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One of the more selfless acts we perform daily on these pages is to make helpful suggestions to figures in the music industry of the distant past in order to better their chances at meeting our collective expectations as rock ‘n’ roll fans and in the process to try and stave off their eventual irrelevancy due to their ill-advised musical choices along the way.

Because they’re all long deceased however we don’t get very good returns on our good deeds.

Well, today it seems somebody FINALLY listened and heeded our advice. That it’s The Orioles, one of the best acts of their era but also one of the most consistently frustrating when they fall short, who proved to be open to taking our advice makes it even more encouraging… a sign that our noble intentions may pay off in the long run after all.

Except to be quite honest about it, this is not exactly what we had in mind!


(Nothing New) Under The Sun
When it comes to assessing The Orioles output over the past two years we’ve begged them to occasionally give us something uptempo to contrast with their endless string of heartfelt ballads and have been roundly denied in that request. Failing that we’ve hoped at least to get them to vary the instrumental accompaniment on their records, a saxophone or two and some drums perhaps, just to fill out the sound, but have instead gotten the same lightly strummed guitar intro and some halting piano each time out until recently when they finally decided to try a string section of all things which of course only made matters worse.

Lastly, despite being musical atheists of the highest order, we’ve practically gotten down on our knees and prayed for them to offer some new perspectives, new vocal arrangements and anything that could be called experimental for a change and have been completely rebuffed… until now that is.

With I’d Rather Have You Under The Moon they’ve sifted through our recommendations and seemingly thrown all of these alternative ideas in the hat along with their usual overused components and then blindfolded themselves and reached in, pulling out parts indiscriminately, trying to somehow piece them together in workable order.

Needless to say it doesn’t work, but rather than express continued dismay over their lack of effort in trying something new, this at least gives us the opportunity to criticize them for much different reasons… namely their sudden onset of deafness in thinking this would work.

Admittedly some may call this cruel, but then again others might actually call it a perverse form of progress.


The Light Of The Stars
As the piano softly leads us in the door to yet another stuffy high-class supper club where a maître d’ in an impeccable tuxedo glides silently across the floor to usher us in, you wonder if perhaps you’re at the wrong place.

Not that this isn’t what we’re used to having The Orioles foist upon us against our wishes, but rather that it IS more of the same after all. What happened to the supposed change of pace they were supposed to be giving us on I’d Rather Have You Under The Moon? This not only sounds like any other ill-conceived pop-slanted ballad of theirs, but if anything it’s even more repugnant in its desperate craving for the acceptance of upper crust society.

When Sonny Til comes in, demurely acquiescing to their sensibilities with a soft yearning vocal, we still may admire the textures and tone of his voice and the underlying emotional shadings of his delivery, but frankly we expected something a little more… startling… at least if this record was to justify its claim for offering us a different perception of The Orioles’ long dormant artistry.

Instead we’ve gotten the same old modest aspirations.

Oh, there are SOME changes that we’ve been calling for if you look hard enough for them. For one thing the other Orioles are taking a slightly more prominent role with some wordless backing that is fairly nice with Alex Sharp soaring above them giving the whole production a more ethereal feeling than we’re used to out of them.

Til for his part has rarely sounded better on such underwhelming material. His opening notes, drawing out the title line while soaring into the clouds, is breathtaking and provides ample evidence as to why female audiences at the time were literally mobbing him on stage, sending the group scurrying back to their dressing rooms to escape the romantic mauling his vocals inspired night after night on tour this summer with sax star Paul Williams.

Unfortunately though Williams didn’t join the group in the studio, for if he had maybe the records that formed the basis of their career legacy wouldn’t be so compromised by abject wussiness stemming from the skeletal arrangement which consists of that dreadful piano and a drummer who is so discreet in his keeping time that you’d be forgiven if you thought it was the merely the second hand on a clock in the waiting room for Hell that was clicking away.

Boring and repetitive, the recent hallmarks of The Orioles’ growing catalog… at least until the bridge hits us that is and then to our utter and everlasting shock those same elements we just bemoaned suddenly come to life, upending our impressions of this moribund offering in ways we didn’t think possible.

What Your Kisses Have Done
Now, before you get TOO excited and go scrambling to listen to this in expectant rapture, let’s begin by saying that while what they give us may indeed be unexpected and even slightly promising in theory, it’s hardly very bold, aggressive or exciting… just merely “interesting”.

But for The Orioles, a group for whom “interesting” was starting to seem downright taboo, that still makes their tactics on shaking up I’d Rather Have You Under The Moon something to admire, if only because it shows they had a pulse after all along with a moderate sense of (dare we say) whimsy.

Of course their idea is simply to take the bridge in double-time, George Nelson’s familiar nasal baritone stepping up the pace as the drums get a little more kinetic while the piano stops playing a halting timid accompaniment and actually flexes those fingers enough to stop rigor mortis from setting in.

Once you recover from your shock however you’ll see that they’re essentially treating this as a gimmick, as there’s no assertiveness in the playing and no added urgency in the singing to convey how desperate they are to connect with the girl they’re focused on in the song. Had Nelson sounded instead as if he were absolutely burning with desire for this beauty and could no longer contain himself – then for good measure had Til shove him out of the way and really lay into the words as they emerge from that section – maybe then we’d believe the passion these words just hint at.

But such a radical interpretation of the material is beyond their ability to comprehend. Nelson’s interlude is bouncy and jovial, not frenzied and horny, and while Til’s re-entry is certainly dramatic coming off that spry sounding break, the flames of his desire are quickly doused by the return of the ice cold piano trilling that suggests the kisses he’s referring to are never going to reach his lips in this lifetime.

The song itself is fairly trite, with the tagline of the title being about the only sign of cleverness shown, but even that’s not worth more than a mild nod of appreciation, especially after hearing it pop up a half dozen times. The rest of the song isn’t even that good, far too shallow and lacking in any detail to make this reputed love come alive in our minds.

In other words, aside from the sudden tempo switch this is more of the same from a group who has all but taken out a patent on “more of the same”.


The Glow Of The Moon
What do we do with records like this? Should we consider them in isolation, taking them strictly for what they offer us and judge their merits and flaws accordingly?

If so this is subpar material which is modestly salvaged only by good vocal performance while the rest of it is rendered with seemingly no awareness of the environment their music was being thrown into and therefore should be judged harshly for wasting the talents of their members.

Or should we take into account their longstanding timidity when it came to stepping outside their rigid formula and be more grateful that they appeared eager to break that mold for once, even if it was done in a way that was hardly inspiring or adventurous?

Maybe if we were writing this in August 1950 when I’d Rather Have You Under The Moon came out we’d be more effusive in our praise, because then at least we’d theoretically have the chance to influence their choices going forward. If we congratulated them for thinking slightly outside the box it might lead them to take another step or two in that direction (hopefully with the aid of a better musical compass) and as such it could conceivably give them some ammunition if they wanted to pressure Jubilee Records into going even further in the future.

But we’ve learned from experience that our critiques in these matters have no impact on what we hear next, coming as they do almost three quarters of a century too late. Because of that we need to be more measured in our assessments and in this case, while we are glad to see they had a new idea to bring to the table at long last, we can’t pretend that it wasn’t the wrong idea to use if they wanted to stay relevant.

Better luck next time guys, but hey, keep trying, even a blind oriole finds a worm once in awhile and maybe you’ll get it right one of these times.


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