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JUBILEE 5057; MAY 1951



Here we go again.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that The Orioles bowed in servitude to the pop aesthetics on their ill-chosen cover of a dreadful current hit in mainstream music circles on the flip side, here they somehow manage to top that with an even worse rendition of a much older song, showing that neither they nor their record label were the least bit convinced their success as rock stars was sustainable, even after three years of hits in the field.

With such an alarming lack of self-confidence in their abilities as well as the apparent disdain of their audience who faithfully bought their records and attended their shows, it’s time we stop treating these efforts with kid gloves and tell them what we really think.

Be forewarned though, any devoted bird watchers reading this may want to look away because the feathers are gonna fly.


After Many Years Of Trying
It’s not the years, it’s the mileage… or so the saying goes.

Thirty-seven years comprises a lot of pages on a calendar but not all 37 year spans are equal when it comes to music.

If you were to scan a list of famed classical composers – just sticking to the B’s with the usual suspects, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms – you might not be all that surprised to learn that they were separated by more than 37 years during their prime writing periods. Bach died in 1750, twenty years before Beethoven was even born let alone creating music, and Beethoven kicked the bucket in 1827, six years before Brahms popped into the world.

In fact Bach had been born in 1685 and Brahms died in 1897, thus the three composers lives spanned more than two full centuries, yet musically – though certainly different… covering the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods – it was all comfortably housed under the same broad musical roof making it seem a lot closer than the years would suggest.

Similarly thirty seven years ago from when this review is written in 2022, artists like Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Madonna and LL Cool J were making some of their best music and though their respective styles of rock have certainly evolved since then, their records from that era would hardly be alien to modern ears.

But thirty-seven years before 1951 was a different universe. Just think of all that had happened in the world since then – two world wars, the rise of the automobile and then the airplane, movies became popular, then they added sound, then they added color film. Radio came along, then more recently television.

It was a LONNNNNNNNNG and eventful 37 years in other words.

Musically it was no different. In 1914 people primarily listened to music that they played and sang themselves. Sheet music sales determined popularity and though there were professional singers they rarely had universal name recognition outside opera or the stage. Records existed but were an extravagance, not many homes had them and those that did certainly didn’t have a lot since there weren’t many to choose from in building a collection.

It was into that world that When You’re A Long, Long Way From Home was introduced and it referred to the war in Europe… World War One that is, a conflict that America would not even enter for another three years!

So of course it was precisely the kind of topical material a rock vocal group like The Orioles were looking for in 1951!

What A Strange World This Is
Okay, let’s ease back on the criticism for just a minute and say that because America was now enveloped in another war, this one in Korea that didn’t even have the courtesy to call itself a war despite sending soldiers to be shot at, maimed and killed, maybe the sentiments in this composition could hit home.

Fair enough.

Furthermore it’s not as if When You’re A Long, Long Way From Home hadn’t been recycled since then to keep it a little fresher in people’s memory, as Bing Crosby hauled it out in 1940… almost two years before the United States entered another war in faraway lands.

But Crosby was that kind of singer, someone who made it a habit of keeping the musical past alive, as well as exposing musical cultures from around the world, in his records. Besides, he had so many releases that he ran out of current material all the time, writers couldn’t come up with songs fast enough for him and so he always grabbed stuff off the shelf.

The Orioles on the other hand were a forward looking rock group, or at least that’s what they claimed on their job applications, yet here they are once again looking backwards, not just in terms of the content of a song like this but also in the musical accompaniment.

Basically this is a pop record in almost every way and a bad one at that.

All The Sunshine Turns To Gloom
Sonny Til’s voice is as good as always, committing to the story even if he sounds as if he’s worried about a girl rather than losing a limb to a North Korean landmine.

Oh well, Sonny’s always fretting about some girl or another, why should armed hostilities change that?

Of course the rest of The Orioles sound a little more concerned about the gunfire as Alex Sharp delivers his weakest falsetto behind Til – more of a hoarse gurgle than anything – and a lot of the time they wander around searching for the misplaced melody… if not a foxhole to dive into hoping to avoid the Germans artillery in the “Great War”.

The one redeeming feature of When You’re A Long, Long Way From Home also happens to be the single worst section of the entire record, as bass singer Johnny Reed gets a rare soloing spot to exercise his tonsils. Usually it was baritone George Nelson singing the bridge but around this time he started drinking more and might’ve been unable to perform. If that’s not the case maybe he just had the good sense to go AWOL, though the likely reason is they were simply trying for a Jimmy Ricks-like effect for a change.

Reed’s voice itself is fine and it’s nice to hear him get a chance to sing out front actually, but it’s here where the other Orioles start clowning around behind him, sending the song into an ammo dump and blowing them all to kingdom come.

What they’re doing is so out of place considering the serious nature of the song – which is about facing death in a faraway land and wondering who will remember you – but it’s also so non-musical that it’s torturous to listen to and makes you want to take up arms against them and fire mustard gas into the studio to get them to surrender.

They come out of that stretch as if nothing unusual had happened, all of which tells you – I hope – that even The Orioles had enough of these helpful suggestions when it came to what material might work for them and were now deliberately sabotaging their own records in protest. If so they certainly succeeded with derailing this one.


When I Say Goodbye, No One Will Sigh
For one of the most important rock groups in history, an act that had untold influence on the vocal group idiom, The Orioles came out with more truly awful records than almost any one at their level.

That all of these records had one thing in common – a delusional belief that middle-aged white America gave a flying fuck about black people’s art even if they shamelessly pandered to their tastes – should hardly be surprising.

Nor should it be surprising that the head of the record company, Jerry Blaine, was a white man born the last day of 1910… maybe he even remembered hearing When You’re A Long, Long Way From Home when he was stumbling around the house as a kid and suggested they record it himself.

But whatever the case this record epitomizes what rock ‘n’ roll was up against to truly succeed unimpeded in America at the time.

Not only did they have to almost have total market saturation when it came to their target demographic (14-30 year old black listeners) to be financially solvent enough to continually be given recording opportunities, but at the same time they had to fend off the people controlling those companies who were not from that community, had nothing in common with that community and who, in many cases, would’ve been much happier if they and their record labels had the economic resources to compete in the white pop market and forget that community altogether.

If the record business was akin to the kind of war this song obliquely referred to, The Orioles should’ve been court martialed for going along with these orders.

I know that’s not how it works in the military, you get court martialed for NOT following orders, but in some cases – being instructed to slaughter innocent civilians, to shoot prisoners of war… or to record pop music from nearly four decades earlier – you should have the right to level your rifle at the commanding officer and blow their fuckin’ heads off.


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