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APOLLO 427; JUNE 1951



As if a rock vocal group releasing one song that was virtually pure blues wasn’t confusing enough, they back that with another song that has a blues background and one with a title that makes that connection all the more clear to casual observers.

Yet unlike the flip-side which barely deviated from the source material’s down home ambiance, save for some mild vocal harmonizing by the others behind the lead, on this side they manage to make it a definite rock vocal group record in every way.

Whether it’s the better side in a neutral context is up for debate, but needless to say for rock ‘n’ roll this one definitely fits the bill much better.


Fifty-Fifty Basis
There’s a lot of interesting side stories to this song – or even just the title and concept itself – that makes for a more rewarding listening experience, so let’s start there.

The term regarding a person refusing to fatten frogs for snakes is an old one that essentially means someone doing something in the hopes that they’ll profit in some way from their efforts, only to find out that it really is benefiting somebody else.

Think of a man giving money and gifts to a girl to woo her only to have her use that to go out with somebody else.

Being a common usage saying in the black community for years it was only natural that songs be written incorporating the general idea. True to form they started appearing on record back in the 1920’s blues explosion and while most of them had different lyrics and different melodies, the essential plot was the same.

An ironic footnote to our story is that in 1957 Sonny Boy Williamson, who’d done the original version of Eyesight To The Blind, which The Larks covered on the top side of this, cut a totally different song called I Ain’t Fattenin’ Frogs For Snakes undoubtedly leading to years of confusion regarding this single.

The song which The Larks use here though was written in 1949 by Edward Snead, a former bassist with Jimmie Lunceford who was an accomplished songwriter and later became an associate professor of foreign languages at Grambling State, one of the top black colleges in the country… not a bad résumé to have.

The song had been recorded that year by Ben Smith and though some of the verses by The Larks are ones they came up with themselves, the melody and chorus used here are straight lifts from that record so it’s more or less the same song.

In case you were wondering Smith’s version is not quite blues – maybe not surprising considering Snead’s involvement – but it also wouldn’t be mistaken for a rock song in 1949, though with its spry tempo, good lyrics with a sly delivery and two good solos, one by the guitar, the other by the piano, it’s definitely worthy of a spin regardless of your stylistic tastes.

The Larks use both of those instruments fairly prominently as well, but it’s their group vocals which set this apart and makes the rather unusual source material feel right at home in rock ‘n’ roll.

The Ruler Of The Joint
Had The Larks attempted to do this kind of treatment on the bluesy side of this release the results may not have been “better”, but it sure would’ve been better suited for rock and really intriguing to hear, because on this the group’s inventive vocal arrangement is really impressive.

They’re helped of course by the quick tempo which allows them to ride the rhythm as the piano holds down the bottom while their combined voices convey they catchy melody for the choruses which kick the record off in engaging fashion.

When Allen Bunn steps out front to handle the lead on the initial verses you might do a double take if you realized this was the same guy who’d handled the lead on the blues-based side. Granted the shift to an upbeat song means he’s going to utilize a different approach, but he sounds as if he shed a dozen years in the process, giving this a laid back cocky attitude which shows one of the key differences when it comes to the perspective used in the two disparate genres.

He sounds great on I Ain’t Fattenin’ Frogs For Snakes, playing a guy who technically is in a position of weakness here – the one who feels he’s been used by his better half – but retains a sense of righteous determination in how he’s dealing with it by laying down the law without losing his temper.

His mid-song spoken recitation is a rarity for rock at this stage of the game and has the potential to derail an otherwise strong melodic tune, but rather than come across as stilted and scripted he makes it sound so casual that you’re won over right away.

Bass singer David McNeil gets a chance to shine on a stanza of his own before that stretch which hints at Bill Brown’s role in The Dominoes, ironically the group McNeil would later join as Brown’s replacement. It adds a small dose of humorous whimsy to the record in addition to making it even more of a full group effort that shows their respective personalities and talents.

Of course the group loses the meaning of the saying along the way, but the story’s particulars are secondary to the broader idea of taking a stand against the girl in question and the real joy found here is in the way they put those vocals over, including some soaring harmonies towards the end before closing out matters with one last dig at the girl delivered by McNeil.

Considering how many songs using this analogy were downcast, the fact that The Larks make this sound so rousing is a big part of its appeal. It’s an unexpected performance in a way because of how it overturns that image, re-imagining a saying that was on the verge of being seen as rustic and old fashioned into a modern streamlined vehicle, one that’s sure to make you groove along with them and leave a smile not only on your own face but also on the faces of the frogs who get off without being served as dinner.


I Know What You’re Putting Down
Yesterday we indulged in some aimless speculation as to what course of events allowed a rock vocal group to score a national hit with a blues-centric record that adorned the top side of this, but while that certainly was a good performance – and blues fans had the same right to gravitate towards a record as anyone else, even if that one came from an unlikely source – the bigger question is how this one didn’t hit at the same time.

Though I Ain’t Fattenin’ Frogs For Snakes may be a somewhat unusual record in the rock field in its own right with Allen Bunn’s slightly bluesy guitar licks and the subject and source material, the sound of this record is so instantly likable featuring vocals that are vibrant and distinctive with a melody that once imprinted on your brain will take out a long term lease there, that it’s hard to fathom how not enough people flipped the hit side over to be captivated by this one’s charms.

Just a couple of singles into their career as secular artists, The Larks are proving to be hard to pin down stylistically. No other vocal group in rock had released so many different types of songs as they have so far and it’s safe to say that few in the coming years would be able to master so many approaches so quickly.

That talent ultimately didn’t amount to much in the way of sales, but their lasting reputation endures in part because there’s something for everybody in their catalog… everybody but the snakes that is.


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