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DECCA 48274; JANUARY 1952



Wait a minute… what is THIS?

Are we sure this is the right group? These are The Ray-O-Vacs we’re talking about, right? The group who’ve done more for insomniacs than an overturned truck of Ambien?

Didn’t we just get done suggesting in each of the last, oh I don’t know, half dozen reviews of theirs that we might be better off casting them aside now that their borderline rock efforts have gotten increasingly out of step with where the music is headed?

Yes… to all of those questions. But here they are again and not because we’re cutting them some slack but rather because they’ve legitimately earned it. In fact, records like this are what justifies our leniency in keeping certain figures around past their expiration date, because who knows when the light bulb will go off in their minds and they suddenly “get it” and start to give us what we’ve been asking for all along.


Make You Reach Your Goal
Okay, hold your horses now. Don’t anybody get carried away with this, thinking it’s a lost masterpiece… it’s not.

Not by a long shot.

But what it is might be even more impressive in a weird sort of way than if they had completely overhauled their entire approach and started raving like a teenage garage band fronted by a gospel-fueled screamer.

In that instance we’d be impressed – and more than a little shocked – but it’d almost be easier to grasp because everything they did would’ve been exchanged for something entirely new so how could it NOT result in a much different listening experience.

By contrast She’s A Real Lovin’ Baby impresses because of its improvements on the margins of what they have already done… and already driven into the ground.

This is a record that merely tweaks their formula rather than tosses it out and mixes all new ingredients together and in the process it shows exactly what we’ve been saying all along, namely that they were never that far off from being modestly acceptable in rock ‘n’ roll.

Granted they’ll never be cutting edge and will certainly never truly “Wow” you with one of their records this way, but the leap from being consistently boring and irrelevant to being moderately enjoyable and firmly in the realm of average is probably a more difficult jump to make than an artist who is consistently average suddenly releasing a very good record.

With the latter we knew they had it in them, but with The Ray-O-Vacs we were becoming increasingly convinced that they didn’t even know which way was up, let alone able to find that ladder and climb their way up to sea level again.

Yet here they are, poking their head above ground for the first time in quite awhile.

Satisfys My Soul
The first thing you should notice if you care about such things, is the name of the songwriter.

This is not a warmed over standard from years gone by, nor is it a submission by one of the Tin Pan Alley hacks Decca Records may have turned to in desperation. Instead this came from the pen of their new lead singer, Herb Milliner, which is a welcome sign.

Writing your own material is not a prerequisite for success by any means, but it does afford you one distinct advantage over those who don’t… you get to control your own artistic direction. Which style to pursue, what perspective to offer, what attributes to highlight are decided by you, not someone else submitting material that you must conform to.

Milliner’s song grabs your attention right away by the title and the message it implies. The use of the word “baby”, hardly noteworthy in other rock acts, takes on a more aggressive posture coming from these guys who don’t usually seem the kind to show much sexual confidence.

This newfound outlook is confirmed by the pacing of the record. It’s decidedly mid-tempo but there’s a loping quality to it that makes it sound eager and expectant, something conveyed even better by Milliner’s insistent tone. Gone is the cautious breathy delivery in stops and starts that had been carried over from his predecessor, Lester Harris, and while Milliner is hardly competing with the likes of rousing shouters or wailing emotional dramatists, he’s bearing down much harder than usual and sounding good doing it.

The result is a song that rolls along rather than huffs and puffs to get to the finish line. The music is still in the slower lane thanks to Flap McQueen’s far too prominent bass which is content to play simple patterns that drives the instrumental engine, but he’s definitely forced to break into a trot in order to keep up with Milliner’s lead.

With no guitarist and surprisingly minimal work by Joe Crump’s piano, which might’ve improved this substantially if he’d thrown in some discreet boogie-woogie runs, we’re left with Chink Kinney’s sax as the primary melodic accompanist. Although he he seems stuck in his usual wheezy state of mind at first, he too gets inspired along the way and delivers a fairly decent solo that starts off wandering around looking for the door but once he opens it midway through he starts to cut loose more than we’ve heard him do in a long time.

The story behind all this is pretty basic, it’s little more than an eager ode to a girl that Herb has been clearly boinking – maybe his first by the sounds of it since the qualities he does lay out in more detail are rather run-of-the-mill – but his enthusiasm is genuine and when he gets to the stop-time sections you almost expect him to bust a nut.

But hey, everybody’s got to experience that joyful discovery at some point in life and the fact it’s taken The Ray-O-Vacs longer than most to get past first base with a girl is nothing we should hold against them. Better late than never, so why not let ‘em enjoy it?


Kisses Me At Midnight
When this group impressed us a few times earlier in their journey the reasons for it were far different than what wins us over this time around.

The debut hit I’ll Always Be In Love With You had contained something unique in how it came across. All of those things we’d later say were tedious and uninspired sounded fresh and innovative at first listen and was a welcome change to what else was going on in rock at the time.

It took awhile for them to tweak that formula though and when they finally did so it wouldn’t be for long, as they’d revert back to that same approach afterwards, but that one moment of inspiration on Bésame Mucho, though embodying some of the same qualities as always, had the advantage of being an exotic song by nature which their reading was able to intensify.

Both of those in a way could be seen as flukes though, nothing more than the right songs at the right times to stand out. Everything else by contrast had stood out in a bad way simply because it was so far behind the curve.

Here you’d never say that She’s A Real Lovin’ Baby was ahead of the curve, but it was at the very least rounding into the existing curve with a self-assured look in its eye. You can almost envision the newcomer Milliner telling them they were at risk of being discarded by the rock community if they didn’t step their game up and while they may have doubted him, or downplayed his concerns, he held firm and showed them the right path to follow, dragging the rest along with him.

It’s no guarantee of course that they’ll keep heading in this direction, and surely the odds against them taking an even bigger creative leap down the road falls somewhere between slim and none, but just this small step shows you can’t count them out entirely.

This isn’t their best record, certainly not for the context of the specific era each single came out in, but it’s arguably their most impressive from the standpoint of surpassing what we’ve come to expect out of them by this point.

But then again that’s a truism about life itself, just when you’re about to give up on someone that’s when they’re most likely to surprise you.


(Visit the Artist page of The Ray-O-Vacs for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)