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KING 4525; APRIL 1952



As you’d expect, things have changed rather drastically in rock ‘n’ roll from its arrival in the late 1940’s. The early templates have been strengthened as the best instrumental components have been collectively settled upon… similarly each stylistic approach has found the ideal content for connecting with audiences and with that the most effective deliveries have worked themselves out.

The vocal group scene in particular has come a long way from its humble origins, finding seemingly endless methods of expression, both vocally and musically, from gospel jump rave-ups backed by raucous guitars to menacingly cool hipsters utilizing erotic saxophones as a mood enhancer, it’s safe to say no rock style has as many commercially viable variations at their disposal as this brand offers.

While there are some who still are closely modeled on the second of two major acts of the past, The Orioles with their sparse heartfelt ballads, including their Baltimore neighbors The Sparrows, even they had now found a new way to deliver that message… although if anything, this particular record stripped it down to such an extent that it actually comes across as downright prehistoric by comparison.


A Soul Lost In A River
With all of these new groups appearing on the scene at the same time, there was bound to be some who got lost in the shuffle, even if their output was worthy of attention.

The Swallows, by virtue of not having a huge hit – this would be their biggest of two, spending a month on the charts while peaking at #8 – and not featuring a galvanizing and instantly identifiable sound across their recordings like The Dominoes or Clovers, were one of the ones left to collectors to champion in later years.

But even here, their stark ballads are highly valued by hardcore fans but may be too barren musically, not to mention melodically, instrumentally and harmonically, for casual listeners to latch onto.

Just going by their Spotify plays it’s obvious their racy uptempo classic It Ain’t The Meat is their biggest lure by a huge margin, but as great as that performance may be it’s clearly derivative of The Ravens and sort of a stylistic outlier for them, although it does point to their versatility when they could pull it off so effectively while sounding nothing like they do here.

But then again, who else sounds like they do here? Beside You is like a lone tree in a windblown prairie on the vocal group landscape, sounding not so much like a professional recording as a kid tentatively putting the voices of him and his buddies on tape, maybe to give to a girl he likes, all while being nervous that he won’t sound good or she won’t like it.

If rock ‘n’ roll was increasingly reflective of the inner thoughts of youth, then this record is like a CT scan of a lovestruck teenager’s soul.


Each Night As I Dream
You can say, probably with some accuracy, that the production of this record was fortuitous rather than planned when it comes to reflecting the mindset of a guy who is certain of his love for someone even as he is uncertain as to her feelings for him, while at the same time nervous about expressing them properly yet not hesitant about speaking them aloud.

That’s a tricky balance to maintain because they not only are on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum within his heart – confident yet doubting – but because they also run counter to most of the rock ballads where a similar longing is being presented, where resigned pleading is the usual order of the day… someone offering up his heart expecting rejection, a la Sonny Til, or else so filled with hope that they don’t see the possibility of that love not being reciprocated.

Here Junior Denby, who also wrote it and had to be talked into taking over the lead duties from Eddie Rich by producer Henry Glover, has no illusions about his declarations. He sings it just behind the deathly slow beat, not because he’s afraid of the response but because he’s lost in the details of his admission itself. It’s as if he’s thinking exactly how to phrase it mere moments before the words fall from his lips. He’s laying his heart on the line to be unburdened of the weight of keeping it to himself and yet while we never get any indication as to its likely success or failure, the way in which he presses on seemingly unaffected by the response to his confession allows us to be at peace with his fate before we know it too.

That tranquil mood defines Beside You as much as the bare bones arrangement as the other Swallows are more of a ghostly presence than active participants, though they never fade from sight completely. The instruments, mostly piano that is played too slow to even be called “lurching”, along with a guitar that adds just enough reverberating grace notes to constantly sense its presence even when it isn’t there, and an echoing bass that might just as well be the sound of his apprehensive heartbeat, manage to add just enough melodic elements to keep the record moving forward.

The haunting vibe cloaks it in shadows, but not a menacing kind like The Clovers would use, but rather this sets a scene of late night contemplation where he’s at peace with whatever happens once he decides to declare his feelings and let fate have its way with him.

The lyrics… well, they’re the kind of lyrics you’d try and come up with in that setting if you were the kid who was going through with this leap of faith. They’re measured, they aspire to be profound and when they inevitably fall short of that goal they remain endearing because of their sincerity.

Though rock acts writing their own material, particularly within a group, remains somewhat rare at this stage of the game, here’s why it ultimately mattered so much when forging a connection with its audience through the years.

A professional songwriter, a Cole Porter or Irving Berlin, would find words that expressed the same emotion in more beautiful prose, with stronger melodic support and craft it in such a way that a good singer in any style and any era could bring the same basic feelings out of each line. That’s the very definition of a standard – the ability to be performed by anyone with much the same results.

But a rock act, by opening up their own heart in such uninhibited fashion through the years, defined itself with intensely personal songs like this which were all but meaningless unless coming from their own voice.


You’ll Always Know There’s Room
Usually calling a record “amateur” is meant to be an insult, but here it’s the highest compliment we can possibly give it. There’s something so natural, so unguarded about Denby that we not only don’t mind seeing the cracks in the record’s façade, we relish them because that’s what makes it so real.

The more polish someone would try and bring to Beside You, the more artificial it’d seem and consequently the vital connection with the audience would start to fray.

Here, because he constantly seems on the verge of slipping away from us, both literally as his voice sounds almost disembodied, and metaphorically as he might maintain this inward reflection until he’s sucked into a black void, we wind up holding on tighter just so that he’s not left to face it alone.

This one might require a very specific setting to get the most out of it, and to be honest listening just once probably won’t have the same impact, but playing it on repeat while sitting alone in the dark until the entire performance is seared in your brain it becomes almost magical. As you’re drawn further and further in you come to realize this might just be the most naked and honest sounding record we’ll ever get to hear.


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