She Cried

by: Jay & the Americans

Early-'60s rock & roll albums are a funny animal -- no one, not critics or fans, ever really knew what to make of them, mostly because they were usually so superfluous to how we knew and understood the artists involved. Except for Elvis Presley, who still commanded a lot of attention even as he began what ultimately proved to be the downward arc (in terms of quality) of his movie career, no one ever heard the album tracks except the most serious, dedicated fans, who were a tiny, almost microscopic portion of the audience. It wasn't until the Beach Boys began surprising people with album cuts that were almost good enough to be singles that audiences started to given them a wider listen, though it took the Beatles -- who stirred insatiable demand from fans and whose albums met the same standard as their singles -- to drive the sale numbers up to significant levels. Until then, you had fine LPs like She Cried, Jay & the Americans' debut LP, fine efforts that most fans never heard or even knew about. A Leiber & Stoller production, it reflected their other work of the period, including the group's covers of then-current Drifters/Ben E. King hits, and also reflected the influence of Phil Spector, with a very Spector-ish string arrangement on the opening number, "Drums." There's also an interesting sub-theme running through two of the songs here, "My Claire de Lune," which was the songwriting duo's adaptation of the Debussy piece to a rock & roll vocal group, and "Dawning," the opening of Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite, done as a doo wop number -- the latter, incidentally, was the intended A-side of the single that yielded up the group's first major hit, "She Cried" (which is also present). Jay Traynor, who sang lead on this material, does well by songs such as "Yes," "Stand By Me," and the 1961 single "Tonight," while "Moon River" gives the other members a chance to step a little more forward than was usual on the group's records. The resulting album wasn't about to set new horizons in popular music, but it was certain to please fans and even yielded a new single side or two from among its tracks, and those classical adaptations are fun and charming in their unpretentious way -- cut from the same cloth as Elvis Presley's hit "It's Now or Never" -- and anticipate the success that the Toys would enjoy with "A Lover's Concerto." ~ Bruce Eder

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