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IMPERIAL 5138; JULY 1951



Every child needs to crawl before they can walk.

Everybody, in almost every walk of life, needs to get “their reps” in before they’re at the top of their game.

Yet in music the assumption is that since artists have been playing and singing music well before they ever entered a studio to make a record they shouldn’t need any time to get up to speed. If they were talented enough to earn a contract, that talent should manifest itself the very first time the tapes roll.

For Fats Domino it definitely did and listening to his debut there was no question he was going to be a star… and he WILL be in time, but despite that rocket launch of his first single he’s still not quite there yet.

It’s not exactly that he’s taken a step backwards per say, but rather he just hasn’t found the consistency yet which in time will become one of his trademarks and so each time out, though most every record is “good”, we find ourselves waiting for him to put it all together.


You Stayed Away Too Long
On the surface we could easily chalk up the failure to hone his artistic strengths lately to the absence of Dave Bartholomew from the picture.

Not only does it mean that Fats has lost his co-writer (pay no attention to Al Young’s name on these credits, your great grandmother has a better claim to the writing of these songs than he does), but once he’s in the studio he’s being deprived of a guiding hand to work out the arrangements until they’re seamless. Heck, even though Domino’s road band were all good musicians, they were not quite on par with Bartholomew’s tightly drilled studio band.

But while all of that may in fact be true and Dave might have smoothed this song out, bringing some of its hidden textures and untapped qualities to the surface, it’s not quite that easy to say his absence is entirely to blame. In any endeavor there’s a comfort level that comes with repetition. The first time you drive a car you may not crash, but you’re never as confident and relaxed behind the wheel as you’ll be after driving a hundred thousand miles.

Right now Domino knows how to write, sing and play just fine. He had a few national hits, was a local sensation around New Orleans where his records consistently charted, yet he was still feeling his oats, learning Right From Wrong if you will, figuring out what went into a good song and what was more or less going through the motions.

Stardom isn’t defined just by your peaks, but by how often you reach those peaks and this is yet another song that’s just good enough to be mildly appreciated, yet nowhere near good enough to leave absolutely no doubt that Fats Domino was going to be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the decade.


Love Is Bringing Me Down
This record has all of the common traits that Domino was already known for – the piano lead, the moaning horns, the crying vocals he used on ballads and simple direct lyrics – yet none of those features are Grade A material this time out.

Everything is competently done, don’t get me wrong, but is there a single attribute that stands out and draws your attention? If so you’re an easier mark than me.

His voice here is still pitched higher than it would be down the road after having his tonsils removed and occasionally he sounds a little grating at this register. Not off-putting mind you, but not warmly inviting either as he was when those honeyed tones could sell you ice water at the North Pole.

The song itself is also slightly generic by nature. Right From Wrong places him in a subservient position in a relationship but it’s hard to win any sympathy when all he does is whine about it to her without having the fortitude to leave this woman who’s done him wrong.

Why should she change her ways when he’s going to stick around and take it? Her actions, whatever they may be (he never does tell us), has clearly given her the upper hand where he’ll be so grateful for any sign of affection every now and then that he’ll put up with her bad behavior in the hopes she’ll grant him a few hours of romantic tranquility down the line.

Seriously, Fats, the general rule of thumb in relationships is if you’re moved to complain about your partner publicly, then it’s probably time to find someone else.

Then there’s the rather basic arrangement… gently riffing horns, fidgety piano triplets and the drummer swishing the cymbals.

Nothing stands out because nothing is meant to and that’s it’s biggest flaw… it settles for rather low aims.

Need You By My Side
Of course as usual when it comes to Fats Domino he’s got an ability to be appealing even when he’s not really trying too hard and that often can make legitimate criticisms seem like nitpicking.

To that end while Domino’s keening vocal might not present him at his melodious best, the questions that always have to be asked of any singer are: Are they technically precise and are they emotionally true to the story?

The answer for both here is, yes. Fats is not off-key, not stumbling around looking for the melody or rhythm and he’s absolutely true to the character he’s supposed to be playing. We might not LIKE that character, but it’s at least an honest portrayal of someone in despair over a relationship on the rocks.

As for the musical half of Right From Wrong it’s true the simplicity of the arrangement might keep it from elevating the rather nondescript story, but it’s in no way hampering the modest effectiveness of what that story is telling us.

Not to get carried away but you can even say the slightly plodding progression features tight playing in the horn section backed with a little more lively pattern on the keys and there’s even some guitar licks sneaking around underneath to keep it from ever becoming too monotonous.

Even the last line delivered plaintively by Fats closes it out on a high note where you might be inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt and call it average.

Almost… but not quite.


Don’t Know Why You Always Want To Make Me Cry
So far in 1951 we’ve been the recipients of a steady stream of impressive records thanks in large part to an influx of some really big names putting out some early classics in their catalogs. We’re at a high point in rock’s history and thus the bar has been raised and to be “average” for this year takes a little more than it did in the past.

Right Or Wrong doesn’t quite reach that level. It’s hardly bad, but if it were anyone but Fats Domino it’s hard to see many saying it’s really good either… modestly adequate maybe, but largely uninspiring.

Sometimes there’s a hesitancy to be too critical for someone as beloved as Fats, as if you’re besmirching his entire legacy by saying this doesn’t live up to the standards of what else was coming out at the time, but being overly generous doesn’t do anybody any good either. You gotta call ’em like you see ’em and understand that everyone’s mileage may vary.

Yet it does help to keep in mind that no artist is infallible and with not one component here being above average – while a few aspects of it are slightly below average – the final decision shouldn’t have been in much doubt… no matter whose name was adorning the label.


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