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The original rock vocal group has been getting long in the beak for awhile now.

After enjoying a long stable partnership with a small label (National Records) where they scored a string of groundbreaking hits they’ve had a succession of short-lived stints with bigger companies who’ve used them to try and prop up their floundering rock departments while at the same time keeping them tied far too closely to respectable pop that prevented them from making too much headway in those attempts.

As if that wasn’t enough to derail their momentum they’ve seen the vocal group style they ruled in the late 1940’s undergo a series of transformations since the dawn of the new decade, all which make their defining approach seem increasingly out of step with the current rock landscape and then, just to top it off, they’ve had their own ranks decimated by defections.

But as long as they still have bass singer extraordinaire Jimmy Ricks in tow and can get an occasional worthwhile song like this one, The Ravens can’t ever be fully counted out.


Keeps Droppin’
The evolution of music can happen so quickly at times that the earliest examples of a new form can seem hopelessly outdated in just a few years leaving the trailblazers at risk for being left out of the discussion of the genre they helped to get off the ground.

The Ravens had two unique attributes in their favor when it came to being slightly more remembered historically starting with the fact their name kicked off the “bird group” phenomenon that dominated the rock vocal group scene for much of the next decade which allowed them to keep being brought up in that context.

Though that’s more of a trivial sidenote, largely unrelated to the actual music they made, the other attribute which gave them more lasting recognition and set them apart from the usual tenor-led groups is the lead bass vocals of Jimmy Ricks, the best in that department in the entire history of rock.

But even those things have a way of being cast aside as time goes on unless there’s some enduring first-rate examples of their style to make them relatable to those who came along in the years after their heyday ended.

While their catalog has a number of top-shelf records that were either big hits or classic examples of various vocal group approaches, it’s Rock Me All Night Long which may have gotten the most mileage thanks to the prominent use of the word “rock” itself in the title and the suggestive lyrics delivered by Ricks whose trademark rolling lead is framed here by the rest of the group in a way that attempts to keep pace with the more democratic spirit that now defined rock vocal group records.

It may not be their best performance, and certainly it’s not their most creative or influential record, but when it comes to making an indelible impression on later generations this one definitely gets the job done.


Why Don’t You Rock Me?
The way the piano is being hammered to within an inch of its life as the record opens, there’s virtually no chance you won’t sit up and take notice.

The Ravens were not like their fellow 1940’s pioneers The Orioles when it came to sticking to subdued musical backing tracks by any means, but they also weren’t pushing the envelope all the time in terms of creating a ruckus with instruments to set the scene either. But here they do just that, at least to start with.

The next change we encounter in their approach comes when the voices jump in and Jimmy Ricks is nowhere to be found. Instead it’s the other Ravens singing a rolling harmony in full-voice who are entrusted with setting up the story rather than merely chiming in with a simple refrain as you’d expect.

With these changes The Ravens announce they’re adapting to the new vocal group landscape which specialized in highlighting those specific attributes. Clearly with a self-penned song entitled Rock Me All Night Long it’s obvious that Ricky and company are fully aware that they can’t just stop there, but rather they have to shamelessly announce their intention of trying to reclaim their throne.

While those are all good signs, it’s still not a flawless execution, something due as much to whoever at Mercury Records was responsible for coming up with the arrangement… and for that matter hiring the musicians.

The flaw is most evident in the extended instrumental break where there’s not a single saxophone or guitar to be found, which just so happen to be the two most important and popular soloing instruments for rock ‘n’ roll circa 1952. Instead we get the piano quickly wearing out its welcome, some brushes on the snare rather a steady backbeat and standup bass trying – and failing – to create a vibrant pulse.

That underpowered lineup also harms the rest of the record to a degree, but those sections have the voices to inject this with the right attitude and in that regard they definitely don’t let us down. The group as a whole sounds fully engaged, half-singing, half-shouting their parts, giving us the breakdown of the plot which finds them left without a sweetheart after getting dumped.

Yet they don’t seem all that shaken by this unfortunate turn of events. If anything they sound upbeat and positive, almost viewing it as an opportunity, something which makes sense when that notorious ladies man Jimmy Ricks steps to the forefront and tries to elicit your sympathy – or at least the sympathy of the girls in the audience – but does so in a way that doesn’t make him appear weak or ineffectual at all, but anxious instead.

Anxious for what you ask? Well, if you really don’t know then might I suggest a different Mercury artist to start our beginner’s course with, like say Vic Damone or Eddy Howard, who certainly don’t want to – and wouldn’t be able to – Rock You All Night Long no matter how hard they tried.

But for those of you genuinely curious as to Ricky’s aims, the answer is he’s merely trying to get any and all ladies within earshot to take of their clothes, hop into bed with him and revive his… umm… spirits.

By the way he’s carrying on, not to mention the clamor created by his pals (”Pow! Pow! Pow!”) who apparently are delivering play by play commentary outside the bedroom door, he was successful in his attempts, making this one story with a happy ending.


Would I Ever Be The Same?
Not only did Jimmy Ricks get his rocks off by the end of the record, so too did Mercury, getting themselves a sizable national hit and in the process perhaps letting them believe that the way to rock success was to use their label’s name recognition and financial resources to lure past hitmakers into the fold.

It worked with Johnny Otis and Mel Walker earlier in the summer and now seemed to be working with The Ravens as well.

But the problem was Rock Me All Night Long was something of anomaly, an outlier really, a song that was capitalizing on the sounds of the present without actually bringing to the table anything that suggested they might be offering up any sounds coming over the horizon.

What that meant was the group was now resigned to playing catch-up, always a few steps behind the curve. Even here where they managed to briefly get in stride again, they still were a few steps behind the lead runner’s pace thanks to the outdated arrangement that was easily avoidable had they simply brought somebody in with the experience at crafting modern rock productions.

Not surprisingly facing such obstacles, this would be The Ravens final hit before the group began to disintegrate, but thanks to the era it came out in and the subject matter it contains, the record arguably remains their most enduring in the long run, at least to more casual listeners.

If you’re one of those who fit that description and this is the song that got you to be aware of the group and brought you here, you should know there’s a lot of earlier sides that have it beat in one way or another, but as a way to close their set when they were still a headlining act this is still a pretty good way to bow out on center stage.


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