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SAVOY 752; JUNE 1950

 
 

 

Here in the Twenty-First Century we know all too well that The Robins association with Johnny Otis ended back in February 1950 and consequently the records they made together before that split are running low by the midway point in the year.

We also know that without each other’s services both of them would suffer… Otis by having less diversity to draw from in his vast menagerie of acts, while The Robins would pay the price for being without a great songwriter, producer and band.

As a result looking back at each of these remaining releases becomes somewhat bittersweet as we can’t help but wonder what might’ve been, even as we’re still celebrating what once was… if only briefly.
 

 

The Sun And The Moon Above
This was a true group effort, a collective songwriting credit for Otis, various members of his band and The Robins themselves, suggesting it was put together in the studio based on somebody’s off-handed comment or a loose concept.

But while that kind of collaborative on-the-spot assembly might seem like a haphazard way of doing business, when you have as much talent on hand as they did the results are probably going to be worthwhile, as in the debate over what to include the good ideas will win out over bad with each person free to contribute something small but meaningful without feeling the need to keep throwing ideas out if nothing else comes to them.

What it really shows – and what’s really so disheartening about their ultimate breaking off of the relationship over a few bucks that Otis greedily pocketed – is how much fun they all seem to be having together, a sign that the working environment was casual, lighthearted and creative.

The record might not be an enduring masterpiece able to stand with any of their more famous triumphs but as slapdash efforts go I’m Living O.K. more than holds up, showing traits that would ultimately prove beneficial to The Robins down the road when they hooked up with some other multi-talented studio visionaries who’d revive their fortunes after most who’d heard them on this release had long since forgotten them.
 


 
 

You Said That You Loved Me
The musical and vocal sides of the equation each are carrying the same weight in this record and each hold that weight up admirably. It kicks off in typically bold and memorable fashion with Leard Bell’s cracking drums jolting you to pay attention, then Johnny’s vibes come in right on their heels adding a distinctively different, more melodic and delicate touch, before The Robins crash the party with Bobby Nunn’s bass out front but the others hardly taking a back seat with enthusiastic support.

Right away you have a decidedly potent mix to play with and we’re not even twenty seconds into I’m Living O.K..

A lot of the comically deep-voiced quasi-serious (but not really) delivery that Nunn perfected with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in the future is already evident here, especially his first couple of lines which give off the aura of humor even though the lines he’s singing are completely serious.

At that point of the song you’d be going out on a very thin limb if you ventured to say he’s purposefully not playing it straight, but there’s some definite innuendo being hinted at in his reading of it that colors the record and makes it more enjoyable than the somewhat typical thematic set-up.

As it goes on though you can see that subversive humor was definitely being implied, as Nunn extols his girl before dropping the news that he’s homeless, without transportation AND has no job, money or prospects, all of which – considering how lecherous he sounds – makes him come off like a sly con-artist of the highest order. Yet in spite of that it’s not shoved down your throat, you actually need to pay close attention to parse what he’s saying, even though HOW he’s saying it make what he implies unmistakable.

Of course The Robins were formed with the specific intent of being a Ravens imitator which is why Nunn got so many leads rather than the tenors Billy Richard or Ty Terrell. Yet while The Ravens certainly had sly humor as a common undercurrent of many of their records, it normally wasn’t stressed in them like it seems to be on I’m Living O.K.… something that would bear fruit in Robins records still to come.

That break from the old to something new was vital in expanding rock’s possibilities and it was something which also played to one of Johnny Otis’s writing strengths which is what made their rift so eternally frustrating. Had he been able to retain them there’s no telling what ground they might’ve plowed together, especially with The Robins able to contribute creatively rather than just vocally.

Here they sparkle, from Bobby’s suggestive intonations to the others full rich harmonies, both in what they sing as well as with the wordless variety… even the seemingly spontaneous scream in the instrumental break adds tremendous character to the record and if the lyrical follow-through doesn’t quite live up to the early promise, it never fails to be put across with genuine enthusiasm.
 


 

Just As Long As I Know You’re Mine
Whether Otis was inspired by the energy and sense of fun The Robins were exhibiting or if he was simply competitive and wanted to match their animated performance with an instrumental track that showcased a similar gusto, the effect it had was to raise the game of one of the best self-contained bands in rock who come up with a track to equal the singers’ prowess.

The intro was a pocket-sized highlight reel unto itself, but what follows managed at times to put even that to shame as Otis constantly builds the momentum up with hand-claps augmenting Bell’s solid drumming until the song somehow seems to be accelerating even though the tempo remains unchanged.

He’s also using his own vibes with surgical precision, throwing them into the mix to give the song color, their ringing notes cutting through the din without needing to be amplified artificially. But all of that, as good as it is, as full and distinctive as it sounds, is merely a prelude to the star of the show, Pete Lewis and his perennially lethal electric guitar.

Because the electric guitar had yet to ascend to the top of the rock instrumental mountain yet there was always the question of just how prominent you wanted to make it for fear of driving away listeners who might not be ready to embrace something so in-your-face. But on I’m Living O.K. they decide to tear the doors from their hinges and if anyone is bothered by it, well, the doorway is now wide open isn’t it, so you shouldn’t have any trouble running out and fleeing down the road in panic at what you hear.

Lewis enters rather discreetly, just playing fills between the early vocal lines, stinging but not too harsh, and never does it forcibly grab your attention. If anything you might not even notice them as the purpose here seems to be to just add another texture to the sounds. When Lewis steps aside for the bridge you surely assume that that’s all we’ll get out of him, other than maybe reprising what he’s already done when they come down the stretch.

Silly rabbit.

Once the instrumental break hits Lewis cuts loose, the first notes pricking your senses like a series of needles giving the record a decidedly different sensation, one with the whiff of danger.

When Otis’s vibes take over you feel as if the brief storm squall has passed safely but if you’ve opened your windows you better be prepared to batten them down again because now Lewis is coming on like a Category Four hurricane, violently shredding the strings with a vengeance as this somewhat frivolous tale has suddenly turned deadly.

The atmosphere of the two dominant traits – vocals and guitar – may not quite match up, but they don’t seem at odds sonically and as a result you just cling to whatever you can get a hold of and hang on tight until it subsides… worn out perhaps but grateful you lived through it all the same.
 


 

You Know I Love You Too
There’s so many different elements of this, all of which deserve praise, and with the unprecedented roll Otis was on commercially you’d think its sales would match its acclaim. Strangely it got neither.

Though it was praised in Cash Box, the dimwits at Billboard claimed it was a “sub-par effort”, giving it the lowest rating of any A-side reviewed that week.

The public seemed no more moved by it than they did, as I’m Living O.K. missed the charts altogether despite its vibrant edge… or maybe because of it.

Both The Robins style of humorous vocal suggestiveness and the kind of guitar pyrotechnics displayed by Lewis would only come into vogue a few years down the road and so this may have been a case of too much, too soon for the audience at the time.

But for those of you currently residing in the present there’s absolutely no excuse for missing out on this one now.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist pages of both and The Robins and Johnny Otis for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)