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CORAL 65069; NOVEMBER 1951

 
 

 

Stay tuned for Part Two of the explosive revelations regarding a song from the 1920’s updated to suit the exceedingly bland tastes of the early 1950’s audience!

Hardly a gripping story I admit, but we take what we can get around here at times, especially when it comes to rock acts who are once again looking to hastily capitalize on another rock act’s dalliance with an older standard.

This one won’t have quite the commercial impact as the first time we met these artists so we’ll attempt to distract you with a lot of hocus pocus just to keep you reading.
 

 

When Bluebirds Are Mating
For those of you who don’t have anything better to fill your memory banks with, you’ll of course remember how The X-Rays were formed by Savoy Records in late 1948 from a collection of session musicians to quickly cover an unreleased side by a new group called The Ray-O-Vacs on Coleman Records, I’ll Always Be In Love With You, a song dating back to the late 1920’s originally by Fred Waring And His Pennsylvanians… a group popular enough at the time to almost make you forget you just lost your life savings in the stock market crash.

Neither The Ray-O-Vacs nor the cleverly named X-Rays, a moniker which was designed to purposefully confuse record buyers as to which version was which, ever reached the heights of Waring’s group, but each of them scored a Top Ten hit with the song in a laid back style that was still a fairly comfortable fit in rock ‘n’ roll, a genre that wasn’t out of diapers yet.

The X-Rays featured trombonist Milt Larkin as its lead singer, but their ace in the hole was saxophonist Hal Singer, himself just a few months removed from a Number One hit with the storming instrumental Cornbread.

The group was never meant to be anything more than short-lived opportunists and it wasn’t long before they were jettisoned by Savoy and seemingly destined to dissolve without much fanfare. But a funny thing happened on the way to that ignominious fate… they actually kept recording – sporadically maybe, but there was always a record company somewhere in need of a name act with a hit under their belt in this style.

This stop finds them on Coral Records, a Decca subsidiary, which is ironic considering The Ray-O-Vacs version of Charmaine, a big hit by Guy Lombardo in 1927, was just released on Decca in an effort to capture the rock market.

Surely The Ray-O-Vacs had every right to complain about their company undercutting their chances at securing another hit by letting The X-Rays have a crack at the same song. Then again considering all of the OTHER versions currently on the market, it wasn’t as if there was an open field for these guys to run in anyway.
 

Oh My Baby
Since the song in ANY rendition is hardly worth the words to describe it in depth, let’s give cursory attention to those competitors who The X-Rays are vying with for a few spins on a jukebox in 1951.

With its prominent trumpet rather than a sultry saxophone, the instrumentation may be slightly different on Paul Weston’s version of Charmaine, but the arrangement is closer to The X-Rays concept than most of the records out there at the time which featured string sections in the forefront instead.

Weston’s band does a creditable job in that regard, the trumpet lending the song a dramatic touch it desperately needs to convince you the story within actually has some gravity… something which is quickly ruined by the Norman Luboff Choir whose airy vocal refrains gives the record a treacly quality that audiences of the time loved as evidenced by its top Ten placement on the charts.

If treacly is what you want from start to finish however, look no further than Bill Hayes on MGM whose stilted vocals are a perfect fit for the aforementioned strings which dominate his take on this song, reducing the already pretentious song to near-parody.

Equally egregious is Neal Hefti’s record which combines a sappy musical motif with a bright – and gleamingly white – vocal chorus by The Cavaliers, the combined effect of which will rot your teeth with its saccharine phoniness, to say nothing of what it will do to your eardrums.

You’d think this roll call of white-bread competitors would make it easier for The X-Rays to stand out, but they weren’t the only black group to attempt to put a new spin on those old ideas as The Four Knights came up with what has to qualify as a somewhat radical departure from these instrumental heavy offerings by stripping the arrangement down to a lightly strummed guitar to allow the singers to have the spotlight.

While their vocals are by far the best of any of these renditions on the scene in 1951, the gap between The Four Knights’s pop harmonies and the earthier record we’re looking at today is almost just as pronounced as the more ornate versions already mentioned, meaning The X-Rays have a lane to themselves if they choose to pursue it in earnest.
 

If I Keep On Praying
With a label notation promising “Rhythm Accompaniment”, the Coral release by The X-Rays is definitely aiming to fill that niche in the market but with a song as tedious as this one there’s probably not much they can do to make this really capture your attention.

They have the right idea though by letting Hal Singer get as much of the focus as Larkin’s vocals, each of them bringing a rougher texture to their performances than you’ll find elsewhere.

Singer’s his usual stellar self here even with a subdued melody that forces him to tone things down a little, but with the drums and bass both showing some spine in their playing, it makes Singer’s job easier as he can lay into the erotic undercurrent of his lines a bit more which helps give this a more sensuous vibe than Charmaine would likely get on her own, even if she were stark naked and glistening with sweat from a few rounds in the bedroom.

Larkin was never a great singer but he’s more than adaquate here in suggesting a yearning quality that all of the other vocalists on all of the other versions are strangely lacking, despite the song’s content which has the narrator hoping to hook up with this girl. Granted it’s hardly bordering on steamy, but at least you understand his desire if nothing else.

The record may never get out of second gear but all of them put forth an admirable effort and Singer’s solo is interesting enough… maybe not to satisfy but at least to suffice for the rock audience.

If that mild recommendation piques your interest than Coral Records did what they set out to do, namely draw in a slightly different set of ears than were tuned to the more lavish renditions clogging the airwaves.

Yeah, I know that’s not worth too much but it still makes for the best effort by The X-Rays since the first time they attempted to cut in on The Ray-O-Vacs dance partner three long years ago.

It may not be a rivalry worth buying tickets for, but at least it’s an interesting subplot in the story of two also-ran groups who need all the help they can get to not be shoved aside completely by rock’s more exciting performers.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

 
Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
 
The Ray-O-Vacs (November, 1951)
 
Maxwell Davis (November, 1951)