Tags

No tags :(

Share it

NATIOANL 9065; FEBRUARY, 1949

 
 

 

No rock artist of the 1940’s recorded as prolifically as The Ravens, which gave them some definite advantages in their prospects. For one it meant that they were cutting a wide swath of material, able to try their hand at all sorts of approaches to keep them from ever getting stale.

In the past few months alone we’ve seen them release a novelty record following a two-sided Christmas single, which came soon after a cover song from their upstart competitors and throughout it all they issued a handful of drab pop sides along the way that we in the rock universe reject out of hand but which presumably gave them entrée into some higher class gigs and had the potential to sway some decrepit 40 and 50 year olds into giving them a spin.

Their abundance of material also enabled them to let the spotlight occasionally shine on members other than lead singer and the acknowledged face of the group, Jimmy Ricks, something which should help to keep the full contingent of skilled vocalists happy.

But the downside to having so many sides in the vault was that National Records saw fit to flood the market with releases just to be able to justify their recording them in the first place. Leave My Gal Alone was their eleventh release in just over a year (15 months) since they first ran roughshod into the rock kingdom with Write Me A Letter back in October 1948. Throw in the fact that King Records had bought up their old masters they’d cut for the Hub label back in 1946 and had put out four of them to date – getting one belated hit for the group out of it no less! – meant the Ravens fan was spoiled while the more casual rock fan was overwhelmed.
 

 
Oh No You Don’t
I’ve repeatedly argued on these pages that the best use of two-sided records was to highlight different styles and approaches an artist could take, thereby increasing the chances of connecting with somebody. Doing so also keeps the artist from becoming a one-note performer, falling into a rut, or being pushed to shamelessly imitate (read: rip-off) their own earlier breakthroughs by skittish record companies who feel it’s a safer bet to try and dupe audiences into ponying up more money for some reheated leftovers rather than serving up an entirely new dish.

The B-side provides the solution to all of those troubles and more. The artist can acquiesce to label demands in exchange for issuing one of their own compositions on the flip. They can showcase their versatility by pairing a ballad with an uptempo romp and they can smooth over any harsh feelings caused when one singer in a group gets the lion’s share of attention by giving one of the others a lead on a B-side.

The Ravens have used this approach better than most and we’re grateful for it, as it gives those of us seven decades in the future far more material to study and to further contemplate what their mindsets were and how their decisions affected their commercial prospects.

But it also raises an issue we’ve touched upon numerous times regarding the divergent GOALS of all involved in the late 1940’s music landscape. Goals which pulled in opposite directions – on one hand trying maintain their appeal to their core rock fan base, while on the other hand trying to woo the grandparents of those rock fans by offering up tepid pop songs. Because rock ‘n’ roll had such a limited track record and because even for all its growing success there was no sense of respectability to it, no sign that this was a road to enduring popularity, there was a constant struggle on behalf of the artists and their labels to be convinced that throwing your fate in with rock was the way to go.

And so, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that it was their ROCK sides that drew the sales and stirred the interest of their most devoted fans, it was the older gentry and their tame outdated styles that they always felt the need to address… trying to at least keep their hand in that market by conforming to these pop ideals which would better ensure a long term career in music and perhaps ensure them of a decade or more as a night club attraction playing to well-heeled patrons.

If they had to place their bets on which would last longer it’d surely be the pop field and so that’s why for every rock release they gave you the price you paid for it was also being forced to accept something as drab as Deep Purple in the bargain.
 

 

We Were Happy Before You Came
Whether you’re a fan of traditional pop or if you view it as something akin to mosquitos invading your bedroom as you sleep, there can be no debating the different mindsets pop and rock inhabit, especially in this specific era.

Deep Purple is a standard for another time, another style, another audience altogether. By design it’s not meant to ruffle any feathers or to stir many emotions. It’s hoary music designed for impotent men and frigid women. It’s likely nobody waltzing around the floor to it had gotten laid in a decade or more. It’s for those who not only never threw a punch in anger but who never even raised their voice. It’s for sipping brandy while sitting in overstuffed leather chairs, not doing one more round of shots before the cops break down the barroom door.

