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KING 4501; DECEMBER 1951



A two-sided record should make every attempt to provide a balance… a ballad to pair with an uptempo side, a haunting ode to love lost coupled with one describing wanton lust, a tenor lead to go up against a bass lead on the flip… you get the idea.

All of these requirements are ably fulfilled by The Swallows here and they were rewarded for it when this side creeped into territorial charts in early 1952.

Why is it then that as nice as it sounds there’s no gut reaction to hearing it? Is it because it’s not anything particularly special or is it simply that when push comes to shove the more tawdry and ostentatious elements that comprise the other side of this single are too hard to get out of your mind once you flip the record over?


I Do Know This… You Broke My Heart
Any way you cut it, the early career of The Swallows is shaping up to be a textbook example of how to maximize their potential in letting various members handle lead vocals for entirely different type songs, giving audiences the ability to gravitate towards whatever catches their ear without confining them to one stylistic box in the process.

Unfortunately that altruistic approach hasn’t quite paid off commercially as well as you’d like to see with just one hit – Will You Be Mine, a ballad – to their credit thus far and so, unlike say The Dominoes whose success has come from a number of different types of songs with various lead voices which validates that concept in the minds of the record company, The Swallows were at risk for having these artistic decisions made for them if they couldn’t make these efforts at musical diversity pay off in sales and spins.

But all that’s speculation in late 1951 and even the most wary fan of The Swallows had to at least be glad that there was no sign yet of them turning into their fellow Baltimoreans, The Orioles, and being forced to record an overabundance of tame ballads… exactly like Eternally if you want to be truthful about it.

This was in fact their clearest homage to that now-veteran group, with the same stark emotional viewpoint that characterized so many early 50’s rock ballads following The Orioles lead, making it both slightly depressing and a perfect time capsule back to an era where apparently singing about otherwise repressed emotions was the only outlet for your troubles with the opposite sex.

You’d think one of them along the way would’ve learned that open and honest communication between couples is the cure for so many otherwise avoidable problems in relationships. But then again, I guess it’s a fair question to ask who’s really turning to rock ‘n’ roll for life advice in the first place?


Life Can Not Be
The comparisons between The Swallows and Orioles is not just a way to fill space in a review before delving into the song, because their imitation of the earlier group was obviously intentional when crafting this performance.

Eddie Rich has a lighter and more tentative voice than Sonny Til, but he’s expressing himself in with the same uncertain mindset, wracked with doubt and regret over a love affair gone wrong. The crawling pace is the same, the breathy pauses in between lines conjures up Til and though he’s lacking the more soulful emotional angst of Sonny, he’s got the benefit of the other Swallows providing a fuller bed of group vocals to cushion his lead.

Yet the song itself could be done by either group and it’d feel right at home which is frankly the problem. Eternally tells the story of a guy who starts off by asking the question ”Why did you leave?” to his former flame and then proceeds to feel sorry for himself for the next two and a half minutes.

Since he’s singing this TO the girl – though thankfully she’s out of earshot, probably because she’s now three states away living under an assumed name – he’s clearly trying to use sympathy to win her back, as if thinking so little of yourself would make a girl want you more.

There’s a reason why Sonny Til and Eddie Rich and those like them are perpetually single and/or heartbroken and it’s because of that low self-esteem they carry with them everywhere they go. Sure, every guy at some point or another in life feels sad over a girl you’ve let slip away, but those who have ultimately rewarding lives are those who get over it quickly, learn from their mistakes and know that someone else… someone perhaps better or more suited to them… is right around the corner.

But these early 50’s rock ballads never take that approach, choosing instead to subject themselves to eternal misery. It’s rarely rooted in specifics either, there’s no single moment where the relationship hung in the balance that they can go back and analyze to paint a clearer picture of what happened for us, instead it’s blatantly obvious they lost the girl because of their own internal weakness, one which they still feel the need to reveal by the way they open up like this.

No matter how tenderly it’s being sung there’s not much sympathy they can conjure up from those who know that life is what you make it, not what someone else makes it for you just by dating you.

But again, how many of us are listening to rock ‘n’ roll to learn of the benefits of maintaining a positive mental attitude in life?


I Never Knew Why Did We Part
To answer that… most of us probably are not looking to music for anything other than a few minutes of aural enjoyment, but in our quest to achieve that we ARE listening to rock ‘n’ roll for something new and different and challenging and innovative and that’s where this inevitably falls short.

It’s an old take on an old theme done by a new group sporting new lyrics and melody but fashioned with the same wearily fragile perspective delivered with the same emotional baggage as others have done over and over again. Should we penalize them for that or accept it as their own statement on ground already traversed by others?

That’s not always an easy choice. If you like the wallowing-in-your-own-grief confessions then Eternally offers you something familiar and safe, even delicately pretty with great vocal harmonies at times and a stellar lead performance by Rich.

But if you want something that sounds fresh by subverting your expectations with deliberate and startling changes made to the presentation – be it a new perspective that takes responsibility for the narrator’s shortcomings in these situations, or a plot twist that turns the story on its head, or maybe a more radical arrangement to distract us from the by-the-numbers account of a failed relationship – then this feels like a slight let-down even though you still might like how it all sounds wafting from the speakers.

One thing that set rock ‘n’ roll apart from pop music was its deconstruction of the past. Whereas traditional pop is reliant on standards, the same songs being sung with the same basic approach by artists fifty years apart at times, rock was always dismissive of the sounds of yesterday unless they could be completely broken up and used for parts – a recycled riff here, a sample of a vocal hook there – and not surprisingly it’s been all the better for that scorched earth policy.

Yes, there are always going to be those who cling to the past, but they’re quickly left behind when the present intrudes on their listening opportunities. Yet here are The Swallows recalling music from another group from another time and even if that time wasn’t completely out of sight, it was getting more and more distant looking in the rearview mirror as we sped down the rock highway heading towards an uncharted tomorrow.


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