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APOLLO 1190; MARCH 1952



For many afficiandos of the early 1950’s vocal group scene in rock, The Larks are the gold standard in terms of skill. They had multiple lead singers capable of delivering in a wide variety of styles, from bluesy cuts to pure gospel to tight pop harmonies and emotion laden rockers.

It’s a well deserved reputation… for their talents.

But sometimes their records don’t quite match that talent. Or rather, their talent frequently overwhelms the content, leaving it up their voices to redeem what is actually rather bland and worthless material.


When You Play With Fire
With all of the different avenues The Larks ventured down in their short time together you’d think that maybe that’d give them a better opportunity to selectively choose only the absolute best compositions in each realm for their specific abilities.

In other words, since they were doing only a handful of songs in each style they wouldn’t have to resort to cutting subpar tracks in each one because they didn’t need all that many bluesy tracks for instance, just two or three a year. Same with the pop or gospel material. Even the more pure rock efforts would have an equal amount of ballads and uptempo cuts, meaning you should be getting the cream of the crop from those areas.

But Stolen Love shows they – or more likely Apollo Records – were terrible arbiters of musical quality and more concerned with finding songs that would make it easier for them to promote the title rather than concentrate on making records that would be so good they’d effectively promote themselves.

This song on paper, stripped of The Larks vocals, is weak and ineffectual. But when they went into the studio towards the end of February the song was a rising hit for Eddy Howard, ultimately peaking just outside the Top Ten, and so it was deemed a good bet to try and cover.

But aside from its popularity with a constituency guilty of not being known for their exquisite taste in music, you wonder what possibilities for re-invention Apollo saw in this for The Larks. The original rendition is a weird hybrid song with big band horns alongside a hokey roller-rink organ and vocal harmonies that are vaguely country in nature. In the lead Howard’s mildly pleasant voice is, as always, rather indistinct and dreary all things considered.

The Larks therefore don’t have to work very hard to improve on that, but even with their vocal magic there’s only so much they can do to turn water into wine.


How You Deceived Me
Right away as the needle drops a chill runs down your spine as the florid piano that opens this makes any self-respecting rock fan want to wretch.

This is supper club music for the suburbs and even though it’s merely setting up what follows – thankfully not providing steady accompaniment – there were still far better ways to go about it than this unimaginative compromise. We could’ve gotten Allen Bunn’s guitar, a smoky saxophone or some crisp rat-a-tat drumming as the lead-in, all playing just a few notes to set a more interesting scene… anything but Percy’s Porcelain Piano.

But then come the voices and your hopes rise. Gene Mumford is taking lead on Stolen Love and his airy tenor is as beautiful as ever here, singing with a beguiling mixture of dreaminess and intensity, like throwing a heavy object in the air to watch it hurtle into the sky only to have a parachute suddenly unfold and let it float gently back down to earth.

Yet as impressed as you have to be with his voice, you are just as disappointed by the melody he’s forced to try and breathe life into as the song itself is clumsy, aimless and completely unmemorable. There’s absolutely no flow to this whatsoever. At its best you have a few note clusters that sound okay in isolation but they never lead seamlessly to anything else worthwhile, making the entire song lurch along rather than glide effortlessly into your consciousness.

To prove the point just try humming the melody and see how quickly you get lost.

Had the story been better at least that’d give you something to follow along to and maybe fool you into thinking there was a sensible progression to this even if it was mostly done by smoke and mirrors. But instead the plot is just as shallow and the individual lines are whiny and pointless.

Even the title makes no sense in the plot. He and the girl have broken up and he’s hurt by it, which is understandable, but who stole what from whom? She fell for somebody else, but is that the equivalent of theft? Like so much pop music of this era they were just searching for a word that conveys injustice even if it’s poorly chosen for the speific turn of events they’re singing about.

But HOW The Larks are singing it almost allows you to forget all that.

Almost but not quite.


Will Bring You Sorrow
Mumford is a contortionist on this, working with very little room to improvise he manages to somehow give this life by bending notes, shading a word here and there with a hint of vibrato, leaping up the scale out of nowhere and then dropping back into harmonies with the others, who let it be said are given little else to do but do it well, adding some depth to the overall sound palette.

Vocally this is impressive. Musically it is anything but impressive.

Further hampering their cause are the choices that Apollo made as they tackled this as a straight ballad, a good idea perhaps if they’d had a graceful melody to work with where you wouldn’t want any arranging gimmicks to distract you from their voices. But the song is choppy as it is and rather than accentuate it as the pop version tried to do by changing tempo and rhythm during the different sections, they play it straight all the way through.

I’m not saying that the shifts in the Howard version were all that well done, but it at least disguised the fact the melody was so weak and with Allen Bunn more than capable of delivering a good guitar part during those sections, not to mention having far better singers to harmonize when the changes crop up, you’d think that might be one of the things that drew Apollo’s interest in Stolen Love in the first place.

Instead they simply take a bad pop song, strip it down of whatever unique structural qualities the original had, and then expect the voices of The Larks to rescue it altogether.

The fact that they practically do is a flat-out miracle, but while we can praise the singers all we went, that still doesn’t make this a very good record… or a good idea to record it to begin with.

As usual when rock groups are forced into singing this kind of poorly chosen material (as they themselves sing at one point) it’s a losing game.


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