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APOLLO 430; SEPTEMBER 1951

 
 

 

Being skillful and being effective so often go hand in hand that we tend to take it for granted that the first invariably leads to the latter.

In a lot of contexts it does too. Your surgery will probably go better if you have the most talented doctor operating on you than someone who barely made it out of med school. But in music skill does not necessarily lead to effective songs, especially when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll.

The reason for this is because rock music thrives on selling unfiltered emotion, be it lust, anger, excitement or all consuming love and those can be gotten across just as well, if not better, by being a little ragged in your delivery.

Pop music of the early 1950’s is practically the opposite of rock in that they felt emotion was something to be avoided at all cost, or at least watered down to such a degree it could be deciphered only by the lyrics, and so when you have a skillful rock vocal group like The Larks tackle a song in a pop form you are bound to wind up with something that is far from effective in their chosen field.
 

 

Like Stars In The Dawn’s Early Light
One of the things that we’ve tried to make clear around here is the scores at the end of the reviews are not designed to be anything more than a summation of one person’s opinion. They are not meant to suggest what any of your opinions should be.

Intelligent people understand this of course, while insecure people tend to overreact any time a score differs greatly from their own.

The point of the site has never been about the scores, but rather the stories leading up to those scores. Who the artists were, why they recorded certain songs, what their record labels were after, which records the audience gravitated towards, how those records in turn altered the future direction of the genre… that’s what’s important, not a bunch of subjective numbers.

But that being said there IS a specific rhyme and reason to those scores that should be understood and that is they are partly determined based on how the records are advancing rock ‘n’ roll as a whole. In other words, this not a neutral context grading system where we’d give equally high scores to Elmore James, Perry Como, Hank Williams and The Weavers if we slipped in reviews of their records in this era. Their scores would be uniformly falling in the red numbers, not because their performances were bad, but because they’d be bad for rock ‘n’ roll.

That also explains why when rock groups like say… I dunno let me pull a name out of thin air here… The Larks, were to cut a bluesy song like Eyesight To The Blind, it’s not going to be rewarded much or what it does well here because what it does well is de-emphasize the rock aesthetics too much. It’s to their credit as artists that they can do so convicingly, but it’s NOT effective for rock’s creative or commercial advancement.

Neither is I Don’t Believe In Tomorrow, a song that features some lovely vocalizing, but which is done in a way that all but turns its back on what made rock ‘n’ roll so distinctly different, not to mention so vitally important to the audience who needed it to give credence to their cultural perspective.

So what needs to be always kept in mind is this… the more you erase the lines of demarcation between styles, the less need there is for those outlier styles to exist at all and if that were to happen rock ‘n’ roll and its entire future would hang in the balance.
 

Tomorrow Is At Least A Hundred Years Away
Admittedly that’s a lot of responsibility just one side of one release has on its shoulders – and I don’t mean to suggest the downfall of Western Civilization was at stake here if this side had become a huge hit – but keep in mind Apollo Records did not care about the future of rock ‘n’ roll in the least. In fact they’d barely cared about its past as evidenced by their scant output in the field since its inception.

What they were concerned with was sales, pure and simple, and with The Larks being so versatile the chances that they’d abandon – or be forced to abandon – rock for a potentially more lucrative style was always prevalent. If their recent blues leaning hits had led to more in that regard it’d be nice for those of us who were also blues fans, but not so nice for those who also swooned at their soulful rock ballad My Reverie because it’s doubtful they’d get many more chances to explore that kind of material when their was money to be made elsewhere.

Similarly if I Don’t Believe In Tomorrow, one of their most pop sounding releases so far, had become a top seller there’s every chance that they’d be turning their focus to the potentially more lucrative market in pop.

So while it’s certainly true that none of us here in the Twenty-First Century have to worry about that since it didn’t happen, the reason it didn’t happen is precisely because the pop sounding records failed miserably when rock fans of the day flatly ignored them because they knew the stakes even if you did not.

In one sense it’s a shame there’s such rigid boundaries that artists are cautioned against violating because when judged purely by their vocal contributions The Larks at times are quite good here from a technical standpoint. Allan Bunn’s lead displays a light touch, beautiful tone and while the others are providing just an airy cushion behind him for much of the song, they have a nice blend that goes down easy.

But is any of it effective for rock ‘n’ roll?

Not in the least!

All of the emotions in the lyrics are drained from their reading until they might as well just start singing the minutes of the last meeting of The Elks Lodge. In fact during the gawdawful bridge I don’t think that would’ve hurt this any as their block harmonies and Gene Mumford’s painfully strained falsetto make that stretch particularly hard to take.

Throughout it all, the good and the bad, there’s no investment in the words, no thought behind the sentiments, no consequences to the situation being laid out. But that’s pop music of the day for you – pretty melodies, impressive technical skill and no heart, no soul, no life whatsoever.
 


 

Our Dreams May Vanish Tomorrow
For those who genuinely like this for its own aesthetic qualities, there’s no need to apologize for it, but I’d ask this larger question to put all of this in perspective.

Had the rock fan of 1951 gravitated towards this because they too appreciated it for its nice singing and then also did the same for The Ravens and The Orioles blander pop material as well as choosing say The Blenders releases over The Dominoes and The Clovers… what do YOU think would’ve happened?

All of those groups would’ve reverted back to pop, leaving a gaping chasm in rock’s creative advancement and the ripple effect would’ve been felt for years to come as up and coming groups that had been stirred by the rock output of those acts would have found no open arms in the record industry for pursuing that style since record sales are what leads to opportunity and thus would’ve been compelled to change course themselves.

Could The Larks have succeeded on an artistic level singing this kind of thing? Yes, as shown by I Don’t Believe In Tomorrow, they probably could have. But could a young black vocal group – or more pointedly, could scores of young black vocal groups – have found mainstream success over the next few decades singing in the same white pop style as they display here?

Not on your life! Not in this country and certainly not at this time. So say goodbye to The Spaniels, The Drifters, The Midnighters and Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, at least in the styles that they became famous for.

So is that what you want? Conformity to an oppressive culture with limited opportunities for everyone who is not a member of that demographic and virtually no meaningful artistic risks being taken to break with the status quo? If so, by all means champion songs like this because, hey, you know what, these guys could sing this pretty good too!

Yeah, maybe they could, but the levels that this impresses on are not things that were important in rock ‘n’ roll, consequently rock ‘n’ roll had no use for it and ultimately, in the short term and the long run, that was a good thing for all of us.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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