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LEE 200; DECEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

One thing about coming out of the gate with something that is truly astounding in popular culture is that the next move you make will surely serve to cut you back down to size.

As truisms go this is almost inevitable in any field, be it writing, acting, directing or singing, which is why sometimes… most of the time even… the better chance for lasting acclaim is to impress right away but leave room for improvement, allowing you to build to a peak rather than have to sustain a peak achieved right away.

Orson Welles never could match his debut Citizen Kane, made when he was just 26 years old, and although he made some great movies after that he was always seen as someone who never fulfilled his promise. A few decades later Tatum O’Neal was a ten year old with no acting experience who won an Oscar her first time out in Paper Moon and became the go-to child actress for a few years, able to bring a natural depth to her characters, something which seemed to leave her as she became an adult.

Maybe the most striking example of all is the fact that Harper Lee never even attempted to follow up her debut novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, one of the most brilliant books ever written.

Why mess with success?

Because for most who get into these fields the first step is always taken with the understanding it will lead someplace further down the road, even if it rarely does so to the satisfaction of those involved.
 

 

I’ll Do My Best To Explain
Being two-sides of their first single maybe this shouldn’t be counted as any type of follow-up since all we’re doing is choosing to review this after covering the hit side of their debut first. It’s not as if it had been cut after I’ve Been A Fool became a smash and they had to sit down and decide what the next move would be as a result.

These were recorded at the same time and even if the other side stood out right away to those in the studio there was still the little matter of what the public might choose as their favorite to be settled. As a result when this was released it conceivably could’ve been THIS side that drew the interest, or more likely neither side, since The Shadows weren’t exactly well known and since their record label had only just been started – by their own manager – to get them some exposure.

Hardly the formula for success. I mean, it’s not like Orson Welles filmed Citizen Kane on a home movie camera and showed it on the side of a barn to his friends, or Harper Lee had the option of self-publishing to get her book out there.

The Shadows might have not quite been operating on that level but it was barely a step above it, all things considered. Yet in spite of the obstacles that even well-established labels with a long history with distributors, jukebox operators and radio stations to fall back on presumably didn’t have to contend with, Lee Recordings was able to get this heard by the right people and those people, or rather their customers, did the rest.

Since the top side became a hit, and was as deserving of that status as any record we’ve encountered, what did it really matter what was on the flip side? What could Nobody Knows possibly show us that would change our opinion on the merits of the other song, or which would make us any less likely to want to hear their sophomore effort when that came out?

Wouldn’t the NEXT record – even though it too was probably cut at the same session – be the more accurate way to judge their long term prospects than the B-side of their first record?

Well… no. Actually, let me be more emphatic: NO, of course not! If anything this side might even be a more accurate way to estimate their chances going forward precisely because it was done before the response to that initial hit shaded their approach. If The Shadows truly had it in them to become lasting stars it stands to reason that it’d be seen here as well. If not, if it were run of the mill, or worse yet if it was substandard in every way, then maybe it’d prove that they’d simply gotten lucky the first time around and now would settle back down to earth.
 

Someone Here Like You
So let’s cut to the chase and not string anybody along because it’s probably already fairly obvious from the first two sections of this review that Nobody Knows is not as good as what was found on the other side.

But then again how could it be? Had they cut another tender ballad it’d be hard to tap into the same emotional content without appropriating the entire feel of I’ve Been A Fool, so that leaves heading in an altogether different direction as their best option – and one we’re glad they took, even more so because it was written by one of their members, Sam McClure, showing that they were taking control of their own destiny in a way that was admirable for any artist.

But every act has their strengths and it’s pretty obvious that breathless ballads were The Shadows best stylistic approach and so they’re going to have to reinvent themselves somehow to make this side work… not impossible certainly, but the attributes which made their first effort so successful will not really be available for them to draw from here.

So where exactly can you take this to make it distinctive enough to be able to stand on its own two feet?

How about to the doorstep of Elvis Presley.

Say WHAT??!!?!

I know what you’re thinking, in December 1949 Elvis Aron Presley was just about to turn 15 years old and aside from singing on his front steps he hadn’t acquired the confidence to unleash his voice to the world, nor presumably had even found a unique style to call his own.

Maybe the fact he hadn’t found one yet is because the one he eventually took came from Scott King on Nobody Knows.

We’ll get to Elvis in due time here on Spontaneous Lunacy of course, it’d be kind of hard to overlook him when we hit the mid-1950’s even if our explicit goal here wasn’t to cover all of rock history, but this is a more appropriate place to first bring this up than when he first steps into the Sun Records studio in 1954 because here we see some very distinctive traits that early rockabilly-era ballad-singing Presley will take for himself.

I’m not saying he stole them outright from King – besides, stealing someone else’s vocal characteristics when starting out is par for the course, ask Mick Jagger who “borrowed” Don Covay’s style, or any number of mid-1950’s tenor vocalists who seemed to channel Clyde McPhatter’s voice and phrasing with unerring accuracy – but while I’ve never read any commentary on Elvis that connected him with Scott King, or made even passing mention of this group or this song, one listen to it and it’s hard NOT to see the resemblance.

