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KING 4515; DECEMBER 1951



When it comes to music influence has a way of building over time.

An initial response to something new might result in a flurry of similar activity, but that’s not influence as much as shallow capitalization on a new sound in the quest for a hit.

Influence on the other hand is organic and tends to peak a few years after something was first sighted, primarily because those most prone to being genuinely impressed by it and incorporating it into their own technique are those who haven’t broken through… that is if they’ve even gotten a recording contract yet.

When they do get signed down the road however, that’s when they need to find a way to incorporate those influences from a few years back that helped to shape them, while still coming up with sounds that are thoroughly modern, not just throwbacks to the past.

Sometimes they find that balance, sometimes they don’t, but either way it’s always fascinating to see how yesterday’s music makes its way into today’s landscape.


‘Til You’ve Had Enough
Any reader of this site knows all too well the dual titans who ruled the rock vocal group terrain in the 1940’s. The Ravens, with lead vocalist Jimmy Ricks making even the most innocuous of material sound vaguely suggestive with his deep rolling bass voice… and The Orioles, who’ve used their tenor lead Sonny Til to pull on the heartstrings of the girls listening by acting vulnerable and unsure of himself at every turn.

There were others along the way maybe, but those two extremes are the cornerstones of early rock vocal groups and while their commercial potency has dimmed somewhat over the past few years now that there’s more competition, their influence continues to be felt as strong as ever.

The Swallows were from Baltimore, the hometown of The Orioles whom they knew “back when” and modeled themselves after. Though their own lead tenor, Eddie Rich, has a more fragile (and less soulful) voice than Til, he’s using many of the same tricks when it comes to trying to elicit an emotional response from the female constituency when he sings longing ballads expressing uncertainty and desire in equal measure.

But unlike The Orioles who stuck exclusively to that approach on each and every side, much to their detriment, The Swallows have taken a page from The Ravens as well and have offered up racier tunes, such as Roll Roll Pretty Baby, letting Bunky Mack gently ride the rhythm and pull you in with a wink and smile, giving off the vibe of being mildly horny but not quite dangerous like some more recent output from others of this current era like The Dominoes.

As we’re mere days away from 1952 The Swallows have to be careful that while they’re borrowing heavily from rock’s formative years in the late 1940’s they need to make sure the record doesn’t become anachronistic in the process.


I Swear That I Know My Stuff
Three or four years might not seem like a big deal, but in the singles era there were so many new records coming out by so many new artists, the best of which were adding something different than what preceded it, that you could quickly get behind the curve if you weren’t careful.

This has already manifested itself in two ways with huge leaps forward when it comes to the bass-led vocal group numbers over the past year or so, led by The Dominoes’ Sixty Minute Man, which was not just far more sexually explicit than anything The Ravens had done, thereby setting the bar for a song’s content higher (or lower if you prefer to look at it that way) while the vocals were supported by a much more vibrant backing. Not only did the other Dominoes whoop it up behind Bill Brown, with Clyde McPhatter’s euphoric cries sounding unabashedly sexual in nature, but the musical track was just as potent with a stinging guitar, a loping bass, incessant handclaps and vibrant piano all creating a heady stew to keep things bubbling.

By contrast The Ravens had usually downplayed these antics behind Ricks, letting the other members sing straight while the music was pretty demure. Now for the era most of those records came out in it was still miles ahead of anything else out there, but in 1951 that same approach may not have enough heat to raise your temperature as a listener.

The Swallows make the mistake of hewing too close to that more modest framework on Roll Roll Pretty Baby but at least they’ve kept it interesting with their instrumental choices. We get a plucked bass in isolation to start with, a spry piano answering and some faint bongos which create an atmospheric mood… a little mysterious, slightly ominous, definitely inviting.

Had Bunky Mack injected just a little more lechery into his vocal delivery this still might’ve turned out great. The pace is slower than we’re used to with these kinds of songs, but that could’ve worked to his advantage if he did nothing but leer at this girl, projecting a predatory confidence that the piano could’ve highlighted with some choice treble fills.

Instead, while he sings it well, he’s coming across more like a successful playboy rather than a full-fledged lothario, taking the sinister edge off his come-ons… good for the safety of the (fictious) girl in question maybe, but not quite as scintilating for the listener.

Yet while we can complain a little about what’s NOT here, we have to at least appreciate what is here instead, as Mack’s laconic delivery is seductive even if the lyrics are relatively tame compared to the new gold standard in this realm. The sparse backing manages to hold our attention and the other Swallows, though underutilized, certainly aren’t detracting from the mood. We get a nice guitar solo out of nowhere (group member, Money Johnson I hope) and the piano gets more active as the song rolls along.

Everything here works well, it’s an enjoyable listen and there’s no mistakes being made in the performance… only in the construction, and even then, only for the precise moment we find ourselves in.


Listen To Me Baby, I’m Young And I’m In My Prime
The word context is used here all the time – and for good reason.

Though it should go without saying that everybody’s tastes should be different and what appeals to one doesn’t necessarily have to appeal to another, people naturally will take issue when a record is downgraded for reasons OTHER than its quality as a recording.

But that’s missing the entire point of this project.

This isn’t about every rock record ever made judged against one another, where a doo wop song from 1951 is being evaluated against a hip-hop song from 1991 with no adjustment for the era.

Here the era matters and it matters a lot.

If Roll Roll Pretty Baby had come out anywhere between the middle of 1949 to sometime in mid 1950, the grade it received would be bumped up a full point because its overall sound would be more at home in that period, but also because WITHIN that period it’d stand out against its competition as being a little ahead of the curve.

Had it come out three full years ago, as 1948 wound down, it probably would have gotten a (9), signifying a perfect record. Not quite a desert island disc, but a landmark record that gave a clear sign that rock ‘n’ roll was looking to shake up the music world by issuing something that was edgier than most of its peers over the previous few months.

But in 1951 this kind of thing has been taken much farther than The Swallows do here. The same subject has been delved into with fewer lyrical restrictions and more musical and vocal fireworks. Today someone might not differentiate much between rock songs from 1947-1952, but that’s not how records are being assessed when they come out, where singles are measured against records no more than a few months old and have to live up to current expectations, not ones from years gone by.

Think of it like dating when you’re in school. Holding hands and kissing in the movies in seventh grade is great, but as a sophomore in high school that same activity will be seen as a slight disappointment if that’s as far as you get with your date.

Sooner or later you have to accept that time marches on. A step backwards, however well it’s done, just doesn’t excite people as much in the present and it doesn’t influence what is to come in the future, which is where we’re headed.


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