No tags :(

Share it




Of all of the qualities humans possess, desperation must rank near the bottom.

It’s not quite as bad as raging insecurity, rampant dishonesty and criminal stupidity, the combination of which is rarely seen a single human being unless they’re loitering in a courtroom on their way to a dank prison cell for life, but when it comes to non-psychopaths of the world the sudden appearance of desperation in somebody who once was admirable is never a pretty sight.

The Ravens – or at least their current record label Mercury – may indeed have a touch of insecurity about their ability to compete in the current market, and they also may be misleading about this current offering and dumb enough to think it might actually work, but their greatest offense remains being desperate enough to try and lure in old fans by repurposing a song like this in the first place.


Tell Me That You Want Me
Let’s try and put ourselves in the offices of Mercury Records in mid-1952.

Your pop material is doing just fine for you, while your older Black constituency is being satisfied by the great Dinah Washington, but your attempts at conquering rock ‘n’ roll – certainly the fasting growing market out there – is lagging woefully behind.

So you try to secure a seat at the table by bringing in big names with impressive track records from years gone by like Johnny Otis and The Ravens, even if the audience you hope to reach has largely moved on from them by now.

After the first handful of offerings by the latter group were aesthetically dismal and commercially stillborn – and not knowing you had the key to a revival on the top side with Rock Me All Night Long – you went searching for material that would a) be appropriate for The Ravens to sing, b) draw notice from the group’s remaining fan base and c) still have some semblance of mainstream respectability so your shareholders don’t have a conniption.

Where can we find such a song?

Paging Joe Liggins…

Liggins, you surely remember, is the older brother of rock star Jimmy Liggins. A piano playing bandleader of the immediate pre-rock era who by now is no longer considered a threat to decency the way he was in 1945 when his record The Honeydripper conjured up all sorts of impure thoughts in white America.

In 1950 he cut One Sweet Letter featuring female vocalist Candy Rivers, but the song was held back a full year before getting a release last summer after which none other than Patti Page, a Mercury artist herself, issued a version of it as the B-side to her sizable hit And So To Sleep Again.

Page belted it out admirably but the brassy arrangement did the song no favors, so a year later the Mercury decided to have The Ravens do it, but sadly they weren’t thinking of the artistic potential it had, but instead they were dreaming of ways they might be able to put one over on the group’s remaining fans.

By lengthening the title to Write Me One Sweet Letter by using the full line found in the chorus, they’d be reminding one and all of The Ravens first rock hit from 1947, Write Me A Letter. Ingenious of them, isn’t it?

Never mind that it was a different song with a different plot and that it was five whole years later and the current rock audience may have not even been listening to music in 1947 to recall it, Mercury Records was just desperate enough by now to try anything in order to have their signing of The Ravens pay off in the hopes of securing some rock credibility in the process.

You Can Plainly See
Maybe something this shallow and transparent would’ve worked… in 1948.

Certainly the musical arrangement, the vocal parts and the overall vibe it gives off suggests it’s from that vintage anyway even if Joe Liggins hadn’t conceived it for another two years in reality.

But then again Liggins himself was stuck even further in the past than The Ravens were and while this record deviates from his arrangement, it definitely doesn’t improve upon it by making it more invigorating, more modern or more suited for rock ‘n’ roll.

Gee, it’s almost as if Mercury Records doesn’t grasp the genre’s musical attributes, and/or disapproves of them entirely! Who’d have ever guessed that?

At least Joe Liggins could write a good song, and while we disapprove of the reasons why Write Me One Sweet Letter was chosen for The Ravens, there’s still the potential for them to deliver a quality performance with it.

But right away you get the idea that they’re going to be facing an uphill climb as there’s nothing innovative about the track. Pounding piano gives way to harmony vocals that might not qualify as listless, but are hardly enthusiastic and who can blame them? They know what the deal is here and even if it wasn’t blatantly deceptive, when you’re this far into rock’s lifespan it’s kind of difficult to get worked up over a girl penning a note to them unless she sticks a few naked snapshots of herself in the envelope.

Even Jimmy Ricks, who can usually inject even the most sacrosanct material with lecherous undertones, mails this one in. Begging girls for attention by this point is beneath him, almost refuting all of his past conquests.

It’d be one thing if they tweaked the lyrics, even just with a few ad-libbed side-comments – such as “You know what I want” or ”Deliver it yourself” – but instead we get them chanting “Write, write, write, write!” like a bunch of overbearing mothers instructing their ungrateful offspring to dash off a Thank You note to your crazy Aunt who sent you mittens for your birthday in the middle of a summer heat wave.

Even with an electric guitar trying to escape from purgatory throughout the track there’s no real excitement to be found in the arrangement, no cacophony being presented to take it further away from its source.

That’s the problem… both Liggins and Page did it better for their respective genres than The Ravens are doing for theirs. Yes, we personally might find a little more appeal in hearing Ricky’s voice than his competitors, but our expectations are far higher than with those and at no point do The Ravens come close to meeting them.


Driving Me Insane
Few record companies ever a truly confident about their ability to sell their product consistently. They fret over what they perceive to be a fickle audience and are always petrified the bottom is going to fall out of the market.

And that’s the successful labels!

For major labels like Mercury who didn’t understand rock ‘n’ roll culturally, didn’t approve of it morally and didn’t like it personally, this was even more of an issue because they DID crave it commercially and yet had absolutely no idea of what to do when it came to who to sign, what songs to cut, what arrangements to give them and how to push those records to the right people.

As a result you get things like Write Me One Sweet Letter, something that they viewed as more of a clever scheme than a legitimate form of artistic expression for The Ravens. Not surprisingly those who saw it staring out at them knew before even listening that it was contrived.

Luckily it was slapped on the back of a more authentic rock original that became a legitimate hit which kept them relevant for awhile longer. But what becomes obvious with this half-hearted attempt is once again the group was trying to overcome the outdated mindset of their record company and that’s hard to do even when you’re young and headstrong.

The Ravens, though not old in years, had some mileage on them and as veterans who’d already made it big they were becoming complacent and in rock ‘n’ roll that’s akin to a death sentence when it comes to maintaining the fan base’s interest.

So the group is at yet another crossroad in their career. One way was a rockier climb, much harder to navigate and keep your footing with no assurance you’ll get back to where you want to be. Meanwhile this side of the single was the easier direction to take, a smooth road without a lot of twists and turns, but one that went straight downhill.

We can only hope they choose don’t choose that one… this one… again.


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