Saturday Single No. 286

Earlier this week, my pal jb, proprietor of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, reminded his readers of a (sometimes sad) truth. Musical memory is ephemeral:

There was a time when Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” was bred into the DNA of music fans. You couldn’t help knowing it. The record was one of several that symbolized what the 1950s sounded like, it was anthologized everywhere, and as a result, people who hadn’t been born when it was a hit could sing along with it, or the first line, in perfect Fats Domino cadence: “I found my thrill . . . .” (In the 70s, on the TV show Happy Days, it was shorthand for gettin’ lucky, or the promise of gettin’ lucky.) 

“Blueberry Hill” is not universally familiar anymore, though. Oldies radio left the 50s behind a long time ago, and 50s music is no longer a staple of that great cultural leveler, the wedding reception playlist. So it’s doubtful that your average person under the age of 30 would know “Blueberry Hill.” For those of us who do know it, the song is so closely identified with Domino that it’s surprising to learn that A) he wasn’t the first to record it and B) he wasn’t the last, either.

From there, jb went on to talk about earlier and later versions of “Blueberry Hill.” As he did and I nodded along, the undercurrent of my mind was recalling a two-LP set that came my way in early 1973 from a fellow student at St. Cloud State. Bruce, who worked in the same office as I did in the learning resources center (better known as the library), said he liked it, but he’d gotten tired of it. So I stopped by his house on the way home from school one day and paid something like two bucks for a package of Fats Domino’s hits, a 1971 United Artists release in its Legendary Masters Series.

Like all the others of our generation that jb mentions in the above paragraphs, I knew “Blueberry Hill,” and yes, I likely still know it well enough to “sing along with it . . . in perfect Fats Domino cadence.” But I didn’t know any of the rest of Domino’s amazingly deep catalog. With its twenty-eight tracks – along with a ten-page insert with photos, an appreciative essay and a discography – the two-LP package introduced me to, among others, “The Fat Man,” “Ain’t That A Shame,” “My Blue Heaven,” “Blue Monday,” “Whole Lotta Loving,” “I Wanna Walk You Home” and so much more.

In the paragraphs above, jb mentioned oldies radio. In 1973, there was no such animal, at least as we know it today. (I stand corrected; see note below from regular reader Yah Shure.) On occasion, if my memory is accurate this fine morning, one might hear a hit from the mid-1950s on KDWB from the Twin Cities or – more rarely – during the hours that WJON across the tracks in St. Cloud played Top 40. (The more advanced radio geeks among my readers are free to correct me in either direction: That it was unlikely to hear a 1950s record on those stations; or that it was far more frequent than I recall.)

Whatever the case, almost all of the music on Fats Domino, as the two-LP set was simply titled, was new to me. Beyond “Blueberry Hill,” I knew only one other tune on the album – “I Hear You Knocking” – and that was only because Welshman Dave Edmunds’ cover of the song had gone to No. 4 early in 1971. (On that cover, Edmunds gleefully name-checks several of his inspirations from the 1950s, among them Domino and Smiley Lewis, who recorded the original version of “I Hear You Knocking” in 1955.) Beyond that, I got a slight glimmering that if I wanted to truly understand pop and rock music, I was going to eventually have to dig into the music of the 1950s and earlier.

That glimmering got lost in a few months as I began to prepare for my academic year in Denmark, and that year, as I’ve related here before, brought me the music of the Allman Brothers Band and the folks at Muscle Shoals, which determined much of my musical digging for a few years. I eventually did get to the rock ’n’ roll of the 1950s and the R&B that preceded it in the 1940s, and I learned at least a little from that era about the music that moves me.

So I won’t say that the tune I’m presenting today was a major tool as I tinkered with the musical machine; if it was, it took a long time to for me to figure out how to use it. But having been reminded of the Fats Domino two-LP set this week, it seemed right to revisit Fats’ version of “I Hear You Knocking.” Recorded in 1958, it was released in late 1961 as the B-Side to Fats’ cover of Hank Williams “Jambalaya (Down On The Bayou.)” The A-Side went to No. 30. “I Hear You Knocking” went to No. 67, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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4 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 286”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    In 1973, the Twin Cities had already had an oldies station (KRSI) for five years. Of the three top-40 stations (KDWB, WDGY and KSTP) WDGY was the most likely to dig into the gold vault, via their long-running “Million Dollar Weekends.” But the ’50s weren’t commonly heard by ’73; even KRSI had gradually morphed into more of an album rock format by that year. My favorite “what are the odds?” moment had come on a summer day four years earlier, when “Peggy Sue” – Buddy Holly’s then-twelve-year-old hit – popped up simultaneously on top-40 KDWB and WDGY.

    WJON’s “Starship” nighttime format likely still held forth in 1973, so you’re probably right about the rarity of ’50s music on the Big 1240. By the late ’70s, we had the freedom to play it, but there just wasn’t much of it left in the library. And what with all that great ’60s stuff competing for the gold slots in the music rotation, something had to give.

    I’d forgotten I even had that Legendary Masters double-LP, still in its shrink wrap, with its silver-on-maroon front and maroon-on-silver back covers. Don’t recall seeing it in the WJON library, though.

    I also picked up EMI’s 100-track ‘They Call Me The Fat Man’ boxed set when it was deleted back in 1997. But because Fat’s style doesn’t change a whole lot, after even five Domino tracks in a row, I’ve had my fill of “Blueberry Hill.”

  2. porky says:

    I have the Eddie Cochran United Artists set; fantastic packages every one.

    You can’t listen to Fats and not smile. Check out his “Lady Madonna.” McCartney said he wrote it with Fats in mind. For more Beatles influence listen to the words of “I Want to Walk You Home.”

  3. whiteray says:

    @porky: I can’t help adding that Fats also did a cover on Reprise of the Beatles’ “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey,” which sparks smiles, too.

  4. jb says:

    Thanks for the shout-out. I highly recommend “Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” a biography by Rick Coleman, which taught me a great deal about the Fat Man, but also about the under-appreciated role New Orleans played in music history, especially that of people like Dave Bartholomew and Cosimo Matassa.

    I also recommend playing “I Want to Walk You Home” several times in a row.

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