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There’s this fascinating myth that rock ‘n’ roll really only came into existence in the mid-1950’s largely predicated on the mistaken belief that this was when teenagers “discovered” the music and popularized it.

We don’t have to guess who it was that promoted this nonsense… the same racial demographic that stood to benefit from giving themselves credit for its mainstream explosion and (eventually in the widely accepted revisionist history they crafted along with it) its very existence as well.

But even if you prescribe to the belief that the music had to be strictly the province of youth in order to qualify as rock, that mid-fifties theory is blown to hell by a number of young rock artists in the late 1940’s who were appealing to increasingly young audiences, something which was apparent when by the early 1950’s the average age of new rock acts fell dramatically as those artists had been influenced by the earlier ones when they were just coming of age.

The epitome of this trend was The Mello-Moods who were not being presented as a kiddie novelty act, as would surely be the case in pop music, but rather were singing a song with decidedly mature connotations showing that the kids knew what adults didn’t, namely that when it came to rock ‘n’ roll topics like love and heartbreak are universal, regardless of age… and sometimes are made even more powerful because of their youth.


I Took Too Much For Granted
The reason why The Mello-Moods, despite having just this one national hit, retain at least a glimmer of historical recognition is due to their ages when they released this.

The oldest members of the group, including lead singer Buddy Wooten, had just turned 16 years old. The youngest was still only 12.

We’ve seen a few notable rock artists in that age range already, most notably Little Esther who was the biggest rock star of 1950, age be damned, and Sylvia Vanterpool who was also in her mid-teens. On the male side of the ledger Andrew Tibbs had started out at 18 and Little Willie Littlefield was recording at 17, so obviously rock had already established itself as the voice of a younger generation even if the the themes they were singing about often seemed (especially to those apparently too old to actually remember what it was like to be a teenager) to be “adult” in nature.

But people aren’t entirely different species just because of their ages, they simply have slightly different outlooks and experiences to draw from. Youth tend to be far more optimistic about life because they have yet to face the drudgery of adult responsibilities and rock ‘n’ roll certainly catered to that mindset in many of their songs, looking forward to conquering the world rather than being resigned to merely enduring it.

When it comes to love however, the intensity of feelings you have regarding first crushes and the tenuous relationships that follow are – if anything – far stronger than when you’re older. Because everything is outsized at that age, the first blush of love to someone not familiar with it is a euphoric high that can barely be put into words, just as the failure to be with that person is an almost unbearable agony, which is why Where Are You (Now That I Need You) song works so well coming from such tender voices.

The record is the sound of young hearts breaking without their owners knowing yet that they’ll be able to piece them back together again as time goes on.


Now That I Want You
This was hardly a song whose pedigree would seem suitable for rock artists of any age, let alone mere kids.

It was composed by Frank Loesser whose songwriting credits were littered all over film (Baby It’s Cold Outside) and Broadway (Luck Be A Lady Tonight) and having a new rock group record something written by Loesser as their debut has the uneasy appearance of being a stab at respectability done at the urging of their record company. But thankfully that’s not the case at all.

Though Loesser’s compositions were not intended for rock ‘n’ roll, they were decidedly adaptable because they were so well crafted. Heart And Soul was a standard perennially covered by rock acts, while The Orioles already turned in the definitive version of What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

It was through The Orioles that The Mello-Moods got this song long before signing with Bobby Robinson’s new label, as the slightly older – though still quite young – Orioles performed this as one of the few uptempo numbers in their stage show. The Mello-Moods, who were inspired to sing because of The Orioles (there’s that first sign of rock influencing the next generation already), took it from them and over a year of practicing transformed it into a rock classic.

Originally written for Betty Hutton to sing in the film Red, Hot And Blue it was a hit in 1949 for Doris Day who turns in a typically strong vocal but one in which the sentiments were treated shallowly, its quicker pace and flirty – almost frivolous – mood undercutting the message as was far too typical in pop music where deep feelings of any kind were usually shied away from.

By contrast The Mello-Moods version of Where Are You (Now That I Need You) absolutely ached with the torment of unfulfilled desire. Their decision to drastically slow it down, a move suggested by a member of a rival group they befriended, further emphasizes the lyrics and the intense feelings they represent and gives the song the authenticity it needs.

Wooten’s fragile delivery appears out of the haze with just chimes introducing the song before faint piano and drums back the others whose ethereal harmonies float by your ear so that the entire record take on a dream-like transparency.

That effect is magical. There’s not a harsh note to be heard from either singers or band, the sonic texture is tissue-paper thin which is possible because there’s virtually no resonance to be found outside of James Bathea’s melodically repetitious “doo-doo-doo” bass parts which burrow deep into your brain.

Breathe too hard while listening and you’re afraid the entire song will blow away like dandelion seeds in a summer breeze.

Sigh Away
Which brings us back to importance of the youthful innocence in those voices, particularly Wooten whose tentativeness only adds to the ambiance of the song in a way no adult could hope to match.

The slight echo that his voice is bathed in, whether due to the configuration of studio itself, production effects being added in real time at the board, or just his natural vibrato, gives the lines a haunting feel, almost as if he’s a ghost looking back at his romantic demise with sadness… and for a kid who was just starting his sophomore year in high school while dealing with rejection from a girl he fell hard for, that’s an entirely appropriate analogy.

Lost love at that stage in life feels as permanent as death. He’s neither angry over the doomed relationship, nor anguished in a self-centered sort of way as older people tend to be when somebody left them, instead he’s genuinely hurt by it because he never dreamed it could actually happen.

Falling IN love seems so effortless that until it goes wrong you can’t understand how it could possibly end without warning and the incredulity in his asking Where Are You (Now That I Need You) to the person he first gave his heart to sounds far more vulnerable than most songs – certainly most pop songs of that generation – would ever dare to be.

His hesitation on certain lines… the manner in which he draws out words until they seem to float away… even the way in which Wooton’s voice soars back into view after Bobby Williams takes the bridge in a slightly deeper, but even more tremulous, delivery, is so smooth… so pure… it boggles the mind that they were as young and inexperienced as they were.

But then again, those are the qualities which turned this from a merely a solid and durable composition into an absolutely incredible record.


I Could Cry
In due time we’ll get to the misguided record company and personal management decisions that were the downside of many young rock groups and which derailed them creatively and commercially, making them the proverbial one hit wonder.

But oh what a hit it was! Reaching #7 on the national charts, The Mello-Moods can rightly lay claim for introducing the young male lead that sounded nearly pre-pubescent which would proliferate doo wop in a few years time.

Yet while that’s the influence they’ll forever be known for because of the hits it produced for others down the road, what tends to get lost is just how transformative that image itself was for the entire generation of kids listening to rock ‘n’ roll in the early 1950’s who now increasingly had role models no older than they were to give them hope that they too could achieve stardom…not when they “grew up”, but rather today… or tomorrow at the latest.

Rock ‘n’ roll’s success lay firmly in the deeply rooted personal connection it had with its core audience, a sense of the music “belonging” to them and only them.

While Where Are You (Now That I Need You) was originally written for adults, The Mello-Moods connected with the offspring of those adults by legitimizing the feelings they all were beginning to experience for themselves… kids whose own burgeoning love lives were not topics they shared with their parents who often knew little or nothing about their sometimes awkward, sometimes magical attempts at romance and the inevitable devastating break-ups that followed and who were largely dismissive of the emotional effects these tumultuous events could have on them.

To those kids going through such intense feelings alone, the mere fact they were able to hear a record like this being sung to them by someone exactly like them was the reassurance they needed that there were others who understood what you were dealing with and maybe because of that you’d be able to get through it too.


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