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The risk-reward system is often a perilous one when it comes to music.

An artist with a consistent following needs only to churn out similar sounding records to see the same commercial returns, something which tends to discourage risk taking since experiments may not be all that well received and result in a precipitous drop in interest the further out you get.

Yet artists who remain too predictable have no room to grow commercially either, and over time even their loyal core audience may grow weary of the same sound time after time and begin to look elsewhere.

Fats Domino was by no means stuck in a repetitive cycle of singles at this point, but without the more adventurous production of Dave Bartholomew to open up new avenues he was left to figure out on his own just how far out he should go in order to keep sounding fresh.

Though hardly earth-shaking in its innovation, this was the clearest sign to date that Domino wasn’t averse to taking some risks when it came to his music.


The Expression On Her Face
We’ve used the term Greek Chorus in passing a few times over the years but I don’t think an explanation went with it, so here’s the capsulized version so everyone understands what it refers to.

It’s not a chorus of Greek singers if that’s what you’re thinking, but rather it’s a dramatic or comedic device originally found in Greek stage plays where a group of observers on the stage comment in unison on the action going on using brief spoken, sung or chanted responses.

It was designed to make it easier for the audience to know what was going on, and what their reaction should be, whether showing scorn for the characters or mockery or pity.

In popular music, particularly rock ‘n’ roll, it’s been used effectively over the years albeit with fairly limited opportunities. Maybe the best known is The Beach Boys 1964 hit Fun, Fun, Fun where the others sing “You shouldn’t a lied, now, you shouldn’t a lied” and so forth when referring to the girl protagonist who was tooling around in her father’s T-bird rather than studying at the library.

If done right it adds a great give and take between the primary action being sung by the lead and the backing vocalists who interpret the scene with a decidedly different perspective. Oddly enough, the groups known for humor such as The Coasters didn’t use this technique which would seem a natural for their style.

Fats Domino would seem the last person you’d expect to utilize a Greek Chorus, largely because he didn’t have regular backing vocalists. Occasionally the band would chip in with some words and later on they’d add a female choir to some songs hoping for pop acceptance, but even those were never a regular feature on his records.

But their presence here is part of what makes I’ll Be Gone so damn interesting because the entire song is built around the give and take between Fats and the band who are acting as the Greek Chorus.

While you can debate how successful they are in pulling it off, what isn’t debatable is how ambitious it was for somebody who tended to prefer simplicity in his records, as the mere fact he was willing to take a calculated risk spoke well of his artistic ambitions going forward.


I Ain’t Gonna Stay There Long
There are parts of this record that are really engaging beyond just the creativity shown in its unique give and take structure.

But there are also moments where you say to yourself that another take might’ve smoothed out a few of the glitches and turned this into something really special.

It’s not that it’s sloppy by any means, but rather the casual – almost effortless – flow that most of Domino’s work with Dave Bartholomew was known for has been absent when Al Young, a talentless record store hack who elbowed his way into the producer’s chair and stole co-writing credits in Bartholomew’s absence, was at the controls.

The taskmaster bandleader Bartholomew might’ve gotten on people’s nerves, but the records poured out of the speakers like molten lava with him in charge, whereas on I’ll Be Gone there’s a clunkiness at times that prevents you from fully giving yourself over to it in spite of its many highlights.

But those highlights are impressive… the rolling piano leading into Domino’s pleading vocals which are perfectly suited for his higher register (which he’d lose when his tonsils came out in 1954) and the pained way in which he’s the one telling his girl he’ll be leaving her, yet clearly he wants to do no such thing by the sound of it.

The band’s replies are at times a little stilted and awkward – “Don’t go Fat Man” – but their presence takes what would’ve otherwise been a one-dimensional story of a guy walking out the door and turns it into a deeper emotional struggle that probably doesn’t get enough credit for the truths about human nature it reveals.

Any time someone is hurt by the actions of somebody they love they go through a rapid series of emotional responses – shock, anger, hurt, spite and sorrow – often in that order. It’s a person’s way of trying to make sense of what happened and in the process settling on the right reaction based on what the instigator meant by their actions.

The problem is we never seem to be able to settle definitively on any of them because each play to a different valid emotion. We’re rarely completely angry or totally happy in life, we have fluctuating moods that will be triggered by the unexpected, such as a loved one failing to show us the love we’ve come to expect.

The back and forth vocals by Domino and the band showcase this, as they’re the ones trying to calm Fats down and have him take a step back and look at it objectively, seeing that his girl wasn’t trying to hurt him and hoping he’ll reconsider.

By the end however they seem to realize their attempts are falling on deaf ears and, maybe because he’s paying them, they go along with his farewells, echoing his goodbyes in a way that seem to leave no room for reconciliation turning what might’ve been a reparable situation into one that will require far more effort to smooth over later on.


I Tried My Best To Get Along With You
Make no mistake about it, this is a good record and deserves to be heard and appreciated for what they try here. Rather than approach this in the expected fashion, just letting Fats moan about his troubles without providing any nuance or depth to shift your perceptions, they make it far more theatrical and in the process set it apart from the rest of his output to date.

But while I’ll Be Gone is definitely memorable and its unique approach is commendable, it’s also a record that is easier to admire than it is to enjoy in the traditional sense.

You almost become that audience in a Greek theater centuries earlier who are resigned to be outside observers to the action on stage, rather than organic participants the way the best rock ‘n’ roll has a tendency to do.

Though this is clearly what they intended to do, and they succeed at it admirably right down to the way the alto sax solo is designed to keep you at arm’s length, the fact of the matter is a record’s appeal comes down to how much you want to hear it. That’s the nature of hits after all, they’re the songs people go out of their way to listen to more often.

This record on the other hand is something that WHEN you hear it you’ll appreciate for what it gives you, yet it’s doubtful you’ll be seeking it out to hear again and again because of the very things that makes it stand out.

To that end, it was worth the risk even if they don’t get rewarded for it much in the end.


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