It’s not the whole delivery by any means (and I can envision the Presley faithful decrying even this in vociferous terms) but King employs a breathy hiccuping tic any time he’s forced to pause in the delivery. It’s most apparent mid-song, on the lines “Some…times… I feel… so lone-lee” and its follow up“So long…as Iiii… have.. you… bay-bee”.

Now granted this is a small sample size but considering Presley’s fanatical musical immersion in rock records from the very start, is it entirely unlikely that he got his hands on a Top Ten hit during his mid-teen years and flipped that record over, heard Nobody Knows and, whether intentionally or coincidentally, imitated it, maybe even forgetting where he first heard it once he started doing it for effect, and honed it himself over the next few years because he liked the way it sounded?

I’d say it’s not only possible, but entirely plausible, though of course we’ll never really know for sure.

But as intriguing as all that may be to those of us in the future this is still a record of The Shadows who have their own goals to try and meet, irrespective of what some greasy haired white boy in the Memphis projects thought of their efforts.
 

I’ll Try To Express
The song is definitely too jaunty to be called a ballad but it’s not uptempo enough, nor quite exciting enough thanks to an absence of more forceful accompaniment, to really set itself apart much, which is why Scott King’s role is so vital in selling this. Similarities to someone from around the corner aside, he is once again the best aspect of the record, just as he was on the other side. The difference is Nobody Knows has far less going for it outside of his lead, and even his own stellar work here is done in large part with smoke and mirrors because he has little to work with.

The ringing piano of full-time member – non-vocal division – Bobby Buster that leads this off is buttressed by a snaky distant sounding electric guitar each of which offer some interesting contrast for the voice that comes in pretty quickly. Once King is in the picture the piano confines itself to playing the changes well out of the range for the microphone to clearly pick up while the guitar chips in with the fills in between vocal lines.

It needs more.

Oh and how it needs more! A drummer for one would help and if they DO have a drummer on the record maybe next time they can remember to give him sticks, or at least a pedal for the bass drum, both of which would supply a much appreciated backbeat to give this more drive.

The saxophone we loved so much on I’ve Been A Fool has disappeared altogether, maybe he was traded during the seventh inning stretch for the guitarist who hadn’t been seen on the flip side, but a few sultry and/or raunchy sax lines would do wonders here to break this up.

Sparing these more drastic changes how about coaxing the other Shadows one step closer to the microphone… or perhaps letting them into the studio itself for that matter, because they are curiously inaudible for much of this, turning a vocal group record into a quasi-solo performance.

Oh, they’re somewhere lost in the mist, we hear them “oohing” a few times, and they do manage a couple vocal replies to King, and one group vocal they share with him and sound fine doing so, but that makes you wonder if they were already at risk for becoming little more than a visual component to use on stage to balance the picture out. We’ve decried The Ravens for relying TOO much on Jimmy Ricks in the past but at least they give the others a few moments in the spotlight every now and then, here the other Shadows remain… you guessed it, mostly in the shadows.

So you might be thinking that those criticisms will deep six the record, leaving you with merely a good lead vocalist singing a fairly mediocre song with little instrumental support in a style that is neither fish nor fowl, not slow and dreamy enough to be a ballad and not fast and loose enough to be a dance record. But that’s hardly the case. Oh, the criticisms still stand but fixing those would simply make a nice record into a potentially great record.
 

How I Feel About You
Without those changes though you still have… a nice record!

The lyrics may be shallow but they’re inoffensively so and certainly suitable at least for the mood they’re creating. The melody itself is really pretty and after only two songs Scott King is already shaping up to be one of the more captivating vocalists around, both his voice itself and the way he flexes it in creative ways. There are some good arranging ideas with the way they use the guitar, even though it’s not quite emphasized enough, and maybe most impressively all of all is that despite the fact that they began singing together before rock came along the two sides of their debut aren’t really dated stylistically, but in fact are mostly looking forward in their approach. Considering that aside from King, who was just 22 years of age and thus a perfect fit in rock demographically, the other three were all in their thirties or early forties by now and thus rapidly approaching the days of arthritis, cataracts and senility, this might be the biggest shock of all.

That the top side was a hit – and such a strong record to boot – meant that no matter how short-lived their presence on the scene might shape up to be they at least could take pride in the fact they definitely contributed to rock cementing itself as a cornerstone of modern music. As B-sides go Nobody Knows is something you’ll never object to hearing and may even seek out more than you anticipated the first time you ran across it.

The possibility that one young burgeoning rock fan might have done so himself and had it influence his road to glory doesn’t hurt either. So if one future King did indeed draw from a real King named Scott in shaping his own style, however incidental that might have been, then maybe this’ll draw a few more curious souls and allow The Shadows to emerge from the shadows of rock history a little more. Based on both sides their first record I’d say they’ve earned that much at the very least.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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