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KING 4458; MAY 1951



Some places become known for certain trends and phenomenons… Virginia produced eight American Presidents… The University Of Kentucky kept churning out future NBA All-Stars… Massachusetts has the most educated populace while West Virginia has the least educated citizenry and (surely not coincidentally) the highest rate of drug addiction.

At one point in history Baltimore, Maryland was known for its rock vocal groups with multiple big name acts coming from that community in the span of just a couple of years.

The Swallows may not have ever been huge stars like The Orioles and they didn’t quite match The Cardinals when it came to enduring hits, but over the course of the Nineteen Fifties they’d leave a pretty impressive mark just the same.


As You Were Once Before
In the pre-historic days before the ability to stream music wherever you were… before television had even penetrated most communities… when the music played on the radio was geared towards middle-aged white housewives, aspiring rock vocal groups had a tendency to be influenced more by what they saw and heard in their own communities, which in the case of The Swallows just happened to be the hottest rock vocal group on the scene, The Orioles.

The Swallows were in their early to mid-teens when that group broke out in 1948 and with Sonny Til living directly across the street from one of the members of The Oakaleers, as they called themselves at the time, it was pretty clear who their influences would be as they sang together on street corners perfecting their sound.

They watched The Orioles and listened to them working up material and arrangements that would later appear on their hit records and it was only natural that the budding group would take what they heard and try and duplicate it themselves.

They did it so well that they began to sound like The Orioles, which was all well and good unless you wanted to make a name for yourselves rather than be seen as mere imitators. Upon changing their name to The Swallows the group became managed by a record shop owner whose connections with the industry got them gigs as well as an audition with King Records’ Henry Glover… who promptly turned them down because they sounded TOO MUCH like The Orioles, but he assured them if they’d develop their own style he’d sign them.

A few months later, in early April, they accompanied him to New York and cut their first session highlighted by Will You Be Mine a self-written song by Junior Denby, their tenor, which shows that while they still favored haunting ballads they clearly had deviated from their early Orioles approach vocally.


I Do Nothing But Wonder
One of the key attributes that so many rock vocal groups from the 1950’s shared is how unpolished they sounded to musically cultured ears. Their harmonies were ragged and amaturish, their ability to stay in key or maintain the proper balance in their harmonies were often hit or miss, all of which ensured that the major record labels would scoff at the entire movement, thereby keeping groups like this from signing with companies that would want them artificially smoothed over and watered down.

King Records had a higher degree of musical precision than most independent labels, thanks to Glover’s exacting standards, but he was wise enough not to tamper with The Swallows on Will You Be Mine, correctly noting that it was their engaging sloppiness that made them so endearing.

The kids flocking to rock ‘n’ roll in record numbers related to this loose unsophisticated sound with group member Money Johnson’s crude guitar opening and the tentative lead of Eddie Rich who starts off somewhat shaky, his higher nasal tenor curiously absent of resonance which made it seem as if he was barely clinging to the notes and may slip and fall at any moment.

Yet there’s an admirable focus and determination in his singing that grows more prominent as it goes along. The others are providing just mild support with their rudimentary airy harmonies but they seem to be bolstering his confidence and there’s some subtle touches they incorporate, such as the way Bunky Mack’s bass bubbles to the surface at times, that gives this a fuller sound than The Orioles were known for, until it manages to grow into something charming and unique.

This Is No Act
The lyrics are the epitome of teenage doubt and confusion regarding the tantalizing promise of love, as Rich poses a series of questions to the girl he likes that on the surface appear almost simplistic yet reveal an honesty that is so often lacking in relationships as the participants become older and more experienced… and consequently more guarded and jaded in their exchanges.

The song is focused on those moments when your own emotions threaten to overwhelm you, when you’re at your most vulnerable and prone to overreacting as a way to seize the initiative and force the issue, often resulting in needless confrontation, making the set up a very precarious situation. But throughout the performance Rich manages to hold his emotions in check, unafraid of appearing weak because he’s more concerned with discovering her true feelings than he is about maintaining a tough façade that is nothing but posturing anyway. It’s a balancing act that shows a deft touch and intuitive understanding of the mindset he’s inhabiting.

Am I a fool?
What’s this thing all about?
Did I do wrong?
Or are you in doubt?

He’s so tender on those lines he almost seems on the verge of tears, but it’s the uncertainty, not the potential rejection, that is eating away at him and which makes Will You Be Mine resonate so strongly with the young rock fan in the throes of their own initial forays into romance. The disarming lack of self-consciousness in Rich’s delivery forges an instant connection with the audience that is hard to break.

With Mack’s bass sung bridge avoiding the cliches of the hornier Jimmy Ricks model that always tried to inject humor or raciness into the song, instead mirroring the pensive insecurity of Rich’s earlier declarations while Rich himself adds a chilling echoing vocal after each line, the vocal arrangement here soars to new heights, all of it framed by discreet instrumentation – mostly Johnson’s guitar and a touch of piano – that is the musical equivalent of fog… visible to the naked eye, yet impossible to touch, to grab and to hold.

On paper it may appear thin and shallow, but on record it’s a minimalist masterpiece.

I’ll Pray ‘Til Then
With the flurry of new vocal groups making waves throughout 1951 there was not a lot of room in the sky for The Swallows to be easily spotted and with a song like this – slow and contemplative, understated and lacking any dazzling moments of virtuosity – they had to win over listeners one ear at a time.

Will You Be Mine took more than a month to find a concentrated audience and it wasn’t in Baltimore, or even the East Coast as The Orioles had always made their stronghold, but rather it was in Northern California of all places and only gradually did the interest in it spread further south to Los Angeles were it hit the Top Five which allowed it to enter the national charts at #9 for a couple of weeks.

But its true popularity probably wasn’t reflected there because it wasn’t until the fall when it started appearing on charts back east and thanks to that delayed reaction the number of people who sought it out over the course of six months was probably the equal to bigger hit records where there was a sudden surge across the country all at once before falling off just as quickly.

Rock ‘n’ roll is built on contradictions, rebellious yet universal, aggressive but comforting, a music that is often made by introspective exhibitionists. Here The Swallows contribute another important duality, a record possessing a soothing gentleness that belies its technical crudity.

It’s the start of yet another great vocal group career but by now the competition was such that they couldn’t even rule the roost in their own hometown.


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