Wednesday, 23 December 2009

You Have Two (I Have None)



Stately is, I think, the word to describe this 1955 recording by the Orchids on Parrot Records: the tempo feels unrushed, processional. I was wrong to describe their more famous Newly Wed as "lumbering" earlier, as that implies clumsiness; what can, perhaps, be said is that the change in Newly Wed's tempo between the wordless opening and the entry of the lead vocal (Gilbert Warren?) is unusual - to these ears, anyway. (I did say I wasn't an expert. Unlike Billy Vera, who describes it properly here.)

You Have Two (I Have None) seems marginally faster, but the disjointed feel of Newly Wed, which fits perfectly with what little we can glean of the couple's story ("Hearts broken - broken in two, / Don't leave me here ..."), is replaced by what sounds like calm assurance or resignation, though at the point of highest emotion ("Tell me you love me, Show me that you care") it becomes clear that the song is a plea for union rather than a celebration of a union already achieved; we aren't given any indication of her feelings either way.

But maybe the singer's air of calm comes about simply because there is nothing left to hide: this is his ultimate declaration that he's totally in this woman's power - he has, indeed, given his heart to her - and if the response should be a cold one, then at least he knows he has done all he possibly can to plead his case.

Unlike the Orchids' raunchier I Can't Refuse, it's not a song, or a performance, with undercurrents of raw sexuality. The tempo may be stately but the tone is courtly, as in the courtly love associated with Elizabethan poetry. I'm sure there are lots of other examples, but the one I'm familiar with is My True Love Hath My Heart - though that, perhaps, ought to ring warning bells for the singer, as that poem celebrates an equal, agreed exchange: "... and I have his", the first line concludes.

What I'd tentatively describe as the throwaway style of the lead vocal is also interesting. In British dee jay Charlie Gillett's The Sound of the City, one of the first full length accounts of the rise of rock'n'roll, he cites the late Pookie Hudson's vocal in Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight as an example of the rise of what he calls the "cool" voice in rock'n'roll, meaning that you can't actually tell for sure what the singer is feeling.

Not sure if I agree - Pookie emotionless? - but there's certainly a restraint in many of his performances which can also be found in the Orchids' lead here. Maybe, in You Have Two..., there's an implied sense of weariness in the delivery, the message being something like: "I'm putting myself on the line, spelling it out the depth of my abject love for you, and then I'm just going to have to wait and hope, though there's probably no point. But here goes. (sighs)"

Well, that's what I hear, anyway. Or think I do. And if it's a wooing, then it's certainly not a very active or aggressive one: if you don't believe he's throwing away the words, I'm not sure you could counterclaim that he's hammering them home. But I love the sound either way, and I love that voice, slightly slurred, but simply so right, and whatever I succeed or fail in conveying here won't alter the beyond-words perfection of this performance.

And it's a beautiful composition as well, which unfurls like a flag. Technically it's odd, as you get a little verse at the beginning ("I love you baby...") then several choruses strung together (from "Don't you know God above ...") before the briefest of bridges ("Tell me you love me ...") before turning back to the chorus ("Yes, I had a heart ...").

That's why I think of it as stately: a kind of deliberate tread, with minimal interruption, all the way through the song, as though the singer's objective is to deliver himself of this longing in front of his mistress without let or hindrance: the doo wop equivalent, as it were, of Brando's painful walk at the end of On the Waterfront. (I also hear, as I reread these words, a possible echo of the Soul Stirrers' The Last Mile of the Way.) And the rest of the group sound like supportive friends in this venture - or, less charitably, possibly imaginary voices in the lovestruck fool's head, urging him on to this final, wretched act of humiliation.

And what about the simplicity and deliberateness of that saxophone solo, almost like the drumming of fingers or a ticking clock before the rest of the group break out in the momentary release of the bridge, the most directly emotional moment in the recording ("Tell me you love me, / Show me that you care,") before the singer, as it were, quietens them, and returns to his theme: "Yes, I had a heart ..."

