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If you were a rock fan back in late 1950 it wouldn’t have made you some sort of cynic if you had cringed when you found out The Ravens had signed with Columbia Records as there was every reason to believe rock’s first vocal group becoming thoroughly corrupted by the nation’s oldest, most prestigious and least melenated record company once they entered the studio.

The whole marriage seemed ill-conceived for all involved for it seemed unlikely that Columbia was ever going to commit wholeheartedly to rock ‘n’ roll no matter who they signed just as it seemed all too likely that The Ravens aspirations for pop acceptance would finally find a receptive ear in Mitch Miller, the label’s top producer.

Yet after some questionable early releases which seemed to confirm those fears, The Ravens reversed course and are now in the midst of a run which can equal their best stretches with National Records where they became stars.

Too bad no rock fan was about to give Columbia Records the benefit of the doubt to discover this for themselves.


I Went To The Neighbors Who Live Next Door
Though I suppose by now it’s redundant to remind people of the divided stylistic loyalties The Ravens, or their record labels (both National and Columbia) had in regards to their output, this is yet another release which has a clear pop side and an unquestioned rock side.

In the past we’ve been mostly critical of the pop efforts, not because they weren’t well sung, but because if they’d been successful they would’ve threatened to derail The Ravens career as we know it, as well as stunting the growth of rock music itself. Thankfully they all flopped… though they were highly regarded enough (both at the time and the years since on an aesthetic level) to get the group classier bookings in the nightclub scene which their peers in the rock community could rarely claim.

That gives some idea of why the lure of pop acceptance was so strong for artists who had little chance of wider acceptance when sticking to their own natural styles, but because pop music at the time was largely built on emotional artifice and ornate musical touches it’s easy to see why the two camps were rarely going to find common ground.

Well, to be honest on the pop side of this one, You’re Always In My Dreams, they almost manage to bridge the gap and though it’s not rock enough to be reviewed here, it might just be their best pop side to date and really deserves at least a mention for what it does so well.

From the intoxicating vibes on the intro which shows even Mitch Miller might’ve been cognizant of Johnny Otis’s work, to the incredible harmony balance during the group vocals highlighted by the purest sounding lead Maithe Marshall ever attempted with Jimmy Ricks’ bass acting merely as the grounding force in their blend, this is sublime from start to finish. Louis Heyward, not Ricky, gets to deliver the bridge which gives the record a more well-rounded feel and if the primary singing style they all employ is a little too airy sounding, it’d still be hard to find fault with it from a technical standpoint or in terms of their conviction in delivering it this way.

But even on Columbia Records, a label that specialized in promoting pop releases, this failed to make an impact in mainstream music circles. Since they were far less attuned to servicing the rock community though that meant the equally good Gotta Find My Baby was also unable to find enough of an audience in the rock community to make this record get noticed by anybody.

And that’s the Columbia effect in a nutshell. It didn’t wind up ruining The Ravens output nearly as much as you’d think, but it neutered their commercial prospects for both avenues.


I Need You, Goodness Knows
So… onto the main event, the rock side, the style of music that ensures The Ravens place in music history and which even in early 1951 still has the power to compete with the newer vocal groups that have emerged over the past few months even as those groups take the style increasingly further away from the approach The Ravens pioneered.

You’d think with the new directions the music has been heading as of late The Ravens might be looking to shake up their game plan a little… maybe coaxing Marshall to let himself go and soar with unbridled emotion, even if it’s just behind the others… or perhaps they’ll be coming up with more diverse backing vocal parts or a more dynamic instrumental arrangement.

Nope, they pretty much stick to formula on Gotta Find My Baby, but the song itself and their performance are both strong enough that you don’t mind settling back into their comfort zone and going along for the ride.

Maybe we should amend that last part about not shaking things up, for in the past it was always the piano which handled the primary support but on Columbia it’s switched to guitar and that does make this stand out slightly from their competitors even if its tone is still rather subdued. What’s not subdued is Jimmy Ricks whose voice comes barreling in with that unique mixture of urgency and relaxation that only he seems capable of pulling off.

The plot is pretty much spelled out in the title and the lyrics only set the scene in the barest of terms as Ricky comes home to find his girl has packed and left. He doesn’t say they had a fight, at least he’s not going to admit his guilt in this rift on record, but he seems less distraught over her disappearance than the effect it will have on his reputation… and perhaps his ability to pay the rent. In any event he’s feigning ignorance as to why she left to keep up the front but it’s obvious to us that he knows she wasn’t kidnapped, abducted by aliens or is wandering around the countryside with amnesia.

As he goes on he starts to let details slip that form a more accurate picture as he reveals the things she took on her way out the door which hint he’s to blame. But Ricky’s voice does its best to convince you otherwise, pleading, moaning and crying with admirable conviction even if it’s all for show. Unless you’re a total sap you’re not fooled for one second by this but even so you’re more or less won over by him all the same because he’s just so damn engaging while he’s bullshitting us.

In life that is a definite problem, the ability for otherwise smart people to be deceived by someone’s charm and charisma, but in music that hardly is reason to steer clear of them. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why audiences gravitate towards certain artists and Jimmy Ricks may have been the first rock vocalist whose personal magnetism was an equal selling point to his vocal abilities and this record confirms that yet again. He sells this snow-job so effortlessly that you’d believe almost anything he told you and gladly come back for more.


I Cannot Hide
These are the kind of records that The Ravens could toss off with relative ease and have been doing so for years. Though it may not qualify as groundbreaking anymore it still meets your expectations and shows little sign of becoming tiresome even after so many like-minded songs.

The reason for this is simply because of how well it plays to their strengths. Like all of Ricks’ self-penned songs Gotta Find My Baby has a catchy rhythmic bounce, a story that allows Ricky to employ a vaguely lecherous vocal tone while the others are getting a chance to respond to him and add their own commentary down the stretch.

They’re hardly reinventing the wheel here, but they don’t have to when these wheels are rolling along so smoothly. Though it’s doubtful many people would place this at the very top of their favorite Ravens records, it’s equally doubtful that many would find it to be below par.

Combine that with the better than expected pop offering on the flip side and you wind up with a single that gives you more bang for your buck than most… well, for everyone but Columbia Records that is, who have to be wondering when they were going to get a bigger commercial return on their investment.

It wouldn’t be long before they’d figure out it was their own reputation that were hindering sales but by the time they did something to address this problem The Ravens would be ready to fly the coop again leaving behind a surprisingly full nest of golden eggs… or something like that.


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