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APOLLO 1184; MAY 1951

 
 

 

There are records throughout rock history which were never hits yet over time they attained a reputation that puts them on par with some of the biggest smashes in memory.

Call it an artistic reckoning wherein freed from outside factors such as a lack of distribution or promotion or the occasional blind spot by listeners of the day, these records gradually see their status shift from being perceived as irrelevant commercial failures to getting labeled cult favorites and finally becoming widely recognized as hallowed benchmarks in rock’s story.

Sometimes this historical transformation can be widespread, usually helped by some belated means of mass exposure which leads to mainstream critical reassessment, but oftentimes it’s confined just to the realm of a devoted stylistic fan base who find in it everything they’ve collectively come to love about their small – and fiercely guarded – plot of rock terrain.

This single may just be the first chronologically to achieve such status… a position it still holds today in an ever diminishing circle of vocal group fanatics.
 

 

Make My Dream A Reality
The trend of subgenre cults in rock ‘n’ roll is a fascinating one to examine.

Usually they’re centered around styles that were never commercial powerhouses and which had a rather limited lifespan… a period of just a few years, save for some later self-conscious revivals.

Garage rock of the 1960’s was one such area that achieved some retroactive praise thanks largely to the compilation album Nuggets which came out in 1972 and was later expanded to a four disc boxed set in the CD era.

The raw sound made by mostly unschooled musicians recording for small labels with little national pull ensured that these records were never going to be widely heard, let alone warmly embraced by a large contingent of rock fans when fresh, but by collecting 27 of the best records of the movement, putting them into context by packaging them together and promoting it in a way that gave newcomers the thrill of feeling they discovered something virtually unknown, the hardcore garage rock denizens responsible for the album managed to boost the entire subgenre’s stature to the point where it’s now widely recognized as an important part of rock history rather than just some long forgotten minor trend of no real significance.

Ten years earlier another raw untrained style whose records were released primarily on poorly distributed indie labels saw a cult spring up around it as well with the first “doo wop revival” – not that it was called this at the time – which fed off the curiosity of those too young to have heard the first and second generation rock vocal groups in their heyday but who in the early 1960’s were combing used record shops on the East Coast in search of old treasures (45’s not 78’s unfortunately, so the true birth of rock still remained out of reach to them).

One of the earliest rock vocal group sides available in this format was My Reverie by The Larks, a record that had originally come and gone without much notice back when most of those scouring the bins in these small stores were years away from even reaching puberty.

That the song itself dated back another thirteen years before that – even farther back if you trace it to Claude Debussy’s “Reverie” on which it’s based – meant that it was a tune their parents might have heard on their first dates and yet in the hands of The Larks it became something distinctly different.
 

Let’s Dispense With Formality
Hauling old songs out of mothballs is nothing new in rock… Freddie Mitchell has made a career of it… but looking backwards for material sets a dangerous precedent, especially for vocal groups of this era because of their tendency to sing these songs straight.

Pop music of the day thrived on this mild approach but rock music had set itself apart by pointedly not conforming to the accepted practices of other styles and even when it borrowed stuff from other genres they usually returned it to the original owners after breaking it into a million pieces.

Vocal groups however were still conditioned to think in terms of pop acceptance, particularly on ballads and so that’s why The Ravens and Orioles’ cover fare usually was rather pointless. Well sung though some of them might be, what the hell is the point of being a rocker if you’re going to masquerade as a pop act all the time?

The original My Reverie, a #1 hit from 1938 by Larry Clinton, featured Bea Wain singing it as if she were afraid of tracking dirt on on the song, almost tip-toeing across the notes and letting the strong lyrics and pretty melody handle most of the heavy lifting, in the process stripping it of any personal investment.

The Larks with their brilliant tenor Eugene Mumford might be inclined to follow suit, letting his voice, not the emotional textures of that voice, determine its quality thereby inheriting the longstanding problem from pop music when it came to expressing the actual feelings behind the love they were reputed to be singing about.

As soon as he opens his mouth however you know they decided against that.
 


 
 

Without You Life Would Never Begin To Be
Though The Larks don’t deviate from that great melody, they are clearly not simply reciting it, but rather interpreting it in a deep and highly personal manner.

Mumford caresses the song like a newborn infant, his crystal clear voice almost shimmering from the speakers, gliding from note to note without seeming to exert any effort at all, yet covering far more ground than if he were straining for every note. He’s pouring his heart into the words themselves, dissecting their meaning, but somehow he sounds almost serene at every turn.

It’s such a startling performance because of those contradictions. All of the technical attributes he’s using (the relaxed delivery, the close adherence to the written melody) would suggest it would be a dry, emotionless performance but instead his vocals are the epitome of yearning hope and breathless anticipation of an outcome that is entirely in doubt. He’s on the razor’s edge because he’s laying his cards on the table with no assurance it will work… if anything he may feel enormous risk by tipping his hand this way to the girl he wants, but he’s doing it anyway because he needs to say these words aloud just to give them life.

The rest of The Larks are magnificent in subdued – but crucial – support. They too shift effortlessly from their wordless backing vocals with bass David McNeil standing out with his deep interjections while the others soar behind him, to harmonizing with Mumford on key lines as if to strengthen his resolve.

My Reverie of course literally means a dream (please don’t tell me you had to look that up) and the effect they give here is dream-like where everything seems real, yet somehow transparent and just out of reach. If anything threatens to break that hazy aura of the song it’s the florid piano but they easily transcend that after its far too prominent intro and from there on in their voices glide over everything as if on gilded clouds.

Though they pull off absolutely no difficult vocal maneuvers, give us no attempts at improvisational emoting and add no complex arrangements, they absolutely nail every syllable they utter in texture, in tone and in underlying meaning, creating a sparse, delicate scene that only seems to exist in the faint glow of early morning between sleep and consciousness when everything you dreamt of remains elusive but still possible.

Though it’s not a hard song to sing it can’t possibly be sung any more perfectly than this.
 


 

Our Love Is A Dream
The vocal group aficionados who elevated this record over the years until it was widely considered among the absolute pinnacles of the style did so without much weight on the objective side of the ledger.

It wasn’t a hit and had no discernible influence as it introduced no obvious new stylistic wrinkles to the form. Other rock vocal groups had already revived standards and The Larks didn’t even deviate much from the accepted arrangement. There’s no unique vocal riffs, no wild instrumental breaks, they basically kept the same pace and unadorned accompaniment it always had. It was an excellent showcase for their skills for sure but the impact the record itself was pretty negligible, not even helping to establish the group’s reputation all that much at the time.

Usually to be considered “great” (an objective measure) as opposed to simply someone’s personal favorite (a subjective viewpoint) you need a few more things in the credit column than My Reverie was able to produce.

But going strictly by those personal subjective measures… DAMN, this is stunningly good, one of the purest distillations of the art of singing you can find wherein a group of people use little more than their combined voices to paint a visual picture out of sheer sound.

In doing so The Larks prove that rock ‘n’ roll had what it took to not only hit all of the technical marks required to captivate listeners but in the process they add a level of poignant beauty and emotional conviction that pop music was still mostly avoiding which guaranteed the lasting devotion of its followers.

In the end it’s every bit as good as its reputation attests and at times, in the right setting and frame of mind, it might even be better than that.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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