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If ever there was an appropriate title for a record this is it, because after establishing themselves as the first – and most consistent – rock vocal group, The Ravens are now officially done with National Records, their home for the last four years.

It was a relationship that benefited both parties. Unlike a lot of labels who tried saving money on production by rushing their artists in and out of the studio with little attention paid to getting a polished master and who tended to pour money into promoting songs only after a single had already had started to catch on, National saw to it that they were well-produced and each release was afforded the same marketing push.

For their part The Ravens were a dream come true for an independent label like National, giving them variety in their material to attempt to reach multiple audiences and remarkable consistency in each of their stylistic pursuits and were popular from the minute they arrived at the company to moment they left for supposedly greener pastures.

With this final release for the label after they’d already decamped to Columbia, The Ravens and National Records went out a winner.


Here Today But Tomorrow You May Be Gone
In many ways this last single is a microcosm for The Ravens career to date and the way in which National Records let them – or had them if it was at their own urging – to cover multiple stylistic bases at a time.

The majority of The Ravens singles on National were split – a pop ballad paired with an uptempo soulful rocker. Now let me remind you that it was strictly the latter which became hits and the rock songs are only reason this group matters historically when looking at the big picture.

In fact we’ve been ruthlessly harsh on The Ravens – and other rock vocal groups – any time they delve into something with an eye to the supper club crowd. After all if they succeeded at that commercially, especially early on before rock really had proven its financial upside, then rock ‘n’ roll as we know it would’ve been at far greater risk for dying a premature death.

But we realize there are those who call themselves rock fans who don’t see it this way and think that the pop songs are equally important in their legacies. They’re wrong of course (how much modern acclaim is there for The Ames Brothers, a pure pop vocal group who were FAR more successful than The Ravens during this period), but just to show that we’re not completely dismissive of their more high class aspirations, the flip of today’s single, Lilacs In The Rain, despite being a shallow and insipid song by nature, is beautifully sung by the group with a haunting lead by Maithe Marshall.

But when you step out of that rain, trampling the flowers underfoot in the process, you enter back into our territory, one that might be lacking in the social graces of the pop world, but which more than makes up for it with rousing music, emotional honesty and a refreshing bluntness that can incorporate everything from uninhibited sexuality to a sly wit and sarcastic attitude.

You might even say after hearing this type of music which is rapidly catching up to mannered pop when it comes to commercial potency, that Time Is Marching On, to which WE say… it’s about damn time.


Baby Don’t You Know
The basic sonic template contained here is what made The Ravens so innovative when they broke through to a new untapped audience back in 1947 and what has kept them relevant ever since.

It’s the sound of unbridled freedom, voices are that are melodically rich and rhythmically confident, their vocal playfulness suggesting a camaraderie that seems entirely authentic and enviable.

Pop music was built on artifice in large part… hinting at but never fully revealing the emotions under the surface… of retaining control while putting up a dignified front no matter the circumstance… of valuing technical precision rather than unadulterated passion.

Rock ‘n’ roll knocked down those walls and reveled in showing off the uninhibited side of life. Whether the topics in songs were good or bad, happy or sad, rock didn’t hide their feelings and the connection that forged with their fans proved hard to break.

That audience had come a long way with The Ravens by now and if they tell you Time Is Marching On, even if within the song it just meant they were breaking up with yet another girl, their fans were not only on their side, but were eager to hear them tell this hussy off.

And tell her off they do… or Jimmy Ricks does at any rate, laying into her not with the expected vitriol, but rather someone who is bound and determined to leave confidently with their self-respect intact.

While he was faithful and devoted to her he tells us, she was running around. He calls her hard-headed and is packing up to go, throwing shade at her as he heads out the door when he insists she’ll be less callous about these things when her looks are gone, adding they “can’t last forever” , one of those cut to the quick parting shots that brings a smile to your face.

Now he may be more affected by this split than he’s letting on, and some of the lines do reveal he’s hurt by her actions that led to this, but he’s embodying the term “grin and bear it” amd making it clear it’s his decision to dump her, not the other way around.

Don’t Start Screamin’
The other Ravens are hardly being quiet as their pal is having it out with his girlfriend one last time before he leaves, echoing his lines, extending them and adding the kind of bouncing interjections that are morally uplifting in support of their friend.

They sound almost as if they’re taunting her with their repeated “Don’t you know?” refrains which have to be eating at this girl’s nerves as Ricky grins at her discomfort. In the latter half they start tossing accusations around themselves as they fully buy into the particulars of their side of the story and are singing with an almost spiritual self-righteousness.

Meanwhile the piano that started pounding away the second Time Is Marching On began and keeps up a subversive frantic pace underneath the vocals throughout is the kind of thing that is meant to rattle whoever is the target of such a display.

The guitar brings some sharp – but subdued – lines during the instrumental break, not taking sides as much as keeping the two battling parties separated so it doesn’t descend into a free-for-all. But while it may remain officially neutral, the subtle licks thrown in behind Ricky’s lead can’t help but let you think it’s pulling hard for him as well.

Why not? He’s embodying the one thing that is crucial in these kinds of war of words and battle of the wills contests, not to mention the most important facet of these kinds of rock songs… attitude.

He’s dripping with self-assuredness and like all rock stars worth their inflated egos, he’s casual and flippant to the end.


Four Years, Three Weeks
We can debate the wisdom – or lack thereof – The Ravens showed in departing National Records for a major label that didn’t understand rock, didn’t have any audience allegiance with rock fans, nor even the distribution reach of an indie label to get their records to the right neighborhoods, but what can’t be debated is that while they were together The Ravens and National were a great team.

The Ravens had nine national (pardon the pun) hit records with National, plus plenty of regional hits, but only one more big smash after leaving the company.

Of course the reasons for that aren’t solely due to the record companies in question. The truth is Time Is Marching On in a lot of other ways that didn’t favor The Ravens staying on top forever.

There was a huge influx of groups who were bringing new innovations to the table much like The Ravens had done when they started out… the fact that the group itself was about to see members come and go… and the simple truth that each generation needs their own idols rather than inheriting established ones.

But when looking back on rock’s first four years there were few more consistently welcome sights for a fan of this music than seeing a new release with The Ravens name on the familiar blue and silver National label and now that they’ve come to the end of the road it’s worth remembering that together they gave us the very foundation of the entire rock vocal group idiom.


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