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DOT 1071; NOVEMBER 1951



Like it or not, music history by in large is defined by hits.

The biggest songs generally leave the most lasting impressions, if only due to their universal familiarity which then gets recycled in later years when recollecting the music of the era in question.

Yet not all hits are created equal and even chart topping smashes of yesteryear often don’t survive the transition to enduring classic for a variety of reasons which in this case are not hard to deduce – a pre-crossover artist with no further hits to his name after this who even on his biggest records was second billed to the band supporting him on a label with long term credibility issues.

If someone was going to be cast aside, no matter how big this song was, it was surely going to be Tommy Brown.


When I Woke Up This Morning
So first the stats… since that’s what makes this record historically important even if its enduring reputation has long since waned in mainstream circles.

Entering the national Billboard charts in early December, the song rested in the Top Ten until late February, three weeks of which were spent at #1. Years later Al Pavlow’s widely respected history of this era of recordings cited this record as the 12th biggest rock hit of 1952 factoring in all regional chart information and radio station surveys to go along with the national chart tallies.

In other words, Weepin’ & Cryin’ was THE most notable rock single of the winter months as 1951 bled into 1952 and considering the context of people’s memories when it comes to music – often related to say a school year – you’d be hard pressed to tell the story of this period without prominently mentioning The Griffin Brothers and Tommy Brown.

So what happened? Why has this hit sort of receded from memory while other concurrent hits stood the test of time?

Is it simply because of the comparative catalog depth of artists like Ruth Brown or Johnny Ace which makes their smash records from this calendar year more likely to be discovered down the road? Yeah, that’s definitely plausible.

Is it because other songs that were huge in the same span have a more engaging sound than the slow mournful dirge this record features? Sure, that makes sense.

Or could another reason be that the very thing that made this record influential was quickly usurped by bigger records done in more dynamic fashion by Brown’s competitors, thereby reducing him to a footnote in a style that was momentarily all the rage in music, that of over-the-top emotionalism.

Yup, that sounds about right.


Fell Down On My Knees
The most notable feature of this record aren’t the lyrics, the melody or the instrumentation, but the actual weeping and crying that’s alluded to in the title.

It’s a gimmick of course, though you might make the argument that it’s not really presented as one, but rather it’s what you might call a staged play, a dramatic enhancement of the storyline designed to draw attention to what is otherwise a fairly typical – and actually somewhat mundane – song about a break up.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a good idea to employ it, as the convincing sobbing in the background is what drew attention to the record and vaulted it onto the charts. It was creative, unique and carried out in dramatic fashion, adding something distinctive to a song that otherwise may very well have passed unnoticed into the abyss even at the time.

Certainly there’s nothing about Weepin’ & Cryin’ that is very memorable otherwise, as it features a simple melodic framework kicked off by horns before shifting the majority of the responsibility to piano and drums, none of whom are doing much to stand out on their own. It’s not ineffective for the mood they’re attempting to convey, but neither is it grabbing your attention for their efforts. Even the decent slow burn sax solo is overshadowed by his uncontrollable bawling.

Likewise the song’s plot is fairly by the numbers with Brown recounting the events which ended with his woman leaving him in the middle of the night. The interminable pace and repetitive lyrical structure means very little new information is dispensed and thus it’s left to Brown’s reading of it to sell the story, which of course is where the crying factors in, helping him inordinately in his task.

But while that definitely makes the record a curiosity worth seeking out, it doesn’t make it all that listenable as a purely escapist form of entertainment. Clearly this is not a song for a party or a dance which removes most communal listening experiences from the docket. Because it has very little psychological analysis it also isn’t the best song for solo spins late at night where a person might otherwise be up for some sober reflection of the situation.

What that leaves is listeners being in one of two potential frames of mind to best appreciate the record. The first is for those currently in the throes of a similar desertion from their partner… hardly a common occurrence, especially since the most affecting emotional impact comes from the suddenness of her departure which catches Brown completely off-guard, never sensing such a move was imminent by the sound of it.

Because of the rarity of those exact circumstances in most people’s everyday lives, it’s ultimately the final outlook which draws you in and that’s people’s voyeuristic tendencies as this record seems to be pulling back the curtains to look in at somebody whose emotions are spilling over.

But those kinds of rubbernecking peep shows rarely can sustain interest once we’ve seen the effects play out on the participants and even if we were to feel sorry for Brown’s plight we don’t necessarily want to relive his pain each time we cue a record up and so we acknowledge that it was a tough break for him and quickly move on.


I Can’t Go On This Way
But wait a minute… what about that influence stuff we mentioned earlier? Wouldn’t the popularity of other songs in a similar vein from this same time frame… songs which DO have lasting notoriety even today… mean that you could achieve lasting recognition for your record that explored such raw emotional responses to personal loss?

Yes, it does mean that I suppose, but the difference is in the presentation.

At the same time Weepin’ & Cryin’ was breaking out, the biggest record in the entire country Johnnie Ray’s two sided smash Cry b/w the even more melodramatic The Little White Cloud That Cried in which The Prince Of Wails, as he was called, choked back tears from start to finish of both songs while attracting white pop and black rock listeners in equal numbers.

Yet those songs had more well-crafted stories, much more alluring melodies and frankly more dramatic acting by the Nabob Of Sobs (another term of endearment bestowed upon Ray) than Brown was capable of. Ray was simply a much better singer technically and knew how to build tension until the climatic release which didn’t get old no matter how many times you heard it.

In pure rock circles Billy Ward responded to Brown’s hit by easily one-upping him with The Dominoes classic Have Mercy Baby, the biggest hit of the year, which hinted at the same kind of emotional breakdown replete with crying antics by Clyde McPhatter, yet focused more on creating the kind of wild musical ride that could thrive even without fully comprehending the song’s meaning. Another Dominoes follow-up, The Bells, borrowed more from this record’s framework, as it was centered largely ON the crying, but with a much greater musical element to McPhatter’s sobbing.

By contrast all Tommy Brown had was his own despondency and though we can’t make light of it in his time of sorrow, we’d be excused if we chose to avoid eye contact with him (if not duck into a doorway) if we saw him coming down the street, crying about his troubles in search of sympathy.

We’d never claim he didn’t earn his hit with this cathartic exercise of public grief, but at what cost?


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