No tags :(

Share it

KING 4458; MAY 1951



When Henry Glover initially heard The Swallows the producer who’d helped turn King Records into a rock powerhouse was impressed with their talent but reluctant to sign them initially because of their similarities to fellow Baltimore group, The Orioles.

Whereas some record companies would jump at the chance to get a group with an eerie resemblance to one of the hottest rock acts of the past few years Glover was more interested in The Swallows finding their own voice and building something entirely new that could stand alone.

A few months later he did go ahead and sign them and they began to diversify their sound to a degree, but apparently he had second thoughts about the ultimatum he’d given them, because this side of their debut clearly wears its Orioles debt on its sleeve.


Why They Call You Such Names
Although The Orioles were one of the top acts of early rock, their records tended to swing wildly between great and mediocre, something that was largely dependent on their material as opposed to how well the group themselves sang from record to record.

Since their musical arrangements were always so sparse and their backing vocals were more about shading the primary colors rather than adding pigments of their own, all that was left to win you over was Sonny Til’s lead which had the responsibility of shaping the entire song.

His voice was always up to snuff, but far too often the group was saddled with plodding melodies with no hook, no memorable refrain, nothing that you’d be able to sing back even five minutes after the record stopped spinning and as a result many of their records were easily forgotten.

The Swallows aren’t quite facing such a dire problem on Dearest, but they come closer than you’d recommend for one of their first songs, especially after Glover basically warned them about mimicking The Orioles sound too closely.

What’s strange about this however is that Henry Glover himself was running the session and as a songwriter, musician, arranger and established producer he could’ve injected something into the mix to alleviate the pressure on the voices alone who are forced to carry the entire song on their backs.


If I’d Listen To Things
Since this review goes out of its way to draw direct comparisons with another group’s work a few people might tend to focus strictly on the lead voices and fail to see much similarity in their vocal tones and thus dismiss those claims outright.

But it’s not how those voices sound that’s the issue, it’s what they have to work with, both in terms of the composition and the arrangement, both of which seem to come directly from The Orioles playbook and therein lies the problem.

On the surface this has a heartfelt story wherein lead singer Eddie Rich ponders the idea that he may have fallen for the wrong girl… a common occurrence that usually resonates pretty well as it allows the singer to wring out their emotions.

However they make it needlessly confusing because of the specific wording they use, as he starts off saying people are calling this girl names and staring at her on the street, admitting that he shouldn’t listen to the things others are saying because he finds her perfect. Yet the first placement of the word Dearest comes in the midst of that, indicating that OTHERS are also calling her this… that they like her too, yet that kind of goes against everything else being suggested.

You think maybe that indicates she’s a tramp and they’re using the term crudely, almost mocking her in the process, and that probably makes the most sense if you take every word at face value, but if so there’s no further allusions to it. The best explanation is that Junior Denby, an inexperienced songwriter, simply wasn’t able to properly lay out the song so there was no ambiguity. But that’s a pretty big flaw to overcome because it throws off how you’re supposed to think of this girl.

Is she gorgeous and popular and thus out of his league? Is she someone who lets guys use her body to compensate for her low self-esteem and he’d be better to steer clear of her? Or is she ugly and dismissed by others yet is seen as beautiful by the guy crooning lovesick mush to her?

The answer matters a LOT in how we view all this.


I’d Be Without You
But even putting that aside and just accepting that, for whatever reason, he’s nuts about her and remains unsure of her desire for him, there are more problems to be found here before we can get to what’s really good.

Rich’s lead drips of sincerity which is its main selling point, but he’s struggling to stay in key for much of this and on top of all that there are times when he screws up the words themselves which is not the “good” kind of sloppy, where your enthusiasm is allowed to override the technical deficiencies, but rather this is the bad kind of sloppy where you wonder if nerves or a lack of familiarity with the English language is at fault. He pronounces “stare” as if it were “steer” and sings “fooliss” instead of “foolish”.

Seriously, did anybody ever hear of “take two”?

Things improve with Bunky Mack’s bass on the bridge which sounds really good yet you could make the argument he’s being used wrong, as this was the perfect opportunity to inject a counter perspective to the story, filling in some details that Rich may be hesitant to reveal. Instead it follows the stale pattern The Orioles used when they have their baritone sing the same sentiments already expressed by their lead. For a song where the story is paramount it’s not smart to hand away that much time to something that doesn’t advance the plot.

But most of that could be easily overlooked if they simply worked on the melody more. Dearest has moments that really shine – the last full group refrain in the fade that’s going up the scale is really nice for instance – but on the whole it’s just far too stark a song, especially when Glover didn’t add any prominent instrumental fills that might shore it up.

The concept of songwriting isn’t hard: Catchy melodies are based on the way certain notes fall and it’s those little patterns within a tune that make it memorable and easy to sing along to and which sell the emotional undercurrents of what they’re singing. But if you take any section of this song and try playing it you’ll find out that there’s hardly anything there at all.

Rich is left out to dry for so much of this, forced to – or choosing to – cut his vocals short when he should’ve at least been using sustain to hold the notes over a few measures, rising and falling just enough to give it the kind of melodic twist that would stick in your mind.

To take it even further than that it would’ve been smart to add more involved backing vocals – Mack should be singing a rhythmic pattern behind the others atmospheric “oohing” which has a tendency to lose their note the longer they’re left alone – but the reason you have these issues in the first place all comes down to the fact the melody is far too sparse and indistinct for its own good.

I Can’t Get Free
All of that criticism makes it sound like this is a total panning of the record, but it isn’t. It’s more of a disappointment because a quick re-write could’ve made this really special, taking full advantage of the yearning qualities of Rich’s lead.

Decades down the road they actually managed to do just that when they reunited for a performance when they were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall Of Fame, as Rich added the kind of emoting that drastically improved upon the melody and truly sold the story. He still mispronounces the exact same words but in spite of their advanced years it’s a much more confident performance.

That arrangement in their prime would’ve made for a great record and shows it was hardly a difficult process. None of it would’ve radically altered the message or the mood, but instead they fell back into The Orioles pattern of “less is more” and as a result Dearest relies almost entirely on them conveying naked vulnerability, hoping their heartbreak alone is enough to win you over.

Admittedly for many it is enough, as this is widely beloved by vocal group fans (though pointedly not the original constituency for this music at the time who ignored it in favor of the flip side). But thinking of how much better it might’ve been with just a little more time and effort invested is what’s really heartbreaking about this one.


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