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"Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Mon Jul 29, 2013 12:29 am

We've all read about Elvis' musical influences, and we all know one of the biggest was Clyde McPhatter.

From memory (excuse me if I'm missing something), Elvis covered "Money Honey", "Such A Night", "Come What May" and "Without Love" - "Fools Fall In Love" is sometimes also cited in this same bag, but the original Drifters track didn't feature Clyde at all - already gone on a solo career - but the almost equally great Johnny Moore.

But this 1950 (released 1951) version of "Harbor Lights" by The Dominoes featuring Clyde McPhatter on lead vocal is almost never mentioned as a possible influence.

This was the second Dominoes single released on Federal Records - the labels didn´t specify Clyde's name. Their next release would be "Sixty Minute Man", one of the biggest R&B smashes of 1951 - this one didn't feature Clyde as soloist, though.

"Harbor Lights" by The Dominoes features an absolutely stunning lead vocal part by Clyde. The whole song is a total showcase for his amazing voice and performing skills. He was just 18 years old at the time of recording it.

Please listen to the second bridge. While (possibly) baritone William Lamont is singing, Clyde can be clearly heard doing back-up vocal work. So absolutely cool !!!

phpBB [video]



Can you imagine a 16 year old Elvis listening to this track on the radio ? Can you imagine him recalling this record three years later, during his early sessions at 706 Union Avenue ?
Last edited by Mister Moon on Fri Aug 09, 2013 9:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Mon Jul 29, 2013 6:41 am

Thanks!

Now, I see where he was going with this. But he should have tried it again in '57, and think it would have worked well.

rjm

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Mon Jul 29, 2013 8:01 am

Mister Moon wrote:We've all read about Elvis' musical influences, and we all know one of the biggest was Clyde McPhatter.

From memory (excuse me if I'm missing something), Elvis covered "Money Honey", "Such A Night", "Come What May" and "Without Love" - "Fools Fall In Love" is sometimes also cited in this same bag, but the original Drifters track didn't feature Clyde at all - already gone on a solo career - but the almost equally great Johnny Moore.

But this 1950 (released 1951) version of "Harbor Lights" by The Dominoes featuring Clyde McPhatter on lead vocal is almost never mentioned as a possible influence.

This was the second Dominoes single released on Federal Records - the labels didn´t specify Clyde's name. Their next release would be "Sixty Minute Man", one of the biggest R&B smashes of 1951 - this one didn't feature Clyde as soloist, though.

"Harbor Lights" by The Dominoes features an absolutely stunning lead vocal part by Clyde. The whole song is a total showcase for his amazing voice and performing skills. He was just 18 years old at the time of recording it.

Please listen to the second bridge. While (possibly) baritone William Lamont is singing, Clyde can be clearly heard doing back-up vocal work. So absolutely cool !!!

phpBB [video]



Can you imagine a 16 year old Elvis listening to this track on the radio ? Can you imagine him recalling this record three years later, during his early sessions at 706 Union Avenue ?


This is indeed a wonderful recording, and very likely Elvis heard it. However, I agree with esteemed FECC member George Smith, who maintains that of the many recordings of "Harbor Lights" it seems Elvis is clearly following Bing Crosby's chart-topping version. As he wrote on another topic, "Once again, Elvis follows the best Singer and his voice takes on a Crosby-esque timbre. The B-side of Bing's single was 'Beyond The Reef' which adds to the evidence."

Check it out:


phpBB [video]

Bing Crosby "Harbor Lights" (Decca 27219, September 23, 1950)
CashBox Best Selling Single #1, November 18, 1950, for Sammy Kaye and “Swing And Sway” Orchestra, Crosby's got to #8 on Billboard the same month.
Last edited by drjohncarpenter on Tue Dec 10, 2013 10:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Mon Jul 29, 2013 11:41 am

First of all, I have to add "White Christmas" to my list of McPhatter-related songs recorded by Elvis - I said I was working from memory !

Not really one of my favorite Elvis recordings, but it's cool to know that he dug that amazing and classic "I-hi-hi-hi-hi-I´m dreaming..." part sung by Clyde on the Drifters' 1954 version of the song.

It's very nice to know the Crosby recording of "Harbor Lights". I didn't know about it. It very much resembles Elvis' version of the song, so much more than the one by The Dominoes. Also, it's very interesting to learn that the B-side of that single was "Beyond The Reef".

Well, I guess 60 years after the fact, and with all the main characters of the play having left the building, it's all down to guess work. We know Elvis was very, say, unorthodox about his musical tastes (eclectic, in today' s terms). And I think that's one of the things that made him a great performer, so different from most of his contemporaries.

Where would he have listened to Crosby's version ? Most probably on the radio, as it was a hit. It's been said that the Presleys didn' t have a record player at home. And it seems very unlikely to me that a Memphis jukebox, in 1951, would contain a Crosby single with two ballads in it. So the "Beyond The Reef" connection, while being an interesting one, could probably be discarded as being only a coincidence.

But it's remarkable that they tried this song, with such a strong resemblance to the Crosby disc, almost three years after it had been a hit. It must have been so indelibly engraved on their (his) minds.

A fascinating, never ending puzzle...

Thanks everybody !!

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Mon Jul 29, 2013 10:40 pm

rjm wrote:
... he should have tried it again in '57 ...


You're probably right, Robin.

1957 was a very special year for Elvis recording wise. He reached a kind of maturity that still was in transition in 1956. I mean, he left behind that "promising artist finally makes good" image that fully exploded and established itself the previous year, and he reached an absolute self-confidence that permeates his recorded work.

