Thursday, 3 August 2017

Flamingos # 15: I Really Don't Want to Know

Some time ago in this very blog I dared to suggest that Robert Pruter's assessment of the remaining song from their first Parrot session was mistaken. Mr Pruter had claimed that the arrangement on the country song I Really Don't Want to Know "drags and sounds confused" - but now I'm inclined to think he may be right.

It starts off powerfully enough, with Sollie McElroy asking the question:

How many arms have held  you
And hated to let you go?
How many, how many, I wo-o-onder ...
And Johnny Carter, like an insistent voice in the betrayed lover's head, echoes the refrain: "How many ... how many ..."

By the time of the bridge ("So always make me wonder"), however, things do seem to run out of steam a little. I don't have the technical language to describe what's happening musically at that point, but I'd suggest that part of the problem, at least, is that if Sollie's McElroy's vocal is viewed as an acting performance then it doesn't seem organic.

He starts off tormented, with both Carter's nagging "How many? How many?" and his pained falsetto giving the lie to McElroy's assertion that he'd prefer to remain in ignorance. But then the bridge, with its fairly jaunty backing, suggests an equanimity better suited to a more phlegmatic delivery of the song. It doesn't seem to follow naturally from that introduction and is, I'd say, a rare instance of McElroy overplaying his hand.

Then again, who really cares when the first half of the song sounds so good? And I'm willing to bet that Willie Jones, whose playing adds another layer of delight here, is the same pianist who adorns another Parrot recording, the Orchids' You Said You Loved Me.

In addition to the original 1953 Eddy Arnold recording of I Really Don't Want to Know, which was written by Don Robertson and Howard Barnes, there is a version by Les Paul and Mary Ford which I think had been released before the Flamingos went into the studio. No multitracking on display, just a subtle and sensitive vocal by Ford.

Arnold sounds the more likely model for the Flamingos, however, although McElroy's vocal is far from a carbon copy: the melody been subtly reshaped, giving the song more of a soulful edge.

A later version by Kay Starr - several years too late, alas, to inspire the Flamingos or bandleader Al Smith - offers a tantalising glimpse into how things might have been. Her final singing of the bridge follows the pattern familiar to many doo wop bridges with that repetitious, stabbing sound referred to in an earlier post.

It could be that an option of that sort had already been considered and rejected by the Flamingos, for fear of the record's becoming an awkward hybrid of country and doo wop. A pity, if so, as it could have injected additional urgency into what is still a highly creditable performance; you can forgive a lot after the glory of that opening.


As with several recordings in this series, listening to I Really Don't Want to Know again makes me wonder (but not always) what on earth I'm complaining about. Alright, the instrumental backing around the bridge may be a tad jaunty, and Jake Carey perhaps a little too chipper, but McElroy's vocal holds the whole thing together. Yes, he's troubled, but he's keeping a lid on his feelings rather than outwardly agonising, as I seem to have implied above. 

If my thoughts on the matter change again tomorrow, be assured  I shall keep them to myself. Probably.

To close, by way of a palate cleanser for myself as much as the reader, here is the Orchids record referred to earlier, complete with the magical fingers of Willie Jones or whoever it is playing on I Really Don't Want to Know:

Other posts in this series here.

Doowop: the Chicago Scene by Robert Pruter
Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks page on the Flamingos
The Parrot and Blue Lake Labels (website) - Robert Pruter, Armin Buttner and Robert L Campbell
Sleevenotes for The Best of the End Years by Donn Fileti


There is a Willie Jones Discography Page maintained by Robert Pruter, Armin Buttner and Robert L Campbell which identifies the following musicians at the Orchids session which produced You Said You Loved Me and the sublime You Have Two (I Have None):
Al Smith (ldr); Red Holloway (ts); Willie Jones (celeste -1; p); Lefty Bates (eg); prob. Quinn Wilson (b); Paul Gusman or James Slaughter (d).

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