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When the Nineteen-Fifties dawned rock ‘n’ roll began to see a considerable influx of vocal groups, most of which had been inspired by the success of The Ravens and Orioles, the two dominant Forties groups that set the standard for this field.

Yet in spite of the increased opportunities for vocal groups and some massive hits by a lot of them, one group who’d gotten off to a good start in the winter of 1950 had to wait nearly a year and a half before getting another chance to record for Recorded in Hollywood which had them re-do their first and most successful record.

Now a few months later they wind up on an even smaller label that immediately leased their recently cut sides to the just started subsidiary of yet another independent label, who changed their name slightly and slapped a different flip side on it just to confuse matters even further.

In spite of the tangled threads connected to this release it became one of their more well known singles, showing that a more solvent company should’ve signed them up, if only to keep all these matters straight for frustrated future historians.


You Better Get Hip
To show the extent of their troubles with incompetent companies, despite this side containing not only the ideal subject for rock audiences and a stellar full group performance in an uptempo style, this was originally viewed by Unique Records as just a B-side.

When it made the transition to Fidelity Records that same month that company kept it as the B-side, but replaced the A-side, which means both felt the other’s choice for the song to plug was a mistake.

Just an interjection here, but can you see any conceivable way in which record companies during this era managed to stay in business? They were incompetent boobs from top to bottom who were utterly deaf, didn’t understand the market and ripped off their talent left and right. If not for the constant desire by the public for new music they’d have all crashed and burned like they deserved.

Now, where were we?

Oh yeah, as you can see the one thing both of these labels agreed on was that W-I-N-E was the one song worth hearing… Then again maybe they were all just busy drinking the stuff which would explain their overall confusion in matters of business.

Luckily though The Four Flames – whether in or out of Hollywood at the time – knew enough about the topic not to spill any when they opened it up and began singing its praises.


They Were All Feeling Fine
Not only did the group’s name change here from one imprint to the next, but their personnel was sometimes hard to acertain.

The lead here is Bobby Byrd, although it’s actually the full group singing in tandem who handle the majority of the song. Byrd, whose range spanned the whole gamut from tenor down to bass was taking the verses of W-I-N-E in his baritone register, though at times he seems to give thought to dropping even lower, probably to conjure up Jimmy Ricks of The ravens, before changing his mind.

Now the interesting thing is he’s joining them for the choruses but normally he’d sing bass when it came to group vocals, but if he stuck to baritone then Curlee Dinkins would drop down to take the bass.

The one thing that makes for more confusion is the second tenor spot which was usually handled by Willie Ray Rockwell, who sang on the session before this and after this for two different labels, but here seems to have been replaced by Clyde Tillis who actually wrote the song.


With that reasonably settled we can finally get to the song itself which we’re happy to report contains the right freewheeling attitude for the subject matter and some loose harmonies that encourage everybody to sing-along in between swigs from the bottle you’re passing around.

That’s the obvious highlight here, every time they join together to whoop it up the record takes off. Not only does the chorus have the most credible lyrics, but also the strongest melody and you get a chance to hear their voices weaving together that shows these guys could sing well. Considering the ballad oriented groups like The Five Keys, The Four Buddies and The Larks, not to mention The Orioles, were obviously built around tight precise parts, while the more dynamic groups like The Dominoes, Clovers and Ravens all had good backing parts but deferred in the arrangements to the lead, this rougher type performance is something of an outlier.

But that’s part of its considerable charm, for the song excels when the entire group is working in tandem, sounding exactly like so many of the young listeners wish they did when having a few drinks and singing along to a record, the radio or just huddled around a street corner harmonizing.

Ironically it’s Byrd’s solo parts where the quality dips a little, partly maybe because we’re not used to hearing baritone leads and it throws us, but also because the lyrics seem to get off track, looking for a story to tie in with the subject when it’s not really needed. The true story here is the camaraderie and enthusiasm of friends swiping a bottle and hanging out with each other away from the prying eyes of parents, teachers, police or the almighty and as long as they stick to that they’ll be pouring plenty of drinks to go around.


I’m Telling You
Surprisingly for a record(s) where nothing was quite as it seemed, released on two insignificant labels and which never became even a regional hit, the fact that this has had some staying power in the realm of 50’s vocal group lore is rather astonishing.

With a spelled out title in which the first letter when sung has two more syllables than the entire word does, it’s one of those records that shows just how little thought went into these things at the time. Yet that is also a big reason why it works as well as it does, the fact it wasn’t thought out more than it had to be.

What managed to survive the chaos surrounding their career on countless labels and under many names was how when they huddled around a microphone to cut songs like W-I-N-E all of the stupefying behind the scenes decisions vanished and what was left was exactly the kind of thing that made rock ‘n’ roll what it was… sometimes sloppy but always heartfelt music that always had a touch of amateurism to it which only made it more endearing to its fans.

Nobody at either company that issued this knew what the hell they were doing it seemed, but the group did and all those who heard it and embraced it, even if it was hard to find – and harder to keep track of – knew that this was something worth all the complications in the end.

Drink up… after dealing with all of this, you’ve definitely earned it.


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