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KING 4515; DECEMBER 1951



A good question.

Why would a successful rock vocal group cover a pop vocal group hit done by The Four Aces, an act that was about as far away from rock ‘n’ roll as possible?

Was it just in the hopes that audiences would be curious enough to see how they tackled it to shell out eighty cents for the record?

Was the group secretly wishing to get “more serious” material to sing, thinking they could be just as big stars in mainstream pop if they were only given the chance?

Or maybe it was simply that cover versions were a way of life in 1951 and if there was a song rising on the charts then it was fair game for anyone else to jump on board and try and steal some sales and jukebox spins regardless of their stylistic differences.

Nope, at least when judging by the results, it was an attempt to show the world that rock ‘n’ roll could succeed aesthetically where pop music had failed.


I Tried To Forget
We’ve been critical, if not downright hostile, to rock acts jumping on the pop cover bandwagon during this era, (rightly) feeling that in order for rock ‘n’ roll to firmly establish itself as a viable alternative – for a much different audience – to mainstream pop music, it had to have original material that took advantage of the cultural and musical differences between the two rather than try and bridge that gap to the benefit of nobody… not the artists, audiences or record labels.

We stand by that unequivocally.

But there are exceptions to every rule and this one falls in that category.

First though it’s necessary for you to re-familiarize yourself with The Four Aces… who we first met when The Four Buddies covered their #1 Cash Box hit, (It’s No) Sin back in October.

The Four Aces were maybe the standard bearers of the 50’s pop vocal group sound, a group that scored an impressive 44 hits on the Billboard charts over the course of the decade. Tell Me Why was perhaps the epitome of their style which balances two distinct approaches as a loud ostentatious vocal hits you in the face, wailing away in agony apparently, before quickly easing back into a more pleasant tone – romantic and tranquil, but ready to explode on the title line each time around.

It’s well sung for what it is attempting I suppose, but the draw was clearly the radically fluctuating intensity of Al Alberts’ lead.

Hot to cold doesn’t begin to describe it. Schizophrenic is more like it.

But this was, oddly enough (in a very distant way) the rock influence being felt in pop music, as unlike older pop styles which had treated human emotions in shallow and simplistic fashion so as to assiduously avoid revealing anything resembling lust or anguish, rock ‘n’ roll not only didn’t avoid those things but rather embraced them openly.

Johnnie Ray was the hottest act on the pop scene now and he was schooled firsthand by LaVern Baker and performed at the Flame Bar, a black club in Detroit, as he was breaking through and he turned emotional anguish into parody, which may be why white audiences accepted it so readily… it was a gimmick.

The Four Aces aren’t quite that over-the-top with it, but here they try wringing you out on each title refrain before reassuring you that it was just a passing thing.

Thankfully The Swallows were not about to follow suit and validate this shallow view of human emotion, choosing instead to point out what was wrong with music that toyed with an audience’s response in such a manipulative fashion.


When I Think Of How You Looked That Day
A side by side comparison of the two versions show just how wide the gap between genres was, even when the pop side was represented by a group that may have been subtly influenced by some aspects of rock.

Gone is the reliance on extreme dynamics – that back and forth yo-yo effect of going immediately from intense howling to subdued crooning in each stanza which essentially formed the entire selling point of Tell Me Why in its original incarnation.

In its place is something much less theatrical which takes the middle lane of the road focusing primarily on lyrics and melody, both which are pretty good when stripped off the shock-value framework The Four Aces relied on in their telling of the story.

Structurally The Swallows are using an updated Ink Spots arrangement for the most part, from the acoustic guitar in the open to the slow bass lead in the bridge, albeit with far more natural deliveries that distanced it from the polite Ink Spots styled pop of 1941 as well as from the even more melodramatic pop approach of The Four Aces in 1951.

On the latter Al Alberts had sounded as if he was merely putting on an act so he’d come across as humble and sincere in his attempts to seduce the girl in question, whereas The Swallows’ lead Eddie Rich sounds truly contemplative about trying to figure how he fell for a girl he never had eyes for before this and is now wondering if it’d be a good idea for them to start dating.

Rich is completely believable in the role, wrestling with his own feelings while at the same time trying to take into account the girl’s feelings as well. Ironically for a group whose lascivious It Ain’t The Meat was just released earlier this month before King hastily put this out to capitalize on the rising pop hit, The Swallows rendition of Tell Me Why is almost sex-less, whereas The Four Aces pop take on the song may not explicitly reference sex or sound at all crude in their deliveries, but makes it pretty clear that Alberts only cares about scoring with her by how transparent his act is.

The one false step vocally with The Swallows comes when Bunky Mack steps in and can’t quite get the right attitude for his part, sounding too casual at first, then a little flippant before finally getting a grip on the required mindset when he has to slow down considerably to deliver the last line. The overall vocal performances however are pretty solid throughout, as the full group provide a nice, mostly wordless, harmony bed for Rich to sing over, something that sits in stark contrast to The Four Aces who sound almost condescending with their grinning “ooh-wahs” behind Alberts.

This is not the best Swallows ballad by a long shot, but considering its rather dubious source it shows how much more expressive rock ‘n’ roll was in conveying complex emotions, allowing audiences to be pulled into the story as opposed to being pushed away by the artificial presentation pop still clung to doggedly.


What Has Happened To Me?
Though we can commend The Swallows for breathing life into what could have been a disastrous down-the-line imitation of a pop performance, there’s still some blame to be laid at the feet of King Records who saw fit to clog the market with two Swallows releases in what was already the worst month of the year for selling new singles.

This cover-record fixation that labels had at the time was an anathema to artistic creativity. In 1951 all that mattered was selling enough copies of something to pay the monthly bills and the simplest route to that goal was waiting for someone else to hit upon a song that people liked, then have everyone else turn out copies of it without investing it with any individual perspective from one artist to the next.

The Swallows help to break that mold to a degree with Tell Me Why, but while rock fans can take pride in the fact it shook up expectations of what a cover record could be, it still wasn’t as crucial as an original song would be.

Instead of closing by rhapsodizing on the group at hand and saying how they’ll be the ones to shape the future of music, let’s take this opportunity to remind people that there are still far more obstacles to get around in the road ahead before that wholesale revolution takes place.

To show just how tough a task it will be to transform the entire industry it’s worth noting that The Four Aces will in fact have a longer and more successful run than The Swallows, who, aside from one brief 1958 revival with a mixture of old and new members, will see their run as a viable group end before the mid-way point of the 1950’s… the same time when The Four Aces will score their all-time biggest hits – still singing in the same overwrought style for the same over-the-musical-hill audience.


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