Thursday, 3 August 2017

Flamingos # 16: I'm Yours & Ko Ko Mo

[Marv Goldberg]

The Flamingos' second (and final) session for Parrot also yielded some notable sides. The pick of the bunch is the ballad I'm Yours, even though it was only a B side for their cover of Gene and Eunice's Ko Ko Mo.



The backing is very spare - presumably the extra brass hired for I Found a New Baby and Get With It had been told to stand down - but that's to the track's advantage. There is a saxophone intro and bass, drums and occasional guitar can be heard, but as an insistent piano is the only really prominent instrument you could almost be forgiven if you suppose, for a moment, that this must be a demo.

Until, that is, you start to become aware of the "breathtaking" harmonies (Pruter) and realise that on this particular record the group is the thing. Nate Nelson does a fine job but listen to the backing vocals throughout: further proof, in the unlikely event of its being needed, that the Flamingos have always been about more than their lead singers. There is none of the off the peg R&B vocal group backing to be heard on some of their lesser Chance recordings; as with Golden Teardrops, it sounds like a number which has been thoroughly prepared and refined by the group in private before musicians got involved.

Nevertheless, it's the instrumental arrangement on I'm Yours which gives it an added significance as a transitional record: the simplicity and directness of Horace Palm's piano playing, almost wholly devoted to driving the song forward, is starting to move the Flamingos' sound away from the "deep R&B doowop" of the Chance recordings towards the more streamlined, beat-driven, rock'n'roll backing of their Chess ballads.

The Chess remakes of If I Can't Have You (aka Nobody's Love) and Dream of a Lifetime are good examples of this crossover-friendly style, although in my opinion the new style of backing seems to restrict the group a little on those two occasions in comparison to the performances on the original recordings. But I admit it's hard to be certain, because the vocal arrangements have also been modified.

In the case of I'm Yours, however, the simple instrumental arrangement seems the correct decision: anything more adventurous would have distracted from the harmonies. The legend in the (genuine) ad atop this post, "The group with the new beat", may refer to Ko Ko Mo but it seems equally applicable to the record's B side.

Incidentally, Robert Pruter points out that this is one of the few records which actually uses "the 'doowop' harmony riff"; the only other one I can think of is the Del Vikings' 1957 I Want to Marry You, led by the great Chuck Jackson.

Ko Ko Mo was recorded quickly at label owner Al Benson's suggestion in an effort to "steal the thunder" of the Gene and Eunice original. It's competently done - Robert Pruter describes it as "a pleasing workout" - but it just doesn't have whatever it is that the original has. The Parrot and Blue Lake website says:
On "Ko Ko Mo" and the ballad, "I'm Yours," the group was accompanied by just Red Holloway, with Horace Palm (piano and organ), Quinn Wilson (bass), and Paul Gusman (drums). On "Ko Ko Mo," Palm reminds us that he wasn't much of an organist, while Gusman distinguishes himself in his prominent role on this Latin arrangement. The Kokomo celebrated in the song is a mythic tropical paradise, not to be confused with the mundane locale in Indiana.
So now you know. Were a mnemonic ever to be needed for the letters NFHML it could be:
No Flamingos Hymn Mundane Locales
I'm surprised to see there is no mention of a guitar on I'm Yours - I thought I heard occasional squeals from one. I can't think that Palm would have had the opportunity to double on the organ for that side.


Other posts in this series here.

Sources:
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

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