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NATIONAL 9111; APRIL 1950

 
 

 

When they first burst onto the charts in the latter half of 1947 The Ravens were among those heralding a new sound – rock ‘n’ roll. They scored its first official hit and their innovative style and open display of emotion when they sang presaged a new approach to vocal group records that would soon take over the land.

But while they offered a clear break from the far more mannered styles of the past that was hard to dispute, once their legion of disciples arrived by 1950, bringing with them their own updated approaches to this template, there were times when it was The Ravens who seemed at risk for appearing just a step out of date.

Music is like that… today’s innovations are passé by tomorrow and to keep up you need to constantly evolve.

Here The Ravens do just that, updating their sound and in the process for the second time in their careers lay a pretty effective blueprint for the NEXT wave of rock vocal groups who will eventually be tasked with supplanting them.
 

 

Heaven Knows How Much I’ve Missed You
Pop music’s practice of “it’s the song not the singer” was still in full effect at the start of the second half of the Twentieth Century as cover versions abounded when it came to each popular tune coming down the pike.

The song of the moment in the pop world during the spring of 1950 was Count Every Star thanks to a record made by Ray Anthony which hit #4 on the charts. Other renditions by Hugo Winterhalter as well as one by Dick Haymes with Artie Shaw’s Band also cracked the Top Ten, as was typical of both the era and the style.
 


 
 

Anthony’s was a classy romantic song perfectly suited to a candlelight dinner at the type of high priced restaurant where the waiters were prohibited from scratching, yawning or picking their nose under penalty of death.

The massed horns, the sighing strings, the over-enunciated vocals which were starched to the point where all emotion was forcibly removed from the tender sentiments being sung was more or less the state of pop music in 1950.

The Ravens however were representing a far different style of music and while in the past they’d been prone to trying to match the stilted pop styles when covering these types of respectable songs by letting airy tenor Maithe Marshall take the lead, that’s not the case here as they throw fans for a loop with their arrangement of Count Every Star, handing the vocals to a new singer making his first appearance with them while letting their ultimate weapon, Jimmy Ricks, contribute the type of soulful counterpoints that all but assured songs like this no longer meant the same thing at all.

While the pop singers were all publicly courting a romantic prospect while they sang, The Ravens were blatantly seducing a sexual partner(s) and though it’s conceivable that some of pop acts may have gotten a polite kiss on the cheek from the object of their affections after their stately renditions of this song, there’s no way in hell that The Ravens didn’t all get laid for their efforts.

If you needed a non-musical explanation as to the difference between pop music and rock ‘n’ roll I think that would pretty much suffice.
 


 
 

I’ve Cried For You
A lone note on piano to get their key hangs in the air for a second, faintly ringing in your ears until the familiar voices come into the picture. Jimmy Ricks languorously laying out the slow, almost ponderous, rhythm with his canyon-like bass while Marshall’s high tenor floats far above, detached and content to flow with the breeze.

The others are entrusted with filling in the colors and do so with what will soon become a doo-wop trope – the wordless interjections of syllables that have no dictionary approved meaning, yet which convey an unmistakable mood that needs little explanation.

It’s such a heavenly combination of sounds… brilliantly arranged and richly evocative of something best suited for the imagination, that it stands as the best full group performance The Ravens have done, precisely because all of them are given distinct roles which contribute to an even greater whole.

The focal point of the record is newcomer Louis Heyward who was hired to replace Warren Suttles who’d quit the group that winter. Heyward had previously been earning his living as a comedian but there was no question he could sing. Besides, chances are since Suttles had never taken a lead they weren’t looking for Heyward to either, not when you had Ricks and Marshall as the most identifiable dual lead voices in any rock group of the era.

But that same month The Ravens had appeared on a bill in Brooklyn with Artie Shaw… the same Artie Shaw who, with Dick Haymes, would cut one of the Top Ten hit versions of Count Every Star. Who knows, maybe the group worked up a rendition of it then backstage after hearing it sung, in the process letting Heyward play a bigger role to make him feel at home, but whatever the case when they went into the studio to cut four tracks that month they clearly had this thing down cold because that arrangement has been exquisitely worked out. You could argue that the very reason it works so well is because in giving the lead to the newcomer it forced the other Ravens to not simply be window dressing as they often were resigned to being when their usual leads were out in front.
 

