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DERBY 763; JUNE 1951



When breaking down the base components that went into rock ‘n’ roll at the beginning, two areas always get far too much credit – blues and country (the latter of which had nothing whatsoever to do with rock’s formation) – while two others, jazz and gospel, tend not to get nearly enough considering those were two of the foundational pieces of the entire genre, the first musically, the second vocally.

Yet while the gospel traits in the singing of Roy Brown and Andrew Tibbs, to name two, were pretty evident, we haven’t seen many artists who came directly from gospel backgrounds until recently.

That it was vocal groups leading this charge rather than solo singers is very interesting because of the perceived cultural chasm one had to navigate to go from one genre to the other and while a single artist might make that decision on their own, the idea that an entire group of singers would choose to leave behind the saints to party with the sinners shows the allure of the music from the other side of the tracks.


Instead Of Being Fair With Me
It probably should come as no surprise that the line of demarcation between these musical styles was rooted more in keeping up with appearances rather than adhering to deeply held beliefs, but that didn’t mean artists who’d aligned themselves with one or the other were free to go back and forth between gospel and rock… or between heaven and hell if you want to apply a metaphorical definition to the divergent brands of music.

Yet from the start rock singers who’d come up in religious households drew liberally from those sources when making a career for themselves in this other realm.

Though the themes were far different – gospel wasn’t singing about getting laid at drunken house parties after all – the emotional fervor present on these odes to debauchery stemmed directly from the spiritual release of singing about the rewards of a mystical heaven.

But while many established gospel singers were hardly the devout souls they pretended to be, there was a difference between engaging in off-stage wickedness well out of the public eye and singing about those unholy activities on record and so the line was only warily crossed and, to this point in rock ‘n’ roll’s story anyway, done before the artists had achieved any real acclaim for their budding gospel careers.

The Larks were the most prominent to date who crossed over after recording a clutch of sides in gospel (largely under a different name), but they now are joined by The Majors, a group who’d been formed in church in the mid-1940’s as teens, made radio appearances on New York gospel shows before making the jump to secular music to take advantage of the rock vocal group surge of 1951 with You Ran Away With My Heart, a song that features a declarative lead that may have slightly toned down the usual over-emoting singing that gospel was known for, but was still lights years away from the steam-cleaned pop vocal styles dominant in 1951.

You Should’ve Told Me From The Start
With the exaggerated breathy intro of Jimmy Beckum, who also wrote the song, this is clearly looking to captivate you with anticipation for what will follow, setting up each line as a dramatically as possible… or melodramatically as it were.

There’s a soap opera quality to some of the lyrics that are really enjoyable because they’re bordering on parody. We’ve had guys distraught over all sorts of fizzled relationship, from rampant infidelity to gold diggers running wild to even such mundane complaints as a lack of cooking skills, but in You Ran Away With My Heart – if we’re to believe the spurned Beckum – it seems as if this girl was almost sadistically toying with his affections for the sheer pleasure of breaking his heart.

Of course he eventually admits that she’s simply found another who she loves more and naturally because he’s reeling from this revelation he’s prone to overstatement, but hearing him declare with righteous indignation that she was only interested in making him cry is both poignant and delightfully over the top.

Yet even as he skirts the edge of romantic farce his vocal performance itself is really good once it gets going. The things we take for granted in the years since – doubling up on lines, running the scales, using wordless cries to embellish the emotional consequences – are still relatively fresh for rock in 1951 and while Clyde McPhatter of The Dominoes beat them to it (and did it far better) that doesn’t mean The Majors aren’t effective with these techniques as well even if their specific approach would seem somewhat restrained in a few years time.

It may have been more powerful had the song’s construction not taken a number of styles and thrown them in a blender, some of it coming out rather lumpy in the process. The pop-styled bridge for one is alarmingly out of place despite a surprising leap to falsetto in the midst of it. But other parts go down much more smoothly thanks largely to Beckum’s impressive lead which uses all of the tricks of gospel to build up the song beyond what’s written on the page.

Of course unlike the flip side, At Last (NOT the song that Etta James would forever define in case you were wondering) whose melody is the musical equivalent of a shotgun blast, scattered and unfocused, there’s at least a tightness to this song that may bend at times (“so you can make me cry”), but never fully breaks.

It has to be, for the musical arrangement is almost non-existent, just a piano that is both too inconsequential as well as too busy, while the other Majors are serviceable when merely providing a faint harmony as their ability to stay in key and blend well seems to exist only when they aren’t asked to sing actual words.

It’s an imperfect record for sure, somewhat schizophrenic at times as it transitions from one idea to the next, but Jimmy Beckum is more than enough to salvage this and show how in the coming years the transition from “songs sung straight” to emotional improvisation would begin to take hold and make rock ‘n’ roll all the better for that transformation.

You Wanted Me To Love You
Unfortunately this was the closest The Majors got to really injecting the gospel passion into their scant few secular songs, though clearly was something they should’ve pursued more ardently, as this did manage to make regional charts in a few spots over the next few months.

But neither the group nor Derby Records had the ability to properly gauge the market, as on their only two singles they managed to tackle four different stylistic approaches, giving them no consistent feel even though three of them – all but the aforementioned B-side to this one – qualify more or less as rock so you’ll get to see for yourself just how they were trying to cover all of their bases… they even cut an unreleased pure gospel side during this session just so as not to leave anything out.

Without tipping off the outcome of their future single, You Ran Away With My Heart is certainly the most distinctive thanks to their background and surely the type of song they should’ve focused on, particularly since there weren’t many others traveling this lane in 1951.

It’s doubtful they’d have become stars, even with Beckum being skilled enough to draw some interest – he’d later join The Harptones during one of their more acclaimed stretches in the mid-1950’s – but considering the number of rock vocal groups whose legacy was assured by just one or two small hits, The Majors would’ve been well served to have stuck it out awhile longer to see if something they did along these lines might’ve broken through.


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