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JUBILEE 5040; OCTOBER 1950

 
 

 

With twenty eight sides having been covered here over rock’s first three years The Orioles are one of the more prolific recording artists on the books.

Their average score – for those caring about such trivial things – is 4.92 heading into today’s song, yet yesterday’s review was the first that we actually gave a (5) to in all that time.

What that means is that while cumulatively their average score is… well, more or less “average” for rock during this time period, their records have swung wildly from fantastic to barely tolerable without much falling in the middle of the scale.

No other act with a deep catalog has seen such separation between their best and worst releases and yet maybe, through trial and error, they’ve finally found their water level and settled into being… consistently average?
 

 

I Keep Remembering The Things We Would Do
This was one of those songs that saw some cross-cultural pollination in music during this era, not confining itself to just one stylistic idiom.

The song’s co-writer Johnny Parker released the original sometime in August and was immediately set upon by other companies as a surefire winner with The Orioles quickly jumping on the bandwagon. But theirs wasn’t even the first issue of this song to come out on Jubilee Records!

Sylvia Froos had her version on the streets in mid-August, a couple of days before The Orioles even cut their own cover of it on August 18th. Yet because The Orioles had a single coming out at that same time their’s got held back. Then the next month Jubilee was rushing out covers of Goodnight Irene and I Need You So by The Orioles so as to take advantage of the popularity of those tunes by other artists before they faded into memory.

You see how record companies operated? All scavenging for hits anywhere they could find them like a pack of hungry coyotes.

Despite not being a current big name the 36 year old Froos, a former child star of movies, vaudeville and radio, managed to score a legitimate pop hit, besting Parker’s original for the most part.

Not wanting to miss out on the interest Can’t Seem To Laugh Anymore was eliciting across the country (pop vocalist Don Cherry cut his own version in mid-September for Decca that was just being issued as we speak, and The Harmonicats put out their version at this time as well) Jubilee hastily put this out even as they were already planning their next single for the group, a Christmas pairing, which naturally would have to be released in short order to be in stock for the narrow holiday window.

All of this over a song Cash Box deemed: “Ditty is a slowly woven tender item… a plush romantic effort” in their review of Parker’s original.

Hmm, I wonder why a group like The Orioles of all people would think this mushy tune from a broken-hearted guy would be somethng they’d feel comfortable warbling.
 

My Only Emotion Is Longing For You
Yeah, that last line – in case you’re as dense as a stone – is sarcastic because this song is EXACTLY what The Orioles did almost every single side of every single release going on two and a half years by this point.

In fact, you could almost use it as a blueprint for their entire oeuvre despite the fact it wasn’t an original composition meant for them. If you found out that Johnny Parker had been influenced by The Orioles when writing it you wouldn’t be at all surprised because every thought, every emotion and every moment of self-pity seem tailor made for Sonny Til.

Luckily The Orioles have that one and only Sonny Til at their disposal and so they were positioned to carry off a decent reading of Can’t Seem To Laugh Anymore, and sure enough his vocals are not only the best aspect of this record, but almost the ONLY aspect of it.

There’s a far too ornate and mawkish piano intro to this which does nothing to help matters but once he steps aside the piano contributes only a few stray delicate notes played intermittently behind the group, like a passing snow shower in early December, the snowflakes melting as soon as they hit the ground, but otherwise this record is carried entirely by voices which might in fact be the only way to put over something as fragile as this.

Because the tempo is slow enough where you could conceivably double it and still have it be considered “crawling” it’s up to Til to make these lines resonate with listeners almost entirely by the way he draws them out. His hesitant delivery is one that suggests not indecision or uncertainty, but rather fear of the consequences of revealing this out loud as if that alone will make it all too real for him to handle.

Til’s voice is already drowning in emotional defeat, he’s past the point of caring about life and seems almost to subsist on misery, feeding off it because those are the only feelings that he has in abundance to draw from. He sounds as if his soul has been sucked completely dry and he’s utterly convincing in this role… probably from having so much practice at this kind of romantic implosion in the past.

When faced with such unrelenting despondency the lyrics are of secondary importance, though they’re certainly not bad, giving us the fallout of his break-up rather than cause of it. In spite of the unrelenting sorrow he somehow finds hope in his dreams of reconciliation, surely a total fantasy if his plight is to be taken at face value, but it does manage to give us a little bit of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel to cling to.
 

We’d Be Together
Without any instrumental support of consequence we’re left with one remaining component to help Til reach the end of the song while trying to prevent him from reaching the end of his rope… the other Orioles, who manage to step up to the plate and make sure their support is enough to keep him afloat.

They make two decisions on Can’t Seem To Laugh Anymore which help their cause immensely. The first was a rather obvious one which was to shift all of the responsibility for laying the musical bed on the rest of the group. This means they’re constantly singing rather than stepping in and bowing out and since the song is so slow there’s no choice for them but to draw out their parts, holding notes to the breaking point, rising subtly and falling gently when called for.

Alex Sharp really shines here with his floating tenor deviating at times from the others, giving you a second thing to focus on in addition to the words Sonny is delivering. That also helps to make those moments where Til allows himself to briefly swell in volume make a greater impact because it plays off not just Sonny’s own inward musings that preceded it, but also Sharp’s airy embellishments.

The other crucial decision was much more surprising as for once The Orioles don’t follow their usual line of attack and give George Nelson’s baritone a featured role singing in the bridge. That might be due to the fact there isn’t one, not that it stopped them in the past, but regardless of why they made this choice to have Nelson sit out, it gives this a consistency that his appearance would’ve upended.

As a result this is a very pleasant song to listen to, even if by listening too closely to the sorrow they’re expressing you risk not wanting to give it a second spin because you’ll be so sad yourself.
 

So Close That We’re One
With so many versions of this song on the market down the stretch in 1950 it’s not surprising The Orioles take on it fell between the cracks, despite its classiness.

Yet in spite of possessing all of the traits that made their catalog so one-dimensional Can’t Seem To Laugh Anymore is one of the better also-rans, largely due to the naked display of vocal talent they all exhibit.

Maybe none of it is too memorable, especially stacked alongside Orioles hits in the same vein that have catchier melodies and more interesting stories to them, but if they were going to keep sticking to songs of this nature – thematically and otherwise – you could do far worse than this one.

Remember, average isn’t an insult and getting an average record for its day in rock was something to be reasonably satisfied with as a consumer. That it also managed to find a happy medium in their own ups and downs meant this was now representative of a pretty average record for The Orioles as well.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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