(Written by Howard Hausey)
It’s perhaps fitting that Crockett gets to take Mel-o-dy’s last bow; he’d recorded more singles than anyone else for the label, and written a whole bunch more for other people to sing. Perhaps more than anyone else – even Mel-o-dy’s A&R director Al Klein, who produces here – Howard Crockett was Mel-o-dy Records. And look at that title – apposite, right?
But then you remember how bad most Mel-o-dy sides have been. Looking at the label’s complete 7″ discography, you’ll be struck by the overwhelming torrent of red and orange numbers from 1963 on, when the one-time fourth-string soul imprint “went country”. Plus, Crockett’s own material has been getting steadily worse with each successive single, his personal decline almost exactly matching the decline of the label, finally intersecting here at the very end. Fitting, indeed.
I went into this with low expectations, knowing that the label was circling the drain, that it was unlikely anyone put their whole heart and soul into making this a classic for the ages, that Howard Crockett’s recent records haven’t been very good.
It’s quite the achievement, then, to find that All The Good Times Are Gone manages to somehow be even worse than all the other Mel-o-dy country sides, comfortably Howard Crockett’s most dismal record to date. (A title which becomes even more astounding when you consider that that right there is a back catalogue which includes a comedy cover version of Bringing In The Sheaves about a lynching, with backing singers who forget the words.)
Musically, this features a sweeping string arrangement, but that’s the only thing notable about it. Everything else is right off the peg, plinky-plonky standard-issue fare from the shelf marked “Uninspired Country”, played without joy, imagination or sparkle; a tenth-rate Johnny Cash tribute band grimly pushing ahead with their fiftieth number at a drizzly state fair, the only spectators an old man who’s fallen asleep and a small dog looking for someone to play with. The band play on, their dead eyes staring straight ahead. Even the girl over at the candy floss stand has stopped paying attention.
And look, here comes Howard Crockett, grinning a fixed, forced, terrifying grin, with his flat, featureless voice narrating a depressing, doleful spoken-word story about how you – yeah, this is a second-person job – about how you have nothing more to look forward to, how your life is over, how you’ll never recapture the carefree days of your youth.
I mean, he says it’s your youth. Of course, it’s probably nothing of the sort; this is a mawkish cardboard diorama of someone else’s childhood memories. Possibly they’re Howard’s own memories, and this is meant to be a personal recollection – but he and the band are so utterly wooden, so Olympically unconvincing, that I don’t believe a single word of it. Rather, it puts all its eggs in one basket, and that basket can only desperately hope that you, too, once enjoyed a fry-up on a riverbank while watching logs being floated downstream. Otherwise, it’s a first-grade “close your eyes, it’s imagination time!” exercise: a painfully, self-consciously folksy attempt at fiction, the narrator turned into some sort of mechanical homily-spoutin’ good ol’ boy in the hope of jerkin’ a couple o’ them tears.
Literally everything about this is incompetent. The central theme, observed with sledgehammer-subtle skill and pounded relentlessly over the listener’s head, is that time continues to pass, and you’ll never be twelve again. The thing runs for three endless minutes, never deviating from its path either musically or lyrically, and you’re left wondering what the hell the point of it was.
(Cutesy anecdote about something you, generic rural white Southerner, might have done in the Twenties, though with no allusions to any of that troublesome Jim Crow stuff or what have you – singalong chorus featuring brutal reminder that life is hard and it’s all downhill from here, and so you might as well go kill yourself really (“what’s left for a poor boy to do?”) – plinky plonky plinky plonky plinky plonk. Lather, rinse, repeat)
The sole saving grace of this is that it features a scene where our Howard gets shot in the arse for stealing a melon. And when I say “saving grace”, I’m talking figuratively, because this is beyond saving. It’s dreadful.
Well played, Howard Crockett: I went in expecting nothing, and somehow you still gave me even less.
So long, Mel-o-dy Records, we hardly knew ye; but after tomorrow there are no more of these Motown country sides for another ten years, and I doubt many readers will be shedding a tear.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
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