like this which seemed to hit all of the right cultural buttons for rock stardom not end with a long triumphant reign as stars?

Maybe because we’ve heard it all before.


I’ve Got Something…
Record companies want hits. They do not care how they get these hits. If they can also control publishing to squeeze a few more dollars out of the system, so much the better, but the main object is to sell records which forces distributors to pay their tabs faster and which increases the chance that more records on their label will be pushed by those distributors, not to mention sought out on jukeboxes, in stores and played on radio.

All of that is perfectly understandable and nothing to get upset about.

But it’s the second sentence there which is the problem… the part about not caring how these hits occur… because that’s where corners are cut, where imitation replaces creativity and where capitalizing on somebody else’s inventiveness winds up tarnishing the artist’s reputation even if, as in the case of The Last Of The Good Rocking Men, the results are still pretty good.

But not original. Not even close.

Federal Records thought they had it made when the label started up in late 1950 as a way to lure Ralph Bass away from Savoy to join the King Records enterprises because he was bringing Little Esther with him. The youngest, but biggest, star of the preceding year gave the new label a headliner that was sure to result in countless hits and thus bring attention to the rest of their growing roster.

Except it hadn’t worked out that way. Esther’s hits dried up and Federal’s – and Bass’s – prospects for success might’ve dried up with her if not for The Dominoes, a new group who gave them all the hits the could handle including the single biggest one of 1951, Sixty Minute Man, a racy classic that achieved the unthinkable when it actually crossed over into the pop listings because it sold so much.

Though it’s natural to want to see another group achieve those same results, or even a fraction of them, with a similar song, it’s not in their best interest long term to do so this blatantly, because as much as you might dig this record, it’s only going to remind you The Dominoes not only did it better, but were still releasing singles on the same label that were far more fresh and exciting than a retread like this one.

…Wait a second, we DID say that we liked this, didn’t we?

Okay, jes’ making sure.


Then You’ll Shout “My My”
Let’s see what you might recognize here from that earlier song by another artist on the same label.

Bouncy spry tempo? Check.

A soaring wordless high tenor? Check.

A bass lead trying to sound sly and devious? Check.

Lyrics about sex? Check.

How about the exact same melody? Yeah, that too. Check, please!

But while none of that seems very promising on the surface, let’s at least remember that The Last Of The Good Rocking Men is building off one of the sturdiest foundations of rock ‘n’ roll’s first half decade. Although The Four Jacks aren’t quite on par with arguably the most talented vocal group yet to make the scene, they still are good singers who are delivering this song with genuine enthusiasm which goes a long way into making it more acceptable even if it gives you an uneasy feeling of déjà vu.

Because of that your appreciation of this will largely depend on a few things that say far more about you than the record, for I think we can all agree that it’s fairly capably rendered.

Rockin’ In The Mornin’… Rockin’ In The Evenin’
The first assessment is on the content itself. The Dominoes hit had the most notorious lyrics of their day, their impact was such that it caused Ruth Brown to change the time frame on her song 5-10-15 Hours (rather than minutes) to compete and the references about sex entered the broader pop culture lexicon as a result.

The Four Jacks obviously eliminate any reference to time and focus more on the overall theme regarding sex, yet they seem to do so with an eye on not getting banned for what they sing. Though the intent is still pretty obvious, there’s nothing specifically that can be pinpointed as obscene. In fact it’s almost intentionally dancing around the subject and watering down the payoff in the process. That’s not an improvement.

The next thing you’ll be considering on The Last Of The Good Rocking Men is the vocal performances themselves. Bill Brown sang the lecherous lead for The Dominoes while Ellison White does so for The Four Jacks and though he kicks it off a little underwhelmingly, he quickly recovers and mostly holds his own for the rest of the run time. He still is finishing in second place to Brown, but he’s certainly not bad other than when the material lets him down by giving him a shaky line to deliver.

Unfortunately the rest of the group can’t come close to their peers on the label, as with The Dominoes you had Clyde McPhatter’s ethereal voice soaring over everything while the others were tight as a fat lady’s girdle, all of which means that The (other three) Jacks are going to suffer by comparison no matter what they do. The fact they have weaker parts to sing doesn’t help either, so here they lose even more ground.

Finally there’s the arrangement to take into account and here’s where they may have had an advantage but give a lot of that back by pulling up short on the execution as they replaced the guitar and handclaps that dominated the hour long sexathon with a booting tenor sax and some solid drumming.

The problem though is when they could’ve gone for broke they hold back too much. In the solo, which is where this should really explode, the sax starts off sounding as if it wants to melt the wax but then it recedes into the shadows too much with its flutter technique. It’s still good overall, but instead of upending the record and launching the vocals coming out of the break, The Four Jacks sound almost subdued when they return, repeating their earlier claims without as much conviction, wasting their opportunity to set this apart.


If You’re Tired Of The Thing You’ve Got
We’ve faced variations of this problem before of course and will certainly have to deal with it again when record companies decide the best route for success is following in the exact same footsteps of somebody who had success with a song that is identical in all but title.

Remember, we’re not talking straight cover versions which have their own unique qualities to consider separate from this kind of thing. Instead we’re focused on something which – in a way – is inherently dishonest by nature, trying to dupe you into accepting a recycled hit as if it were brand new.

Invariably because of this they’re going to be docked for lack of originality, for the thing about any forward moving creative art is you need to explore new territory, not cover old ground that’s already been adequately mapped by others.

Yes, sometimes you can improve on things if you shore up the deficiencies, but The Last Of The Good Rocking Men doesn’t even try and do that for the most part and the one area where an improvement theoretically could’ve been made they refuse to go for broke.

Yet the basic ingredients are still incredibly potent, while The Four Jacks manage to put forth an honest effort, which means that your view of it may be better than the idea itself deserves.

Call it tolerating the attempt more than loving how they “re-imagined” it and you’ll probably get away with rating it highly… just as long as it’s at least a few steps down from the source they stole it from.


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