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An interesting record in The Orioles canon, a cover of a current rock hit which may provide a not-so-subtle clue that their creative tank was running a bit dry even as on the commercial front they had enough left in that tank to score consistent regional hits with most releases.

Then again if they step slightly outside of what’s expected of them when doing so, might that indicate that they weren’t yet creatively spent?

Since we bemoan their lack of originality when it comes to the majority of their output, all utilizing the same basic arrangements and emphasizing the same moods that had worked so well in the past, this release at least gives us a chance to criticize rock’s most skilled underachievers for something else instead… or maybe even be won over by their efforts in the end.


If I Can’t Have You
As one of the few early (pre-integration) rock acts who had pretty long-lasting mainstream recognition among even some casual observers through the ensuing years it may seem like sacrilege to be knocking the group for their shortcomings as much as we’ve done over the past two years around here.

Though the reasons are explained in detail every time out – repetitive formula wears thin quickly – The Orioles are held in such high esteem by vocal group fans that any harsh critique is bound to seem excessive, especially as their legacy (not to mention the respect for their era and style) are fading more and more into the shadowy recesses of time, putting them all at risk for being all but completely forgotten by each ensuing generation.

If that’s indeed the case why then take every opportunity to bad-mouth them when it might make the group, their fans and the entire vocal group milieu look bad in the process? If the songs are unoriginal and unambitious but well sung isn’t it better to focus on the positives and sort of brush aside the negatives in the hopes of putting this period’s stars in a better light?

No. Of course it isn’t.

The Orioles WERE one of the best acts of their day, vital in advancing rock’s overall cause and in the process establishing a deeper more personal connection to the younger audience who were seeking idols they could relate to. At their best they more than delivered on that promise and should be revered for their astonishingly high pealks.

But what also should be made clear is that once they achieved those things they become ultra-conservative in their choices, giving the audience little new to digest from one record to the next, remaining stuck in a moment they hoped would be frozen in time, rendering all new advancements in this field of rock irrelevant and as we know that’s no way to perpetuate a style’s vitality over time.

On the surface I Need You So would seem to continue that disturbing trend. A cover of Ivory Joe Hunter’s smash released way back in March but still dominating the charts heading into fall, the song was in many ways a more potent take on the same formula that The Orioles had all but patented… a ballad centered on tender romanticism tinged with equal parts hope and uncertainty coming from a passive male perspective.

All of which meant that to stand out The Orioles might actually have to try something a little bit different… if they had it in them to do so that is.


To Make Me Happy
When differentiating between the aesthetic successes and failures among their all-too similar song catalog the deciding factors between those which work well and those which fall short comes down not to their own performances, which are remarkably even from one side to the next, but rather the melodic structure and lyrical attributes of the composition itself.

If the song can be easily hummed along to and the story is deep enough to hold your interest then the pathos that Sonny Til injects will find its mark, but when either of those facets are lacking there’s never anything else to distract you and provide something more to fixate on. No instrumental breaks of note, no new or unusual vocal arrangements, rhythm or pace, not even a different procedural outline as each song features a middle section with George Nelson’s straining baritone delivering the same lyrics Sonny already sang earlier.

Which is why they’re fortunate to have Ivory Joe Hunter providing their source material because if there’s anything he’s known for it’s alluring melodies and deeper introspective lyrics, both of which I Need You So has in abundance.

What’s surprising though is how The Orioles tweak Hunter’s approach to try and distance themselves from his now universally known rendition.

This turns out to be a far bigger deal conceptually than it is creatively, for there’s only so much that can be done with a song like without completely overhauling it. They don’t shake this up too much but they make the effort to acknowledge that they needed to do something different when Sonny comes in and drags out that first line like a piece of salt-water taffy on a hot day, stretching it out until you don’t think it can take any more, then pulling on it some more until it sags in the middle before he wraps it back up with a satisfied smirk.

The others are left with little to do but hum and sigh in the background but the melody is so good that it works in spite of its simplicity, taking on an almost ethereal feel at times. Of course this approach has its limits once the shock wears off by the second stanza and it’s here you wish they’d deviated from Hunter’s piano based arrangement and maybe tried a prominent guitar or plucky bass to give it a bit of a jolt.

But they’re not simply reverting to formula either, as when Nelson comes in they deliver a second momentary surprise by letting him be far more energetic than Til was, giving this just enough of a wrinkle to grab your attention. The other Orioles get to deliver some more prominent harmonies here than they’re usually afforded the opportunity to do and while they struggle at times to stay in key, the sheer audacity (for them anyway) of their more lively approach is admirable.

As for Til, his reading of this makes it both more desperate in the way he draws out the lines down the stretch, but also more removed than Hunter when it comes to the emotional stakes. Sonny is giving a performance whereas Ivory Joe was pulling it from his soul.

But as performances go, this isn’t bad.


I’ll Try Not To Worry
We can question each and every decision The Orioles make when the resulting records don’t fulfill either the artistic or commercial expectations that we collectively have, but if we do so we also need to give them some credit when they show signs of even incremental creative growth.

Their minor revisions to I Need You So might not qualify as radical re-invention but they weren’t simply going through the motions here at least which makes the fact it didn’t draw any interest slightly troubling, leading us to wonder if its commercial failure might get them to pull back even from these modest tweaks in their approach and return to the same old unimaginative game plan they’d already driven into the ground over the past two years.

Because Hunter’s original was still so fresh on people’s minds and because it’s had a long afterlife besides, there was never any real chance for The Orioles to make much headway with this, but if their motives for covering it were rather shallow they at least put some thought into coming up with something slightly different rather than just go through the motions.

As long as they keep that spark of inspiration flickering then there’s always hope that they may break out of the stylistic rut they’ve dug for themselves and reach the same heights their best sides had achieved with seeming ease in the past.

The lesson being I suppose is never give up on anybody who once stirred your imagination and while this won’t completely change your mind as to their ongoing relevancy, or lack thereof, if you’ve started to give up on them it may provide just enough of an incentive to give them a little more time before you think of throwing in the towel altogether.


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

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Ivory Joe Hunter (March 1950)