Thursday, 30 August 2012

Flamingos' Decca sides "fit for purpose" - ineffectual blogger's shock claim

The above says it all, really: having listened a few more times to the ten available tracks the Flamingos recorded for Decca in between Chess and End, I'm warming to them. A bit. So here is a bit more about them. And here are the relevant details from Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks page about the group.

30335 The Ladder Of Love (NN/PW)/Let's Make Up (TH) - 6/57 (release dates and lead vocalists)
30454 Helpless (NN)/My Faith In You (NN/PW) - 10/57
30687 Where Mary Go (NN/PW)/The Rock And Roll March (JAC) - 7/58
30880 Ever Since I Met Lucy (TH)/Kiss-A-Me (NN) - 5/59
30948 Jerri-Lee (NN)/Hey Now! (TH) - 7/59

JAC = Jake Carey
NN = Nate Nelson
PW = Paul Wilson
TH = Tommy Hunt

That Love Is You was also recorded for Decca but not released; it was later redone for End Records.

I have read that because Nate Nelson had a solo contract with Checker (a subsidiary of Chess) the Decca recordings were "virtually quashed by legal complications" (Robert Pruter's Chicago Doo Wop) so I don't know to what extent these tracks were known at the time.

But more interesting now is to speculate about how they might have sounded with other hands to tweak the sound, make decisions about what to add or not to add. It's well known that the version of I'll Be Home which Chess issued was recorded in the company's office studio after a redone version in a proper studio was rejected as sounding "plastic" to the Chess brothers. Without altering the substance of the group's contribution, which shines through in most cases, I can't help thinking that some of the Decca sides could be so much better, could sit alongside their Chess recordings at least.

Nevertheless, I find myself being drawn to Kiss-a-Me. Although there is a female chorus, it's used fairly well: at the end group and female voices seem to blend together, rather than the female chorus overwhelming the Flamingos. If you see them as a slightly overcompensating substitute for the departed Johnny Carter it sort of makes sense. In fact, if you judge Kiss-a-Me for its effectiveness as a record for slow dancing or smooching - the title promises as much, after all - then you could even say there is little to criticise about it. Nate Nelson's lead is beautiful and histransition from smoothness to moments of passion is well done, and there is undoubtedly a sense of continuity with earlier records: you are in that distinctive Flamingos world, a place of echoes and dreams. Incidentally, the music was composed by the same person who wrote Till Then, a hit for the Mills Brothers and later revived in the doo wop era.

Although the version of Jerri-Lee I have is in the lowest of fi, it sounds very appealing: think there is a Latin tinge but it's honestly hard to make too much out. Interesting that the jump sides with Tommy Hunt - Hey Now! and Let's Make Up are quite gutsy - Ever Since I Met Lucy is more poppy but the singing gives it a bit of an edge. I still say The Rock and Roll March is corny but in a slightly misconceived, slightly out of time Ravens kinda way: that group, great as they were, recorded lots of novelties which didn't quite hit the target.

I think I've come to the end of what I can usefully say about them. I happened to be listening to the Moonglows' Baby Please (Chance Records) a couple of days ago, and for the first time really appreciated the musical backing, so I think in future posts I may write in more detail about the Flamingos' and Moonglows' Chance sides. With Baby Please Red Holloway is really like another voice, a costar, on the recording. I note from the Chance discography website, here, that much the same lineup were behind the Flamingos for Golden Teardrops.

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