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Sometimes things just work out for the best… in spite of the pitfalls.

Such was the case on the top side of this release by The Ravens wherein they managed to take a currently popular, but undeniably trite, song and instilled it with an authentic emotional reading that the many pure pop offerings missed entirely and aided by a stunning arrangement, mostly vocal but with key instrumental touches, came away with a defining rock vocal group record that has stood the test of time.

On this side of that same single they tried a similar transformation and came away with a record that nobody cared for at the time and nobody has cared about since.

Sometimes things don’t work out well at all… because of the pitfalls.


Invite You Over Some Night
I don’t suppose you need to be reminded of the tendency for rock vocal groups to look outside of rock for material that would attempt to show how “well” they could handle it and in the process try and appeal to a pop audience which promised better bookings, more prestige and greater total sales should it connect.

I also don’t suppose that I need remind you how infrequently it worked out that way… Count Every Star non-withstanding. But of course those consistent artistic and commercial failures in these ventures rarely stopped them from trying again and so here we are once more forced to deal with The Ravens’ ill-fated delusions of grandeur.

As if the title alone wouldn’t scare you off without even knowing the contents, I’m Gonna Paper All My Walls With Your Love Letters was another of those tunes being passed around in 1950 like mononucleosis at a unchaperoned junior high school party. Lots of artists did it, from Patti Page to The Andrews Sisters and Paula Watson from the female perspective, where it made more sense lyrically… granted not a whole lot more… while the males lining up to sing it included Eddie “Piano” Miller, Ken Carson, The Four Knights and some up and comer named Dean Martin.

Truthfully none of them did it very well, possibly because while the idea itself contains a fairly clever perspective – a spurned lover who’s been sitting alone in their room reading their old love letters and recounting all the vows that went unheeded leading to the breakup – it winds up making the supposed payoff so convoluted and hackneyed (vowing to get back at the one who dumped them by boldly announcing their plans to get someone better and get a perverse sort of revenge by sending them their NEW love letters to wile over in the night) that nobody could pull this off without making the character they’re portraying look utterly foolish.

Promise To Be Mine
The key to making something this ridiculous work hinges on buying into that mid-song attitude adjustment they spring on you and taking it at face value. Unfortunately if you have half a brain it’s not hard to look past the defiant façade they attempt to convince us is genuine and see the narrator is not just using it to mask their pain, but also is the kind who feels the NEED to do so in order to feel better about themselves.

Maybe pop music listeners in 1950 hadn’t taken enough psych classes to know that anybody with self-esteem holds onto that confidence even after being ditched, they don’t need revenge or the satisfaction of telling that person off to their face because they’re too busy going out and living their life, having fun and not letting someone else dictate their happiness.

For someone like Jimmy Ricks whose confident, often borderline arrogant, persona is so well established, it’s a tall order asking us to believe he’s a hapless shut-in who is attempting to come across like a resilient hard-hearted playboy until revealing he’s still the same hapless shut-in underneath it all who was apparently just lucky to get just even one girl to look his way in the first place!

Because of that impossible task foisted on their leader I’m Gonna Paper All My Walls With Your Love Letters will have to try and win you over with their technical execution more than the immersion into character. Considering who we’re dealing with here that means this still has an outside chance at respectability.


If You Think You’re Fooling Me
Musically it starts off alright with a nice guitar and some bounce to the vocals, but of course that doesn’t match up with the lyrics… though at least they saw the need in trying to trick you into thinking otherwise.

Ricky sounds as good as he always does, his voice enveloping you like a foggy moonless night, but already he’s severely undercut by the pop-slanted contributions from his fellow Ravens.

To really convince us this story was true they needed to almost sing as if they were snidely mocking the girl to support their lovesick pal. But by conforming to the outdated vocal approach of every other rendition of I’m Gonna Paper All My Walls With Your Love Letters, the kind with each note carefully measured and blandly delivered, then you’re already losing any sympathy for Ricks’ emotional dilemma.

Jimmy’s still capable of dazzling you at times however and a few lines he carries off with the confident attitude we’ve come to know and love, but then – as if they didn’t want that to distort the entire meaning of what they were being asked to deliver – they call on Maithe Marshall to put out any smoldering fire Ricky might’ve sparked.

The Marshall led bridge is so devoid of true human emotion – either hurt or arrogance, take your pick – that whichever of those sentiments you were gravitating towards is severed completely. It’s so painfully stilted and artificial that it forces you to confront just how sappy the story really is in spite of Ricks’s efforts to convince you otherwise.

Now obviously we haven’t heard the last of Jimmy Ricks at this point and when he returns he finally gets to embody an attitude that’s more suited to his vocal style. Yet while he sounds really good doing so, we know it’s completely misplaced. His confidence is TOO convincing in other words, for if he was really capable of acting so self-assured about his future prospects he’d have no reason to be calling his ex on the phone and making hollow threats, he’d be too busy hitting the town with her replacement.

Of course the others stick the final pin in this overinflated balloon with their utterly hokey interjections which come from another time, another place and a more theatrical style that has no earthly business intruding on rock ‘n’ roll making this one Ravens disc you could throw in the river… if not for the brilliant song adorning the top side that is.


It’s Time You Knew The Score
So we’ve come full circle back to that original query about how two songs from similar sources that were both equally suspect in terms of being appropriate for this particular group in this specific musical setting and trying to figure out they turned out so radically different.

Count Every Star succeeded far beyond what it had any right to on paper, not only making it perfectly representative of rock in 1950 but laying more groundwork for what rock would sound like five years down the road. Because of this it’s still seen as perhaps the definitive version of the song regardless of genre, obliterating the memory of the many mannered pop renditions which filled the charts at the time.

On the other hand I’m Gonna Paper My Walls With Your Love Letters cut by the same group on the same day in the same studio failed to produce anything worthwhile… and that’s not even taking into account how THIS one had their best vocalist, and arguably the best vocalist in all of rock at the time, handling the lead whereas on the far better side he was merely playing a supporting role.

Obviously the respective arrangements are the most glaring differences, one was accenting everything that made rock so special, even innovating some aspects in the process, while this one was hearkening back to much of what made pop music ripe to be overtaken in the marketplace by something more cutting edge. But that doesn’t explain how the same people could see equal value in each approach when recording them.

Maybe their thinking was a lot more basic than we’re imagining – National Records often chose to pair their rock output with pop oriented songs trying to appeal to two different constituencies with the same single and that’s probably the case here as well. But listening to how Ricky tries to instill this with a rock mindset undermines that theory enough to call that explanation into question and leave us with no sensible answer.

What can’t be questioned though is the respective quality of each side. Whereas the other song was perfect, this one is more than just imperfect, it’s impertinent to their devoted rock fan base who got them this far to begin with.


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