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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.

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 rest of them 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 and with the company still eyeing the pop market it also meant the sheer number of releases would give them plenty of opportunity to indulge in their fruitless quest for mainstream acceptance.

This record marked their eleventh release in fifteen months since they first ran roughshod into the rock kingdom in October 1948 and while it’s this side, the ROCK side, that we’re focusing on, National Records were still placing their bets for long term success on their pop output, which meant for every side aimed at your tastes you were forced to endure something better suited to your grandparents taste 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 mosquitoes invading your bedroom as you sleep, there can be no debating the different mindsets pop and rock inhabit, especially in this specific era.

The top side of this release, Deep Purple, is a standard for another time, another style, another audience altogether.

By design it’s music not meant to ruffle any feathers… or to stir many emotions. It’s hoary music designed for impotent men and frigid women. 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.

Rock ‘n’ roll by contrast is the music to which you bludgeon those nose-in-the-air decrepit old blue-bloods, throw them in a gunny sack and dump their carcasses in the river while abducting their daughters to convert to a life of joyous hedonism.

Is it any wonder it faced such widespread resistance?

The story of rock ‘n’ roll’s rise to the top of the musical heap encompasses many things, but one of the more pertinent is the fact that the record industry which stood to benefit any time a new style took root to provide another harvest of fruit to pick for an audience unfulfilled by their more dainty offerings, was often uncomfortable giving them what they wanted such as the cheap and tawdry smut of Leave My Gal Alone.

That rock succeeded in spite of this widespread reluctance only shows how powerful that cheap and tawdry music could be when done right.
 


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 many 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 all have their chastity belts rigged with alarms set by perpetually nervous romantic partners 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 they’d choose and in the process forsake 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 far more suited to rock’s aesthetics 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. Despite outnumbering him it’s clear the four other Ravens aren’t going to stand up to defend their honor even if their girls are in the process of being escorted to this Lothario’s awaiting limousine to add to his harem.

I suppose you 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)