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ALADDIN 3053; MARCH 1950



Usually the first appearance of an artist who will have a sustained presence in rock, both as a singer and a songwriter of note, would be cause for some celebration.

Usually… but not always. As in not today, not this artist and surely not this record.

But here he is all the same, making a decidedly inauspicious debut that is being included merely out of common courtesy for his later efforts and a sense of completeness that admittedly at times can be more of a curse than a benefit when trying to navigate rock history in its entirety.


Sing So Merrily?
There’s no way around this pertinent fact when covering most of Titus Turner’s records over the next dozen years so we might as well get it out of the way early even if doing so ruins the suspense of countless reviews of his work still to come…

Titus Turner couldn’t really sing. Oh, he tried to sing on record all the time, clearly with no regard for life, limb or listener’s eardrums, but he wasn’t a good vocalist by any stretch of the imagination.

His voice itself had potential – a resonant baritone is always good for something, or so you’d think – but he had absolutely no idea how to use it… no technique, no judgment, no touch. Putting him in front of a microphone was akin to putting an eight year old behind the controls of the space shuttle and expecting him to get you into the cosmos and safely back to earth when the mission was over. It may be theoretically possible but highly unlikely.

Yet the reason why Titus Turner kept getting chances to sing on record once this flaw became glaringly obvious was because he could write songs pretty damn well. Over the next two decades his list of notable compositions is pretty impressive and assuming he didn’t merely sign the rights away he probably was able to live fairly comfortable on the royalties for the rest of his days so we shouldn’t feel too badly about being critical of his general failings in his chosen occupation.

Now at times Turner could be passable as a singer and as we’ll see over the years he’s got a few records that are more than acceptable, but more often than not he was the worst aspect of the records he appeared on and so for those making their initial forays into the names of the past it invariably means he’ll be one of the biggest disappointments you’ll likely encounter.

Unfortunately that trend starts with this, his debut, which has the added misfortune of not featuring any songs he wrote on the single which means we can’t even delve into that aspect of his career just yet. As if that wasn’t bad enough neither side really qualifies fully as rock… or maybe “neither side qualifies as rock at all” would be a more accurate description.

The flip-side of this, Where Are You, is a truly nauseous example of supper club crooning, replete with light piano backing as he tries to convince you he’s Billy Eckstine, even having Aladdin Records go so far as to appropriate Eckstine’s “Mr. B” nickname for Turner whom they bill on the label as Mr. T.

Honestly, the REAL Mr. T who gained fame three decades down the road thanks to a mohawk, 37 pounds of gold jewelry around his muscular neck and a perpetual scowl, would probably do just as credible a job on this as Turner does which is one (of many) reason(s) why we excluded it from the rolls here.

But because it’s sort of hard to explain Turner’s foibles as an artist without examining his choices from the very beginning we had to start somewhere and so for our introduction to Turner we chose the designated A-side of this record, a version of Duke Ellington’s classic I’m Just A Lucky So And So, which is surely not a phrase you or I will be uttering after having to deal with this mess.

So just like getting blood drawn at the doctor’s, look away, try and think of something else and it’ll all be over in a minute.

I’ve Got A Dream
Any discussion of this record has to start with Duke Ellington’s flawless original from 1945, featuring an elegant melody, tasteful playing from the entire band, particularly the horns, and a laid-back but soulful vocal from Al Hibbler.

It quickly became a modern standard, covered by Ella Fitzgerald soon after and in later years everyone from Tony Bennett to Louis Armstrong and Diana Krall cut affecting versions of it.

So on one hand you can see why Titus Turner probably felt like I’m Just A Lucky So And So was a smart choice for him to tackle in his efforts to establish himself as a new generation lounge singer or something… but on the other hand you’d ask yourself why would he be exposing his own weaknesses on a song that had already seen the bar set far too high for him to even come close to reaching.

Turner is still adhering largely to the Eckstine model of dramatic singing – and for those not in the know Billy Eckstine was one of a handful of black male singers (Nat “King” Cole being the other most prominent example) who had penetrated white society with their mellow pop styles – but at the very least Titus Turner is somewhat acknowledging some elements of rock ballad singing at times here, swinging in a way that Hibbler never did on the original.

In that sense it could qualify as rock, although only on the far reaches of the genre. Because the song itself is so good though it also helps to support Turner’s vocal uncertainty, never requiring him to lead the song where he wants it to go, but rather letting the song pull him along with it.

But that doesn’t mean he still can’t foul things up on his own quite nicely, something he shows in the middle section when, backed by a far too dramatic piano, he raises his voice rather than lowers it which would’ve been more appropriate for both the music and the sentiments he’s expressing, and consequently he also manages to fall out of step with the backing allowing the melody to come undone like a pair of shoelaces at his feet.

Down the road we’ll have plenty of examples of great rock singers stepping outside their milieu to try their hand at this kind of song – Sam Cooke actually cut this very song himself – and what you’ll generally find that even as the style doesn’t necessarily suit them and the classy backing makes them almost seem as if they’re being put on display for the tastes of the audience like they were trained animals in a circus, their vocal instincts were still able to carry them through relatively unscathed. Some, like Jesse Belvin, could even manage to sound hip when cutting square standards, but that ability is well out of Titus Turner’s grasp and so you merely hope he doesn’t trip over those now untied shoelaces and fall flat on his face.


When They Ask Me About My Bank Account
This being Aladdin Records which rarely aims at the so-called “classier” market, you at least are getting a little more rhythmic approach in the backing track. Granted it’s not much, but the horns have a far earthier tone and strut to them than Ellington’s more stately manner. The drummer is keeping a fairly reliable beat, the piano ends the song with some energetic playing and as a result you could conceivably strip Turner out of the mix and wind up with something at least usable for a better rock singer to try their hand with what you’d have left.

Unfortunately Turner won’t allow that to be considered as he dominates I’m Just A Lucky So And So, even when he isn’t singing!

In one of the worst production decisions we’ve encountered to date they actually let Turner whistle the refrain in the break rather than hand it over to a saxophone which might’ve gotten this out of the bright red numbers that are cause for alarm and general panic among rock fans.

Turner’s whistling not only sounds bad, it goes on for far too long, removing any lingering trace of generosity we may have for him.

We could pick this apart even more, exhausting the thesaurus by looking up additional colorful synonyms for “travesty”, but we’re not that cruel and so we’ll let it go at this… Titus, get your pen handy, because your future in this business shouldn’t involve you getting anywhere near a microphone.

Just think, this side – as bad as it is – nevertheless is significantly better than the flip which should be enough of a warning to anyone daft enough to try and search it out for themselves.


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