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OKEH 6929; NOVEMBER 1952



If there’s one thing that’s hopefully been made clear over five years of rock ‘n’ roll thus far it’s that outside genre cover versions are at best an anathema to artistic creativity, and at worst a shallow, short-sighted and ultimately doomed attempt to find a short-cut to a hit.

Most of these problems stem from the top down, as record label executives want to minimize risk while maximizing sales, something they feel is more likely with currently familiar titles.

But there’s also a more concerning issue surrounding these decisions, as they all seem to feel that no matter how much their company’s success came from Black artists recording original material that appeal to Black audiences, that earning a living by validating that kind of music was beneath them.

Whether they stupidly felt that these cover songs would allow their artists to cross over, or whether they merely thought the songs themselves were of higher quality than rock originals, this was something that continually was tried and almost always failed.

This is one that failed commercially, but artistically it comes shockingly close to being an example of a singer actually being allowed to overhaul material to suit their own stylistic persona.


Be Sure You Know He Is The One For You
Upon listening to the way Titus Turner approaches this song you can tell there’s some different DNA in the composition itself, even without having to look at the writing credits and seeing the names of Vic McAlpin and Jack Toombs.

But it’s not a song with a pop origin at all, but rather it was a country record cut by George Morgan released last spring on Columbia Records, hardly surprising in that it was also the parent company of OKeh Records, which was Turner’s home.

Now the same entity releasing multiple versions of a song isn’t as counterproductive as it seems, especially spaced seven months apart and aimed at entirely different audiences. They may not have owned the publishing, which would’ve allowed them to draw two different checks on that portion of the profits, but it still might have a residual effect on their bottom line. By then the country song would’ve gotten as much play as it was going to get and there was a slim chance that another version, should it become a hit in another field, would bring more attention back to the original and consequently get some late sales for it in the bargain.

It’s doubtful that was their primary reasoning behind having Turner cut Be Sure You Know however and more likely that they were just seeking material to fill out a session and thought it was a decent composition.

Listening to the Morgan original though, you’d never know it. His record is the epitome of country music of the time… steel guitars, tinny piano, the slight yodel in the vocals. Maybe if you’re a fan of country music you can concentrate on the message, but if not you become so overwhelmed by the production that it’s hard to even locate the story in a casual listen.

To be fair I’m sure that a country fan in 1952 hearing Turner’s rock rendition would say the exact same thing, that they were too distracted by the alien sounding arrangement and vocal to appreciate the song behind it. But what that shows is for once a cover version wasn’t simply a quick makeover, but rather a fairly sincere effort to create something new using recycled materials.

If You Find Out You’re Wrong, Baby, What Will You Do?
The first change is the most noticeable as Titus Turner opens this with a soulful wail, elongating the first line by mimicking the steel guitar intro of the Bob Morgan record… hardly the expected move but one which gives it added gravitas and in the process forcing you to focus on the set-up of the story, or rather the point of it as it’s the chorus he’s singing first, before the instruments really make their presence known.

The vocals themselves are as different as night and day as Morgan delivered his in an understated, almost conversational manner, as if he were trying not to draw much attention to himself on his own record.

By contrast Turner’s the clear focal point of Be Sure You Know and while he’s not going over the top in an effort to prove it, he is showcasing the emotional impact of the storyline while simultaneously trying to almost distance himself from the arrangement which somehow manages to transform the country elements into a poppish setting which runs counter to his own delivery.

Yet as ill-conceived as that decision is, the pop aspects they add are fairly well done, if you like that sort of thing. The guitar may be lacking bite and wanders a bit too much, but the tone is alright and doesn’t force itself in more than necessary. The horns are certainly glossy and ineffectual but they too aren’t shoved down your throat, as instead they’re merely adding faint atmosphere to give it some additional color.

Still, these deviations seem to affect Turner’s performance all the same, at least during one stretch when his voice rises and falls without putting much into each line which is clearly pop influenced, as it’s well-known that pop singers were frequently threatened with castration if they dared give the audience some insight as to how their character was really feeling.

What exactly were they so afraid of, you ask? Well, we have a guy who was dumped by his girl for someone else and he’s warning his ex that her choice to replace him might be the wrong one. It’s hardly threatening, if that’s what you were thinking, but it’s clear the producer, the label and George Morgan spying on them from the broom closet all want Turner’s hurt and anger to be reined in to keep it respectable.

They almost manage to do it too, but can’t completely stifle him and the more robust his performance becomes, the better it is as he ramps up for a few big vocal payoffs which alternates with more soulful crooning which constitute his most appealing stretches. But just as you’re ready to be won over you can’t help but see it’s still being framed wrong to show that aspect off properly, and even the ending might be a bit too melodramatic for its own good.

As a result if taken as a whole you can argue that Be Sure You Know is too schizophrenic to really work, but the best parts are surprisingly good, while the worst parts aren’t bad enough to risk having the record collapse under the weight of all of these divergent ideas being forced to share the stage in just two and a half minutes.

Ultimately though, its a release at odds with itself, for while there’s definitely some inventiveness to be found in the way it’s presented, the production choices manage to keep a lid on the full extent of the heartbreak and thereby dodge a bullet to their way of thinking by keeping a cover record from being a legitimate means for self-expression.


Before You Say Goodbye
This is one of those records where you can have the exact same reaction when listening to it and probably justify three different scores.

If you are most captivated by Titus Turner who at times sings the heck out of a decent melodic tune, pouring more feeling into it than they’re comfortable allowing, you could call it above average and not get too many scoffing retorts.

If you look closer however and see how there seems to be no cohesive decision behind the song’s overall arrangement, as they dropped elements in from as wide a collection of musical sources as possible in order for it to have potential appeal for a broader audience which naturally undermines its effectiveness, you’d be perfectly justified in claiming it had to be below average for not keeping a tighter focus on what worked.

But as you can probably guess, neither of those outcomes would be entirely satisfactory.

Be Sure You Know is flawed in many of the ways you expect a cover record to be flawed, as it’s too concerned with outside genre appeal and with not offending anyone rather than seeking to impress anybody. But the fact it’s largely ignoring most of the original song’s genre identification is pleasantly unexpected and the ways in which they let Turner bring much more of his own persona to the table is impressive enough to conditionally recommend.

As a result we’ll take the easy way out, split the difference and move on to something more cut and dried. But down the road when we criticize the completely exploitative, unimaginative and insincere cover versions that labels try and pawn off on us that show absolutely no real effort, remember this attempt which shows just how hard it was for them to think outside the box without their conservative nature getting the best of them in the end.


(Visit the Artist page of Titus Turner for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)