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In the fall of 1949 no group – arguably no artist of any kind, whether solo singer, instrumentalist or vocal group – was hotter than The Orioles.

At this point their exploits almost deserve a breathlessly delivered Walter Winchell-esque rat-a-tat headline, half hyperbole and half honest to goodness truth.

To wit:

The hot streak continues… Maryland’s sensational rock vocal group The Orioles led by Sonny Til, the dreamy crooner who for the past year has been the number one object of affection for a million lonely girls across the country, score again with another platter that is burning up the national charts!…

You get the idea. Winchell’s trademark mile a minute delivery combined with a dry deadpan speaking style could make even a fly lazily landing on a wall some Sunday afternoon sound like a once in a lifetime event, but in this case enthusiastically touting a group who in just over a year had already notched five hits with today’s release destined to be the sixth was something that would be entirely justified.

Add in the fact they’d introduced a far more emotional style to rock vocal group singing and had emerged right from the amateur ranks rather than slogging through the professional circuit for years before emerging as stars made their rags to riches story all the more startling.

It seemed they could do no wrong… which of course is bound to mean that it was all about to come crashing down.

But not yet.


Others Make Mistakes
For a group as successful – and at times brilliant – as The Orioles have shown themselves to be since their debut back in July 1948, we’ve been a little harsh on them at times around here. To be honest the first draft of this review came across as mostly negative… and that’s for a record that will be deemed one of their best in a long career (sorry to spoil the surprise… forget I said it!).

We’d have harped on the fact they were headed down a dead end road with their approach and should’ve seen the warning signs and adjusted their route accordingly, throwing in some uptempo songs and adding different musical elements and vocal arrangements of their stock in trade ballads to alter the feel of them enough to make them stand out from one another.

We were hardly going to stop there though, as we’d also scold Jubilee Records who were over-reliant on the group’s sales to keep the entire company afloat since the rest of their roster was a pitiful collection of misfits and one-time only acts pulled right out of the unemployment line. We’d have told them they should’ve spaced their releases out more judiciously so as not to flood the market and perhaps cost themselves bigger hits as with their latest releases – I Challenge Your Kiss and the similarly titled A Kiss And A Rose – which were released in back to back months this past summer and undoubtedly canceled each other out, preventing either song from hitting the Top Ten despite strong showings in spots.

But while the reasons for this criticism may be entirely valid and therefore justified there is a time and a place for everything and having it adorn the review for this record this wasn’t it. Putting them through the ringer for mistakes which hadn’t yet proved fatal made it seem like I was talking about something dreadful and hardly worth hearing with this release and only as an almost incidental postscript would we tell you that in spite of their missteps it all worked this time out.

That hardly seemed fair – to them or to you the reader.

One of the more frequent criticisms we level around here is when rhetorically asking the companies issuing these records if they actually LISTENED to the final product before releasing something that was ill-suited for public consumption, ripping them for not asking for another take, a re-write or if need be new material altogether, something that seems so simple, so obvious that we’re astounded when they fail to do so. Yet here we were at risk for doing the same thing ourselves with Forgive And Forget.

So at the last minute, after the original review was about to go up, we heeded our own advice and wrote a (mostly) new review worthy of what is truly a great record and deserving of all the praise we can muster.

How Much Longer…
That doesn’t mean however we won’t at least touch on certain things that were factoring in to the eventual downturn, though this one in particular is something you wouldn’t have known at the time, nor would you be aware of for quite awhile, and that’s the fact that Forgive And Forget marks the last hit of theirs to be written by their manager, Deborah Chessler.

It was Chessler remember who was nothing more than an amateur songwriter still living with her mother and working at a shoe store in Baltimore who’d just gotten the first of her compositions professionally recorded the month before she was introduced to The Vibranaires, as The Orioles were calling themselves then… one month after they themselves had been formed. The group and the songwriter hit it off and soon, through pluck and luck, she managed to get them on Arthur Godfry’s Talent Scouts, a national radio program for amateur singers, musicians and comedians, where they’d launch their career.

She had followed up that coup by scoring a contract with newly formed Jubilee Records, writing more songs for them to give them original material to record and just a few months after meeting they were stars. Though not all of her compositions were top of the line she had written their two biggest hits, both of which featured instantly memorable stories and lyrics focusing on the emotional vulnerability that Sonny Til sang so well.

They were a match made in heaven. Chessler was roughly the same age as they were and as such their experiences and outlooks naturally meshed. The songs she wrote were accurate reflections of that specific viewpoint they all shared, which mirrored that of their equally young and inexperienced audience, giving them an authenticity that was impossible to fake. Because she was also so close to the group personally, touring with them as their manager in addition to being around them all the time back home, she fully grasped their strengths and captured that in her writing. They in turn trusted her to deliver songs that put them in the best possible light.

Forgive And Forget does just that, even if it suffers from a stylistic redundancy to so much of their earlier – and subsequent – work.

But enough of that complaint for now. For while the songs all shared the same perspectives, not to mention pacing and arrangements, what made them work was what Deborah Chessler brought to the table… and what other songwriters for hire would be hard-pressed to artificially replicate on demand, which helps to explain their ensuing downturn.

