Friday, April 30, 2004

The Harvey Averne Dozen:You're No Good
From Viva Soul (Atlantic, 1968)

"You're No Good" kicks off the Harvey Averne Dozen's Viva Soul and the song is so good, so sublime in its affect, so remarkably not like anything else on the album that you wish Averne had pressed this up on 45 so you could have the song without the clutter of the rest of the LP to deal with. Don't get me wrong, Viva Soul is a decent Latin album in its own right and had "You're No Good" not appeared on here, I would still have found pleasure in songs like the mid-tempo mambo, "The Micro Mini." But "You're No Good" opens the album on such a stupendous note that the desperate desire for the rest of the LP to sound the same can only be met by consecutive waves of disappointment as you skip tracks to realize that "You're No Good" is some kind of aberration - lucky to exist but still alone in the world, at least the world of Viva Soul.

Averne himself isn't a great vocalist here - he belts out a passable but unremarkable performance that reminded me of a Tony Bennett knock-off in a Vegas bar. That's not quite as bad as it sounds but Averne isn't about to topple Otis Redding or Al Green off the top of the canon. What makes "You're No Good" so damn good is the chorus of female singers, sounding like the latter-day Ronettes or similar girl group. Averne sings against them in a call and response between himself and what sounds like a bevy of girlfriends he's cheated on. We hear their grievances first as the song opens on a brassy opening of horns and vibes that gives way to a funky, walking bassline and jabbing piano chords. They sing: "I don't trust you when you're out of sight/like you were last night.

On Averne's reply - "I don't want to hear anymore/enough of that jive/I know the score..." - the song brings the horns back in and the arrangement switches from soul into pop, only to swing back to soul when the women come back: "If you love me/like you say do/then make up your mind". It's a great exchange, not quite as tit-for-tat as, say, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas' "Tramp" but like that classic, "You're No Good," is light and playful in its attitude too.

It's those moments, when the women are seeking their revenge that every element in this song: the arrangement, production and vocals, all come together beautifully. There is something both incredibly soulful and funky about these women's singing and it creates that moment of pop brilliance that so many songs hope for but few attain. I don't know what Averne was thinking in writing this song, insofar as the rest of the album doesn't sound much like this cut, but whatever inspired him is our blessing as well.