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JUBILEE 5091; AUGUST 1952

 

 

One of the constant struggles with examining any form of popular culture from the past, be it movies and television or books and music, is trying to put things into the proper context to show why they were so important at the time.

Since this project studies the past and attempts to treat it as if it were the present, that’s an ongoing problem when it comes to trying to get people to understand the appeal of records, artists and entire styles that are either taken for granted by now or which seem hopelessly outdated.

All of which makes this a perfect opportunity to examine what it was about the vocal group idiom in rock which would soon explode in unlikely factions even though this group wouldn’t be around to benefit from that.
 

 

Turned Into Blue Memories
In recent years less evolved vertebrates that run wild among us have made the concept of “representation” a dirty word… a frequent target in their mindless culture wars that attempt to return us to the Victorian age when it comes to accurately depicting race, gender and sexuality across the full spectrum of the human experience.

But when coming of age representation is a key factor in the developmental process, something evidenced by even a casual glance at the passion shown by fully grown adults to the songs or movies they discovered in their formative years, they may think differently of the concept if they gave it a thought.

No matter how much the more repressive among them rail against the need for representation of others in these areas, they tend to forget how their own unique outlooks were celebrated in what they gravitated towards when they were growing up.

Take the vocal group realm of the mid-1950’s, a style so vital to that generation that they subsequently gave it a stupid name (doo wop) in an effort to keep it alive long after they had supposedly became responsible adults.

Anyway, doo wop was the first subgenre of rock to really cross over into white America where it was embraced by kids who heard in it their own experiences being related in a way that didn’t treat it condescendingly or dismissively.

That it was often being made by kids not much older than they were only gave it more authenticity, especially since that was something that pop music had never done, or saw reason to do.

So when a group like The Marylanders sang a song like Make Me Thrill Again which conveyed the magical feeling of falling in love with someone who you’re absolutely convinced are the only one who you’ll ever want and then feeling as though you’ve blown your chance with her, all of which was performed in a way that seemed as though it could’ve been sung by you and your buddies with a little practice and on top of it was a song clearly looking forward rather than backwards stylistically… well of course that was something that would appeal to kids coming of age.

Had they actually gotten to hear it, that is, for this is another example of artists and audience missing their connection.
 

Broken Heart, Shedding Tears
A lot of art is about willful deception. We know that actors on screen don’t have superpowers, yet we allow our imaginations to put reality aside for two hours so we can indulge in the possibilities those films present.

Similarly, we know that not all songs about young love are sung by those in the throes of it at the time – or in this case written by outside songwriters who were well removed from the backgrounds and experiences of the singers AND the audience – and yet because it effectively gets across those feelings, helped inordinately by lead singer Buster Banks’ fragile halting delivery, we have no problem putting aside our cynicism and accepting it at face value.

That’s what stands out about this record, the overall mood of Make Me Thrill Again hits all the right buttons, expressing all of the doubt, fluctuating emotions and personal reproach for mistakes made in getting with the one you want.

While perhaps it could’ve used a slightly better hook to really stick with you, the vocal arrangement is stellar with a prominent bass lead-in from Henry Abrams while the others hum hauntingly behind him, followed by Banks entering the picture almost as if he’s hesitant to reveal his feelings even as he knows he must in order to win his girl back.

Meanwhile the rest of the group aren’t letting their wordless support slack off, giving it a tremendous communal vibe, another of those key attributes that spoke to kids who often couldn’t turn to adults in their lives to talk about such things as falling head over heels in love with a girl, yet with their friends shared every intimate detail of these tentative romances.

The story doesn’t flesh out the details much, but the ups and downs of this love affair are conveyed in broad strokes so that we understand he and this girl were together, he screwed up in a way that he doesn’t quite understand and she’s backed off as a result. He’s despondent, yet still hopeful for reconciliation and – smartly – is using this song as a way to apologize and to win her over with the sheer beauty of his voice in all of its tender sweetness.

The doubt is still evident in each line he delivers, yet he doesn’t break down over it and maybe more importantly he doesn’t give himself any opportunity to play a game of “what about…” and begin to try and justify his actions by bringing up things she did that bothered him in the past which he let pass.

As a result Make Me Thrill Again is almost the idealized way that a young couple in the midst of their first fight would want to see it handled, giving those listening who were going through the same thing the kind of comforting reassurance that they weren’t alone in these romantic travails.

That’s the representation that’s important. Not ALL songs connect because they tell relatable stories, but those that do, especially when done with the kind of performance that sounds so fresh, have a special place in people’s hearts.

With the wordless backing harmonies, the occasional leaps to falsetto that Banks makes, the harmonizing at the tail end of the bridge and the descending trade off to close the record out. it’s a great performance, both poignant and hopeful.
 


 

In All Of The World
In two years time this kind of thing would’ve had a broader potential audience that might have given it a commercial boost, but even without the hit status it deserved this is precisely the type of record that helped propel rock ‘n’ roll to the forefront of pop culture once the kids overtook the adults when it came to controlling popular music.

At the same time this came out there was a song by Eddie Fisher called Wish You Were Here that hit the top of the Pop Charts and had a similar theme of broken love. Now Fisher had legions of young fans for sure, but even if you were among them there’s no way you’d say that he was expressing genuine emotion in his performance. He didn’t sound hurt and didn’t sound as if he were in love and Hugo Winterhalter’s elegant string-centered arrangement only contributed to the phoniness of it all.

It was a typical major label record where class and artistic respectability took precedence over authenticity. In fact it probably didn’t matter much WHAT it was about, just as long as it had some vague meaning and a pretty melody.

The Marylanders on the other hand treated Make Me Thrill Again as if what it was about was the single most important thing in their entire life to that point, which when you break up with a girl at that age more or less IS the most important thing you can face.

Contrasting those two records, one was indicative of yesterday while one was the sound of tomorrow. One expressed hollow sentiments, the other told eternal truths. One gave you the image society wanted you to present to the world, the other forced you to reveal your inner-most thoughts to that world.

That’s the context that makes it important. One was meaningless to everyone but RCA’s accountants, while this was meaningful to those who needed it most so they would realize their voice was being heard and their experiences had found their outlet in rock ‘n’ roll.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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