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It’s amazing what bargains you can find at going out of business sales…

We last encountered The Shadows in February with their second release on Lee Records, a label started specifically to showcase them.

As you might expect, despite an early hit by the group the company was unable to meet the demands of the business and quickly folded. But The Shadows themselves were now a commodity to be used to make back some of that money that Ed Levy, their manager and the owner of the label, had lost trying to get it off the ground.

So he sold the remaining unissued masters to Sittin’ In With Records who managed to get themselves an unlikely minor hit out of this shopping trip.


If Unpaid Bills Have Made You Blue
Of all the vocal groups to have made inroads with their rock output, maybe none were as surprising as The Shadows.

A veteran club act who were all in their thirties, presumably past the age of being corrupted by this new music, they saw their fortunes rise when they added a much younger lead singer in Scott King who was more in tune with the onrushing musical revolution. His soulful leads and emotional readings gave them an edge over those like-minded veteran groups who only turned to this style out of desperation or pressure from their record labels.

Yet as good as they could be – and I’ve Been A Fool, their debut, was excellent – they clearly were straining at the requirements of committing to rock across the board. Like so many people in all walks of life caught up in a moment they don’t fully understand, it’s not hard to see how quickly they could fall out of favor if they don’t keep up.

Jitterbug Special is their last gasp… commercially speaking that is. Creatively it’s barely breathing.

One reason for this is that it’s not being sung by King, but rather baritone Sam McClure who shows his age and his musical preference for much older types of music that were rapidly falling out of favor making this not so much a rock record as a record by a one-time rock act… an important distinction to make just so that nobody fears we’ve lost our hearing or our minds by including this.

But since we’ve covered them to date when they were abiding by rock’s ground rules we’re obligated to show just how they turned their backs on the music and left us behind.

Forget Your Aches And Pains
To be fair, this was actually the first song The Shadows recorded for Lee Records who – smartly – held off on releasing it in favor of much better sides featuring King on lead. Presumably once they heard what he brought to the table that was the direction they knew they had to head in if they wanted to make good in this market.

We’ll also cut a little slack for McClure himself because it’s not as if he’s got a bad voice or a shoddy delivery, it’s just that everything about Jitterbug Special from the title to the arrangement is from another lifetime ago in music terms. While this may have made the grade for 1943 it’s obviously not going to impress audiences much in 1950 other than older fans who miss the good ol days of war rationing and music sung with smiles… most of whom apparently lived in Cincinnati (where this went Top 5) and Dallas (Top Ten).

But as outdated as it is at least it’s got some pep to it which makes it lighthearted enough to not get too upset with them for their choices here. The dramatic piano that opens this is somewhat misleading for what follows, but the bouncy melody quickly re-sets the scene. We even get a few moments of nice harmony before McClure comes storming in, his voice with its warm and friendly tones sounds reassuring as he details what sounds like a Depression era existence with an unusual amount of optimism in his voice.

The title refers to a train (don’t ask, I can’t explain it either) and the piano led rhythm underneath it chugs along to suit that image. The saxophone is the one component of the record that actually resembles rock ‘n’ roll, giving us a modest solo, well-judged if underpowered and thankfully it goes on long enough to stave off the truly archaic harmony vocals that follow for a little longer.

Again, The Shadows sound fine here from a purely technical standpoint, their voices blend nicely and there’s no doubt they can sing well, but so can the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and nobody wants to hear them masquerade as a rock group either.

The difference though is you wouldn’t be swayed into buying a record with their name on the label, whereas The Shadows had given you your money’s worth in the past, prompting you to give this a shot. Maybe your only saving grace in that scenario is that you wound up with a slightly used Christmas gift to give your aunt and uncle who still talk about USO dances with a gleam in their eye.

I’m Leaving You
Because of the order of releases this comes across as a definite step backwards for The Shadows… a giant leap backwards actually… but that was merely a business related quirk, not an outright rejection of what they’d already given you.

But that information wouldn’t likely be known by those unfortunate enough to take a chance on this based on their past output, nor would it matter much even if it had been publicized.

No matter how much you might appreciate its attributes in a vacuum Jitterbug Special belongs to another era, another audience, another set of expectations that are far different than what we have here.

In that earlier context this would be mildly recommended sandwiched between more sedate records by The Ink Spots and Erskine Hawkins, but in the fast and furious, rough and tumble world of 1950 rock ‘n’ roll this is simply a reminder of how time never stands still and whatever train they were on here clearly wasn’t moving fast enough to keep pace with modern tastes.


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