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KING 4537; MAY 1952



Back in the day when a new single every couple months was the primary means of commercial exposure, the record labels were trying desperately to get enough sales with each release to pay the bills, while the artists simply wanted hits that would allow them to keep getting well-paying gigs which is where they earned their living.

As a result there was a lot less emphasis on being new and original and building a legacy with your work.

Though labels and artists alike both wanted to sustain a viable long term career, the present always took precedent over the future. Whatever method got you a hit really didn’t matter much to its creators, other than in whatever professional pride they possessed.

Unfortunately sometimes the first concession they made in these attempts was throwing that pride out the window.


I Won’t Stay Put
By 1952 few rock artists could claim the mantle of “survivor” more than Tiny Bradshaw, someone who’d been making music professionally for two full decades and saw his popularity, rise, fall and rise again, the last peak coming as a result of embracing rock ‘n’ roll when it came along.

Now we’ve said countless times that this wasn’t merely opportunistic on Bradshaw’s part, for he had always been too restricted in more formal brands of music where his manic enthusiasm could rarely be given full reign as it could in rock ‘n’ roll, so his success in this area was definitely legitimate and well-deserved.

But let’s face it, Bradshaw was getting long in the tooth for such a young man’s sport as rock music and now his old school arrangements on steroids that had got him so much initial attention such on Well, Oh Well in the spring of 1950, were at risk of becoming rather passé.

Yet that was also his last real hit and so, fearing that time had finally begun to pass him by he did what so many others over the years have done in moments of panic – he basically re-cut that hit with different lyrics and passed it off as something new, in this case Mailman’s Sack.

But since the original on which it was based was not only two years old by this point, but was itself derived from a song dating back to the early 1940’s, what chance was there for this letter to be delivered to the charts?

Very little.


Broke And Beat
Let’s start with something that seems like an obvious question…

If you ARE going toss your self-respect aside and repeat yourself so blatantly by re-configuring a hit from your past, doesn’t it stand to reason that you’d be able to make it BETTER? After all if it’s the same basic song being done by the same artist who presumably has been playing that song… er, playing the original that is… at every show over the past few years, maybe hundreds of times during that span, wouldn’t you think he’d have honed to perfection after so many live gigs?

Is it far-fetched to think the song might have actually evolved on stage to where it sounded somewhat different than the record had, either by just revving up the excitement, hitting upon some lick or trick that set it off with the crowds even more than the originally recorded version, maybe discarding something that didn’t set off the audience in favor of something that played into the enthusiasm better?

If so wouldn’t this be the opportunity to incorporate those adjustments to the arrangement on a new record that would match the excitement and response they were getting with the old song at live venues? Is that an unreasonable expectation?

Hell no! In fact, that should be the ONLY expectation if you’re ever going to exhume the remains of a previous record’s corpse and attempt to breathe new life into it. To abruptly switch metaphors, you’ve had two whole years to fine tune the engine and polish the chrome, so of course the new model should roll off the line feeling like the personification of perfection.

So why doesn’t it?

Was that gap between releases too long and the music around them has changed enough so that, new paint job or not, it’s still the same old chaisse underneath and it’s anachronistic?

Well, sort of, but the real problem is not that Mailman’s Sack is a 1950 ass-kicker in a 1952 world, but that Bradshaw didn’t do anything but take it out of the garage and start it up again after letting it sit idle for so long. There’s not only no new paint, the engine sounds as if it hasn’t been turned over even once in that time.

Are there new ideas incorporated into it to give it a different more aggressive growl under the hood? Not really. In fact, the engine coughs a little as they start it up and Bradshaw seems disinterested, as if he knows, or senses, that this is more an act of desperation than inspiration and wonders if that means his career peak has passed and it will all be downhill from here.


Rock It!
The good news is the story is about the only thing that HAS been changed which is for the best since Well Oh Well was lifted from a World War Two record by Bing Crosby which extoled the virtues of having your own property to come home to, certainly an apt wish for a country that wasn’t quite sure it’d live to see another day.

So the update of this to focus instead on a broader theme about missing your girl and sending yourself to her via mail is… well, it’s kinda silly, let’s be honest, but at least it’s fairly clever and enough of a change thematically to distance it from his two year old hit.

But that alteration, as welcome as it is, only serves to showcase how badly they screwed up Mailman’s Sack by not simply giving it an entirely new musical framework to better serve the new story. There is a good sax solo and a steady backbeat which help to a degree, but the melody and the vocal cadences haven’t changed at all… if anything they’re even clunkier because the new lyrics don’t fit as smoothly.

I mean, how lazy can you get? These guys were veteran musicians… Tiny Bradshaw had led a band for longer than some rock artists had been alive and Henry Glover, who produced and co-wrote this, had just as much experience as a musician in Lucky Millinder’s band and as King Records top songwriter, arranger and producer for the last half decade. How can they come up with a new plot, new characters and entirely new theme and not bother coming up with new music… or at least a way to disguise the source?

Ahh, but there you have your answer. They didn’t WANT to disguise the source, they wanted to remind you of it, and by extension remind you of how much you liked it a few years ago. But in doing so they were drawing attention to how out of date it had become, in the process running the risk of tipping off the fact they were unaware that the current rock audience were not necessarily made up of the same core audience who’d made that hit so big just a few years back.

Time moves fast in this scene and they just announced to the world that they were standing still.

Ain’t No Turnin’ Back
In music and in life you never make good decisions out of desperation and Tiny Bradshaw, Henry Glover and King Records were feeling desperate now that the hits had started drying up for someone who was already long past the usual expiration date for rock acts.

If they’d been confident at the time they came up with this they would’ve taken it as a challenge, been more aware of the surrounding landscape and seen that this approach wasn’t going to work in this day and age, nor would it be very creative to simply recycle an old formula.

Even if they came up with the idea for Mailman’s Sack using that song as its original blueprint, that’s where it should end. Change the chords, alter the melody, flip the instruments so the horns take a different role… anything to breathe some life into this.

Instead they’re performing mouth to mouth resuscitation on a corpse where rigor mortis has already set in. Bradshaw is still enthusiastic enough – and the band capable enough – not to get sick from breathing in the formaldehyde, but there’s nobody who could claim this record sounded fresh today. That was the biggest challenge Tiny Bradshaw was facing in 1952, needing to convince you he was full of new ideas, not merely content plunder old ones.

Whatever the mailman had in his sack it should’ve been returned to sender.


(Visit the Artist page of Tiny Bradshaw for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)