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JUBILEE 5079; APRIL 1952



Let’s see… we have a new group with a pretty simple, some might say slightly dated, style on a record label that hasn’t shown much ability to build on their early success and while the top half of this debut was very well performed it was done in by bad engineering when trying to adapt an idea by the disc jockey bringing the group to the label’s attention.

Can you guess where this story is headed?

Chances are they won’t be able to overcome such man-made obstacles thrown in their path, especially since this side came from that same session with the same writers and production issues, but perhaps the group might take a step forward with their material and at least offer up something invigorating and dare we say ahead of its time to mark themselves as prime candidates for a future explosion once all of the behind the scenes flaws are corrected.

Or they could revert back to an even older style and make all of the complaints about the record company and its bad decisions a moot point.

Which one are YOU betting on?


From Morning ‘Til Evening
One thing this project is constantly trying to do is show how the evolution of music is reliant on the context of the era in order to fully understand it.

Songs need to fit their time, or even better look slightly ahead and predict the future. Where they run into trouble is when they rely on the past, particularly the distant past, either because that’s a sound the artist grew up liking, the producer felt more comfortable in, or the record label mistakenly felt was still in vogue.

We know The Marylanders’ first influence was that of The Ink Spots, which is hardly surprising considering that group achieved unprecedented success, including hitting big on the Pop Charts, at a time of strict racial segregation and widespread prejudice which was universally condoned in America at the time.

Despite our admiration for that group’s transcendent success, which was – make no mistake about it – a vital step forward in the long road to equality, the means with which they achieved this was to play into demeaning stereotypes as they’d have bass singer Hoppy Jones recite the spoken bridge of each song in a caricature of the image white people had of black folk… hang-dog optimism in the face of trials and tribulations rather than anger and resentment (and violent uprising).

By 1952 howver rock ‘n’ roll had shattered that glass ceiling when it came to presentation and allowed – and even encouraged – vocalists be natural and not hide their emotions, but rather display them proudly.

Unfortunately The Marylanders decide to take us back in time a good ten or twelve years in that regard on Sittin’ By The River which is a far more grievous offense than all of the warmed over pop standards The Orioles had to sing for this company.

Suddenly we’re not just left debating the technical merits of a song, or as with the other side, the production of a record itself, but rather the social status of an entire generation of people who in spite of great progress in so many areas of life were still being held back at every turn… and in some cases holding themselves back by their own embrace of this dead-and-buried style.

The Last Of My Lifetime
The fact the group were not songwriters was going to inevitably hurt their chances at finding sustained success because it wouldn’t be their own ideas they’d be presenting, but rather someone else’s, whether they were older standards being updated or new songs made to order by the still rather limited outside writers who specialized in rock ‘n’ roll.

Even though this was their very first recording session and they might’ve felt awed by the environment and pressured into conforming, they still should’ve rejected Sittin’ By the River when it was presented to them. While the story is somewhat interesting as one of the first rock compositions about suicide – and one which isn’t sung from a distraught point of view at that – everything else about this is from the perspective of people who have yet to enter the second half of the Twentieth Century.

The primary vocals here aren’t that bad. Lead singer Johnny Paige is floating nicely on the melody, creating a carefree spirit that on one hand runs counter to the dire thoughts running through his head as he contemplates taking his own life, but on the other hand shows him to be content with his decision. There’s still unfortunate echo on it, but nowhere near as bad as on I’m A Sentimental Fool, so that’s good… although considering what’s to come you’d give anything to have this side marred by echo and the other side sounding much cleaner.

The vocal arrangement may not be ahead of its time, or even particularly OF its time for that matter, but with the floating falsetto of Buster Banks and a subtle rhythm behind Paige, it gives you the false impression that this is reasonably in line with the current musical atmosphere.

That abruptly comes to a halt once Henry Abrams jumps in for the Hoppy Jones routine which is so revolting that he couldn’t be more offensive if he were in black face and barefoot, hitching up his overalls while sitting next to a bale of cotton.

Again, we come back to context. In 1942 this was part of the price you had to pay to racist America to be allowed in the back door. Ten years later we’re demanding to be let in the front door and aren’t standing there hat in hand either. Fast forward to 1962 and we’ll be buying our own houses on the same block. At each stage you have to move forward en masse and there can be no holdouts or else the whole movement suffers and any way you look at it this song is a giant step backwards.

Too Old To Work Anymore
The ironic thing of course is The Ink Spots debt to the rock vocal group can’t – and shouldn’t – be downplayed. They, along with The Mills Brothers, did indeed pave the way for everything that followed.

But it’s also not surprising that their post-war success faded rapidly as black citizens had made huge economic and social strides during the war and weren’t going to be content to go back to the way things had been just a few years earlier. If you look closely you could even show where it was white audiences, not black, who were The Ink Spots biggest supporters as the Fifties drew ever closer.

It’s one of the prime cultural differences between the races. Black audiences are always looking forward because the past is bound to be more restrictive socially than the present. But white audiences are nostalgic for a past when they exerted more power and felt less threatened because there was less competition in education, jobs and homes… and in music for that matter.

That’s also why a large swath of white people tend to be fans of older black music while ignoring the then-current styles. A 60’s blues fan could champion Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters precisely because they were no longer so imposing – musically or culturally. The early 1970’s doo-wop fan was able to celebrate black artists of the past without needing to identify with current black rock ‘n’ roll like funk which was far too unnerving to their sensibilities because what it represented culturally was staring them in the face.

But black artists should never buy into that kind of thinking like The Marylanders do on Sittin’ By The River, for if they succeeded with it that would only slows progress by reinforcing past limitations.

It’s fine for them to have admired The Ink Spots when that was all that was available, and to even be proud of how that group’s breakthrough success showed a generation of kids coming of age that it was possible to be heard by a wider – and whiter – audience. But by this point in 1952 that wider and whiter audience needed to hear something new, something louder, something bolder, something more aggressive and most importantly something which was no longer willing to compromise and hand away their dignity to achieve success.

That something was rock ‘n’ roll and until that breaks through and takes over American culture the fight isn’t over. And even then, as we know all too well, it still won’t be over, so you always need to keep your eyes on the prize and don’t look back.


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