No tags :(

Share it

MERCURY 5800; MARCH 1952



Though we’re only 1952 in our long trek through rock history, here’s where an inevitable – and unenviable – career reality will start to become commonplace…

The irrelevancy stage.

That’s the point where a once commercially successful, artistically acclaimed and musically influential artist will become passé despite still being more than capable of delivering quality work. As the broader interest in them fades, their subsequent output will be judged largely on how they respond to this unfortunate fact of life.

In the future once-great rock artists well past their prime (think Bruce Springsteen over the last twenty years) would at least get some meaningless Grammy Award for their efforts, but for groups like The Ravens at this stage of the game there were no awards, just indifference and the nagging misguided hope that they might just be able to turn things around with a hit and get back on top again.


My Baby Left Me, I Wonder Why…
The time you have to really shape music is relatively short. In the singles era it was a couple of years when your approach was fresh and before the next generation came along, often taking your prototype, and substantially altered it to appeal to a new audience who were too young to appreciate the original innovations.

But a career doesn’t stop just because you’ve been replaced at the top of the mountain and most artists, as well as most record companies, feel that a return to glory is just around the bend with the right game plan. Usually however they don’t try adapting to newer sounds, which could reek of trying to hop on someone else’s bandwagon, so they tweak their old formula a little and hope that will be enough.

It rarely is.

This single marked the second release on Mercury Records for The Ravens after their stint at Columbia (and then its rock-oriented subsidiary OKeh) fizzled out after a year and while I’m Looking For My Baby is a marked improvement stylistically over their first desultory effort – and for that matter, sounds a lot better at a glance than their ongoing attempts to appeal to pop listeners with a well-sung but completely out of place rendition of Cole Porter’s Begin The Beguine of the flip side – this more appropriate sounding song winds up being undercut by some of the decisions made before hitting the record button.

Maybe in the context of 1952 the more egregious decision in that regard wouldn’t have derailed The Ravens chances at re-establishing the group at the forefront of the music they helped introduce to the world at large five years earlier, but when looking back from a safe distance this might be one instance where the record company’s role in its missteps wind up being secondary to those perpetrated by the group itself.

Been So Mean To Me
Unlike the romantically tortured Sonny Til of The Orioles, the 1940’s other dominant rock vocal group, who never seemed confident enough to land a girlfriend, Jimmy Ricks of The Ravens had no trouble getting girls, but rather he frequently complained of losing them, giving this single a familiar feel to it in many ways.

To their credit they change things up here a little bit. For one thing Ricky is singing this at a slightly faster clip than a lot of those previous cuts, like Write Me A Letter, allowing his vocals to accentuate the usual easy-rolling resonance that he made his name on. Meanwhile the lightly ticking drums are played in double-time fashion while we get a very welcome saxophone playing in between some of the lines in a manner that suggests longing and arousal in equal measure which bodes well for the record modestly adapting to new musical ground rules.

But before we can give ourselves over to the updated approach, we also have to wade through more contrived backing vocals, rapidly repeating the question “Why did she have to go” and tossing around accusations of cheating later on in the much the same fashion.

It’s that latter narrative element that leads into the truly disturbing aspects of Looking For My Baby, which come to the forefront when Ricky rather shockingly tells us he’s going to kick this girl’s door down in his attempts to get her back. Then, just to leave no doubt as to the nature his intent once he’s inside, announces “When I finish with my baby she won’t do that no more”.

And just like that, the record goes off the rails.

In 1952 domestic violence was swept under the rug in legal circles and even joked about publicly, so while this may fit into the era’s Neanderthal mentality that doesn’t make it any more palatable, then or today.

But what really makes this troubling is the fact that this isn’t just a scenario that is a case of overstated hyperbole or misguided braggadocio trying to impress his buddies and save face after he got dumped. For while he accuses her of taking his money, ostensibly giving him cause to react with vengeance, he goes on to inform us that the reason she left in the first place was because he mistreated her and HE, the guilty party mind you, takes offense at that accusation and for payback he’s going to beat her senseless!

I’ve heard enough.

We can nitpick other areas of this record if we want… the arrangement that Mercury uses straying a little too far into sort of a jazzy-pop sensibility at times which certainly doesn’t help this sound cutting edge, but a few distant trumpet lines and some unnecessarily exclamatory backing interjections can’t possibly taint this more than Ricky’s self-incriminating statements already have.


The Third Degree
Of all of the records of theirs we’ve covered this might be the one that is most disappointing because while it doesn’t have the necessary components to vault The Ravens back to the top, it does contain enough interesting ideas to keep them more than viable for a little longer.

Even some of the Mercury touches such as the prominent bass during the most offensive vocal breakdown had promise if only they’d been attached to a less onerous plot. But while we can grant a certain creative license for violent stories with a clearer thematic objective such telling about the realities of gang-ridden environments or when a story is depicting bloody retribution for actual misdeeds committed along the same lines – when it comes to Looking For My Baby there’s nothing here that can be justified or excused.

Ricks makes clear he got dumped because he’s a violent misogynist and rather than change his ways he doubles down on his actions and gets verbal support for his crimes from his equally backwards thinking cohorts.

That’s not a secondary theme to the song, or one badly chosen line in the midst of otherwise tolerable lyrics, but rather it’s the entire plot and they present it in a way that not only glorifies it but passes it off in a casual upbeat manner for us to cheerily sing along.

So while we can admire his vocal technique, applaud the record’s rhythmic drive, compliment the addition of a saxophone and even give modest credit for some inventiveness in the arrangement as it tries to bridge the divide between Mercury’s preferred field of endeavors and those of The Ravens, that’s not enough to give them a pass for the reprehensible actions the record endorses.

Maybe though it’d be more instructive to state it this way… if we were to go back in time and meet Jimmy Ricks, complimenting him profusely for being the best bass singer rock has ever known, only to then beat him into unconsciousness without warning, do you think when he came to he’d praise our vicious right hook and then compose and sing a rollicking song about how he got his ass kicked in an unprovoked assault, or would he press charges?

Mmm, I thought so.


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