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For a group that began their career so long ago, more than seven decades in the past as this is written, and though very successful in their time they still managed to miss out on the crossover explosion that hit rock ‘n’ roll in 1954, just as their peak ended, The Orioles have never been completely forgotten.

Naturally it’s their handful of enduring hits that keep their memories alive, as well as the influence they had on generations of vocal groups to follow, but of their songs that have stood the test of time there’s one whose lingering renown may be for another reason entirely.


My Heart Filled With Tears
Let’s start off with what this song is NOT.

It’s not a tribute to Tommy Gaither, The Orioles’ guitarist who died in a car crash in November on the way back from the group’s recent tour.

But that’s not to say that it didn’t make for interesting speculation on the part of music fans at the time which undoubtedly was beneficial for Jubilee Records when it came to “taking advantage of” the mere possibility that I Miss You So referred to Gaither.

In other words, while they weren’t going to directly mislead you into thinking it was a tribute to him, which would easily be disproved with just a cursory glance at the lyrics, as well as he fact that it was a song already a dozen years old that had been done by countless artists over that time, they wouldn’t say it wasn’t either.

This being the record industry they weren’t above trying to find some way to tie it in with the tragedy… business is business after all, and a potential hit record takes some of the sting out of the loss for those who earn their livings on such things. So The Orioles and Jubilee Records announced that the profits from this single would be donated to Gaither’s widow giving it a slight boost in the attention it was bound to receive.

Luckily though, rather than come across as cheap and exploitative they had one of their better songs with which to ensure the sales weren’t just the result of publicity or pity and once it starts playing you tend to forget the macabre details of the previous few months and just enjoy it for what it is, not worry about what it isn’t.


Your Voice So Soft And Low
Maybe it’s fitting (or ironic, or haunting… take your pick) that we hear Gaither’s guitar featured prominently along with the piano in the opening to the record.

Unfortunately they’re both being played in much the same style they were always deployed on each record The Orioles released… modestly, unassuming and without any real emphasis. When the singing starts however the melody makes up for a lack of imagination in the arrangement as both Sonny Til, whose voice on this is remarkably clear and in your face, as well as the rest of The Orioles, are all given parts that allow them to stretch out more than usual.

Let’s start with the backing vocals which are simply drawn but done really effectively, rising and falling with a strong presence but never intruding on the main lines. They subtly ease off to allow Til a chance to expound more directly, then reappear to bolster his words and fill out the sound when needed. They’re discreet but hardly incidental here and with Alex Sharp’s sporadic floating falsetto adding to the ambiance I Miss You So comes across as one of their better “full group” performances.

As for Sonny Til himself, he’s as good as ever… better because he’s actually got a more well-rounded message to deliver. Though once again he’s lost a girl and is dejected over it, there’s a definite sense of self-control and dare we say resiliency in his voice.

What brought about this infusion of confidence we can’t say, because while he’s admitting he’s broken-up over her departure he’s not outwardly trying to beg her to reconsider. Maybe he’s finally learned that subservience is no way to win back someone’s heart and instead is trying a new approach that acknowledges the pain but gives signs that he’ll be okay and get over it in time… something that may not sit too well with a girl who thought she held his heart in the palm of her hand.

I’m not saying it’ll work, but he’s got a slightly better chance with this attitude than his usual one.

Of course the fact that the chorus itself is so alluring can’t hurt his cause either, as the refrain starting with “Most of all…” sounds so heart-tugging that you’d have to be almost made of stone not to feel some pang of remorse over putting him through such misery.

Happy Hours I Spent With You
Naturally none of this – be it the topic or the performance itself – has anything whatsoever to do with Tommy Gaither who was obviously still very much alive when they laid this down back in August.

Even the people in the audience who claim they pay little or no attention to lyrics can’t help but understand after listening that this is not a farewell to a departed bandmate and the title is merely a coincidence and nothing more.

But even so you’d be forgiven if your mind starts playing tricks on you and you feel I Miss You So contains a bit more poignancy than their usual fare.

The voices are at the top of their form throughout the record and while The Orioles have mined this same emotional territory so many times that also means they know just what buttons to push. On top of that when given a song that has a more memorable hook, better melody, lyrics and a slightly different underlying attitude as embodied by Til, of course it’ll make a deeper impression no matter the circumstances.

But those circumstances certainly don’t hurt, for once you add in your own conscious awareness of Gaither’s loss then it’s hardly surprising it might take on more gravity.

I’ll Always Love You
Did any of that help this record become a hit?

Nope… not in the least. Though The Orioles had a number of regional hits during 1951, including the flip side of this one, I Miss You So was not among them, though it’s gone on to be far more memorable than those which sold more.

Maybe that’s because in the end what you get isn’t anything special due to extenuating circumstances, but rather it’s special just for being among The Orioles best records of this period.

A good record for its own sake will always have more of a lasting presence than one conceived as a tribute to the dearly departed anyway. But that doesn’t mean the slight confusion of it doesn’t help their legacy and if in turn it leads some to learn the story of rock’s first tragedy, well, that’s fitting too.

By now they’re all gone anyway. Some, like Gaither, dying far too young, others living to a ripe old age.

The music they made together lives on… as it should.


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