Friday, February 12, 2010

February 12: Fats Domino, "Ain't That A Shame"

Artist: Fats Domino
Song: "Ain't That A Shame"
Album: Carry On Rockin'
Year: 1955

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If there is one thing that has been proven over the decades, it is the fact that regardless of musical trends or advancements in technology, the truly great songs will persevere from generation to generation. Whether it is a great musical hook, a legendary lyric, or simply being a song that was so unusual at the time that it forever changed the landscape of music, one can easily make a case that these elite songs will "never die." Then of course, there is a group of songs that represented the finest of a certain genre or era, and many of these songs are as much a historical document as they are iconic songs. When one looks at the musical map of the 1950's, it is impossible not to discuss one of the decades' most legendary figures, one of the many pop stars of the era, the one and only Fats Domino. Remaining today the most popular purveyor of what is now called the "New Orleans R&B sound," Fats is always a major player when one discusses "where" rock and roll music began. With his 1949 single, "The Fat Man" often being noted as the "first" rock record, one can easily make the argument that the transition from R&B to rock would not have occurred without his musical contributions. With later hits like "Blueberry Hill" and "I'm Walkin'," Fats was also one of the first "superstars" of music yet it is his 1955 song, "Ain't That A Shame" which may very well be the finest of his career.

As is often the case in breakthrough hits, "Ain't That A Shame" had a rather odd road to popularity, as upon its initial release, it only found small pockets of moderate sales. Yet shortly after its release, established star, Pat Boone, made his own cover of the song, and the Boone version shot up the charts. Soon after the success of the Boone version, music fans began to seek out the original, and the Fats Domino version was quickly moving up the charts in a similar manner, establishing Fats as one of the biggest artists of the decade. In the years that followed, Fats would have a string of hits, making him one of the best selling and most popular artists of the 1950's, as well as solidifying the R&B sound into rock music. Though it was first released as a single, "Ain't That A Shame" was also released on a Fats record called Carry On Rockin' in 1955, but the album was re-released within months, and retitled Rock And Rollin' With Fats Domino. By this time, Fats had already released a handful of singles, but it is this album that marks his first full length recording, and along with "Ain't That A Shame," the record also features his first single, "The Fat Man." The initial release on Carry On Rockin' remains one of the most coveted records in history, as its rarity, combined with the historical significance makes it a record that has very peers in nearly every sense of the word.

As a song, "Ain't That A Shame" is not that far a cry from a majority of the "New Orleans R&B" artists that were performing at the time, as Fats presents an overall relaxed mood, topped by his fantastic voice. The music itself both rolls and swings, and the stop-time breaks and perfectly executed mid-tempo rhythm make the song as enjoyable today as it was at the birth of rock music. The overall upbeat and fun feeling that the song emits is certainly what made it a hit with the youth of the time, as one can easily picture the song being played at any party or dance of the era. One of the finest aspects of the music is the bright and powerful saxophone bursts from Herb Hardesty. Having played with many of the Creole-R&B greats, Hardesty's playing creates a perfect compliment to the piano and vocals from Fats. The voice of Fats Domino is also one of the most distinctive in history, as he possessed one of the warmest, yet strong vocal styles, and it is this aspect that played a key role in his crossover success. Furthermore, the boogie-woogie based piano style, that Fats fused together with the emerging, almost heavier rock sound was like nothing else that had gained mainstream success, and it was very much this approach that opened the door for artists like Jerry Lee Lewis and Chubby Checker, yet Fats remains one of the originators of the style.

As one digs back further and further in history towards the "beginning" of a particular genre of music, not only does the sound move to a more simple, direct approach, but one is also able to clearly hear the older genres that combined to create a new sound. As the saying goes, "rhythm and blues had a baby, and they called it rock and roll." This idea is perhaps no more evident than in the early rock records of the 1950's, and few artists so perfectly display this lineage than the music of Fats Domino. Coming out of New Orleans, home of many of the most important musical creations throughout history, Fats took the Creole-based R&B which he was brought up on, and fused it together with the new, more aggressive sound that would be come rock music. With his amazing piano playing as well as his instantly recognizable voice, Fats Domino rode a string of hit singles to become one of the best selling artists of the 1950's, and he remains one of the most influential musicians in music history. Perhaps perfectly reflecting the mindset of society in the mid-1950's, it was not until Pat Boone re-recorded Domino's single, "Ain't That A Shame," that Fats himself was catapulted to national stardom. Regardless of how it came to be, one would be hard pressed to find a more ideal example of early rock and roll than one finds in the absolutely iconic 1955 single from Fats Domino, "Ain't That A Shame."

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