Every Leaf On A Willow Tree
Heyward for his part is terrific, his deeper tenor voice is not quite as distinctive as Maithe or Ricky, but his more conventional tone lends itself to the song’s theme and allows it to better connect with listeners who can reasonably put themselves in his place as the story unfolds, something they’d be less able to do if it were Ricky’s jaw-dropping rumble or Marshall’s ethereal high tenor.

Despite the song’s lyrics being written for expressing a platonic crush, respectable and demure in its phrasing, Heyward doesn’t fall prey to any pop aspirations here. He sings these words as if he were in the midst of living them out in real time, consumed with emotion for the girl he’s singing to, hoping – but not knowing – that these words will have an effect on her and win her over.

Count Every Star works because there’s a vulnerability to his voice that Ricky just doesn’t have, yet an underlying confidence to it that Marshall could never quite be able to convince you of. Heyward handles the slow pace effortlessly, knowing just how to shade each line to draw out their deeper meanings, bearing down to add soulfulness and pulling back to imply uncertainty… none of it forced or artificial, or even something that seemed planned out, but rather he’s simply singing what he feels in the moment before that moment slips away.
 


 

In The Midnight Sky
Of course this being a Ravens song you know he’s not going to be facing this girl by himself… not when you have perpetually horny Jimmy Ricks along for the ride and rather than intrude on the tender moments, Ricky and the others add to the ambiance in stunning fashion.

We already praised the full group harmony parts, each working off one another to create a dream-like setting early on, but that’s not the only way they turn Count Every Star into a true group performance, for while Heyward is undoubtedly has the biggest role in the play… it’s his heart, his desire, his girl, that’s being focused on after all… the other supporting roles are all getting their time in the spotlight as well.

Ricky’s mere presence in the group means he’s going to be the co-lead no matter how you look it at, as the group always carves out space for him in order to showcase their having the most distinctive voice in the world in their midst and in this instance those efforts are in no way forced. The most brilliant section repeats that intro again with Marshall’s voice soaring beautifully above before the entire group sings the bridge in sublime harmony, keeping Ricks in reserve for the final line of each stanza which he takes solo. His voice adds even more gravity to the longing emotions already laid out by Heyward, the naked yearning they project becoming almost unbearably intense, yet always managing to stay under control.

Then, just as you think it might pull you into despondency, they make a remarkably subtle, but necessary, shift to the hopeful optimism they conclude with thanks to two quick drum beats to snap you out of looking inward and to mark the slight change in tempo upon which the others return with some deceptively spry energy capped off by Ricky letting his façade down for just a moment to let us know that he knew all along this girl was putty in their hands.

Yeah, it was an act, complete with some sterling liquidy guitar lines adding the right amount of ambiance, all of which was designed to separate the girl from her undergarments without her feeling cheap about it. But with such an elaborate performance I think they might’ve earned it and I highly doubt the girl will have anything but hazy romantic memories of the night long after it’s over.
 

Every Wave On A Stormy Sea
In some ways this was a little atypical of The Ravens approach, not just with the appearance of a singer who would remain with the group for exactly one year during which he got no more solo leads, but also because of the way in which they all blended together to ensure the backing was every bit as integral as the lead vocal.

This was the shift that was beginning to happen in rock vocal groups as the Fifties got its feet under it and while The Ravens on Count Every Star didn’t quite have the same buoyant sing-along attitude that a lot of subsequent doo-wop groups would utilize, the concept is the same and for ballads especially this record was a turning point in how that would be applied.

It’s also perhaps the best pure performance the group ever committed to wax. Not necessarily the best in terms of singling out individual parts – Ricky had leads that dwarfed this, Maithe had more prominent features as well, and even the others would arguably have showier roles elsewhere – yet this was a record where each and every part was perfectly written and executed.

Considering its source was typical pop drivel, the fact it was so expertly re-worked to highlight their strengths without overplaying them and without submitting to the compromised ideals of the realm from which it came, makes the results all the more remarkable.

“Remarkable” though doesn’t even do this record justice.

It’s absolute perfection.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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