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APOLLO 1194; JULY 1952



The final single of the original Larks group, a shortlived tenure to be sure but one that has lived on thanks to the uniform class of the recordings themselves.

So how is it that one of the most talented acts in all of rock, a versatile unit who could deliver in a wide variety of styles, who had hits and name recognition, were capable of writing their own material or utterly transforming somebody else’s compositions and who helped to define this era of rock vocal groups as well as almost anyone were no longer together?

if you’ve made it this far in the genre’s evolution, the answer shouldn’t be hard to figure.


Please Think Of Me
For most artists the early days of rock ‘n’ roll didn’t provide an easy way to make a living. Recording contracts favored the labels who then compounded this imbalance by refusing to pay royalties the artists were legally entitled to receive, not to mention charging them for the costs of the sessions themselves. They told them nothing of their publishing rights for self-composed songs, often stole writing credits outright and usually would hand over money for basic expenses only under threat of homicide.

As a result of all this, artists were almost entirely dependent on pay from live gigs, their pay scale for such shows based largely on record sales, which for cuts like I Live True To You were so small as to be non-existent.

Of course even on the road, away from the record companies malfeasance, there were obstacles to actually making money. If you had a manager, as The Larks did, they took 10% or more off the top and did next to nothing to actually earn it. Live venue promoters took their own cut from the proceeds and then underreported the turnout if the contract was based on number of tickets sold. Then there were those who just slipped off with the gate receipts while the artists were on stage, leaving them with absolutely nothing.

Meanwhile the artists had to buy their stage outfits, pay to get them cleaned, put gas in the car, sleep in run down motels, or down south in rooming houses since hotels wouldn’t accept black patrons… nor would restaurants.

If you were a solo act maybe you could survive at this shameful routine… expenses may be roughly the same but profit was higher since you didn’t need to split the revenues, but The Larks were five guys each with their own needs that were going unfulfilled.

So, apparently without any animosity, only frustration, they fractured in the summer of 1952 and went out with a whimper instead of a bang.


When Nature Pulls Her Curtain Down
This record is a perfect example of how so many different elements combine to make singles turn out great, fair or poor depending on the specific contributions of each individual part.

One really bad mistake can completely upend an otherwise great record, while another record where nothing about it is exceptional but every last detail is competent can actually be more than the sum of its parts.

Ideally though, everything needs to work together and be of consistently high quality… which this is not.

For starters the musical arrangement is sort of weak, maybe not a deal-killer but definitely rather bland with its halting piano, faint drums and little else of note. More glaring in its shortcomings is the composition itself, as with a title as awkward and wussy as as I Live True To You the song as written is not very memorable.

The basic message is okay I suppose, but the sentiments are too flowery and sort of unfocused, not to mention intentionally dodging most of the obvious rhyme schemes by substituting the assonant sound of many lines with an alternative word that means basically the same thing but fails to resolve what they set up phonetically, making it hard to appreciate when your mind is predicting one word and you get handed another instead.

Yet Eugene Mumford sings this SO well that you almost don’t care. His voice is tender, yearning, hopeful and doubtful all wrapped into one and the effect it has on your senses not only gets you to feel for his romantic plight (whatever nonsense that may be), but also discards your insistence that he follow some of the most basic musical rules that tend to make songs catchy to untrained ears. We might scoff at the way this is presented on paper, but we keep listening intently because of his flawless delivery.

The others are hardly dropping the ball themselves, as their vocal blend behind him may be fairly discreet, except for David McNeill’s intermittent and surprisingly lively bass interjections, but they sound just as good, giving the record an emotional depth that is pretty impressive.

Which is why it’s such a shame that the melody, even more than the wandering lyrical structure, is so… blah.

As a ballad it’s obviously not relying much on rhythm which puts added importance on the flow of the notes as the path they take needs to be not only pleasant and soothing to your ears, but have to appear also instantly memorable for this to make an indelible impression and keep you coming back to hear it again because you can’t get it out of your mind.

Instead you can’t keep this IN your mind because, like the subpar wordplay its saddled with, the song fights itself melodically the entire time, giving you brief glances at a nice progression every so often before quickly losing its way again. While it never fully clashes or becomes musically illiterate it also never gives you any chance to embrace it. Take away the magical voices in other words and you’d be left with next to nothing.


The Things We Used To Do
We can wrap up the start of our two-part farewell to The Larks by saying it should never have come to this.

Maybe they weren’t major stars, but they were consistent sellers for Apollo, the owner of some hits and a reliable and versatile act that brought positive attention to the label, selling consistently and allowing them the company to remain relevant in rock ‘n’ roll with little more than a roster of has-beens and never-weres.

If The Larks were able to turn even a very flawed song like I Live True To You into something still worth hearing, that was plenty of evidence that they remained something potentially special to the very end and artists like that are hard to come by.

Though we have one last side to cover tomorrow before we bid them adieu, and while three of the five will remain in music as artists we’ll be covering individually over the years – Allen Bunn as a solo artist, David McNeill and Eugene Mumford in The Dominoes at different times, the breakup of The Larks remain one of the great early examples of what might’ve been had they remained together.

Sadly though, an outcome like this is hardly surprising, for in the music business the last thing anybody pulling the purse strings actually cares about are the artists making the music, or the people wanting to listen to the music that they make. In the end everybody suffers equally – the company lost a signature group, the group lost the chance to do what they loved and the audience lost the chance to hear who knows how many potentially great records that never would be recorded.


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