Like most consumers in any market record buyers are not always up on the latest goings-on in the industry they’re being asked to support. Though ultimately it would appear that their interest in certain styles, sounds and artists is what ensures that more of the same will follow, we know that’s not always the case.

Record companies don’t particularly care what type of music sells – polka or punk, they all bring in the same dough – but when one style emerges then they tend to gravitate in that direction with their future releases. Artists meanwhile tend to have more firm opinions on their own stylistic choices but they too can be easily persuaded to look elsewhere if they’re assured of greater commercial returns.

So when the records released by an artist such as Todd Rhodes on a label that has seen verifiable success with his rock output starts to move a little further away from that type of music then record buyers are left scratching their heads and wondering why.

Though this review comes seventy years too late to answer that question for them personally, here are the possible reasons “why”.


A Pause In The Action
In early 1950 Todd Rhodes was caught in flux not entirely of his own making. As we’ve seen over his past few releases he became a “victim” of his own success in a way and was caught in a nasty contract dispute between Sensation Records who had signed him back in 1947 and King Records which had been handling the distribution of those releases nationally since mid-1948.

King’s owner Syd Nathan wasn’t above using every trick in the book to get what he wanted – in fact he specialized in dirty dealings throughout his career – and for his part Rhodes was amenable to the financial overtures that Nathan was dangling in front of him and agreed to jump ship from Sensation to King.

But in one of the few times in the history of American jurisprudence the courts actually delivered the right verdict they invalidated Nathan’s meritless claims to Rhodes’ contract thereby forcing Todd to remain with Sensation until his deal with them was up.

Rhodes was not exactly happy about this turn of events and had every intention of going to King as soon as he was legally allowed to do so. In the interim however Sensation still had every right to record him – in fact, Rhodes had no choice BUT to record for them, as his contract stipulated the number of sides he was required to deliver – so Todd Rhodes apparently decided to give them all sorts of off-beat odd and ends, songs which had he been bound and determined to score hits would likely never have been made.

It’d be unfair to call this intentional sabotage exactly, for songs like I’m Just A Fool In Love weren’t exactly worthless, some of it is quite good actually… it’s just they were not exactly aiming squarely for the genre which with he’d scored all of his recent hits in, namely rock ‘n’ roll.

Instead Rhodes used this opportunity to explore other musical styles he had an affinity for, including jazz and even classical, allowing him to scratch that creative itch while at the same time sort of sticking it to Sensation who were expecting something more commercial than this hybrid sound whose time had already come and gone.


Close Your Eyes
Though its title suggests this might be a vocal record since those six words hint at an all-too familiar story about a man pining for a woman who could care less about him, this is actually an instrumental through and through.

But that’s not to say the title doesn’t factor into the song in some way because I’m Just A Fool In Love, with its mixture of weary resignation and poignant longing, is something that is more or less captured by the music Rhodes imparts here.

The soft repetitive tenor sax riff that opens it is contemplative and reflective, very pleasant and incredibly soothing… almost sleepy in a way… and if they just repeated this fairly intoxicating pattern for the entire record you could easily use it for a lullaby and nobody would complain.

Nobody but Sensation Records I suppose, so they step things up after they run through it a few times, the tenor starting to… well, not quite honk, but sort of belch a little… all of which is still fairly agreeable for our sensibilities.

It’s hardly anything that will set the rock world afire but certainly would be effective as a mood piece when the lights are low and you and your date are still technically “dancing” (in case any chaperones are keeping an eye on you), but all the while you both are hoping to sashay even further into the shadows in the corner of the gymnasium for some steps they don’t teach at dancing school.

But once that section comes to a close things rapidly go downhill as they start adding more horns all playing with a brighter tone while quickening the pace and breaking that carefully constructed mood. In the process they remove it from that bewitching late night vibe yet give us nothing worthwhile in its place.

Now Close Your Ears!
Therein lies the dichotomy of the record – two competing sensibilities pulled together without letting either one take charge. It doesn’t wind up sounding quite like oil and water mixing, Rhodes is a good enough arranger to keep them modestly compatible, but it’s almost certain that whichever attributes you like someone else will want the ones you don’t like to get more of the attention… and vice versa.

Which two are those? As if you had to ask any time a trumpet is in the recording studio with a saxophone.

The saxes are the best aspect of I’m Just A Fool In Love, at least in terms of tenuously connecting it to rock. They’re engaging in the ancient art of musical seduction, lazily spinning that circular melody in an attempt to pull you under and while they contain only the faintest trace of crudity, which is generally what rock fans will gravitate most strongly towards, it’s the closest we get to any sense of “grinding away”.

Maybe the idea was that rock fans tend to like loud and raucous and they felt they needed to step things up to satisfy them, but rockers don’t like jazzy trumpets trying to do the job of a raunchy tenor sax and when this trumpet tries to be the one to raise the excitement level by squawking away like an air raid siren behind the “prettier” alto sax lines in the second half there’s no escaping the fire-drill mentality that is sure to clear the place in ten seconds flat.

Give the trumpet’s role to the other sax instead and let them duke it out and you might’ve had a great record, certainly a very good one, but that’s admittedly a hard sell to make after the trumpet has spent nearly a full minute practically shattering your eardrums. By the time they slow things down with the sax repeating its mellow riff for the fade you’re almost too shell-shocked to notice.


Drifting Away
If you can manage to focus only on the more more subdued aspects of the record there are some good ideas at work here. The basic melody is catchy as can be, the sax playing for the most part is really good, even the attempt to blend the two disparate approaches together shows a little bit of creativity with Rhodes’s deft piano lines acting as a bridge and so (with some reservations) we’ll be generous and give them the benefit of the doubt by bumping it up half a point from where it truly belongs, but no matter how well you take it this isn’t an altogether ambitious song by nature.

In fact what I’m Just A Fool In Love really sounds like is a throwaway track.

You know the kind, by the 1960’s when albums were now being churned out by rock bands this is precisely the type of song that was destined for Side Two, Track Four. Filler in other words. Just competent enough not to be skipped entirely, but nothing that would be cued up on its own.

The problem is this was the singles era and Sensation Records was in desperate need of a hit. Rhodes was their only real source of income and whether he just went through the proverbial motions so he could save his best ideas for King Records around the corner, or if he just was disgusted by the whole contractual tug-of-war and didn’t have his heart in it, this record winds up being little more than an interlude before Act Three of his career.


(Visit the Artist page of Todd Rhodes for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)