The Ravens were in their mid-twenties at the time, mere kids in the music world back when the average age of hit-makers in all styles were in their 30’s and 40’s. Unlike today where rock’s influence over the years has made anyone over the age of thirty a candidate for retirement (well irrelevancy anyway since old singers don’t seem to retire they just play smaller venues earlier in the evening for shrinking crowds), in 1949 the youth brigade included anyone born after 1920!

Yet here they were crooning songs in a style best-suited for someone who was born in the 1800’s!

Who was responsible for this?!?!?

Was it National Records, thinking that the ground rules of popularity would forever go unchanged and thus to be really successful you needed to follow the path laid down by arthritic old codgers?

Or was it The Ravens themselves who were asking to record this out-of-date material to somehow prove they were good singers (the traditional standards of “good” being the ability to put you to sleep within fifteen seconds flat). Who knows, maybe National Records were actually the ones who were pushing the rockers all along and it was the group who bristled at cutting a parade of rock songs to satisfy the label and the obviously uncouth audience who’d prefer such cheap and tawdry smut as Leave My Gal Alone.

But whoever was to blame (and yes, I’m shedding my neutrality, at least where The Ravens are concerned) what should’ve been obvious by now is that the only thing getting them actual HITS was their rock material.

Even Bye Bye Baby Blues, two years old when it was re-released by King records who’d bought The Ravens Hub material, wound up cracking the Top Ten because it was far more related to rock ‘n’ roll than the drippy standards that had made up their new release that it had competed with (and trounced) last summer.

Yet here they were again giving the public what they didn’t seem to want in Deep Purple coupled with more of what they DID want (but only to a point) in Leave My Gal Alone.
 


Got To Have Your Baby
It’s no secret that for all of the vocal talent Maithe Marshall, Zeke Puzey and Warren Suttles possessed, individually and collectively as a unit, the one thing that set The Ravens apart from any other group, at the time or ever since, was Jimmy Ricks. To say he was simply the greatest bass singer in rock history doesn’t even do him justice. He’s in the conversation for the greatest overall singer regardless of role in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll.

Yet having him as the centerpiece also ran the risk of overusing him as we’ve seen at times in the past, as well as relying on him to rescue substandard material, which was often the case with their pop offerings.

But when used right nobody brought more connotations to the sentiments expressed than Jimmy Ricks, and on Leave My Gal Alone they acknowledged it in the most obvious way imaginable – by giving him a song that highlighted and thus reinforced every conceivable subtext and undercurrent he was known for and exaggerating it to emphasize all of this in no uncertain terms.

The character Ricks fully inhabits here is that of a playboy, an unrepentant and unethical ladies man, a hustler of the first degree. It’s not sugar-coated or merely hinted at, as often had been the case for reasons of decorum, instead it’s played to the hilt. In fact his very first words, after some nice harmonizing by the soon-to-be victims of his lecherous intentions, are, I’m gonna steal your baby.

No beating around the bush here!

He then reiterates it in numerous different ways all while the others offer up rebuttals to his every claim. The fact they use “we” and “us” rather than a singular form indicates that apparently he’s not content with swiping ONE girl, but rather is set on taking all of the girlfriends and wives in the entire neighborhood!

By the sounds of their replies though, all polite and restrained, I can’t imagine them putting up much of a fight. Or of their girls being allayed by the rather weak protests on their behalf for that matter and faithfully sticking by their men. No, unless these gals have lost the keys to their chastity belts they’re ALL going to be slipping out their windows after night falls to meet Ricks on the corner.
 

Explain To Me Just What This Means
Though effective at showcasing the different characters – the honeyed eroticism of Ricks and the mild pop sensibilities shown by the others – it also serves to highlight the opposing musical forces they were battling each and every day. Which approach would they wholeheartedly embrace? Would it be rock and in the process forsaking all attempts at pop approval, or would they be using their rock success merely as a stepping stone in trying to become legitimate pop stars?