Just listen to "All Shook Up". It's one of his all-time masterpieces, one of those recordings, like "Don't Be Cruel" from the previous year, that are 100% unmistakably E-L-V-I-S.

Then listen to "Jailhouse Rock". We've listened to it so many times that we probably take it for granted, again like "Hound Dog" from the previous year. But it's an absolute classic, in composition and in performance. It's a blessing that we can now listen to all the outtakes of this song in pristine sound quality thanks to FTD.

And then, the underrated classics. I'm particularly fond of two songs : "Is It So Strange" and "I Need You So". Hey, one coming from Faron Young and the other from Ivory Joe Hunter, but you listen to them in a row and what's there ? E-L-V-I-S. They're the kind of recordings where you can tell he's digging it all the way from the way he sings.

Had he tried "Harbor Lights" in 1957 it undoubtedly would have been a much more artistically successful recording that the Sun cut. An easy parallelism between the first and the second versions of "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" can be made here.

Thanks for the comment.

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Tue Jul 30, 2013 5:07 am

Mister Moon wrote:First of all, I have to add "White Christmas" to my list of McPhatter-related songs recorded by Elvis - I said I was working from memory !

Not really one of my favorite Elvis recordings, but it's cool to know that he dug that amazing and classic "I-hi-hi-hi-hi-I´m dreaming..." part sung by Clyde on the Drifters' 1954 version of the song.

It's very nice to know the Crosby recording of "Harbor Lights". I didn't know about it. It very much resembles Elvis' version of the song, so much more than the one by The Dominoes. Also, it's very interesting to learn that the B-side of that single was "Beyond The Reef".

Well, I guess 60 years after the fact, and with all the main characters of the play having left the building, it's all down to guess work. We know Elvis was very, say, unorthodox about his musical tastes (eclectic, in today' s terms). And I think that's one of the things that made him a great performer, so different from most of his contemporaries.

Where would he have listened to Crosby's version ? Most probably on the radio, as it was a hit. It's been said that the Presleys didn' t have a record player at home. And it seems very unlikely to me that a Memphis jukebox, in 1951, would contain a Crosby single with two ballads in it. So the "Beyond The Reef" connection, while being an interesting one, could probably be discarded as being only a coincidence.

But it's remarkable that they tried this song, with such a strong resemblance to the Crosby disc, almost three years after it had been a hit. It must have been so indelibly engraved on their (his) minds.

A fascinating, never ending puzzle...

Thanks everybody !!


Elvis, like many of his fellow teenagers, could listen to most of the records of the day (A- and B-sides) at the Blues Shop (AKA "Charlie's"), located at 286 North Main Street. He even convinced the owner to put his Memphis demo of "My Happiness" on the jukebox, with a handwritten label.

That's one way Elvis may have heard Bing's "Beyond The Reef." Also note that the Crosby B-side was also a top twenty hit, so he could have also heard it on the radio.

Read more about the McPhatter influence here:
Clyde McPhatter Says Hello -> August 1970
http://www.elvis-collectors.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=38008

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Tue Jul 30, 2013 5:53 am

Scotty contributes such a nicely crafted guitar part that it makes me think that the song might have been part of his repertoire with the Starlite Wranglers. Perhaps the three were discussing songs that they all knew and then gave this a try.

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Tue Jul 30, 2013 7:04 am

TJ wrote:Scotty contributes such a nicely crafted guitar part that it makes me think that the song might have been part of his repertoire with the Starlite Wranglers. Perhaps the three were discussing songs that they all knew and then gave this a try.


More likely it was one of the songs they jammed on for a while at Scotty's house the day before.

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Tue Jul 30, 2013 12:38 pm

Thanks, Mister Moon. Anyway, it would be interesting to play with the Crosby recording, bring up the pitch, to hear a higher-voiced version, and compare. (It would also sound strange.) I guess he heard so many things, and it inspired him in different ways. But that song just didn't work at the time, although I can feel what he was sorta reaching for. First of all, there were no other singers on the record, so that's a problem. But it wasn't right for him at that time.

rjm


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Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Tue Jul 30, 2013 1:05 pm

I might be in the minority, but I really enjoy the song.

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Tue Jul 30, 2013 10:17 pm

TJ wrote:I might be in the minority, but I really enjoy the song.


I loved Elvis' vocal from the first time I heard it on the second Legendary Performer LP. I often wonder if Elvis ever gave that LP a spin? It might have only added to his melancholy at that time.

The same recording unleashed in 2004 on Elvis At Sun was such great quality, and the one on A Boy From Tupelo, plus all the alternates, even better.

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Wed Jul 31, 2013 3:01 am

Good to hear I'm not the only one who gets a kick out of it.

I'd like to think that Elvis did give the LP a few spins and looked back fondly to those early days.

It's interesting that Elvis chose to whistle on both ballads recorded that night, yet rarely did so after this. I guess that up to that point he had been used to playing on his own at home, with no other instruments, so had whistled to add a little extra to the performances. The whistle/guitar duet on the Harbour Lights instrumental break does work well.

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Wed Jul 31, 2013 3:03 am

Crosby liked to whistle.

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Wed Jul 31, 2013 3:13 am

Neither could hold a candle to Roger W's later efforts though.

Re: "Harbor Lights" - Dominoes feat. McPhatter

Wed Jul 31, 2013 4:49 am

TJ wrote:Neither could hold a candle to Roger W's later efforts though.


A blowtorch might be a different matter. ;-)