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There’s a thin line between coming across as endearingly youthful and appearing childish and young rock acts have always been susceptible to either being pushed in the latter direction for misguided commercial purposes, or leaning that way without realizing it, simply because they’re not yet aware of the traits they might be exhibiting that would lead audiences to have that perception.

Their first time out The Mello-Moods were clearly taking advantage of their youth in a way that was authentic and benefited the record, showing a vulnerability that was perfectly suited for their lack of experience with having their heart broken.

But while they haven’t aged much since then – just four months have gone by – we’re not as likely to be caught off guard this time out and because of that might just be a little too cynical to buy that same kind of presentation.

This isn’t their fault, mind you, it’s ours… but they’ll be the ones to pay for it just the same if we we start to suspect they’re trying to draw water from the same well again.


To See If Everything Was Still Alright
It’s strange how people use a singer’s natural traits against them when judging their output.

Nasal voiced singers tend to sound forlorn, yet we resent them for it because they seem incapable of projecting another mood.

Kids singing ballads – unless it’s Frankie Lymon or Michael Jackson – are more likely to seem unsure of themselves, maybe in relation to the lyrics, maybe just in how they’re handling the vocals on a technical level, and so it can feel as a listener sometimes that someone is intentionally pushing your buttons, which leads to walling yourself off from feeling the emotions they’re trying to elicit.

We don’t like being manipulated any more than we like being catered to. Music is best on first listen when we’re surprised by something, particularly the vocalist’s immersion into the song’s theme. If it feels at all staged, we lose that connection that’s so vital and it has a tendency to fall apart.

All of this probably makes you believe that I Couldn’t Sleep A Wink Last Night is bound for failure because it will be deemed artificial and cloying of something, using the singers ages – 16 and younger – to win over our sympathy rather than forcing them to earn that sympathy through hard work.

But that’s not the case… not quite anyway.

Rather, this is a record that teeters on that outcome simply because of the type of record it is, coming off the type of record that Where Are You (Now That I Need You) was. By going with a far too similar story delivered with a far too similar approach, they’re courting disaster, first because it can’t possibly be as good as one of the best debuts in rock history to this point, and secondly because it’s asking us to have the same reaction to a scene we’ve already witnessed by using those natural traits to pull on our heartstrings.

But then again if they are going to be repeating themselves here, they can always fall back on the excuse they were too young to know any better.


I Didn’t Have My Favorite Dream
So I guess the question to ask is what was the impetus behind the song? When was it recorded – the same date as the first record, meaning it may have been the only approach they knew, or the one they felt most comfortable with? Or was this a deliberate follow-up recorded weeks after their debut became a national hit that was trying to copy that record without completely plagiarizing it in the process?

Well, here’s where The Mello-Moods get off the hook completely…

Unusual for the time where four songs for a recording session was the norm, they only cut two back in November, so they had no follow-up ready and waiting. That means the material chosen for this release was designed specifically to serve as a sequel more or less… not necessarily thematically (although it does that too), but in terms of delivery.

That’s the problem.

First off I Couldn’t Sleep A Wink Last Night was not a rock song, but rather a tune that Frank Sinatra sang way back in 1943, which made sense for him for much the same reasons – he was young and an expert at projecting vulnerablity. But that’s precisely why The Mello-Moods should steer clear of it – we’ve already gotten that out of them, we don’t need it again.

Furthermore, the pop ballad route for rock vocal groups was fraught with peril because if you go too light on the emotional attributes you risk removing it from the rock milieu altogether. Although you might assume that young kids attuned to the music of their own generation wouldn’t fall prey to this, it’s another story entirely when you’re under pressure in a studio surrounded by adults and professional musicians trying to steer you in another direction.

Buddy Wooton does his best to resist those entreaties by the label, but there’s only so much he can do to forcibly bend the song to his will and with its far too obvious connection to their debut in terms of subject matter, it’s a losing battle. He’s got no choice but to conjure up the same pensive mood with the same halting vocals and unlike the first song (also a pop tune, but a newer one they had chosen on their own) where they’d worked up the arrangement themselves before ever signing their contract or entering the studio, here they were merely taking orders… from shortsighted fools no less!

As a result there’s not enough conviction in his voice, a lack of believability in his mannerisms, no authenticity in the story even. While the others do at least provide a more legitimate backing for a rock ballad than you’d expect under duress, they too lose their way after awhile, wandering off course, probably looking for the exit.

But even so they tower over the band which features a woeful sax solo, no doubt played by someone who was friends with Ol’ Blue Eyes who was trying to sabotage these kids by giving them something completely inappropriate.

And just like that The Mello-Moods upward trajectory was no more, done in by the very company seeking to profit from them.

I Knew That You’d Be Sorry
The story of rock ‘n’ roll, especially in the 1950’s, is not just the story of the artists who cut these records and sang these songs, but unfortunately it’s also the story of the people who forced them to cut the wrong records singing inappropriate songs.

Sometimes it seems that’s ALL the story seems to focus on, because nobody can ruin a career faster than the thieves who stood to profit off those careers if they’d simply left the artists to their own devices.

Sure, maybe a bunch of kids in their early to mid-teens who weren’t allowed to tour, who still had school to attend and curfews to adhere to and in one case soon lived too far apart to practice with the others, were never going to be enduring stars… we get that. But The Mello-Moods deserved a better chance than Bobby Robinson gave them by shoving I Couldn’t Sleep A Wink Last Night down their collective throats.

While Robinson was new to this business he picked up the worst traits of his fellow record label owners immediately, so none of this is the least bit surprising.

You wouldn’t be able to sleep either if adults were always telling you what to do at home, in school, and on the street corners where you hung out, and when you finally escaped from all that and were able to sing with your friends you now had adults telling you what to sing and how to sing it.

It’s no wonder kids sometimes seem to be in such a hurry to grow up… not to finally be able to do as they please, as you’d expect, but rather so they can then be the ones to ruin someone else’s lives by dictating their decisions to them while claiming they have the right to do so because of “seniority”.


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