It’s a question they never FULLY answered their entire career, probably because they themselves never could give up one for the other and remain content with their choice.

That internal struggle over their ultimate direction becomes especially evident when we get to the bridge. For while the bulk of the song is certainly more suited to modern standards than its archaic flip side, that doesn’t mean Leave My Gal Alone steers completely clear of the worn out pop-mindset and here is where it rears its ugly anachronistic head yet again.

Their meek and mild statements the others take on their own about being happy before Ricks came along conjures up images of the scrawny 98 pound weakling at the beach getting sand kicked in their faces. The Back To The Future scene with Crispin Glover’s teenage George McFly going over his “lines” for his eventual confrontation with Marty planning on playing a role as the overaggressive date of Lorraine is appropriate here – “Hey you, get your damn hands off her!” (Pauses in contemplation) “…Do you really think I ought to swear?”

The four other Ravens never would swear by the sound of it even if their girls were in the process of being escorted to this lothario’s awaiting limousine and it doesn’t take much to envision their girls enthusiastically leaving with Ricks when he beckons and promptly forming a harem.

I suppose to could say their pop deliveries are a form of role playing, adhering to the part of feeble boyfriends who were about to have their love lives upended by a callous stud about town. You could even stretch a point to say it was designed to be emblematic of the way the tougher rock sounds were shoving the overly mannered pop aesthetics to the sidelines in music circles. This position would seem to be defensible by the fact that Ricks now shifts his persona to portray the skeptic to their claims of bliss, using mostly a sarcastic spoken word delivery which while it falls slightly short of the humor that was surely intended, manages to at least keep the overall storyline moving forward.

But I don’t think they were adjusting their personas too much to fit the bill here. Maybe if past records by The Ravens hadn’t shown that type of mannered vocals before I’d be more inclined to believe they were just acting the part. But we’ve seen this approach far too often with them, as they hedge their bets with even the best material in an attempt to maintain some relationship with the pop crowd, and so this can’t be thought of any differently in that regard.

I think they were viewing Leave My Gal Alone as a lighthearted joke all along, albeit one that enabled them to play into the rock sensibilities that would allow it to appeal to that audience who’d take it as sincere. But as long as the pop crowd saw it as a put-on they wouldn’t be risking drawing their ire as they would if they played the entire scene straight and had a horny Ricks make off with their women and boast about it with the type of arrogant self-assuredness that would probably get them booted from any upstanding supper club in America, if not run out of town with a lynch mob on their tails in certain parts of the country.
 

In Love And War All Things Are Fair
Those conflicting aims, shown not just in the two divergent sides of this single but also in the deliveries on this, the rock side of the record, is something that The Ravens, nor much of rock in general, are close to vanquishing.

We can place the blame for this on many different sources, the repressive marketplace at the time, particularly when it came to allowing authentic black voices to be heard; or the record labels who dreamed of a success that they envisioned could only happen with the sales and respectability that pop seemed to offer; or even the artists themselves who grew up seeing the few unquestioned stars from their background effectively neutered for the masses and thus felt that was their surest bet for similar acceptance. But what it comes down to really is the collective inability of all involved to separate today’s realities with tomorrow’s possibilities.

 

 

Nobody in the music world could envision something as radical as the transformation of the entire marketplace that would upend the traditional musical and social values that music in general had always embodied. The thought that the small segregated audience which supported rock music would become so large and economically powerful as to allow it to not only exist but thrive for the rest of the century was as hard to believe at the time as if you tried explaining to them computers and the internet.

In that way I suppose you can’t blame any of them for being reluctant to completely turn their backs on yesterday’s beliefs and so records like this, while pointing the way to the future, are still bound to the past in ways that undercut it just enough to leave us – those from the future who know the eventual outcome – slightly unfulfilled and wanting just a little bit more.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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