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RCA 20-4327; OCTOBER 1951



Well, let’s just say after their surprisingly good effort on the top side of their debut, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt from us.

What that means is that despite having their authenticity called into question merely because of their affiliation with major label RCA-Victor, they managed to show they were indeed a legitimate rock group, not a pop act masquerading as one in an insincere attempt to move into that market by the record company.

Yet when you hear this one though you might just be ready to revoke that free pass without a second thought.

Once you stop recoiling from the shock at the sounds pouring out of your speakers however and begin to listen closely, you may come to the conclusion that rather than being a shameless attempt by the label to steer them into another more palatable field, this could actually be a sign of the group’s experimental nature.

Either way, it gives us something interesting to contemplate if nothing else.


Can’t You Hear Me Calling?
Jumping right into the fray here without wasting any time – because after an intro like that, you obviously want to know what all the fuss is about – we have what at first glance would be called a blatant attempt at a shallow novelty record.

There’s a vaguely Middle Eastern rhythm being played while the trumpets we warned you about on the top side (which thankfully never appeared there) rear their ugly heads here and add to the exotic nature of the recording.

Yet even if it WAS crass and exploitative by design, that doesn’t mean it’s not modestly enticing all the same.

There’s a reason why these snake-charmer melodies work so well and you can’t say that whoever the musicians here are – sessionists obviously, but from what continent we’re not sure – don’t earn their pay with this, putting you in a reasonable trance while The Heartbreakers do their part by hypnotically chanting the girl’s name.

But that’s where we find that this isn’t some tune inspired by floating down the Nile River, but rather maybe one they picked up on while floating down the Colorado River instead, as we discover Wanda is a Native American – referred to in the manner of the day as an “Indian” – which means this melody, and particularly the quirky interlocking rhythms, is the band’s interpretation of music found much closer to home.

While I won’t begin to suggest it’s accurate for what they imply, that doesn’t mean it’s still not fascinating to hear. Furthermore, the way in which The Heartbreakers trade off the vocals with Bobby Evans out front and the others finishing his thoughts in the first section, is really quite nice.

As Evans takes the reins to describe the story of this romance his voice is strong, clear and even when it veers a little too close to pop styled projection, still manages to retain enough emotional veracity to be permissible to rock ears.

It’s still not a perfect fit of course, as the horn’s response to the choruses, though fitting melodically, is a little too gimmicky and pop-centric, as is the high tenor crying being done over the rest of the voices, but on the whole you’re more intrigued than put off by their attempts.

Or to put it another way, while this was hardly typical for rock ‘n’ roll, it seems to have been done more in the spirit of artistic expression than commercial desperation.

True As The Stars Up Above
Depending on your interpretation of what qualifies as “average” this could conceivably be much higher, if based strictly on risk-taking and a reasonable amount of skill involved to pull it off credibly… or well-below average because it’s hardly indicative of where rock was or what it represented to its audience.

Yet that’s the score Wanda earns here, which requires an explanation.

One of the things that rock, like jazz before it, collectively aspired to was in pushing the boundaries of what was accepted at the time.

Unlike pop music, or blues, country or gospel, which were far more rooted in upholding tradition and only gradually accepted incremental changes along the way, rock ‘n’ roll constantly sought to challenge the status quo. The more radically it did this, the bigger risk it may have been taking, but the greater the rewards if it worked.

Though this record hardly worked in that sense – becoming a hit, having lasting influence, or even just an immediate impact on people’s perceptions – it shouldn’t be penalized too much for falling short in those ways.

The effort itself needs to be rewarded, especially by a group housed on a label that was essentially the living, breathing advertisement for toeing the line.

Maybe this wasn’t quite as risky as it appears, since RCA had pop credibility to pass it off as a novelty record, but it still represents a decidedly bold attempt by the group itself to offer the rock fan something different.

Besides, it’s catchy enough – and innovative enough – to stick in your head longer than most non-essential releases of this period and if they didn’t quite capitalize on its potential to really shake things up, they at least didn’t kowtow to lowered expectations and sing some meaningless pop ditty that would leave everybody cold.

That’s something to be proud of I guess.


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