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APOLLO 1184; MAY 1951



Out of all of the many cheap shots taken on these pages for pure sport, one of the more fun occurrences is when we take to task people and companies long since dead for their questionable decisions when it comes to designating which side of the latest single is more marketable.

Sometimes their choices are truly bewildering.

But with this single, although the other side was breathtakingly gorgeous and still stands as a high point of the entire vocal group style, it definitely wasn’t the obvious choice for an A-side as it was simply a reworking of a pop standard rather than something original and groundbreaking.

Which is why Apollo Records seemed to promote this side instead… except, this one, while beautifully sung as well, also doesn’t quite fit into an easy to market slot either, all of which is to say there’ll be no cheap shots handed out here.

Oh well, next time maybe… stay tuned.


Stop That Worrying
Normally with singles you can tell what the artist or record company had in mind when it comes to the direction they were aiming at by just looking at the source material, the instrumental or vocal arrangement or the style the lead singer chooses to deliver the song.

But not so much on this one.

Written by someone with the unlikely moniker of Bingy Caruso… maybe he’s an illegitimate DNA splice of Bing Crosby and Enrico Caruso… the title suggests it might have been carried over from The Larks days as The Selah Jubilee Singers gospel group, but no, the praying being done here doesn’t quite seem to fit.

Then again it also doesn’t fit rock ‘n’ roll where you probably would be expected to pray for a girl, or some booze, or a girl with some booze… and maybe a friend of hers who is also a lush with low morals and no inhibitions.

So even if you’re not the kind of person who pays much attention to lyrics, I’d think you’d almost HAVE to be curious to find out what Let’s Say A Prayer is about.

The problem is after hearing it, scribbling down the lyrics and looking in a dictionary for any outdated alternate meanings of words they may be using, you STILL won’t have much of a clue what it’s supposed to be about.

Good thing for The Larks that they’d probably sound good singing meaningless gibberish too.


What’s The Use
The voices are what stands out here, the tasteful lead of Gene Mumford and their impeccable blend as a group.

Everything else though? Ahh, well… we’re not exactly sure to tell you the truth.

The other parts aren’t drastically out of place, but they aren’t helping matters either. You basically want to just ignore the rest to focus on their singing but if your mind wanders and you hear that stilted piano or try and make out just what kind of a message they’re trying to impart with this story then there’s a good chance that no matter how good the voices are you’re going to be more frustrated than pleased with the record.

So let’s start with the plot… or the completely meaningless random words being thrown together that only appears like a plot… none of which gets any easier to figure out with repeated listening.

The set up is a domestic scene… I think. They don’t reveal much other than to announce they’re getting up in the morning and saying a prayer for their neighbor.

Why, we don’t know. Terminal illness? Foreclosure? An owl stuck in their chimney keeping them awake all night? Or is it not even a specific neighbor, but rather the universal neighbor… as in Let’s Say A Prayer for all mankind?

He then comes home in the evening and does the same, so you picture a contented husband and wife, but while they’re praying again it doesn’t seem to be for any real purpose other than apparently just peace of mind.

Okay, if that’s the case I guess the intention is nice enough, though it seems like a waste of time babbling to some faceless wraith in the hopes it eases your concerns for real life problems, but the bigger waste of time is it has no point in this SONG! Ya know, the thing you’re selling to us and trying to use these words to convey something we might be interested in!

It’s definitely not a spiritual message, it’s not exactly a brotherhood of man sentiment either, it’s just… empty words, signifying absolutely nothing. Even if you’re far less cynical than this I defy you to find the songwriter’s intent in any of it.

Maybe you can block all that out and listen to the gorgeous voice of Mumford without being bothered that you can’t understand what he’s telling you any better than you would if he was singing in Latin, but at least then you wouldn’t necessarily be vexed by the questions with no answers this song hands you and then pretends it’s something profound by the way in which it’s delivered.

Let’s Shout Our Praises Up To The Sun
The redemption of course is in HOW Mumford and the others are delivering it all, almost singing with bated breath as if it were the most profound information they could possibly dispense.

As usual they sound terrific. Mumford’s singing is a master class of balladry… the timbre of his voice is so pure it’s almost hard to find an adequate analogy to make. It couldn’t be any more smooth and clear if it were made of glass, though that may give the impression that it’s somewhat cheap or transparent when it’s anything but.

However you choose to describe it the better thing to do is just listen to it as the notes sparkle like diamonds as they escape from his lips. Once again he’s so unhurried that it’s almost disarming.

What’s impressive is that he’s not a dramatic vocalist like Clyde McPhatter who seems to always be taking risky chances and delighting in pulling them off, much to your surprise. Instead Mumford is the picture of calm, controlled precision, effortlessly holding notes… not to necessarily dazzle you, but just to make sure he allows the full tonal qualities to hit home before releasing it, never a moment too early or a split second too late.

The other Larks are providing stellar support but because Let’s Say A Prayer doesn’t rely on them to do more than shade the primary melodic lines their roles are minimal. Yet even so you can still appreciate the textures they bring to the table, such as the subtly piercing wavering notes well behind Mumford at times which The Flamingos, with a healthy dose of echo, would make their trademark in a few years.

You’d like a slightly more engaged piano, one that really feels what it is being played rather than merely striking notes to fill in the silence, but truthfully anything too busy would get in the way. Maybe considering the apparent topic – or just to confuse us more – the ideal instrumental accompaniment would’ve been a ghostly organ.

As it is though you’re left rather humbled and in awe of the vocal abilities and confused and let down by the rather aimless song.


Our Future May Be Bright
There are times – not a lot, but occasionally – where I almost envy those who can hear a record and not pay any attention whatsoever to the words being sung other than to hear their rhythmic or melodic qualities.

If that were possible for me I’d definitely boost this another point, maybe even two if I were feeling particularly generous, because it sounds really good. With the combined effect of the two songs on this release you’d surely think that with better material crafted specifically for their strengths The Larks would rival virtually anyone currently on the scene.

But in many ways Let’s Say A Prayer is emblematic of why they fell short in that regard, at least when it came to earning spins and building a much broader audience and deeper legacy.

Their songs seemed to have no cohesive artistic vision. They tried almost anything and depending on the vocalist they sang in a lot of different ways. On one hand that diversity is a positive, but on the other it can’t come across as random stabs in the dark like this cut.

Singles are like an artist’s résumé, they’re meant to tell prospective employers… err listeners… who they are, what their approach will be, to give some consistent impression of their musical strengths and just present their overall raison d’être to the world.

Essentially they’re trying to make their case to fill a specific role in your musical life and while you’d never turn them away with how well they sing, after three singles under this name you still are no closer to knowing what they intend to do with their careers than they seem to be.

Come to think of it, maybe THAT’S what they’re praying for… some clarity and direction.


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