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REGAL 3319; MAY 1951



It’s come to this, has it?

Rock’s first female hitmaker, its first sex symbol and one of early rock’s most torrid live acts flaunting her body and shaking those curvaceous hips while she sang, is now reduced to cutting a calypso novelty record.

As if that wasn’t bad enough it’s also her first release in a whole year for Regal Records and would in fact be her last record of any kind for six more years providing yet another reminder of just how quickly a star that once shone brightly can dim in the blink of an eye in this business.


Run Right Out
For the second time in a few weeks we’re encountering the name Gladyces DeJesus on a record as the writer of the song and based on the respective material you might think that’s twice too many.

She’d also penned Little Esther’s flop I’m A Bad, Bad Girl, which wasn’t terribly written, just badly performed.

Yet going back further we find DeJesus’s first contribution to rock was I’ve Been A Fool by The Shadows, a good composition which was turned into gold by the group’s vocals.

She’d have some more credits which showed more or less the same thing… she was definitely a capable writer without really standing out.

So maybe Little Fat Woman With The Coconut Head was her attempt to stand out, because with a title like that, not to mention requiring Newsome to adopt a faux “island” accent, this record couldn’t help but stand out in a crowd.

But obviously if you have to stoop to those methods then you run the risk of turning out a garish spectacle or a musical train wreck not worthy of a listen.

It’s not quite that maybe, but it’s also definitely not a record that was going to revive Newsome’s stalled career – or for that matter elevate DeJesus’s stature and get her in the conversation as a songwriter to watch. Though there may be a few aspects that show some mild promise here, ultimately it’s the thing that sets it apart at a glance which makes it so inappropriate.


There’s One Thing To Understand
Blatant cultural appropriation is never an admirable thing in life as it typically plays into perpetuating shallow stereotypes which encourage audiences to be amused by those cultural or linguistic differences, all of which of course insults those who speak or act that way naturally.

In the mid-Twentieth Century this behavior was rampant and I’m sure was thought of by the perpetrators as meaning no harm… (of course those committing these acts are never the ones who have any right to determine if they are offensive). Movies, television and music all got laughs by badly imitating foreign accents, the insinuation being that because they weren’t American they were somehow lesser cultures. This is the same America you may recall that made The Three Stooges one of the most beloved comedy teams for years simply by watching them violently bludgeon each other on screen… high culture indeed!

Anyway, music was guilty of this as much as any other form of entertainment, most famously The Andrews Sisters’ 1945 smash Rum And Coca Cola. But with that song, as well as today’s record, Chubby Newsome’s Little Fat Woman With The Coconut Head, it’s at least up for debate whether they were going for laughs based on the accents themselves or if they just used them as a lazy shortcut to suggest the calypso rhythms in front of a band that should’ve handled that job themselves.

Clearly the title suggests there’s an intent to be funny, but once you get past that unfortunate attention getting title the rest of the song actually has a workable premise, a solid rhythm and modestly good playing behind it, which makes it a pity they didn’t just emphasize those aspects and have Newsome sing it with her own vocal delivery.

The plot that sets the song in motion is the fact this other women – the title character – has captured the affections of Chubby’s husband, certainly not an uncommon act of perfidy in rock ‘n’ roll. But if you’re seeking additional evidence it was intended as mildly demeaning then look no further than the fact it’s presented in a lighthearted manner where Newsome’s reaction is sort of empty-headed confusion rather than anger or jealousy.

They also play up the visual images associated with a less repressed society than the United States, as the inference is that this woman used her large breasts to lure Newsom’s husband away. Maybe that’s why they couched it as they did, to slip some sexual suggestiveness past the censors… not that it’s even half as sexual as Newsome’s normal output.

Unfortunately they don’t expand on the set-up much more than that. There are some decent set pieces, a trip to the hoodoo man for answers, an unexplained reaction by her husband when confronted, but there’s no payoff for any of it and thus no real point to the action. It’s one third of a good idea done in by outdated convention and a reliance on misguided views on another part of the world.

Clean The House
If you’re going to delve into this kind of watered down minstrelsy – and test the limits of humor based on those misconceptions in the process – it at least helps to back it up with strong enough music to distract people from focusing too much on those areas.

Again, as with the story, the basic musical concept on Little Fat Woman With The Coconut Head is good enough to suffice but the way they carry it off leaves a little something to be desired.

It’s a horn driven arrangement which gives the record a vibrant punch, but by leaning into the brighter sounding horns with a trumpet and trombone as the most prominent soloing instruments it can’t help but lessen its impact. That being said though the horn lines themselves are good and the arrangement keeps things interesting by using multiple different recurring riffs, overlapping parts and switching up the pace drastically from one to the next.

But trying to play up the lighter aspect of the composition rather than accentuate the underlying sexual currents within that story deprives it of the kick it needs to make this really connect.

If you’re going to exploit something slightly off-limits it’s always better to aim below the belt because your hips won’t lie… if they move, it works. Conversely if you’re hoping the lighthearted mocking nature of the song will carry the day you’re stuck with very little to fall back on if it misses.


Don’t Want Me No More
Though the changes needed to make this somewhat flimsy concept into a good song probably seem monumental – eliminating Newsome’s accent and the so-called humor that it was supposed to elicit; expanding the story and playing up the sexual rivalry and then beefing up the arrangement with rougher horns – the ease with which it could be pulled off makes it simple enough to envision.

After all that was the basic game plan for most of Newsome’s career, wasn’t it?

Maybe that was the reason they took Little Fat Woman With The Coconut Head in a different direction and while we can’t admire the mindset behind it, Newsome delivers a game performance in spite of that.

About the best you can say for this is it’s not a chore to listen to if you don’t pay too much attention to the more questionable aspects of the record, but then again when the questionable aspects are placed front and center it’s kind of hard to ignore them.

In the end it’s nothing more than a trifle… a quirky chapter in the far too short volume of the career of Chubby Newsome. Ultimately the record is much less a reflection on her abilities however and more of a indictment on the mindsets of a society that thought nothing of using anything that is perceived as “different” as an excuse for weak humor.


(Visit the Artist page of Chubby Newsom for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)