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DOT 1060; JUNE 1951



In theory this is not the kind of thing we don’t approve of… one rock act covering another rock act is just a form of musical cannibalism that can’t possibly be supported if this genre is to really thrive.

Cover records have long been a pop music trend where the belief is that there’s never too many pieces that can be cut from every pie… obviously something bound to benefit the publisher and record labels rather than the artists.

Rock was supposed to be different, making the songs a reflection of the artist’s vision rather than rewarding an A&R man who merely hopped on a promising tune.

Then again in a dog eat dog world only the strongest survive and Dave Bartholomew may have actually needed to have one of his song’s given a more commercial reading by an equally strong rock act to ensure that in the future he didn’t let anybody undercut him again.


Just Can’t Put Them Down
To be honest when judging this song strictly on its musical merits you’d be right to wonder why THIS, of all rock songs, was the one chosen for multiple renditions. Of course the fact Bartholomew’s original Tra-La-La came out on Decca Records where this type of behavior was rampant had something to do with it, meaning you can file it under the heading of pigeons coming home to roost.

When Calvert Jones cut a version of it at the same time on Coral Records, a subsidiary of Decca itself, the pigeons didn’t have to travel very far. Aside from a decent sax solo at the end however, Jones’s rendition wasn’t quite the fit in rock ‘n’ roll which meant Bartholomew didn’t have much to worry about when it came to someone else stealing his thunder.

But that’s obviously not the case with The Griffin Brothers who quickly jumped on the bandwagon for Dot Records – a label that would eventually take cover records to a whole new insidious level. At this stage of the game however they were just looking for a hit with which to launch their newest signee, Tommy Brown and in The Griffin Brothers they had the group who were every bit Bartholomew’s equal when it comes to overseeing a band.

Though surely there were better songs to choose from than Tra-La-La with its simplistic lyrics and repetitive structure, Bartholomew had shown the value in a good arrangement and if the Griffins could match him in that regard and coax a better vocal out of Brown than Bartholomew had gotten from Tommy Ridgley, they would be well rewarded for their theft.


Night And Day
Rather than simply render a straight duplication of Bartholomew’s arrangement The Griffin Brothers turn it on its head, eschewing the specific piano/trumpet intro for one that isn’t nearly as loud and dynamic but might be more captivating thanks to how it’s recorded.

Buddy Griffin’s piano is hammering away in a much more direct, less flowery way than Savadore Doucette had done on Bartholomew’s record, sounding as if the microphone is in another room, giving the piano and drums a submerged distant feel which is downright intoxicating in its effect.

Once you lean closer to pick up on it you’re immediately hit with Brown’s voice rather than horns – though horns fall in behind him answering him with a murky sound of their own. Whereas on Bartholomew’s track the music dominated the proceedings, helping to keep an over-exuberant Ridgley in check, on The Griffin Brothers version of Tra-La-La the music is merely establishing the atmosphere so that Tommy Brown can soak up the spotlight.

The result is two distinctly different records, the brighter more in your face Bartholomew rendition and the more subdued Griffins performance. Which you prefer depends on your appreciation for their respective attributes.

Brown’s vocal is definitely easier to take than Ridgley’s, not just because he he sings at a lower volume but also because he’s much more relaxed, almost to the point of being conversational when recounting the tale. Despite this low key approach he’s still able to convey intensity simply by bearing down on phrases and drawing out the words giving this just enough emotional nuance to pass muster.

Bartholomew’s band was tight as a drum and featured a great sax solo by Clarence Hall which makes the original tough to beat musically, yet The Griffins once again prove their instincts in this field are impeccable in their own right.

The emphasis on those triplets swimming in echo and the haunting horn riffs allow the melody being conveyed by Brown to be more pronounced and when he steps aside the sax solo follows the same languid style as Hall’s, but is even more detached sonically giving it a bewitching feel, something endlessly tantalizing because it seems just out of your reach.

Though Bartholomew’s arrangement had a greater variety of instruments contributing more complex parts, The Griffins whittle things down to the barest essentials with drummer Nab Shields providing constant robust support with smashing fills that makes theirs a more visceral experience.


Meet Me On Judgment Day
The original release by Bartholomew on Decca had about a two week head start but despite coming out on a bigger more powerful record label it was also one which had much less penetration in the key markets that rock ‘n’ roll sold in, not to mention Decca wasn’t high on the list of companies being serviced by jukebox distributors.

Bartholomew’s took off in New Orleans naturally, hitting #2 almost right out of the gate, yet once The Griffin Brothers released their cover of Tra-La-La they quickly caught up and soon surpassed Bartholomew everywhere else.

From that point forward both versions were listed on the charts in New Orleans, though we have to assume that despite The Griffins’ earlier popularity in the Crescent City the majority of folks there still gravitated towards the local star, but elsewhere it was The Griffins who got the credit for the hit.

Remember, they were name artists having been given featured credit on two earlier national hits plus a handful of regional hits, whereas Bartholomew’s name generally was seen only in small print in the writing credits. Not surprisingly it was The Griffins who reached the national charts for two months with this as well as dominating regional listings from coast to coast, particularly down South where their appeal was strongest.

Though Bartholomew’s record is very good in its own right and boasts a more intricate arrangement and some great playing, The Griffins’s version IS slightly better due in large part to a more even-keeled vocalist in Brown.

But their musical choices here are just as solid and while their reign would be short-lived, in 1950 and 1951 they arguably had the best band in rock when it came to delivering tight economical records that didn’t take a back seat to anyone, even in this case the legendary bandleader who cast the first stone.


(Visit the Artist pages of The Griffin Brothers as well as Tommy Brown for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Dave Bartholomew (ft. Tommy Ridgley) (June, 1951)