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SAVOY 752; JUNE 1950



Are you a glass half full or glass half empty kind of music fan?

For those who are the latter this record might be something of a disappointment, placing The Robins slightly behind the curve stylistically on a song that was already hampered from being taken from a much earlier time.

But if you’re the kind who looks to see the positive in every situation then this same record will give some idea of how advanced they were by radically updating it from its musty origins.

Around here we take both views of course, bemoaning those responsible for draining half the glass’s contents before we get a chance to drink from it, while at the same time savoring the half remaining that we get to consume ourselves.


Not To Blame
Despite the slightly outdated approach being used there’s still a few things to admire and in retrospect we can cut Otis a bit of slack for the simple reason that this song was taken from their very first session for Savoy… meaning that while it’s a little archaic for mid-1950, it was less so when they laid it down back in December 1949.

The problem is what else they cut that same day – as well as the sessions that followed the first two months of 1950 – rendered this track somewhat obsolete by comparison.

But therein lies our chance to see how Otis’s thinking rapidly evolved as they got down to business as There’s Rain In My Eyes finds The Robins initially being thought of still as a Ravens knock-off with Bobby Nunn in the Jimmy Ricks role expressing sorrow with deep gravitas, his bass voice not matching Ricky’s rumble but doing a fair enough job replicating it considering he’s a mere mortal.

To make that concept suitable they frame it in a way that is looking slightly backwards rather than trying to envision what lays over the next horizon.

Considering the source however this might not be too surprising as this was already an ancient standard from the 1930’s, embodying the hopelessly square collective mindset of that era of music where genuine emotional expression was whitewashed, steam-cleaned and probably de-loused for good measure to eliminate any suggestion that anybody was in possession of hormones… because we all know that when those go unchecked it can lead to such things such as wanton desire, passionate sex and eternal damnation.

So you must be thinking that the decision to have The Robins cut this dusty ode to what seemed like another universe reeked of either a complete misreading of the current musical market OR a conscious effort on somebody’s part to try and pull in older listeners to a younger style.

But no, what they have in mind is a thorough reinvention and while it fails to match their original material from the same session that was even MORE advanced, when looking at where this came from its attempts to transform it into something more modern is admirable all the same.

When I Think Of You
Okay, as painful as it is we need to first go back to the late 1930’s to fully understand where this came from and specifically the manner in which so many songs of that era rigidly sidestepped any and all suggestiveness even in what were clearly non-physical descriptions of love and heartbreak.

When it comes to this song the worst offender was Leo Reisman’s recording wherein Felix Knight delivers as florid a vocal as you could possibly imagine. He’s so ridiculously stilted that you can’t believe he’s ever actually seen a girl, let alone dated one, for he clearly has no idea what feelings would be stirred by a romance gone awry.

Al Bowlly’s competing version isn’t much better in case you were wondering, as once again the aim with these seems to be to merely convey the story via the lyrics and let the listeners own experiences add the pangs of hurt, regret and misery that accompany the plot.

Johnny Otis’s decision to revive this was therefore a questionable one, although no doubt he was drawn towards Fletcher Henderson’s take on the song which is simply the best of a bad lot, not something which is necessarily good in any way on its own.

On one hand The Robins were a strange choice to try and tackle There’s Rain In My Eyes, not just because they were a group rather than a soloist, but because they’d specialized in comic relief to date and with Bobby Nunn’s bass leads there was a much greater chance that it’d be seen as a humorous send-up even if it were played straight.

But on the other hand it was an inspired choice because using them was more likely to blow up the song’s entire prototype in the process, as it’d have to be drastically re-arranged for the different personel, let alone a new era suitable for a dozen years after the originals had come out.

Where they succeed is in the former – the way The Robins themselves transform it – yet where they fall short is in the latter, as they don’t take the musical arrangement far enough into the present to make it a perfect fit in the rock landscape of 1950.


That’s The Way It Goes
We start with Otis’s vibes setting a delicate mood before Nunn’s deep echoing vocals come in sounding ethereal and totally modern to boot. But when the others join in to harmonize it takes a step back, if not two.

Part of this is not exactly their fault. There’s Rain In My Eyes is a ballad, not a bouncing rocker and so there’s not much they can do other than take it easy and emphasize their blend. But it’s a mild sound and that invariably conjures up images of days gone by which, combined with the almost serene sorrow expressed in the lyrics by Nunn, makes this too passive a cut for a lot of rock fans to latch onto.

As it goes on Nunn struggles a bit to hold firm on the shaky melody… at times he sounds sublime, usually in short bursts when he can hold a low note until it nearly puts him to sleep, but when he’s got to navigate too much territory with his range he slips just enough to break the spell.

Yet in spite of this there are still moments where it works nicely, some of which, like The Robins wordless humming behind certain lines, is so simple that it can’t help but be appreciated. But then they take on a much poppier style at other times with their ”Oohs” that knocks this back down again.

The same give and take is present in the instrumental arrangement where at every turn something good leads to something bad that immediately takes away from the mood it had been setting. After Otis’s vibes give the track a dreamy quality, here comes a little fill by Devonia Williams on piano that jolts you back in time ten years. Pete Lewis’s guitar adds a little sizzle in the distance but then there’s the soft supper club drumming to remind you just where this came from.

The results aren’t exactly schizophrenic, there’s no sudden jarring shifts in the presentation, but there’s never any sustained excellence either. It’s a record that at times exceeds its origins and yet is inevitably hampered by its origins just the same, making it more of a case of which perspective you want to view it from.

When I Think Of You
The thing to remember of course is the rock fan of 1950 had only one perspective, that being how does this record compare to other rock records released at this same time?

In that competition this will clearly fall short, as it will when comparing it to previous releases by The Robins which were more forward thinking.

There’s Rain In My Eyes may indeed be quite a ways away from whence it came and had this come out two years earlier then it probably would look a whole lot better than it does now when it’s only modestly suitable as a B-side… a leftover track pulled off the shelf to get another Robins single on the market now that they had flown Savoy’s coop.

But around here, some seventy years in the future, we can at least take a step back and get a sense of what Johnny Otis was trying to do as he figured out the best course for the group to take. That the partnership didn’t stay together long is the real crime here, not this ultimately inoffensive – yet inessential – stepping stone to a new path laid out before them.


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