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JUBILEE 5009; AUGUST, 1949

 
 

 

For once everything is in sync here in terms of months as this is a record that was released in August (1949) and is being reviewed in August (2018).

Normally this isn’t really relevant. Not everybody reads the reviews when they first appear and it’s unlikely that many are trying to put themselves in whatever state of mind a particular season might suggest when they do read them other than for the handful of Christmas songs that have appeared on these pages so far.

But today it makes a bit more sense simply because the song itself also happens to specifically reference summer and so there’s a little symmetry at work. Irrelevant maybe, but notable just for the sheer fact it doesn’t happen often around here… and frankly we bring it up because unfortunately this song probably needs something other than the contents of said song to keep you glued to your screen.
 

 
Your Arms Are Not Around Me
Despite the months being aligned the title of this offering still doesn’t quite fit our perspective as – at least in America – Summer 2018 has been hotter than usual. But it’s doubtful The Orioles were reporting on the weather for listeners in 1949 anyway, not when they themselves were as hot as could be. In just over a year in the business they’ve already scored three Top Ten hits and their two most recent releases, last month’s I Challenge Your Kiss and the top side of this very record, A Kiss And A Rose, both will soon crack Billboard magazine’s charts, though each will fall just short of the Top Ten.

Any way you look at it that’s a pretty fair track record that would make other groups envious. Yet creatively they’ve remained a pretty one dimensional act, specializing in tender forlorn ballads delivered with breathy vocals by Sonny Til that are broken up each time by a recitation of the same lines by baritone George Nelson, all done in with sparse slow-as-molasses arrangements.

The best of these songs seem timeless, their poignant lyrical perspectives giving Til the raw materials to plunder for maximum emotional impact. But the rest of the songs, though not far off in terms of their intent, often wind up with results that are completely underwhelming. Til himself may be no less sincere in what he’s conveying, but the songs themselves are so delicate that they easily tear with the slightest pressure.

When one after another after another is offered up the cynical side of human nature starts to work on audiences and eventually you reach a tipping point where you’ll start scoffing at being told yet again about how this poor guy has had his heart broken by a woman whom he loved so much.

In none of these songs is the woman ever cruel to him, she’s never a heartless wench or a gold-digger who’s out running around with other men. She’s not someone he’s asking us to have contempt for and in fact there’s always a purity in how she’s depicted, but that’s part of the problem. The situation never changes, the perspective doesn’t either and consequently the response of Til is always the same as well. But as long as enough people keep buying these sorrowful tales Jubilee Records has no reason to alter the formula.

Though on the surface it seems to be a sound policy, the reality is it can’t help but be limiting. While it may be true that The Orioles were in no imminent danger of being cast aside for their repetitive product, by not breaking up the monotony with something different every so often they were actively cutting off other potential commercial goldmines that would give them the stylistic diversity to weather any change in broad tastes that might come along. The longer you waited to explore other avenues the more the audience would react suspiciously to those alternate approaches. If the main brand of their output suddenly became less popular across the board, not just for them but all acts, then it would probably be too late to try and jump onto whatever bandwagon was beginning to roll in its stead.

With two sides to a single, as we KEEP saying, this single-mindedness was even harder to fathom. Clearly the betting money was on A Kiss And A Rose for this release and so to better make it stand out, as well as to give listeners a clear cut alternative to that milder sound, this was the prime opportunity to try something different and new. Their untested experiment didn’t have to carry the record, that’s what they were banking on the top side for, but if for some reason “Rose” failed to connect than a far different sounding B-side might better be able to pick up some interest on its own.

But that’s not what you get with It’s A Cold Summer. There’s nothing new here, other than new words and a slightly different melody to what they’ve been dishing out for thirteen months now. With similar ground being plowed in nine of their previous eleven sides this is clearly a case of balladry overload. It’s the equivalent of getting the same food three meals a day, every day, for weeks on end, which unless you’re nine years old and that meal is pizza you probably will be getting sick of before long.

Heaven knows WE are!
 

It’s A Chilly Night
Okay, enough about that, let’s get to the song itself finally and pick the bones dry on It’s A Cold Summer before the autumn winds are upon us.

This time around luckless Sonny is grappling with the haunting memories of a girl who is no longer with him for reasons which remain unstated, which is a crucial omission since he’s attempting to wring whatever sympathy we might have left from the last half dozen times he dealt with this predicament. Since he offers us no details that means all that we have to go on is our own speculation as to why she left him.

