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MERCURY 5853; MAY 1952



If you don’t know how to sing yourself, or never sang with a bunch of drunken friends, you’re missing something pretty cool in your life.

If you’re too shy, too embarrassed or too prone to singing out of key, then you could at least hang out where others are harmonizing to hear how magical voices blending together can be.

The human voice is multi-textured and emotionally expressive and when you put people together who have different range and tones and sing different parts and let them go at it, the results can astound you at times.

Surely The Ravens – rock’s very first vocal group – knew this as well as anybody and here they attempt to bring that loose feeling of casual camaraderie to the public, striving to present an informal woodshedding session that record buyers rarely, if ever, get to witness for themselves.

It may not be a typical commercial single, but as a glimpse behind the curtain it’s got a certain appeal.


Door To Door
Ever since rock ‘n’ roll began in 1947 the major labels have been either condescending towards the music, indifferent about it, or only sporadically interested when they hoped to reap some sales from it. Needless to say none of those attitudes are going to be worth much to artists or fans of the style.

Yet of the major labels Mercury Records seemed to view rock ‘n’ roll as something with more potential than the other representatives of the establishment – RCA, Columbia, Capitol and Decca – as they’ve made a couple of excursions into this field before abandoning them all for awhile, then regrouping and trying again.

In 1950 they focused entirely on New Orleans artists with some artistic and brief commercial success. Then they turned to jazz-rooted session musicians with rock experience hoping to get some instrumentals that split the difference between styles to get the label in the side door so to speak.

When that didn’t work they decided to spend some actual money and sign artists with big names and lots of success in rock ‘n’ roll, namely Johnny Otis and The Ravens. Both however were nowhere near as potent as they used to be, something not helped by the label steering The Ravens towards laughably ancient pop songs so far.

But as always the group’s leader, Jimmy Ricks, seemed to be the one guy in the room who was smart enough to make sure they didn’t lose their rock credibility entirely by writing songs like Why Did You Leave Me, which may not be cutting edge stuff for 1952, but was sure better than the 1927 song they issued on the more heavily promoted top side.

What’s interesting about it however isn’t that Mercury agreed to put out this song as a B-side, but rather they agreed to put it out when it almost sounds like a demo session.

Yet arguably that’s the best thing about it.

Ain’t Gonna Worry No More
To be fair I’m not saying that it WAS a demo that got issued by mistake, just that it has the loose feel of one which is seen in how the group is singing their very first line behind Ricky, each one trying to find their places as it comes together. For a group as tight as The Ravens this can’t help but stand out, especially when Ricks himself is taking awhile to find is footing, as is the band who seem unsure of their parts and are just playing a few notes here and there with no sense of direction.

Then there’s the fact that you can clearly hear some throat clearing and murmuring in the background and… wait a minute, maybe this IS a demo at that! At least an early run-through of a song that got pulled for release, perhaps because its casual vibe sounded better than some tighter polished attempts that followed.

Who knows, we don’t have access to the tape vault, but keep in mind that major labels did tend to be a little more free with the purse strings when it came to spending money on tape and studio time. Whereas a small independent might cut corners to save a few bucks, chances are Mercury would pay a little more to get the best sounding cuts.

Then again, you couldn’t pay money to get this kind of laid-back charm out of them, as Ricky lags behind some of his cues, doesn’t sell the early lines with the emphasis we’re used to out of him and the others are sort of lackadaisical during much of this. The musicians are really struggling to fall in behind them and play something sensible during the first half of Why Did You Leave Me, giving the impression this was not intended to be a final cut.

But at the halfway point the song magically comes together, as Ricks bears down hard and starts emoting with passion and the other guys tighten up their parts with quick staccato blasts of their own. Even the arrangement seems to pull things together in support of Ricky who is now pouring it on, full of fervor.

The song he wrote may not have a deep story – the plot doesn’t go far beyond what’s discernable from the title alone – but his anguish is ramped up to the point where what he’s saying is far less important than the way he’s saying it, which is all it needs to really sell the message.

By the end he once again sounds a bit like he’s improvising some lines, but because of how he wrung himself out leading up to that it’s not as if you’d find it better if every word, every sigh, every breath he took had been carefully planned out in advance.

Sometimes music is better when it does come across as off-the-cuff and while this is hardly a great composition – or a perfect performance for that matter – somehow they overcome all that with charisma alone.


Tell Me Somebody
Though the overall loose-knit vibe of this, plus the voice of Jimmy Ricks in all its glory, gives this added appeal, it’s still something best appreciated in a different state of mind than most people listen to records.

Which brings us back to the opening point about singing just for fun, especially with others. Granted it helps if everyone has good voices and can stay in key and carry a melody, but the ragged nature of those things is a good part of what makes them work. It’s not far-fetched to think that Jimmy Ricks understood this better than most and took the chance that others might find it alluring to hear them do it on record.

Any vocal group had to woodshed in their off-hours and Why Did You Leave Me, especially the first half, replicates that feeling pretty closely while the second half shows what a fair amount of that kind of practicing can result in.

If you’re a music fan, even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, you almost certainly have envisioned yourself being able to at some point in your life. Chances are you’ve probably caught yourself singing out loud along to a record when no one is around, wishing you had the talent and confidence to do it with others joining in.

If this record is as close as you’ll get to that, then maybe it wasn’t such a curious release after all. Heck, even the tone deaf Mercury staffers probably wished they could sing along to something half this good themselves.


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