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Though they’re considered one of early rock’s most formidable acts, a massive influence on the direction of vocal groups for the next dozen years or more, and one of the few from this era who’ve been afforded a measure of mainstream respect in the years since, it’s with trepidation that we’ve come to view each new release by The Orioles here on these pages.

The reason for this uneasiness is because while at their best their heartfelt songs were a welcome contrast to the more raucous sides being churned out by their peers, at their worst these songs were mindnumbingly repetitive in every way and as a result came across as shallow and insincere.

Yet because they’re still being sung well there are many fans of this style who could care less if they’ve heard it all before which means any critique of their approach runs the risk of offending those people who are convinced we just “don’t get it”.

But since we’re duty bound to make do with whatever we’re presented with to cover each day, here we are again cautiously approaching something that we’ve already stated is getting tiresome, all the while wishing that we could contemplate The Orioles in a new and more interesting manner.


Every Time That You Kiss Me Goodnight
Though their commercial fortunes have taken a recent downturn, no doubt the result of barely needing to hear their new records to know exactly what they sound like, The Orioles were still a viable act who were reliably strong sellers up and down the East Coast. They may not have quite had enough Oomph to put them in the national listings but they were hardly struggling to make ends meet for Jubilee Records during this period.

But as stated (and re-stated) their repertoire was decidedly limited in style, giving us one yearning ballad after another with very little change in theme, structure or instrumentation to set each one apart. In the album era this would’ve been far more harmful to their careers, for getting twelve of these in one sitting with no respite would be tough for even their most ardent fans to tolerate, but in the singles era you had a little more leeway with musical redundancy.

As long as the lyrics changed, even if the basic storylines remained all too similar, and the melodies were just different enough that you didn’t start singing along using the words from a past hit in their place, you theoretically could tolerate the unchanging mood these records all shared.

But since it’s only been a few weeks since hearing them last, the group and the record company both will be crossing their fingers in the hopes that you won’t notice or care that I Cross My Fingers is following the same path that most of their previous singles have tread.


I Know That’s A Very Good Sign
Actually, as light inoffensive pop-slanted ballads go, this one isn’t completely without its charms, though they’re once again hardly trying for anything original with it.

We get the delicate piano opening, a little too poppish of course, but pleasant all the same. There’s faint drums and bass while Tommy Gaither’s guitar is strumming along inoffensively to give it a musical bed built out of balsa wood to hold the rest of it up.

We get no horns to add a different more vibrant feel to it, nor anything more exotic like an organ or vibes, so you’re resigned to another record with a stark arrangement, whether you like it or not. But where I Cross My Fingers stands out is with Sonny Til’s breathy lead vocal, one of his better performances on what otherwise is a somewhat forgettable tune.

The plot is the same basic one they’ve tackled every time out in that Sonny is longing for a specific girl, one who he’s actually dating this time around but in spite of that he has absolutely no confidence that she’ll stick with him despite her obvious devotion to him.

We rail against this perspective for a number of reasons, not the least of which is emotional subservience is a notoriously tough sell for males in the audience who have been taught since childhood to always be confident and show strength even when in doubt. Yet the same naked vulnerability apparently worked wonders with female listeners who saw in Sonny a guy they could trust, nurture and love without fear of being rejected or cheated on.

Til plays that part to the hilt and on this song he gets just enough raw materials to work with including the fact that for once he’s not pining for some girl who doesn’t even know him which at least gives this plot some added consequence. Best of all however is the lead-line’s melody is quite nice… rising, falling and rising again in particularly alluring fashion, allowing him to change emotional inflections during it without undermining the meaning.

Coming out of the bridge Til even gets a limited window for digging deeper and responds with a slightly more intense delivery before quickly easing off, modulating his voice to add an extra wrinkle. Once again this shows that he’s got such good judgement as a singer which is why it’s always so disheartening that the majority of the songs he was given had little chance for him to display anything but lovesick mewling.

Even Though You’re Holding Me Tight
As great as the lead voice may be what matters almost as much in vocal group records of course is the group behind him and what they’re contributing to the overall effect, whether harmonies, counterpoints or taking over on lead for a stretch.

The latter of course was one of The Orioles overused trademarks, as baritone George Nelson would almost always repeat the same verse that Sonny had delivered earlier, his deeper scratchy voice providing a contrast to Til’s smooth higher tones. The others usually were reduced to unobtrusive humming or indistinct harmonies, save for Alex Sharp whose floating high tenor gave them an interesting quirk.

But on I Cross My Fingers they step up their game a little even though it still falls under the “unobtrusive humming” game plan, but because they’re a little higher in the mix and have a better melody to carry it allows you to admire their technique more than usual.

Of course their best moments have the misfortune to be paired with the worst as Nelson once again is tasked with singing the bridge. Though he’s using the same ragged tone as always it doesn’t work well in this particular song in large part because on the start of his lines he’s joined in full force by the other Orioles which sounds absolutely great and make him sound almost hapless by comparison when he steps out from them to finish the thoughts on his own.

They rarely got the chance to perform this way and to cut it short to let Nelson carry the lines home is just poor decision making, for not only does it mean the record skews closer to their normal boring approach, but also because they’ve sidelined something that was in the process of standing out and lifting the track up with some breathy harmonies.

Because there’s no instrumental break we’re stuck in the same melodic loop for the entire song… a good song, or at least better than much of what they’ve offered up, but still one beset by the same limited vision that was always at risk for doing them in.


‘Til You’re Mine, All Mine
Because The Orioles were Jubilee Records most reliable sellers they were always at risk for flooding the market which likely cost them a few hits along the way.

This one came in the midst of four releases spaced just a few weeks apart since the end of August and oddly enough most of those happened to be pretty good sides and so it struggled to find its footing as a result.

I Cross My Fingers made the Cash Box territorial charts for Elizabeth, New Jersey the same week as three different Orioles tunes were resting in the regional listings elsewhere, while later that month this one got as high as Number Three in Homestead, Pennsylvania but with Christmas season at full swing their own holiday records were pushing this one aside in most locales.

All told we still wish they’d shake things up just a little bit every so often, but while this takes few chances it also shows why they felt it wasn’t necessary to rock the boat, for in the end it was still this approach that served them well enough to always get by.


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