So let’s toss out of a few likely possibilities:

Sonny has been leading a double life, spending half his time with a woman named Bertha whom he met when the circus came through town. She was the bearded lady who could bend steel bars with her teeth but the glamour of the road had worn off after a decade or more in the big top and she was looking to settle down. Sonny was captivated by her strong jawline under her beard and fell hard for her, buying her drink after drink of pure grain alcohol which she drank like tap water. The two found a nice dive on the waterfront in which to shack up together and when she wasn’t thrashing him around in bed he was selling bootlegged records of The Ravens latest sides to pay for the endless supply of cigars she smoked. When Sonny finally staggered home after a lost weekend he found his devoted steady girlfriend gone which sent him into a tailspin that just HAD to come out in one of these woe-is-me songs…

OR:

His sweet as pie regular girlfriend simply got tired of him using her to emote over in each and every song he and his pals The Orioles cut, always whining incessantly about her “leaving” him when in fact all she was doing was going shopping or heading to her job at the bank or getting her hair done to look her best for him. Her friends were constantly berating her for treating “poor sweet Sonny” so badly and no matter how much she tried explaining to them that they were only songs, that she hadn’t left him at all and their love was true, nobody was buying it. When one hysterical teenage girl clubbed her over the head with a badminton racket on the bus for her supposed lack of devotion to the faultless Sonny she had enough, packed her bags and moved in with… Bertha, a bearded lady from the circus who could bend steel bars with her teeth!

Yeah… if somehow you couldn’t tell from those colorful scenarios we dreamed up, who really gives a damn anymore why Sonny’s girl is no longer around when all he’s going to do is demand our shoulders to cry on every time this happens. I don’t know about you but my shoulder is already soggy and sore as hell from all of this misery he’s putting us through. If Bertha has the room I’ll be more than happy to move in with her and Sonny’s ex and sleep on the floor as long as she promises to break both of his legs if he drags his sorry ass around looking for any one of us to listen as he moans about the terrible state of his love life again.
 

In My Lonely Room
Is that too harsh a critique for this harmless dainty little song?

Nahhh, for even though Sonny does let rip on a few lines, showing off his usual sterling control and understated power, there’s nothing compelling about it. For one thing the whole record is devoid of any melodic attributes outside of the vocal and even that is kept to a minimum. There may be instruments playing but their accompaniment is so distant and inconsequential that they might just as well have sat this one out.

But that’s not to say it HAD to be this way. If they had wanted to deliver this song with so little instrumental backing they could’ve really shaken things up by having the other Orioles chime in with far more prominent – and uptempo – support, alternating their upbeat lines with Sonny’s desolate heartbreak.

It might not have worked, it could’ve come off as gimmicky or schizophrenic even, but at least it’d have been an attempt to break out of the creative rut they were wallowing in. I mean, give us SOMETHING! Snapping fingers, hand claps, even wordless moaning if they wanted to keep the same lethargic tempo intact, but no, we can’t get that… we can’t get anything out of them we haven’t already gotten before, and therein lies the problem. It’s not just boring, but repetitively boring.

It’s A Cold Summer is a record lacking in any effort to be memorable. They’re going through the motions and you can only hope than Sonny and the boys are just as upset about it as we are, though if they are you’d never be able to tell since they stick with this game plan far too long in their careers, buoyed by the increasingly infrequent returns on their better efforts while seemingly unaffected by the silence that would soon meet more and more of these retreads.

Yeah, this is only a B-side, I know that. It’s not what the people were flocking to the stores to buy and it wasn’t the number on the jukebox that anybody outside of their most devoted fan club member was pushing after depositing a nickel to hear them sing. But for God’s sake would it require any MORE effort to actually try something new for a change? To speed up the tempo, to trade off the vocals with one another, to throw in a guitar solo or a saxophone for once? There’s a dozen or more possibilities to choose from and they don’t even bother considering any of them.

Maybe they were afraid of shocking you to death with something that might be perceived as radical… or perhaps they just were afraid of waking you from your slumber.
 

 

No One Holds Me Tight
So much of music’s appeal is found in hearing the unexpected for the first time, a joyous realization that you’ve just been given something to sustain you emotionally as you navigate the twisting roads of life.

The Orioles had given you that feeling before with It’s Too Soon To Know a song that presented a genuine emotional quandary done in a style that stood out when compared to the rest of the rock landscape at the time. They were amply rewarded for it too and so it’s only natural that they’d tap the same vein a few more times hoping for the same response.

Yet when they got that response, built that audience up and now had a loyal constituency whose ongoing support would allow them the opportunity to take a few risks, to try and be more creative and give that audience something new to try on for size they did no such thing. If anything they got more conservative and while some of it undoubtedly DID work, they weren’t confident enough to occasionally go for a different response and press their advantage.

Playing it safe is a fine strategy for flying airplanes in the fog, feeding piranhas and even picking a spouse (sorry Bertha), but in music if you constantly play it safe you’ll find that your own summer in the sun will have turned cold long before the calendar does.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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