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Finally… it’s about time… what took you so long?

Any or all of those exclamations are appropriate once you hear this record by everyone’s favorite balladeers, Sonny Til and his fellow Orioles, who usually look like the proverbial bird caught out in the rain, singing sad songs about never knowing love.

Yet here they get to sing something that has some rhythm to it with a steady beat behind them and whose story suggests that – for once – they aren’t destined to go home alone at the end of the night.

Who cares if to pull this off they shamelessly stole the entire concept of the song from some rivals?


Like We Did The Night Before
In life there’s often a transition you make – usually from high school to college, or in sports from the amateur ranks to professional leagues – where you realize that the things that made you stand out in those earlier stages no longer set you apart.

You quickly see that everyone at this next stop along the way are just as skilled as you are and it takes time to come to grips with that. Some never do, unable to handle the fact that they no longer are special and will have to work harder just to make the grade.

That’s not to say that rock ‘n’ roll in the late 1940’s was the minor leagues or anything, but there’s a difference between being a big fish in a small pond and then suddenly swimming into a vast ocean.

The vocal group scene in rock during the time when The Orioles rose to fame was decidedly limited. You had The Ravens and… nobody else much worth mentioning. It’d be another year and a half after The Orioles breakthrough before The Robins scored a hit and joined them in the upper tier of the vocal group rankings and even they were hard pressed to maintain that perch when their commercial fortunes, at least on their own records, couldn’t keep pace.

So The Orioles were the exception rather than the rule when it came to finding favor in this brand of rock… but no longer. Once we got into the Nineteen Fifties more and more groups – many of whom were directly influenced BY them – started appearing on the scene. You had The Cardinals and Five Keys, both cut from the same mold as The Orioles but featuring more intricate backing, hitting the charts recently.

But you also had groups that sounded far different – and far more exciting – than the slightly soulful crooning balladry of Sonny Til as groups like The Clovers and Dominoes were topping the charts with racy, suggestive, and in the case of the latter, downright sexual songs.

How could The Orioles keep plugging away at a style that sounded more out of step by the minute and still hope to compete?

The group never DID adequately answer that question but with Hold Me! Squeeze Me! they made their first real attempt to compensate for their one-sided musical approach by taking the biggest hit of the year, an uptempo vocal group masterpiece, and re-configuring it for their own needs.

A little slower, a lot less racy and not quite as dynamic, but all in all a good attempt at showing they could at least change their appearance and still come out looking good.


If You Want To Rock Until The Broad Daylight
If you’ve listened to this and HAVEN’T figured out its obvious source, maybe you need to have your ears cleaned.

The Orioles cut this at the end of July when the song currently residing at the top of the national charts was Sixty Minute Man by The Dominoes… is it becoming any clearer?

Yeah, it’s the same basic song… and not to be giving away future reviews, but one of the other two songs they cut that day, although far less obviously connected to a specific tune, was certainly “inspired” by the bluesier renderings of The Clovers, the other major arrival of 1951 who shook up the vocal group scene by offering something decidedly different than The Ravens and Orioles prototypes which had long ruled the roost.

Now normally we don’t go in much for copy-cat artists, especially when its as blatant as Hold Me! Squeeze Me! which “borrows” the entire lurching melody in the verses from The Dominoes hit, but considering that 95% of The Orioles material to date used the same ponderously slow arrangements with barely any notable instrumentation and identical vocal structures from song to song with George Nelson’s baritone bridge sounding hoarier each time we’ve encountered it, then ANYTHING to shake things up in their catalog was going to be an improvement.

Besides, they DO change this up just enough to avoid copyright infringement.

For starters unlike The Dominoes who gave the lead to Bill Brown – itself a nod to The Ravens’ Jimmy Ricks on their racier songs – The Orioles stick with Sonny Til on lead which thankfully gives him the opportunity to show he had some pep in his step as it were, singing in a much more spirited way while the others also get to do a little more than “ooh” and “ahh”.

For one thing they’re clapping during the verses to add some rhythm – apparently Jubilee was too cheap to hire a drummer – and bass singer Johnny Reed delivers one of his few solo vocal lines on record, sounding a little uncomfortable (which is why Nelson, the baritone, always did the bridges) but at least adding a new wrinkle.

Additionally new guitarist Ralph Williams is surprisingly prominent, not just playing introductory chords as Tommy Gaither always was forced to, but actually contributing some stinging licks which help this to sound much more modern.

The real focus though is what Til is doing out front… or should I say, what he’s going to be doing behind closed doors with the lights out before long.

When You Get Groovy Put Out The Light
Though Rudy Toombs had nothing do with writing the music of this song, his songwriting credentials overall were never in doubt and here he gets to focus his entire attention on the lyrics and comes up with a winner.

Granted it’s not as clever or sensationalistic as The Dominoes hit, but considering the most Sonny Til ever dreamed of doing with a girl on record was holding her hand, anything more than that stands as a major advancement in his sexual maturation.

As good as a few of the lines are, or should I say as unambiguous as some of them are, the real surprise on Hold Me! Squeeze Me! is the evident joy in which Sonny conveys these impure thoughts he’s been handed. His squeals and sighs are the sounds of someone elated to have the shackles of perpetual romantic frustration finally taken off.

To his credit he’s not showing any signs of uneasiness in embodying this kind of bedroom Lothario (presumably he’s been studying books on the subject during the long car rides between shows) which must come as quite a relief to the many girls who’ve thrown themselves at him over the past few years, all while assuming that they would have to be the ones to show him what goes where when their clothes come off.

My guess is, thanks to Rudy Toombs painting a pretty good diagram for him to follow, he’s figured it out on his own and won’t even need to refer to his notes.

As for the rock fans who WON’T be sharing a bedroom suite with the estimable Mr. Til, they’ll likely be just as satisfied – albeit hopefully in a different way – just by hearing him sing something which proves Sonny has joined that other notorious rock ‘n’ roll fraternity of groupies and one night stands… (and paternity suits and jealous knife-wielding boyfriends and angry fathers of underaged girls you took advantage of…).

On second thought, maybe his earlier songs were just providing him with an airtight legal defense in case he was ever hauled before the court.

‘Til My Loot Is Gone
Whatever court Sonny and The Orioles DID wind up in front of, they’d have no choice but to plead guilty to hijacking someone else’s song, but if they got a lenient jury with musical taste they’d surely be let off with only a slap on the wrist because this is the kind of record every rock fan had been longing to hear from these guys.

Hold Me! Squeeze Me! wasn’t a one-time only walk on the wild side either. As mentioned another song they did that same day attempted, somewhat less successfully, to adapt The Clovers persona and a few weeks after Jubilee released this one they were back in the studio to cut more songs that were out of their normal woe-is-me ballad approach.

One of the things we constantly try and point out around here is how important it is for rock ‘n’ roll to change over time. New ideas bring in each new generation of fans, it keeps the music from getting stale and ensures that no one artist is going to dominate the landscape for very long.

If you’ve been around awhile like The Orioles have that constant need for change may appear to be bad news, as it shows you can easily be replaced, but it also allows for you to try and alter that fate by becoming more daring in your material. While blatantly copying other artists isn’t quite what we had in mind, it did have its short term benefits as this record quickly hit the regional listings in Miami and spurred them into trying more in the future.

It also reportedly brought some business to a Baltimore doctor who cleaned up on administering penicillin shots with “no questions asked”.


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