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DOT 1104; MAY 1952



When talented artists with consistently good output fail to achieve success, or in this case maintain their early commercial peak, we’re bound to look for reasons and with Margie Day there are many to choose from.

Most of these quite naturally center around the bad decisions of Dot Records starting with having her cover unsuitable material, then confusing people looking for her by not giving Day the primary label credit on her own records, choosing instead to release them under The Griffin Brothers who were also getting their own simultaneous releases thereby diminishing each of their returns in the process.

It’d be hard to prove that a company was trying to hinder their own sales and sabotage their business, but then again if they were really trying to vault Margie Day back onto the charts they probably wouldn’t have her record a non-commercial song which requires an approach she wasn’t as adept at, would they? So maybe it’s not so far-fetched to think that Randy Wood had taken out a life insurance policy for his label and was hoping it’d die a quick death so he could cash out.

Hey, don’t laugh… after all it IS a song about suicide, isn’t it?


Hope To Meet You On The Other Shore
We’re all for artists trying to diversify their output and so the attempt by Margie Day to record a mournful torch song is admirable on the surface even if it doesn’t exactly suit her talents.

Day’s greatest attribute was always the vibrancy of her voice which works great for sassy put-downs, strutting sexual come-ons and suggestive party starters but not quite as well for songs about ending your life.

But at least this means we’ll get a chance to talk briefly about someone who doesn’t get a lot of mentions in music history despite being a notable presence on the scene for quite awhile as a bandleader and songwriter… Buddy Johnson.

Like a lot of others whose prime years took place during the 1940’s and who had the misfortune of fitting best in a musical style that didn’t quite have a verifiable name to be continually brought up – not to mention one which was transitional by nature, a more streamlined (or dumbed-down if you prefer) offshoot of jazz which led into the more explosive rock ‘n’ roll – Johnson tends to get lost in the historical shuffle.

Yet like Lucky Millinder, he had a great band with a good vocalist in his sister Ella and while never huge stars they enjoyed impressive staying power even as the styles around them changed.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m Gonna Jump In The River is the best – and certainly not the smartest – choice for a song of theirs to have Margie Day cut. Johnson’s version had come out a few months earlier and stirred no real interest and was in a style that no longer had any real commercial punch.

Usually there’s two plausible reasons for cutting someone else’s song – either it’s a cover of a current hit and you’re trying to jump on the bandwagon and get some sales of your own out of a familiar title (something most rock fans detest, especially when it comes to outside genre material), or it’s a song that is really well written and suits the artist perfectly.

Unfortunately neither of those is the case here.


If You Ever Leave Me
Here’s the funny thing about this song… Margie Day is the one who actually understands the lyrics that Buddy Johnson wrote, whereas Buddy himself clearly doesn’t.

Though the Johnson version is not exactly uptempo, it is a lot more spry sounding with a somewhat upbeat vocal by Ella with the band harmonizing on the same lines behind her. She may not sound joyful, but she doesn’t seem despondent either despite being on the verge of taking her own life. Throw in a horn solo that is anything but morose and you’d be excused for asking whether they were aware that killing yourself over a failed relationship seems a little extreme if they’re not even that broken up over it.

Margie Day on the other hand does seem distraught, but as we said her voice is almost too resilient to carry that off well. That’s not to say that she was immune from sadness just because of how her vocal chords were configured, but while she was conceptually right in taking I’m Gonna Jump In The River in a direction that was more appropriate in relation to the theme, the record suffers because of it.

Aside from the vocals the main difference in the competing renditions is in the arrangement as The Griffin Brothers (let’s not forget them, as they get the lead credit again) slow this to a crawl, which again makes logical sense but forces Day to draw out each line in ways that doesn’t do her justice. Holding certain notes – the “ohhh” at the end of “never let you go” – changes the inference from dire to almost sneakily flirtatious.

You can try and read the song differently because of that, looking for signs she was using this “threat” as a way to win back her fella, but the dirge-like music doesn’t support that. Honestly if you let Day sing it at Johnson’s quicker pace it might’ve made for a better record for her, but a worse reading of song if that makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is choosing to do this in the first place. Johnson’s version wasn’t a hit, this take on the song certainly wasn’t going to appeal to the rock audience and Day wasn’t the one to carry it off even if it had potential.

The Griffin Brothers band doesn’t get much chance to add anything either. A sax solo is about the best – and most emotionally relevant – aspect of the recording, far more appropriate than the horns on Johnson’s record, but would you listen to this just to hear 45 seconds of Noble “Thin Man” Watts blow a wistful refrain? Probably not.

But then again you wouldn’t listen to it to hear two and a half minutes of Margie Day taking on a role that doesn’t suit her in a play that doesn’t have any intrinsic appeal to the rock fan base either.


I’d Rather Drown Myself
Not everyone might agree with the overall assessment made around here that Margie Day was a great – or at least vastly underrated – artist but even the skeptics would have to admit that Dot Records did her absolutely no favors after she launched their label with two hits out of the gate.

Even if they didn’t force any of the questionable material on her (though they probably did), it was still their decision to release it and promote I’m Gonna Jump In The River as the A-side which shows absolutely zero understanding of the market.

No matter how much they all might’ve liked the song and performance a song of this nature is at best a B-side and a shaky one at that.

The funny thing is the flip side is even MORE out of touch with her audience, as Stormy Night is an even jazzier torch song and yet Day carries it off much better, maybe because it has an arrangement more suited for that kind of song and as a result she’s not trying to serve two stylistic masters in the process. It’s still not her strong suit by any means, but it’s the more comfortable of the two sides.

This on the other hand is just a misfire… wrong song, wrong artist, wrong decision for a company that had started off with so much promise but was increasingly looking like one who might just have to come up with a radical game plan – like covering rock ‘n’ roll with bland white pop acts – just to stay afloat.

Nah, they aren’t THAT desperate yet, are they?


(Visit the Artist page of Margie Day as well as The Griffin Brothers for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)