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APOLLO 1194; JULY 1952



It’s not fair at all.

That sentence can be used to describe almost everything we’re looking at today… the fact that this is the absolute final side we’ll get to cover for the original Larks, one of the most versatile and talented rock vocal groups of the decade who saw their careers end abruptly because thanks to the financial inequity of the music biz they were unable to earn a decent living.

It’s also a phrase that can be used because despite this being their own swan song this review will be comparing this performance to another rendition of the same song released this same month by The Five Keys, another act who were poorly served by their record company.

Lastly, it’s not fair that we’re forced to say goodbye to the group on a record that was not what they should’ve been focused on doing… which actually may be one of the reasons they weren’t long for this world to begin with.

See, it all ties together.


Honey, Won’t You…
Since we’ve already discussed the general reasons behind their breakup on the flip side of this release yesterday, that leaves us plenty of time to rail against record companies for another entirely valid reason besides the standard operating procedure of ripping off their artists at every turn.

Ahh, the fabulous fifties!

So… this song.

What a song… for thirty seven year old white folks who were in their prime when this composition first hit the streets back in 1933.

Now in the Twenty-First Century 37 doesn’t sound THAT old maybe, but remember that the average lifespan back then was a lot shorter so by the time you reached that age in 1952 most people had already passed the halfway point of their existence. Furthermore with early marriage – barely over 20 – and the drudgery of working an unfulfilling job for the husband and being expected to raise kids and clean house for the wives, you can see how fifteen or sixteen years into that marriage both partners were probably looking forward to checking out soon.

In other words, songs that they may have first smooched to when they were 18 like Hold Me were NOT going to have much relevance, musically or culturally, to their kids, to say nothing of kids that age from the actual demographic rock artists like The Larks were targeting.

Yet that didn’t stop Aladdin Records from having The Five Keys take a whack at this, nor did it stop Apollo Records from thinking this would be potentially profitable for The Larks in 1952.

The question though is WHY? What exactly was the specific appeal of this of all songs to an 18 year old prospective record buyer and Larks fan who was facing being drafted to fight in Korea or being discriminated against for his race if he stayed home and – if they were lucky – soon being forced to get an underpaying menial job to join the ranks of the disaffected who, 19 years in the future, will be 37 year olds paying off a mortage and grumbling about THEIR kids listening to Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, neither of whom, lest we remind you, were expected to haul a song like this out of mothballs to sell to their fans.

Like You Alone Can Do
While the topic of love and the feelings connected with it presumably do not change with each generation, even if the accompanying actions get tweaked over time, the ways in which these feelings are expressed do change, especially within songs.

Of course even in rock love ballads, at least for the first few decades, they did tend to be influenced more by traditional pop to a degree. For one thing a lot of the arrangements being used for tender slow songs hadn’t yet taken on rock’s unique character as they would in later years and since the instruments being used at the time – pianos, maybe some horns, acoustic basses and light drums – were also featured heavily in pop, you can see how a producer who needed to crank out four cuts in three hours would tend to stick to formula more.

All of which left it up to the vocals themselves to inject enough emotion into these songs and in the process to see how drastically they could re-imagine them melodically, or even structurally, to somehow prove songs like Hold Me were not pop songs for old people, but rock ballads for those going through the travails of love for the first time.

As usual, Gene Mumford is up to the task here, using a haunting tentative voice to suggest that he’s hardly confident that his plea to this girl will have an effect on her. While the lyrics indicate they’re already together – though they may not be too, depending on how you read it – his halting delivery makes his conviction that they’ll STAY together much more tenuous sounding.

It’s a good thing too because the story is pretty shallow, just a lot of romantic yearning without cease, so Mumford and the rest of The Larks add immeasurably to the stakes simply with their sincerity as they gently caress the melody after a somewhat shaky beginning as the piano adds too much daintiness to the proceedings. As they go along their voices swell, they show off their harmonies on the bridge with each voice blending beautifully, yet individually standing out all the same, and their investment deepens until you’re convinced they’re speaking from experience.

Yet while most of Hold Me shows why they were such a formidable outfit, without a more radical shake-up they’ve left themselves with a much lower ceiling than had they looked to really impress you by thoroughly re-arranging how it’s being framed. Though you might argue that anything that would take away from hearing these guys sing for even a few extra seconds would be a detriment to the song, a languid tenor sax break, sounding as if it were drifting through an open window on a steamy summer night, would do wonders for the ambiance they are trying to create.

Because we get nothing like that, and because the song’s mild demeanor remains too prevalent thanks to the lyrical perspective, and because even when they seem determined to overcome all of that they give us one last unfortunate pop concession to close it out by going up the scale on the final group refrain which refutes the more insistent Mumford line leading into it, we can’t bring ourselves to praise the record unconditionally as if none of these issues existed… or mattered.

But then again we also can’t let them leave the stage without another round of applause for the sheer vocal talent on display.


Never, Never Let Me Go
In an alternate world where creative decisions in music were never made by anybody over the age thirty, where labels respected the audience that actually bought the records rather than tried to appeal to a different audience who would never buy them despite the accompanying stylistic concessions, then The Larks story would have no doubt turned out much differently.

But when the company doesn’t grasp the fact that songs like Hold Me were not going to advance rock’s cause any even if had it become a hit, there’s only so much the artists can do to overcome these decisions. But unlike some efforts in this vein by other vocal groups of the time who stuck firmly to the pop mindset, The Larks at least had enough creative pride to adapt it more to their sensibilities by their reading alone and acquit themselves well in the process.

Because of that if you want to rate something like this a little higher than me, you aren’t necessarily wrong in your assessment.

What WAS wrong however was how what should’ve been a long fruitful career got unceremoniously cut short through no fault of their own.

As usual when this happens we look back with equal parts frustration and admiration, but since we won’t meet this version of The Larks again let’s try and focus on the latter because these guys earned that much with most everything they sang.


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

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
The Five Keys (July, 1952)