On Darondo

“Didn’t I”

I can’t get enough of this track.  There’s plenty of things to love about it: the gorgeous string-led melody; the fantastic, underused I-vii-vi chord progression; the ridiculously  sweet chord change at 1:58, etc.  However, what really makes this obscure slice of seventies soul so utterly transcendent is the vocal performance.

Mostly delivered in a falsetto, Darondo’s high serpentine rasp occasionally drops down into his regular, froggy register, a change so drastic and yet also seamless that when I first heard this track I thought it was one of the backing singers coming up momentarily in the mix.

It’s like the falsetto is representative of the spurned lover demonstrating weakness and frailty, but it can’t conceal the latent virility that periodically emerges every so often, as if to suggest that the purported remonstrance  is but the act of a lothario.  Notice that at the end of the song, the longest stretch of non-falsetto is the line where Darondo suggests the cure that will make his lover no longer want to leave him: “Sit down, and let me kissing your lovely lips”.  In other words, the sorrow and remorse of the singer is but a display, a deception in the service of seduction.  The falsetto is a pretended castration to penetrate the harem, as it were.  The fact that Darondo himself may have been a pimp back in the day (some say) suggests a sinister overtone to the whole affair.

Fig. 1: Still seriously cool.

But what’s best about this is that as a performance, it’s utterly convincing.  The vocal delivery is completely heartbreaking – of especial note is the line “I tried my best just to be a ma-annh)” where the final word is distended, pulled down an octave in an act of de-emasculation at the self-interpellation as “man”.  In the first two verses, the register drops seem accidental (from the protagonist’s point of view, obviously they are authorially intended); momentary flashes where the sorrowful mask drops (perhaps to sneak a better look at the undoubtedly fine lady being addressed).

By the third verse, where offers to kiss lovely lips are being bandied about, the tone shifts; the forlorn lover begging forgiveness is replaced by a more dominant voice: he asserts, “There’s something wrong with you … You look bad.”  It’s as if to break her down so she feels dependent on him, an approach perhaps born out of frustration that the sugary, puppy-dog-eyes, “I need you” approach of the first half of the song had hitherto had no effect.

And so, the vocal part now alternates more evenly between the falsetto and the “normal” voice.  The ploy has worked, the pleading of “Didn’t I do it right, now?”, was actually a rhetorical question, and the casanova breaks character more often in eager anticipation of the consummated desire.  Just sit down…

Fig. 2: A Smooth Operator

But all this takes away from just how brilliant this track is.  Indeed, William “Darondo” Pulliam only cut six 45 sides before disappearing for two and a half decades, and it’s interesting — in a sad way — to think of what he could have done.

However, perhaps what enables “Didn’t I” to be so good is that it is truely amateur music: just a side project amongst many other enterprises (dude drove a Rolls-Royce with the license plate “DARONDO”).  He says in a recent interview: “It was mostly me, just having a good time with a real good hobby.”

Apparently he’s a rather colourful man of mystery; the Wikipædia tells us:

Darondo recorded three singles and played four shows in the ’70s, and then stopped and drove home in his Rolls Royce after he opened for James Brown.  Later he traveled the world collecting interesting artifacts, became the king of Bay Area cable with three shows per day, and worked as a physical therapist coaxing patients to walk again.

Now, as a further example of the laudatory archival work done by beat-diggers, Darondo has experienced a minor cult resurgence in recent years due entirely to the sheer inconceivable beauty and brilliance of this one record.  His classic tracks have been reissued, and he’s apparently contemplating returning to music.

Or, at least that’s what his label’s website said two years ago.


~ by Isaac Bickerstaff on June 11, 2010.

2 Responses to “On Darondo”

  1. You really like this guy’s music! I will give him another listen.
    Like the new look of your web page.

    • Thanks! Now that I’ve heard more of his work (and seen some of his gonzo cable tv clips), I think I shall have to expand this entry. Definitely a lost genius, but I suppose the fact that he only ever released 6 tracks helps keep his oeuvre tantalizingly immaculate.

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