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APOLLO 1180; APRIL 1951



Artists are of their time, representative of what’s going on in the present, yet drawing from what came in the recent past, while some are indicative of what will transpire in the future.

Music history is connected by these threads, thousands of them at any one point along the way, and unraveling them to see how they tie together is how you come to understand the reach and scope of countless artists and styles through the years.

This record is one of the final new developments in a particular thread started a few years earlier, slightly updated but already coming to the end of the line as newer threads were emerging. Whether they followed this thread further or pulled back and picked up a different one would help determine their standing as rock ‘n’ roll progressed.


‘Til Time Shall Be No More
The Larks are sort of the “lost” great vocal group of the very early 1950’s, largely obscure because a) they had few hits and none that remained widely known years later by casual fans, b) their individual and collective skills were more subtle than those who were able transcend a group’s fortunes in people’s memory, and c) they had a rather unusual output when it came to material.

That last part really is key. Beginning as a gospel group and recording in that style under a variety of names last fall, they didn’t really retain an overly spiritual feel on their records once they were doing secular material, unlike say The Dominoes at this same time.

Meanwhile Allen Bunn’s interest in the blues and his country-blues guitar playing could, at times, give them a sound that was unlike any other group, and indeed one of their hits was a cover of a blues song, but as a result those records don’t always fit neatly into the broader image of rock vocal groups and may cause them to be passed over.

Lastly, they tended to record ballads and downhearted songs and that’s often an approach that is less easily accessible to casual listeners.

So where do they fit in exactly? How do we put them into the proper perspective when using traditional methods of evaluation… popularity, influence, impact… none of which jump out at you, at least compared to many of their peers at the time?

Well, that’s where you come back to unraveling those threads to see their ties to the era surrounding them. When I Leave These Prison Walls, for instance, the flip side of this single, has a sneaky but very clear influence on The Diablos 1955 hit The Way You Dog Me Around in its structure (once you get past Nolan Strong’s eerie similarity to Clyde McPhatter) which shows that artists coming up at this time were in fact definitely listening to them regardless of what the charts may say.

Hopefully Yours on the other hand shows how indebted they were to The Orioles, as this is squarely in that same bag which, with all the newcomers on the scene, was starting to lose its position at the forefront of the vocal group movement as we speak.

But The Larks manage to tweak that formula ever so slightly which helped make this their first side to draw regional interest and shows once again how those threads keep everything connected.

That’s Who I Long To Be
When The Orioles debuted in 1948 they were rightly heralded as one of the breakthrough sounds of early rock ‘n’ roll. Here was a group that was young and inexperienced and more than a little raw to trained ears, yet who parlayed those qualities into forging a connection with the equally young fan base that was the cornerstone of this music.

Though structurally their songs tended to be rather narrow and musically straitlaced, almost strictly ballads expressing romantic longing and heartbreak, the emotional readings of those songs by Sonny Til and the sometimes ragged accompaniment by the group gave them an authenticity that listeners related to, propelling them to stardom and making Til one of the first heartthrobs of rock.

But by 1951 that approach was exceedingly limited. Not only did they constantly repeat themselves in themes and arrangements which made little of their work seem fresh, but they were also being lapped on the course by newer groups who brought far different elements to the table, be it even more expressive vocal styles, more elaborate backing vocals and increasingly diverse and dynamic instrumentation and arrangements.

By comparison The Orioles seemed almost pop-like which meant the kids coming of age now were sure to gravitate towards someone who pushed boundaries more.

The Larks were not it… not really… but even on something as tied to the past as Hopefully Yours, they show that they were willing to move beyond that precedent just enough to make it more palatable for the current expectations.

You just might not realize that right away as this starts with its most archaic ideas thrust right out front with the tinkly piano and Eugene Mumford’s overly delicate vocals which are even less Sonny Til-sounding and more in a Maithe Marshall vein whose pop-leaning leads with The Ravens were held over from an even earlier period.

It’s hardly looking good when the sentiments being sung fall right into the impotently romantic territory so often mined by The Orioles, as Mumford, who also wrote this, is crying about his desire to be with a particular girl without actually DOING anything about it!

But the more he goes on, while his game plan itself might not change, his resolution seems to grow stronger, his voice swells, his intensity ramps up and you find yourself being won over by his determination, to say nothing of the beauty of his voice itself and the way he subtlety embellishes the melody.

Makes Them Seem So Untrue
Once you become attached to a sound, an era, whenever that era was, it can be hard to accept it falling from grace as the next generation dismisses much of it out of hand, viewing it as old fashioned and not relatable to their current needs.

These kind of songs that had done so well for The Orioles in 1948-1950 were now facing that reality and it’s something everybody should’ve seen coming, not just because the calendar was flipping.

When that group cut their first hits they were in the midst of a recording ban meaning there could be no musicians playing on the records (there WAS, but they kept it to a minimum to not draw anyone’s ire). Because it was successful they retained that stark sound even when the ban ended later that year rather than add more parts to the ensuing releases. This ensured their records would still have the feel of 1948 even though we’re now into 1951… a bad decision.

Then there was the fact they were all ballads, timid ones at that, wherein the lead is unsure of himself, subservient to the desires of the girl he loves from afar, something that undoubtedly helped connect it with kids at first who may have been equally unsure of their chances, but after awhile you need to see some verifiable success in these love songs and they rarely offered that.

The Larks with Hopefully Yours fall into those same two traps. The accompaniment is barren – piano and intermittent rhythm guitar along with faint, empty humming by the other group members – while the perspective is hopeful, but reserved.

It’s only Mumford’s skills which draws it out of that late 1940’s mindset, his voice striving for more than his words suggest, soaring at the end even to symbolize a release of some kind (fill in your own reason) and that allows it to be acceptable, if only barely, in a world where more aggressive, or more tortured in the case of heartrending despair, is becoming the new norm.

He sings this so well that you want to overlook the dated aspects of it, yet when you pick up this particular string and stretch it out you see it doesn’t go much further. It wasn’t quite the end of the line, but we’re getting close to it, at least when it comes to what’s going to be setting the trends.

All of which helps to explain why The Larks, always respected for their singing, were destined to be more of a transitional group than leaders of the pack.


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