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Here’s the scenario facing us today.

This was cut at the same session as the top side which means they have the same obstacles facing them when it comes to susbtandard production… the very thing which had threatened to upend one of Fats Domino’s best songs in the process.

What we don’t have is the same quality of composition and this one is even drawing images from an earlier song making it a quasi-sequel which is never the best bet when it comes to leaving its mark on the scene.

So the odds seemed stacked against this standing out, although we do have one thing we have conspicuously failed to bring into the equation so far and that is… we still have a legendary artist behind the microphone doing his best to make it all work and as we’ve seen before, sometimes that’s more than enough.


Talkin’ All Out Of My Head
It might seem odd to start off by refuting some of the compliments we had for Fats Domino when praising his work on Goin’ Home, but these things need to be addressed because you never want to have a blind spot for any artist’s strengths and weaknesses.

Let’s face it, even the best artists have both in abundance and the most successful ones either eliminate their weak spots or find a way to sidestep them.

Fats had – and would again – manage to do the latter by having Dave Bartholomew as his musical partner. The two would at times grate on each other and have their little spats, as Domino would tweak Dave with the fact that he was the star, while Bartholomew would retaliate by occasionally putting down Fats’ lack of musical sophistication, but they also knew that their individual strengths meshed well together, in part by overriding their own weaknesses.

Domino’s simplicity may have frustrated the formal training of Bartholomew, but Fats knew that being straightforward connected with the public. He was convinced that lyrics didn’t always have to be complex to catch your ear provided they were either catchy or told a relatable story.

But Dave was aware that the key to making a record both instantly memorable and enduring beyond the first few spins was creating a layered track which didn’t reveal all of its secrets right away, but rather tweaked your senses enough to pull you back to hear it again and again.

You might think this meant that – like a lot partnerships – the singer concentrated on lyrics while the trained musician worked the musical side of the fence exclusively, but this wasn’t the case with them. Each contributed significantly to both aspects and you were never quite sure from song to song who handled what, or how much each one brought to the table. Sometimes it was a lot, sometimes just a little, but their partnership was the main factor in the consistent quality of their output together.

But on Reeling And Rocking we know it was all Fats Domino because Dave Bartholomew was no longer working with him and while he proved on the other side he was more than capable of delivering a great song on his own when he was hitting on all cylinders, both lyrically and musically, there were other times where he clearly needed someone to polish up a composition he brought in and make it sparkle.

This was one of those times.


Won’t Be Back ‘Til Fall
In the singles era an artist who is essentially writing songs on their own as Fats Domino has been for the past year (pay absolutely no attention to the thieving Al Young putting his name to these as co-writer) has to come up with four usable songs every few months when they have another session.

That doesn’t sound like much but as with anything the quality is going to vary from song to song and when at the same time the artist in question is touring around the country, or even just playing nightly in New Orleans’ many clubs, AND has a rapidly growing family to spend time with (his wife Rose Mary was now pregnant with their third child)… even if it’s just to make more children… that doesn’t leave much time for hunkering down with pad and pencil at the piano and dashing off a few dozen tunes to choose from.

So on Reeling And Rocking it’s hardly surprising that Domino took a few liberties in the originality department.

The song has a lot in common melodically and in terms of the downcast moody atmosphere with two earlier sides, Tired Of Crying most notably, with a few similar elements showing up in Right From Wrong as well, neither of which were among his best sides. He also kicks this one off by referencing a song that was just about to be released in Rockin’ Chair.

That would become his first hit sans Bartholomew, albeit only barely charting, which probably explains why Imperial initially pegged this as the A-side trying to capitalize on that faint connection, a dubious decision since the song doesn’t have enough color in its story to distract you from the fairly monotonous downbeat groove it sticks with from start to finish.


This is where Bartholomew’s absence is really felt, as there’s no sign of any interlocking rhythms that made all of his best tracks come to life and gave depth to even the most basic of tunes.

Without him to come up with a better arrangement – and with the incompetent Young providing no help as the session’s nominal producer – this sticks with the easiest solutions. There’s far too much emphasis on Domino’s mind-numbing triplets while the other offer little support to take the onus off him. Even when they do get a chance to step into the spotlight the sax solo is listless and the guitar is clashing, neither of which were caught in the control room so they could be tweaked in a subsequent take.

The mid-section of Reeling And Rocking works best but that’s got floating verses lifted from a thousand and one other songs, so it’s kind of hard to credit them with much creativity even here.

But then again it IS still Fats Domino we’re talking about and certainly in the present he’s got enough historical cache to make this more listenable than a lot of records of comparable mediocre quality served up by more anonymous artists from the time. It’s almost as if hearing his voice we expect it to improve.

It never does though and so as much as we like the artist, we need to moderately pan the performance, especially since in early 1952 Domino hadn’t done quite enough yet to earn the benefit of the doubt.


Put It in My Backyard
As B-sides to giant hits go, where it’s carrying none of the responsibility the record’s commercial fate, this is perfectly acceptable.

In fact it actually charted in his home town before listeners got wise and (probably through extensive spinning of the top half on the radio) the right side hit the top while this faded into hazy memory.

Even the criticisms here – a simple and repetitive arrangement, callbacks to subpar songs and doubling down on the thematic outlook found on the much better side of the single – are hardly major crimes, though if they were going to be guilty of those things you wish they would’ve spread them out over multiple releases rather than pile them on top of each other, unless it was to get them all out of the way at once.

Maybe the biggest let down though, in a weird sort of way, is using the title Reeling And Rocking for a song that doesn’t seem to embody the meaning we’ve come to associate with that term. Rather than something bouncy and upbeat, it’s tired and defeated, not anything you’d confuse with the similarly titled Chuck Berry classic in a few years time.

But as the weather warmed in the spring of ’52 the blooming flowers weren’t the only bright spots on the immediate horizon as within a few weeks of its release Dave Bartholomew would be brought back into the fold and the glory years for them both were right around the corner.


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