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The careers of great artists, when whittled down to their essentials, are a series of benchmark recordings that tell of their artistic and commercial growth, their evolving sense of self within the context of their era and provide an enduring snapshot of the daily lives of the audience who used them as the soundtrack to their everyday existence.

For Fats Domino, whose reign as a star lasted nearly a decade and a half, there are simply more of these big moments than most artists could dream of, yet even so this single has significant meaning as it became his first chart topper.

But it’s also his only #1 hit – out of nine – which wasn’t made with Dave Bartholomew, which means that while it’s a portend of things to come in terms of his ensuing success it’s also an outlier in his catalog when it comes to how it was made… and indeed how it sounded as well.


Don’t Try And Find Me
The spring of 1952 is one of those stretches in rock history where so many things seemed to be happening, so many vital artists were emerging and so many indelible hits were being released on top of each other, that the stories that otherwise would be told in more concise fashion in a larger overview are going to be broken into segments when studying all of these records individually.

The specific story surrounding this release is actually one that has been a major plot in all of Fats Domino’s singles we’ve covered over the past year as he and Imperial Records were dealing with the fallout from the company’s disrespectful treatment of producer, songwriter and bandleader Dave Bartholomew which resulted in him leaving for not quite greener pastures.

At a glance the effect on both Domino and Bartholomew has been negative. Though each scored a hit on their own (Dave as a writer, Fats on a song he both wrote and sang) their output individually have contained few, if any, defining records in their career… until today that is… and because society tends to condense people’s stories into a series of highpoints (IE. the aforementioned “benchmark recordings”), the dearth of those touchstones while they were apart leads you to believe they were in dire need of each other’s assistance.

Well in a way that’s certainly true, for they brought out the best in each other and if shorn of one another’s contributions their respective résumés would be decidedly less glittering. But Goin’ Home proves that Domino was not incapable of hitting the same heights on his own, and the same was true of Bartholomew as he’d soon show with another record by another artist that he produced that would make even bigger waves in the weeks and months to come.

But maybe – just maybe – the time apart was good for both of them, as each were forced to hone their skills separately by not being able to rely on the other to shore up their individual weaknesses. By the time they got back together each came to appreciate their complimentary gifts and they were able to go on an unprecedent run of artistic and commercial success.

But to do that each needed to end their time apart on a high note so they weren’t crawling back to the other with their tail between their legs. This was the record that enabled Domino walked into that reunion with his head held high.


Won’t You Leave Poor Me Alone
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first which is the terrible production here, obviously the one thing they were missing with Dave Bartholomew toiling for other companies.

There’s one man you can place 100% of the blame on in this area… con man Al Young, the white record distributor who’d convinced Imperial’s owner Lew Chudd that their records were big in Louisiana because of his promotional efforts rather than the material that Bartholomew provided. When he got a hefty cash bonus for that lie he poured fuel on the fire by rubbing Bartholomew’s nose in it which led to Dave’s acrimonious departure from the label he put on the map.

Young had the musical ability of a potted plant and unlike a plant which at least provided oxygen to a room, Young sucked it all out. While he had nothing to do with the song’s writing, despite the credit, he supervised the session which was amateurishly sloppy, particularly Buddy Hagen’s off-key sax solo.

But the song itself was pure gold and not even a self-serving opportunistic hack like Young could ruin it completely.

Fats taps into the power of conflicting emotions on Goin’ Home in such a way that it envelops you in the drama that led to the events while filling you with an undercurrent of hope in the overriding message.

The song is a bitter breakup with Domino’s heartbreak front and center, from the first grace notes on his piano which set a tentative mood for what follows. It’s not just what he’s saying – pulling no punches in his attacks on the girl’s “evil ways” – but how he’s singing it that provides the emotional pull of the story. His higher pitched voice is constantly straining at the seams, flirting heavily with whining, cracking, crying and even sobbing in the staccato passages without ever giving in to them fully as he struggles to hold things together.

What keeps him from toppling into grief is the primary message as revealed in the title line… “Goin’ home tomorrow”, which is the reassurance that he’ll soon be back in the familiar loving embrace of friends and family. Because it’s such a universal feeling he doesn’t even need to expound on it to paint the scene or get the point across beyond those simple words, your own experiences will fill in any blanks. If further encouragement is needed however the dramatic surge of the horns behind him provides the means with which his spirit can tap into that optimism even as he’s still got to purge his soul of the dark thoughts which brought him to this point.

With Harrison Verrett’s slashing guitar to embody that rift between these two perspectives, you wish the production had been handled by someone who knew what they were doing. In fact the reason this was held back so long (it was recorded in October) was because even Chudd could see its sonic flaws but the power of Domino’s performance manages to override the technical flubs including that painful sax solo that has you desperately trying to rationalize it as being an extension of Fats’s own misery… breaking down via a surrogate as it were.

But when the singer is so convincing, so earnest in revealing his pain, and so appealing when doing so, audiences would forgive getting a shirt collar just to give him a shoulder to cry on.


I Can’t Go On This Way
It’s always a little tough grading things that are great songs but flawed records, especially as we learn to accept their flaws through repeated plays.

You can’t possibly give it a perfect mark because one crucial element is far from perfect, but to harp on what is wrong with it and drag the score down too much doesn’t reflect the connection it forges with those who hear it and who are focusing on the artist at its center who turns in a great performance that no amount of ineptitude can conceal.

Besides, at the time it came out Goin’ Home was a huge hit, topping Billboard magazine’s Best Seller charts for a week in mid-June right before another record with ironically even greater impact on Domino’s long term future would displace it. But meanwhile this was achieving something that other record couldn’t manage which was to break into the Pop listings at #30, one of the few rock releases prior to 1954 to earn that distinction.

No matter where you fall on this one, maybe it’s best to view it as a transitional piece, where Domino proved his writing chops without the benefit of having any one to polish those ideas, while at the same time re-affirming his intrinsic appeal as an artist even under adverse conditions.

The kicker to it all might just be hearing him sing the line “I’d be better off without you” while envisioning the soon to be disposed Al Young who may have gotten himself a small footnote in rock history by stealing writing credit on this hit, but on which it became glaringly obvious that he was dead weight that needed to be excised for someone who could lift everyone involved even higher.

Soon enough all of them would be goin’ home to where they rightly belonged. Young back to shilling records made by others, while Bartholomew and Domino would take residencies in mansions of their own making.


(Visit the Artist page of Fats Domino for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)