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RCA 20-4327; OCTOBER 1951

 
 

 

You look at the title… then look at the group name… and then see the label it came out on and right away, if you have any sense at all, you ask yourself… “Is this really necessary?”

I didn’t think it was either at first, yet here we are trying to see once again if a major record label can legitimately attempt to connect with the rock audience while still allowing the executives at the company who despise this music and everything it stands for, to somehow be able to keep their lunch down.

Either way we’re not that optimistic about the possibilities here, for if the group manages to be tolerable enough for the big-wigs at RCA, then chances are it will fail miserably when it comes to appeasing our tastes. Yet if they do somehow pull this off artistically then there’s going to be a big mess to clean up when those same execs get nauseous after hearing what they assented to put out on their venerable label.

Just to be safe, move back and hold your nose as we get into this one.
 

 

I Know It Was Never So
Since this is the first – but spoiler alert, not the last – time we’re meeting The Heartbreakers, it’d be best to give some cursory background information on a group that was groundbreaking in a way, but hardly well remembered for it.

Actually, that’s likely the reason why they’re NOT remembered, because this group from Washington D.C. got signed by RCA-Victor of all companies which immediately invalidated their work in the eyes of many I’m sure, owing to the label’s general disdain for authentic rock ‘n’ roll.

Whether or not The Heartbreakers would’ve been inclined to pursue an earthier brand of the music had they signed with an independent label, as they’d expected, isn’t really known. Lead singer Bobby Evans also wrote their material so you assume that the direction they went in at RCA was more or less what they’d intended, but then again how those songs were arranged and just who was enlisted to back them in the studio might’ve unwittingly altered their image beyond repair.

In any event their background wasn’t much different than The Clovers, as they were of the same vintage and from the same city, and we know that group had been inclined to sing pop until they were forcibly steered into rock ‘n’ roll upon arriving at Atlantic Records and have thus far been pretty successful with it, scoring two #1 hits with their first two releases.

Had the two groups switched places it’s entirely likely that The Clovers would’ve been geared more towards pop on RCA and subsequently been quickly forgotten, but whether The Heartbreakers would’ve succeeded as full-fledged rockers like their brethren had they had the good fortune to have been on Atlantic instead is one of life’s unanswerable questions.

At least with their first effort here, Heartbreaker, it was clear that the group was not initially thinking “pop stardom” when they first entered the studio.

What they were thinking when they left however, is another matter altogether.

 

I Won’t Cry For Long
With the muted electric guitar – or semi-acoustic probably – that opens this with some slashing notes, you breathe a sigh of relief that RCA didn’t see fit to swaddle this with strings or defrost an oboist they kept on ice for just such an occasion in order to add some class to the record.

When the voices come in singing the title in harmony before Evans breaks off to deliver the verses, you sort of nod your head in satisfied agreement with their choices. It’s not a bad sound by any means, even slightly soulful if you look hard enough.

Of course that opening refrain does borrow heavily from the standard Heart And Soul, right down to a few key words, but then again that song will become something of a rock vocal group staple over the years and has a great melody so you can hardly blame them for the lift.

But the real test of Heartbreaker is what it’s going to bring to the table beyond this. To that end we get some good signs… George Davis Jr. lends a really consistent bottom to the harmonies, full and rich and unwavering. The others are mostly just humming innocuously, with James Ross’s tenor floating slightly above them, but it adds enough ambiance to be appreciated.

It’s a nice sound really, pleasant rather than invigorating maybe, but there’s nothing altogether wrong with that. No, taking things easy is not going to break new ground and set the pace for rock vocal groups from here on in, but as long as they maintain this convincing declaration of romantic longing they’re on pretty solid ground for the time being.

Granted the story itself is a standard tale of a guy recounting how he was crushed by the rejection of the girl he liked, but there’s no artificial pop-like sappiness to be found in the lyrics and Evans has no trouble getting you to believe he’s really broken up over this turn of events.

Though the backing music plays things safe too, you can at least be thankful that it doesn’t betray the emotional gravitas of the song by giving in to classier accompaniment along the way. That guitar is the centerpiece of the arrangement, adding accent notes between each line and if the tone is just a little too “clean” at times when dirty and anguished would’ve worked better, it does deliver a few interesting melodic deviations along the way, holding and grinding a few notes to give the impression of twisting the knife in so to speak.

You’d easily give an extra 11 cents on your 89 cent purchase price if they saw fit to add a languid tenor sax solo which would really help sell the melancholy effect they need, – and which would’ve worked far better than having one of their baritone vocalists deliver the same exact lines in the bridge – but then again RCA probably would’ve been inclined to hire trumpets instead if they were going to pay for a horn section so maybe it’s addition by subtraction if that would’ve been the case.

Regardless though, while this is nothing that is going to stand out in the heady year of 1951 when it comes to rock vocal records, it’s also something that is going to fit in nicely, which is an unexpected treat coming from a camp that largely wants to do away with rock ‘n’ roll if they had their druthers.
 

Only A Line
Because The Heartbreakers are not well remembered at all (and both Johnny Thunders and Tom Petty made sure that any information on the original group by that name would be hard to come by) and thanks to the record label this came out on, your expectations heading into this may not be very good but they show they were definitely not merely a pop group being shoehorned into a lite version of rock ‘n’ roll.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be given free reign to expand on what they’ve shown on Heartbreaker, and surely any advances they’re to make will have to come from their own creative ambition, not from the company who, if anything, would be looking to pull them back into the fold once this failed to chart.

But no matter what is to follow out of them, this record is more than good enough to round out the early 50’s rock vocal group playlist beyond the usual suspects.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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