And finally, though it's not really rational, when I hear this I see lush pastoral images, rich woodland. I presume this is because of my having had to study Elizabethan poetry at an impressionable age, leading to my association of the song with the imagery of courtly love mentioned earlier. But maybe it's also about the power of doo wop to take all of us to some kind of Nirvana. I don't have the original book to hand, and I've just found out that the Dave Marsh site mentioned earlier only reproduces his entries for the first 100 of his choices, but in Marsh's entry for Lover's Island by the Blue Jays (Number 434) he has a moment of wonder about just how the group, growing up in urban squalor, were able to imagine the leafy paradise in the song. Need is universal, I suppose. Billy Vera says that "two of the Magnificents ... recalled that the Orchids were 'hoodlums' and the kind of guys who might have stuck up a gas station on the way to the studio."

And just so that I don't leave anyone thinking that Elizabethan poetry is all about passionless contentment, here is a poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt which relates to the song even more directly than the Sir Philip Sidney verses quoted above - except that the speaker in this case, having already given his heart away, has realised his mistake and wants out of the deal.

The very best place to find out about the Orchids (and many other groups on Parrot, Chance and Vee Jay) is in Robert Pruter's excellent and highly readable Doo Wop: the Chicago Scene. I don't know whether it's still in print but it still seems generally available. In JC Marion's online magazine Doo Wop Nation you can find brief reviews of Robert Pruter and some others.

Pruter (along with Armin Buttner and Robert Campbell) has created an extensive (and I mean extensive) online discography for the Parrot/Blue Lake labels. This complements, rather than duplicates, the information in Doo Wop: the Chicago Scene as the focus is who played what on which session; buy or borrow the book anyway if you love this music. There are related sites, easy enough to find, which seem to focus on the contribution of individual musicians who backed the vocal groups. This massive and ongoing task (updated as recently as December 10th) is clearly a labour of love and an invaluable resource. Donn Fileti of Relic Records (who issued two excellent but now deleted Parrot and Parrot/Blue Lake comps) revised the discography. Using the reproductions of record labels as your signposts, croll about three quarters of the way down what is a very long page to find info about two Orchids sessions, both backed by a group led by Al Smith. Coincidentally, the September 1955 date which yielded You Have Two (I Have None) was the last vocal group session at Parrot; I'd like to think the general consensus was you couldn't improve on perfection.

You can hear You Have Two (I Have None) under its other title, the misnomer Happiness, streamed here, along with other Orchids sides, which are just about all equally good.

According to Pruter's book the Orchids split up when Parrot Records collapsed in 1956 and none of the members joined other groups. Amazingly, You Have Two ... wasn't even issued until its discovery in 1993 in the Vee Jay vaults, possibly having been sent to Vee Jay as an audition for the group (the image at the top of this piece is a none-too-subtle mockup on youtube).

Talk about a missed opportunity: You Have Two (I Have None) is, as Robert Pruter says, "a minor masterpiece and represents the highest level of doo wop creativity."

2 comments:

  1. Since my book, Doowop, came out, I have since found the members of the Orchids, which is given on the RSRF as "Orchids, in the 8 titles they cut for Parrot, have to rate as one of the most splendid doowop groups to come out of Chicago. All of them were from the South Side. Gilbert Warren was the principal lead and composer; he had matured considerably since his days as lead singer for the Five Thrills. Bass Buford Wright wrote and sang lead, and second tenor Robert C. Nesbary also played piano for the group. The two remaining members were Ashley Farr and Hubert White." Excellent write up on the Orchids tunes, love them in fact.

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    1. This is truly an honour, Mr Pruter - thank you so much for reading and for your kind comments. And how wonderful to have all the names of this superlative group at last - so the "Charles" some remembered was presumably non-existent or perhaps a mishearing or misremembering of "Ashley".

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