She didn’t write many songs in her relatively brief career but when Chessler put pen to paper her success rate was remarkable and this is another gem.


This Heart Of Mine Will Die For You
As stated, the structure and the tone of Forgive And Forget is nothing new when it comes to The Orioles. It presents them in their usual position of being ravaged in the romance department, although here they at least aren’t still apprehensively waiting to find out if they’ll get a chance to be with the one they love, but rather waiting to find out if she’ll forgive them for past transgressions.

Progress I suppose… in a weird sort of way.

But Chessler’s words ring true and nobody ever delivered her lyrics quite as stunningly as Sonny Til who outdoes himself here, starting off by dialing up the intensity to eleven right out of the gate, his voice louder and fuller and more desperate than we’ve heard him before. It’s not quite Roy Brown territory in that regard but he’s displaying power that he’s otherwise largely kept under wraps and that alone is promising to hear.

Though he quickly downshifts to a more breathless tone, his chest heaving, emotionally wracked by his pleas and by his girl’s apparent dismissal of his apologies he continually ramps it back up at opportune moments, making this one of the more varied performances he gave on record. His modulations aren’t daringly unpredictable but they’re powerful and sincere and thus entirely effective at winning you over as he recounts his self-inflicted plight.

The story line gives them a new problem to tackle as it seems that when poor Sonny finally landed a girl after all that uncertainty he’d shown in their earlier records he went out and blew it, presumably by cheating on her – a one time moment of weakness he assures us – and she cast him aside and now will have nothing to do with him.

The vocal arrangement doesn’t deviate much from their earlier efforts, right down to the George Nelson delivered mid-song vocal bridge, but the impact is heightened dramatically by what might just be their best execution to date. Because those vocal bridges always just have Nelson repeat an earlier stanza sung by Til the shift is only found in the texture of the voice itself, not the message being imparted nor the way in which it comes across. But here Nelson uses a halting delivery for a change which manages to distract you from its source in a way, making the sentiments themselves sound all the more authentic because it’s not sung with the same cadence or attitude as Sonny had used. It’s merely a slight of hand technique but it’s so effective that you find yourself checking to see if Til had actually sung the same line earlier.

Equally good is their use of Alex Sharp’s floating tenor above them all, something that had been tried to varying effect on past records but here comes across as particularly haunting and ethereal. Now they certainly weren’t the best singers you’ll hear in rock vocal group circles, outside of Til that is who could stand with anyone, and they were prone to wandering off-key in their wordless backing which often made them sound like well-meaning amateurs, but here they use that to their advantage, giving this a ravaged feel, as if the pain expressed in the song was being felt by them all as they collectively voiced their plea.

Now that being said Forgive And Forget could still use something to shake it up instrumentally, particularly something to take the place of the unimaginative piano intro and dreamy fills that wrap each of their songs in gauze. For once you’d like someone to sneak an electric guitar, a saxophone or some vibes into the studio, not to mention drums, any of which would take the burden off the skeletal melody, but by this point we know that isn’t going to happen so it’s left to the voices to pick up the slack and here they do just that, closing it out with wonderful harmony on the last notes.

Chessler doesn’t make the mistake of wrapping the story up neatly at the end either, she smartly leaves the outcome ambiguous – and by the sound of it Sonny knows he doesn’t have much of a shot at getting this girl back which makes it all the more poignant – and there’s even a nice twist on the wording that shows this composition was polished to perfection before it was cut. If you’re looking for reasons why a generation of rock fans held The Orioles in such high esteem look no further than a record like this.


Still Have A Lifetime To Live
Though the warning signs of a sudden change of fortune were all present even on this well-earned hit, their lack of diversity in their approach foremost among them, the spectacular results of both the record and its sales drowned out those concerns. After all how many investors began selling their stocks in September 1929 because of jittery premonitions of the economic bubble bursting, thereby avoiding bankruptcy when the market crashed a month later? How many holding a ticket for a cross-Atlantic trip on the indestructible Titanic stayed on shore in England back in April 1912 because they had questions about the route the captain had charted?

Not many.

So it was with The Orioles as well who were flying higher than any act in rock as 1949 came down the stretch and they’d reached those heights by sticking to what worked, namely cutting these haunting delicate ballads with minimal accompaniment and little change in technique. Maybe they SHOULD’VE been more prescient than they were, not because they could predict the future trends in music and gauge the evolving tastes of audiences before they took hold, but because they should have been aware of just how difficult it was to construct these songs in the first place. Each one of these records were so fragile, so reliant on an almost magical combination of traits, that it was only a matter of time before the pieces stopped fitting together.

But the thing is they HADN’T stopped fitting together yet, not often anyway, and Forgive And Forget was yet another case where every piece did fit perfectly and they justly were rewarded for it.


Eventually I suppose we all find out that nothing lasts forever, but while it DOES last they’ve earned the right to bask in that success a little longer. Shame on us for not always remembering that.


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