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JUBILEE 5008; JULY 1949



It’s been a full year since The Orioles took flight as the newest species of birds in the rock nest and the results have been overwhelmingly successful.

As befitting a group whose average age was barely 21 they perfectly encapsulated everything the rock fan themselves (who were the same general age and from the same cultural environment) needed to validate their worldview. The group’s rise to the top perch was remarkably quick as their debut topped the charts and was subsequently confirmed in a series of equally popular follow-ups that now assured their releases would all be sought out by the same loyal constituency, almost guaranteeing a level of sales that would make them perennial stars in the rock field for the foreseeable future.

Yet their rapid rise wasn’t without its missteps as the group and their record label too often seemed to see their successes as anomalies and tried steering them back towards the more mannered lite pop fare that previous generations of black vocal groups had succeeded with and which no doubt appeared to be the more bankable route than the emotion laden records The Orioles had all but defined in rock to date.

I Challenge Your Record
We’re still at the point where the record industry eagerly covered any song that showed sales potential, hoping for a piece of the action.

Though this happened slightly less in rock circles than in pop they still weren’t immune from it and while hardly admirable creatively, it was widely accepted and so in our ongoing effort to always take context into account we have to view it as par for the course and judge it less on the merits of originality and base our response more on how they adapted it for their own needs as well as the needs of their audience.

This is a song that came by way of The Four Jacks, a name used by multiple acts over the years including a rock group in 1952 on Federal that we’ll cover in due time. But these particular Four Jacks were out of Virginia recording for local label Allen Records and were led by Jimmy Root, a piano player who backed gospel acts Sister Rosetta Tharpe and The Pilgrim Travelers. The other members were all gospel singers but on this particular song they seem clearly schooled in pop. Their phrasing, the open throated harmonies they employed and Root’s dainty piano accompaniment gave notice that they certainly weren’t aiming at rock acceptance… though of course at times The Orioles were guilty of the same techniques and – regrettably – the same mainstream pop aspirations.

The Four Jacks version was released in early spring and charted nationally in Billboard on May 21. By that time, actually a month before that, The Orioles had jumped on it (being from nearby Maryland it’s no wonder they heard the Virgina’s group record as soon as it hit the streets) but with their own recent release, Tell Me So, storming the charts Jubilee Records held The Orioles take on it until they were at risk of losing out on any action the more the original gained spins of its own.

Cockily, and disingenuously, the ad promoting The Orioles version states “Pressure by Juke Box Operators, Distributors and Dealers” forced them to release theirs early and so on July 5th the hottest vocal group around went head to head with a novice act on the same song… and promptly lost the battle in the public’s assessment.

The Four Jacks got the bigger hit, peaking at #8 in a three week stay, while The Orioles topped out at #11 in just a lone week on those listings, this despite coming off a #1 hit and being far more well known. The Four Jacks would release only one more record in their short-lived career but nonetheless we can remove some of the uneasiness regarding the cover practices because in this instance the unheralded originators won out. Justice, if that’s how you define it, was served.

But the real litmus test for whether this effort was a success can’t be found in merely looking at the chart results but rather listening to the records, specifically how well did The Orioles do in their own take on I Challenge Your Kiss and was it worth them risking their souls by horning in on a gospel-based act to try and steal a hit?


Can It Be True?
The first change, and an unexpected one considering The Orioles previous reliance on the piano, is the intro played on an electric guitar. It’s nothing scintillating by any means, it’s very brief and subdued actually, but it has a nice tone that eases us into the proceedings.

It also helps to distance it just a little from the piano-led Four Jacks take on it, though a piano does appear fairly quickly on The Orioles version of I Challenge Your Kiss as well, showing that they’re not about to completely reinvent the song even if they weren’t averse to tweaking it just a little.

Where this becomes most apparent is in the lead vocals of Sonny Til whose deeper voice is loaded with sultry undertones that the older Four Jacks, trying not to draw the scorn of whatever religion they plied their trade in as gospel singers, can’t hope to match.

