Fats Domino | This is Fats (1957)
Boogie Woogie/ Rhythm and Blues / Traditional Pop – 27:00
Pop quiz – can you name five Elvis Presley songs? How about five songs by The Beatles? What about Abba? David Bowie? Easy, isn’t it? After all, they’ve had such a huge number of hit records? Which begs the question, how many songs by Fats Domino can you name? I’ll be surprised if you get more than three (which would be more than me – I think I could manage two at a push). So it may come as a surprise that The Fat Man has racked up 37 Top 40 hits in his career. Ok, so it isn’t quite the number of those other artists (Elvis and The Beatles both win that contest with over 100). But he certainly wasn’t a one-hit wonder either – and his influence is still being felt in the charts today.
It’s always curious how future generations remember those trend-setters coming before them. Take punk, for example. Looking back at the late 1970s phenomena, from a viewpoint 40 years after the event, it would be easy to assume that the charts were dominated by the likes of The Ramones or Stiff Little Fingers. During the height of Brit Pop in the mid-90s, a style that borrowed heavily from the genre, even Tony Blair was claiming to be a punk rocker (although, as one wag noted, it is hard to imagine the instigator of New Labour moshing to Career Opportunities or White Riot). But, despite this wave of nostalgia, go back to the charts of 1977 or 1978 and it wasn’t the likes of The Clash or Sex Pistols really dominating. That honour, instead, went to the disco kings and queens; in truth, the kids were more likely to be putting on their favourite Bay City Roller tartan than sticking safety pins through their noses and gelling their hair up into mohawks.
While Fats may not be the force he once was, at least as far as being remembered by the current generation of music buying tweens, it doesn’t stop his work from being some of the most important in the history of modern music. And nowhere is that more evident than in his album This is Fats. In its 12 tracks, you can hear the modern pop charts taking shape, in much the same way that Elvis, at his very best, was doing with his recordings. You only have to listen to the opening number of Blueberry Hill – the one classic which everyone should recall – to realise this is going to be one hell of an album. No single take of the song was ever completed (according to legend, not helped by Fats never being able to remember the words); yet the production is so strong that you never realise. When you’re dealing with songs of this calibre, sung by artists as skilled as Fats, it would take a lot more to ruin such a great track.
The opening four numbers go from strength to strength; just when you think that one could never be topped, along comes a song that’s even better than the last. What could be better than Blueberry Hill than the fantastic Honey Chile? And how do you follow that, other than with the wonderful What’s the Reason I’m Not Pleasing You? And want a cherry to place on the top of that confection of brilliance? It can only be Blue Monday – a song that encapsulates all the feelings of facing the start of the week. Just listen to that intro on the piano before going into a lament of the end of the weekend and struggling through a working week. Who can’t relate to those sentiments?
After such a brilliant start, perhaps it’s little wonder that the fifth track jars a little for me. There’s no denying So Long is a great song, with a wonderful sax solo in the middle. But following on from the previous songs, somehow it doesn’t quite gel for me. Perhaps the wonderful start doesn’t help – a weaker song, which in reality is pretty good, suddenly sounds much worse in comparison. Not to worry, things pick up again with the bopping beat of La La – few words but a track which still manages to really bring a sense of boogie woogie to proceedings after a couple of slower numbers.
There’s no denying that the second half of the album doesn’t quite live up to its opening songs; but, in some ways that’s like saying £1.9 million isn’t quite as good as £2 million – they difference is so minimal that, to be honest, I’d be happy with either. Troubles of My Own and You Done Me Wrong keep things going well. However the slower Rockin’ and Reelin’ seems to prove that Fats is better when he’s pounding his piano rather than trying to perform at a more leisurely pace; despite a run time of only 2 minutes 25, the number does seem to drag – as does the instrumental The Fat Man’s Hop and Poor Poor Me. Fortunately, the closing number of Trust in Me goes some ways of returning to the beat of the original numbers – a faster sound with a great guitar solo in the middle (you can hear rock ‘n’ roll being created before your very ears).
So does it matter that, in truth, only half of the album hits the mark? Does it matter that, while some songs are undeniable classics, others on an album may be less fondly remembered? Can a record that has less than a 50 per cent approval rating from the listener still be deemed as a ‘must listen’? Is it just my own modern ear which is failing to recognise a consistent greatness to the album? I admit that I don’t know. But one thing is for certain – there is no doubting Fats’ talent and, when the songs are strong, they are true classics. Fats Domino may no longer be remembered in the same way as Elvis, The Beatles or Bob Dylan for his contribution to modern music; but, even if this album doesn’t always hit the mark, there is plenty on here to prove that his influence should not be forgotten. If only for the first four songs alone, this album is definitely one every aspiring musician should listen to – because, trend-setter or not, you can’t argue with tracks that good.
If you have a Spotify account, you can listen to the album here:
Next time: Ellington at Newport by Duke Ellington