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DECCA 48162; JUNE 1950



Two-sided hits in the singles era was one surefire way of confirming an artist’s appeal but oddly enough they were not always the most desired outcome when releasing a record… for either the company or the artist themselves.

Since you can’t charge more for buying a record with two hits on it, the labels would just assume splitting those hits, one each on subsequent singles, rather than doubling up on them, while the artists could improve their stock more with two consecutive hits instead of being able to point to just one record that was hot enough to get both songs on the charts.

The Ray-O-Vacs were in no position to quibble with the results however after a year and a half drought on the national charts. But rather than kick off a run of success this record marked both their career high as well as the beginning of the end of their popularity.


Just About Ready
Because The Ray-O-Vacs were stylistically limited in many ways they were at a disadvantage when it came to sustaining long term interest as it was. After all, if each song is cut from the same basic cloth as the one before it then there’s not the same urgency to keep buying them as there would be with an artist who always gave you something different.

This meant the group was even more reliant on high quality compositions – compelling themes, clever lyrics, a solid musical structure – than most acts were since others with more variance in their repertoire could get your attention via radical changes in approach even if the underlying songs were somewhat weaker.

The Ray-O-Vacs by comparison stuck with what they did well giving you Chink Kinney’s smokey sax, Joe Crump’s deft piano, Flap McQueen’s steady bass and Lester Harris’s subtle drumming and slightly hoarse but still soothing vocals on moderately paced songs, of which the rather convoluted titled You Gotta Love Me Baby Too qualifies on all accounts.

The thing is though, this IS a good song on paper, just as it is a good song on wax, and it does show that the group were hitting their peak creatively after arriving at Decca Records last winter.

But it also shows that even when everything went right and they had a good song – two of them on the same single in fact – they were still confined to the same small stylistic box that probably ensured their future prospects were limited unless they expanded their outlook considerably going forward.


Here’s What You Gotta Do
Though you know pretty much what you’re going to get from them going in – a mid-tempo song with laid back attitude being conveyed by Harris vocally while the primary support comes from Kinney’s softly buzzing sax – in this case it’s the quirkiness of the song that sets it apart, allowing it to rise above their usual output.

The most notable musical attribute of the song is the prancing choppy melody which implies a constantly surging rhythm without actually giving us a notable backbeat. It’s a neat trick, not only catchy to listen to but also in that it breaks up the vocal lines in unusual ways meaning Harris has to alter his approach to make it fit.

The immediate benefit of this is it forces you to pay closer attention to the lyrics which are among their best to date. Normally The Ray-O-Vacs had rather simple, often overly simplistic, stories to work with and it was only Harris’s reading of them with his ragged soulful tint that redeemed them. With You Gotta Love Me Baby Too however the song is what’s going to be pulling Harris along and it’ll be up to him to try and match the content.

Now before anyone goes looking for some Shakespearean lines in the song, or even complex emotional scenarios, don’t bother, it’s not that kind of song. But what it does have is a level-headed look at the often suppressed expectations an easy-going guy has when dealing with a women he loves but is frequently frustrated by.

The situations are laid out in such a way that there’s no mounting conflict between the pair that threatens to end their relationship altogether, but rather gives us a form of couples counseling wherein Harris brings up certain annoyances that are easily correctable if she’s as committed to their happiness and compatibility as he is.

Some of the lines are fairly humorous but all of them are both true to life and well phrased, and as with the title which throws the “baby” in a place you don’t expect it to be (not literally, don’t call child welfare on them), the stanzas use slightly more inventive word play to make their point which guarantees you don’t miss that point as you might if they stuck to the same old terminology.

The stop-start technique that Harris has to employ to let the music catch up with him also keeps the focus where it should be and makes the modest instrumental accompaniment seem much more effective than its individual parts would suggest.

Kissin’ Ain’t Kissin’ If You Don’t Kiss Back
For a foursome that has no amplified electric instruments, doesn’t even have a full horn section while their drummer is focused more on singing than hitting the skins, The Ray-O-Vacs somehow make this track sound almost in your face without playing anything emphatically along the way.

It could be that the studio engineer is a master of microphone placement, or maybe they were able to adjust the mix on the board to give the music a little boost, but I think it really comes down to their arrangement which emphasizes that delayed beat in the precise space where it doesn’t have to compete with the vocals and that allows it to come alive more than it otherwise would.

They’re certainly not playing anything all that challenging on You Gotta Love Me Baby Too, just a basic shuffle pattern, but each instrument carves out their own space giving the others plenty of room to breathe and while Kinney’s sax is the most prominent among them, he’s not raising his volume to be heard, but rather letting the distinctive tone of his sax – sort of a very mild version of the sound Junior Walker would get fifteen years down the road with its rippling sheet-metal effect – work its way into your consciousness.

When he gets a solo he takes it slow and easy, sort of like he’s wandering through the lunch hour crowd on a city’s streets when he himself is in no rush to get back to the office. It’s got a calming effect on things and while you could certainly make the case that showing a little more vigor in his lines wouldn’t have hurt their cause, you can’t say definitively that it would’ve helped much because the entire mood of this record is one that resists agitation.

They give a sublime performance rather than a rousing one and is something that can be easily appreciated without necessarily getting excited about.

If You Want Me To Love You
We started off this review by saying it might’ve been better for their careers if this had been held back for a later single to give them a strong follow-up to the top-side of this release, the beguiling Bésame Mucho, a theory we’ll stick to even though that too has it’s drawbacks.

Were a record this low-key and subtle in its charms the plug side of a record it’s certainly possible that it might not draw enough curious listeners on its own to turn it into a hit without having the benefit of being on the flip of a record audiences couldn’t get enough of.

We like to think audiences have good taste and a nose for sniffing out quality records on their own but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes it helps to nudge them in the right direction with a song with more obvious hit potential sharing the same single, letting the audience buy it for that and be pleasantly surprised when flipping it over to discover an almost equally solid B-side.

You Gotta Love Me Baby Too is just such a record, one deserving of being a small hit but which needed something more potent than its own contents to propel it onto the charts. It’s possible that as a quick follow-up to a big hit there’d have been enough immediate interest to stir up some action on it, but chances are it’s something that is just a little too understated to attract enough attention on its own to make it a smash.

That’s unfortunate but it’s also the reality The Ray-O-Vacs needed to address. They were shaping up to be an interesting act more than a truly compelling one, even with the occasional surprises like both sides of this single.

Sometimes, especially in rock ‘n’ roll, it’s best to focus first on getting yourself noticed by any means necessary, then working out the details like coming up with music to justify that response.


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