On the original take of this The Four Jacks seemed curiously removed from the real life implications of the lyrics they sing. When they ask “Could I adore you?” it doesn’t come off as a request for a girl’s heart as much as it does a literal question they’re asking of themselves regarding their own ability to express genuine affection.

Ahh, but such were the constraints artificially imposed on pop singing, particularly black pop in the 1940’s, where any display of actual desire was to be reined in for fear of offending somebody.

The Orioles thankfully have no such limitations to deal with in their reading of it and Sonny Til lets you know that HIS urges are a bit more primal. But while his longing is expressed with a more realistic sense of inner arousal the framework the song is presented in prevents him from doing more than merely alluding to his aching need for her in his life. It’s still a form of repression in that way, even as Til himself strains against these confines, something that is a concession to either the conservative society they didn’t want to provoke, or a bow to their own stabs at pop acceptance.

Come to think of it those are probably one in the same.

The others deliver a pleasing bed of harmonies, topped by a haunting falsetto by Alex Sharp, but they offer no outlet for Sonny to break free of the melody, or to break free of the excessively mannered politeness it’s cloaked in. Though their performance is much more authentic than The Four Jacks in terms of the emotions it suggests, it’s still not entirely believable in what they’re attempting to convey because they’re forced to hold back too much.


Could I Adore You More Than This?
If we’re to buy into Sonny Til’s all-consuming passion for this girl in question then he needs to be at least on the verge of losing control as he tries to express this to her, to really convince her of his devotion in the hopes that she’ll respond in a way that leaves no doubt in his mind that she is his for eternity.

Though I Challenge Your Kiss is rather flimsy as written there’s still a lot that could be done to ratchet this up and make it much stronger simply by shaking up the arrangement. We’ve seen how this is done in so many rock instrumentals of this era where the piano and larger horn section play things cool, keeping the pace at a modest clip before the tenor sax barges in and honks up a storm, upending the entire mood and causing listeners to jump out of their seats and shake their bodies like they’re doing the St. Vitus Dance.

Had Sonny been allowed to ramp up the tempo in the bridge and cut loose rather than let George Nelson wearily repeat the same lines as was their fallback position on every song, maybe this would’ve distanced itself more from its origins and shown just why rock was such a potent musical weapon.

Til’s vocals elevate it as well as can be expected though and Nelson’s role gives it a slight jolt but it falls well short of what it had the potential to be if they all had more grandiose ambition. The fact that The Orioles were clearly sticking to a rather limited basic formula – ponderously slow ballads with storylines all voicing uncertainty in matters of the heart and left to the redoubtable Sonny Til to invest it with as much smoldering lust as he could get away with all while never taking it out of first or second gear – meant that they were constantly at risk for becoming one dimensional.

Yet as one dimensional unoriginal cover songs go this is still pretty nice to listen to, though hardly anything to get worked up about if you were an Orioles fan anticipating something far more powerful.

Keeps Love Ever Anew
Though Sonny Til did this type of thing better than anyone and that alone makes this an important record in the big scheme of things in rock circa 1949 when you needed to have a wide variety of approaches present to keep the music as a whole as well-rounded as possible, it doesn’t offer us anything new, another languorous ballad with a instantly appealing melody to carry the similar concepts as the rest of their work.

Taken alone I Challenge Your Kiss holds its own in the rock world of mid-1949, a nice change of pace to compete with the more rambunctious instrumentals, raunchier solo singers and steady stream of rhythmic ventures coming from all sides. It provides listeners with something they were still craving and its modest success probably justified their decision, at least in their own minds.

But with their standing assured The Orioles were now competing with themselves as much as with other artists from all walks of the rock landscape and it was in that sense they were coming up short. The mere fact they were looking to swipe songs from rivals just starting out gave some indication that their own creativity was lacking. The bar had been raised by their own successes, both stylistically and commercially, and it was against that standard where the inherent limitations of modest cover songs like these would be most apparent.


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