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PEACOCK 1603; JULY 1952



There are songs that aren’t exactly great, but which provide a great service in one way or another.

Maybe it’s a message they’re getting across that needs to be stated publicly, but which is a little clunky within the confines of a song that typically needs other attributes to be sonically appealing.

Or it could be one which announces the arrival of an important artist, songwriter, producer or record label and while it might not be the best work they’re capable of, it’s important because it introduces the public to their presence on the scene.

In this case the song is sort of a mish-mash of influences, something that typically doesn’t ever come off smoothly enough to be celebrated, but which here allows Willie Mae Thornton a chance to be heard delivering quality interpretations on all of those vocal styles, showing she’s got multi-faceted talents and that maybe she’s someone to keep a closer eye on.


If You Come Back Home, Pretty Baby
Yesterday we alluded to the disappointing historical box Willie Mae Thornton has put into in large part because those who write rock history got interested in rock ‘n’ roll somewhere in the middle of the story.

Whether this was the first generation of writers who were actually alive through the rock era but – because they were white – only “discovered” its existence in the mid-1950’s and didn’t bother looking to see that it had actually been thriving in Black America for seven or more years at that point… or whether they came along decades later and merely repeated the lies those first generation of writers poisoned the world with, the fact is Thornton’s legacy – and thus her importance – comes down to one record.

But even there, that record, while a #1 hit, is more revered because another artist had one of his biggest hits with a remake of it a few years later. Because Thornton’s wasn’t some flop it’s gotten some retroactive love, but mostly that’s to try and show the current chroniclers aren’t what we know they all are deep down.

Anyway, even in better circumstances than that, we can see how this is the fate of those who had just one “official” hit to their name. Once you recognize that hit, you obviously don’t need to look further, do you?

No, unless you actually LIKE music that is.

But if you did keep digging into Thornton’s catalog you’d find that Every Time I Think Of You was actually her second hit so far and neither one of them was “that big one” still to come.

This was the smaller of them, just making a brief appearance on a regional chart in Atlanta for a week at #10, but it does show that she was hardly some obscure singer who nobody knew prior to her chart topper.

By acknowledging this it almost serves to give you permission to consider her artistic abilities beyond the confines of one magical record that you’ve stopped being able to hear with fresh ears anyway.

What you’ll find when you do that might surprise you.

My Heart Is Full Of Pain
At the risk of making this review seem like little more than an advertisement to read the last review, it was there that we ridiculed those who attempted to confine Willie Mae Thornton to a blues bag, thereby giving themselves permission to never have to consider her when discussing rock ‘n’ roll.

Now to be fair, Thornton did have some blues in her DNA from the start, but then again so did Led Zeppelin and nobody is trying to exclude them from a rock artist conversation.

In both cases, Big Mama and LZ, the blues elements are present but overwhelmed by the rock attributes, both in terms of musical style and the presentation, but from time to time both artists, and countless more who had an affinity for both genres, the blues aspects got a little more attention, such as on Every Time I Think Of You with its downbeat aura and sparse ornamentation to bring out those qualities even more.


But before you toss this into another field entirely, you need to take into account the OTHER things going on here which makes this far more diverse, as well as far more schizophrenic.

For starters there’s the gospel touches in her vocals, from the clarion call that opens the record to the wailing plea that closes it out, bringing to bear all of her intense emotional depth in a way that is powerful enough to startle you.

Then there’s the musical accompaniment which may start off rather limited, but along the way Joe Scott comes up with just enough melodic wrinkles with the horns – particularly the quirky solo which takes a long time to say nothing, but never says it in boring fashion – to take Every Time I Think Of You further away from most blues tracks at the time.

Of course when she comes back in following that solo and is moaning like a rural sharecropper over the draught conditions that are wrecking their crops, you can certainly see how blues sensibilities factor in too, especially considering the topic – and individual lines – are centered around a woman who may not have done any wrong yet who is begging her man to return to her.

The fact that his reasons for leaving aren’t spelled out forces us to imagine the circumstances and since she surely doesn’t sound as if she’d had any fun to have to repent for, our explanation naturally will settle on an outdated patriarchal mindset that was offended by her in some petty way.

If that were the extent of the song we might agree this is blues rooted and hardly anything special, aside from the power of her voice, but it’s those other shadings, the horns, some piano, Thornton’s voice and the way in which she uses it almost as defensive weapon, that allows this to stand out to a degree.

Still not very good as a record, but good in that it shows us what more she may be capable of down the road.


I’ll Forget This Wrong You’ve Done
Ultimately none of that matters much when analyzing this as a stand alone single, largely because it can’t decide what it wants to be, but even so it does manage to allow Willie Mae Thornton herself to come off looking better by letting her stretch out some and that’s never anything to dismiss out of hand.

Its minor success on the charts would seem to justify Peacock clearly viewing this as the top side from the start in its ads, so maybe they knew the audience they were dealing with pretty well after all. But even if you liked the performance on Every Time I Think Of You and weren’t as bothered by its conflicting musical characteristics, it’s hard to fathom how anyone would find it more alluring a record than the coiled power of the flip side.

But then again, that’s why singles have two sides to them and why we always say that they should contain something different on both, thereby allowing the consumer to be the final arbiter of their respective merits.

In this case we disagree with their collective decision, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, but that’s what makes music so interesting… everybody hears it differently.


(Visit the Artist page of Big Mama Thornton for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)