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CHESS 1518; AUGUST 1952



Here’s an interesting trivia question to win you a beer from the loudmouth at the bar who thinks he (it’s always a he) knows everything about music.

What rock artist had the single biggest hit of the 1960’s?

Of course you may have to define “hit” so that it becomes an objective fact rather than a subjective interpretation, but if we’re talking which #1 song spent the most weeks on the charts the answer is of course Bobby Lewis.

The same Bobby Lewis who first made waves a decade earlier with this song and basically wasn’t known by anyone outside the Lewis family in between those two records… or for that matter, wasn’t known by many in the years since either.


The Same Way Daddy That We Did Before
Okay, just so that I don’t get an avalanche of angry e-mails disputing the mindless trivia that opened this review, I AM fully aware you can define “biggest” and “hit” in more than one way.

The Beatles, most people’s first, second and third answer, would take the prize if it was most weeks at #1, as Hey Jude notched nine weeks there in 1968. But it was out of the Top 100 after nineteen weeks, whereas Bobby Lewis’s Tossin’ & Turnin’ spent 23 weeks on the charts in 1961 including seven at #1 (and for the record tied for the most weeks at #1 on the R&B Charts during the decade with ten and again spent more weeks ON those charts than the others).

If you want to change up the question to a more interesting one, ask which rock THREE rock artists of the 1960’s had the biggest #1 hits of the decade and the answer is The Beatles (twice actually with I Want To Hold Your Hand being the other entry at seven weeks), The Monkees (I’m A Believeralso 7 weeks) and Lewis.

The point isn’t to try and make your friends look stupid, though that never hurts, but rather to show just how unlikely Lewis’s achievement was. This was somebody who most music fans today wouldn’t even bring up when asked to name five rock ‘n’ roll stars with the surname of Lewis.

The likely answer to THAT question: Jerry Lee, Huey, Barbara, Smiley and Ryan… but hell, I think even Gary (ya know, comedian Jerry Lewis’s kid) would probably get more mentions than Bobby Lewis would.

But his later hit is an undeniably catchy song and if its success compared to more enduring #1 hits of the 1960’s seems a little extreme, remember that at the time they weren’t competing with each other, just whatever other songs were released around the same period that they had to stave off to hold onto that top spot.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves though, as that’s still ten years down the road. Instead let’s focus on Mumbles Blues, a record which had the potential to put him on the map a lot earlier if it weren’t competing with another version released right on its heels by our old friend Paul Bascomb.

Ironically it might’ve become Bascomb’s most famous historical recording – which admittedly isn’t saying much – while Lewis’s self-penned original has been all but forgotten even though it’s had a fair amount of influence through the years.


Early In the Morning All Ready To Go
This is what would probably be called a novelty song by most, simply because its attempting to use (rather insensitive) non-verbal humor as its primary hook.

Yet like most rock records with that designation there’s more than enough actual musical components to be considered on its own merits, especially since the so-called joke here isn’t very funny and therefore it absolutely needs something more to carry it over.

Musically this definitely accomplishes that as this contains a very effective rolling arrangement with sharp horn blasts, stinging guitar notes (by co-writer and arranger Leroy Kirkland), rattling piano and thudding bass and drums. The ensuing sax solo is melodic with a good tone and a fair amount of grit in its lines and is nicely offset by the drumming which is surprisingly high in the mix giving it a very good balance between the two instruments.

Where it’s not quite as fulfilling is in the structure which requires far too many stop-time interludes where the music mostly drops out to let Bobby Lewis deliver the next set-up and repetitive punchline which of course is the stuttering gibberish at the core of Mumbles Blues, though in this part of the criticism it’s the way the music comes to a halt that bothers us.

But don’t think we’re going to go easy on Lewis as we make the switch to analyzing the lyrics and vocals, because those are the same points where we roll our eyes at the casual cruelty of mocking somebody for a speech impediment.

Let it be said the basic plot itself is fine. His girl is crazy about him but can’t express herself well and is reduced to mumbling when asked about him. But the way in which she does this in the song has less to do with mumbling and more to do with stuttering which is an entirely different – and more onerous – image to present.

I know, he probably didn’t mean anything harmful by it and was just looking for something musically different and linguistically humorous to set this apart. But even if you find no ethical line being crossed, it fails to achieve either of its purported goals – laughter or a positive musical response. The best we can do then is to classify it with all of the other songs we’ve come across which let us down with a bad hook and turn our attention to the rest of the performance where Lewis is at least singing with some commendable energy and conviction.

For those who know Lewis for his huge hit down the road this doesn’t sound close enough to that where you’d immediately identify him as the same singer. His delivery here is more of a roughneck barroom type of rock, but while it’s not as melodious a vocal, it’s still one that works in this context showing that Lewis has some natural attributes working in his favor.

Even so there’s only so much those qualities can do to elevate a song that has some unavoidable issues to overcome, whether your objections are ethical or merely structural, but it does have enough musical merit to make the record a little easier to accept and find some pleasure in even if you might not be very proud of yourself afterwards.


All Ready To Go
We mentioned influence earlier and for a record that didn’t reach national hit status this was one of those tunes that kept getting recycled in years to come. The immediate Bascomb cover which we’ll get to soon drew an equal amount of attention in 1952, hurting the commercial returns of both. Then there was a rapid succession of acts in the mid-50’s putting out their own version of this song (Big Connie, Rudy Green and Boyd Bennett) leading to Lewis himself re-cutting it for Spotlight Records in 1956 which got picked up for broader distribution by Mercury the next year.

But that’s not all, as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins more or less cribbed the hook – ironically the worst part of Mumbles Blues – for the much better Little Demon, not to make fun of stuttering, but just as a quirky hook for a tale about something far different.

For the “making fun” influence we turn to Johnny Otis who in late 1959 sort of re-worked this as Mumblin’ Mosie, his last chart record for nearly a decade and not the best way to leave a good last impression until his musical re-emergence with his son Shuggie in the late 1960’s.

Wrapping up the story on THIS record though, we’ll leave with the following disclaimer since the subject matter makes up a good deal of the song and the analysis and there’s sure to be readers who find nothing objectionable about it, perhaps even citing two pretty famous Ducks (Donald and Daffy) whose speech impediments were key features of their personas and they were arguably the best cartoon characters in Disney and Warner Brothers history respectively.

Fair enough.

But a few hours before writing this post, purely coincidentally, I happened to come across the following post on Imgur which shows a different – and infinitely more credible – perspective when it comes to the subject at hand.

The point is, if you’re not the one being mocked, you probably should keep your mouth shut. If not, don’t be surprised if somewhere along the way a person takes offense to your attempts at humor at their expense and punches you in the jaw. Then we’ll see who mumbles.


(Visit the Artist page of Bobby Lewis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)