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IMPERIAL 5114; FEBRUARY 1951

 
 

 

Though we review these records one song at a time, there’s obviously two sides to each release that are known heading into the first one we choose to focus on.

That’s an important aspect of this because what might seem like a creative or commercial misstep when looking at just one side could be easily justified if the other side offered something decidedly different.

Then again, if the flip side doubles down on a questionable decision then it’s best we know that going in so there’s no false hope that when we flip the record over we might get what we’re longing for… because here we definitely don’t.
 

 

Nothing In The Streets
In a way you can sort of see what Fats Domino, Dave Bartholomew and Lew Chudd – artist, producer and label owner respectively – were thinking heading into 1951.

Fats had scored big out of the gate with a truly rousing performance but then saw diminished returns throughout the spring and summer, connecting locally but not nationally with a series of similar sounding tracks until the fall when a slightly bluesier effort, Every Night About This Time, cracked the Top Ten.

Okay, so maybe dishing out another record that has some bluesy elements wasn’t the worst idea. But two on the same single?!?

Had they never had any success with his more raucous uptempo sides with their boogie piano, rolling horns and thudding back beat, then this decision would be far more defensible, regardless of our own preference for something a little livelier. But The Fat Man remains Domino’s biggest hit and that was an adrenaline fueled rocker on par with anything that ever came along and those local best sellers that followed were also in the same vein so it wasn’t as if he had no track record of success with that approach that would justify casting it aside altogether.

Instead What’s The Matter Baby is as bleak and bluesy as it gets which only ensures that if you chose wrong – and they did – they’d stunt Domino’s momentum again just when he needed to pick things up commercially with all the new talent appearing on the scene as of late.

We know now of course that his commercial dip wasn’t a permanent condition, that his career would not be hampered in the long run by one questionable release, but that’s still not something you’d want to have to overcome if you could help it and they most definitely could’ve helped it by simply holding this one back to pair with something more appropriate.
 


 
 

Leave Home In The Morning
When you have two-sides to play with you should always try and give listeners two different approaches if at all possible, especially when you have someone capable of doing so effectively.

We’d say the same thing if Fats was putting out two barn-burners on the same release as well.

Once they chose the downhearted Tired Of Crying as one-side of this single the smart thing to do would be to back it with something completely different that was more in line with those earlier sides, thereby giving yourself a record which doubled as a test marketing case. Whichever approach got the best response would be the one you could concentrate on for awhile.

But both sides of this are cut from the same cloth using the same pattern. They each feature similar lyrical complaints – if a little more detailed here – and have the same type of somewhat atypical backing featuring a Papoose Nelson’s guitar as its primary element. If you bought this as your introduction to Fats Domino and played both sides you’d have no idea he was such a great buoyant rocker and that this more abject aspect of his persona would play a fairly small part of his enduring legacy.

Not an irrelevant one maybe, but definitely a secondary one.

But like the top side what’s here when taken on its own merits is fairly acceptable, although also fairly mundane, certainly not memorable.

Domino’s piano gets a nice intro, purposefully heavy and monotonous to set a rather ominous tone for what is to come. The guitar joins in as he starts to ease back before the horns wearily drone behind them.

What’s distinctive about What’s The Matter Baby in that regard however is also what makes it generic and that’s the emphasis on the guitar between the lines which leaves a far different impression than most of Fats’ material. In a way it almost sounds as if he’s a guest vocalist for someone else’s record and the vocal structure doesn’t fully suit him.

It’s not that he doesn’t sound properly despondent, or even that you may have trouble buying his vow to hunt this woman down (and you’ll cringe at the violent retribution he promises), but rather there’s not enough for him to do, the lines are too short and aside from the oddball cries (“Woooo!”) that pop up twice it’s all too bland and lacks character.

It’s obviously recognizable today because we know Domino’s voice so well, but if you were paying a nickel to hear this in a jukebox in Oregon or Wisconsin in the winter of 1951 would it have any effect on you when there’s not a single thing about it that stands out?
 


 

I Will Find Your Trail
Maybe one way to look at it – and in the process remove the accumulated love and respect for Fats over the years – is to ask yourself if this record would’ve made him a star if it had been his debut release.

Well, it didn’t sell enough to even AFTER two national hits, so the answer to that is clearly no.

The second question would be to ask if it advanced his career any either by introducing a new idea that would come into play down the road or was of a high enough quality that in spite of its lack of sales or spins at the time it confirmed his overall talent in a way that made true believers out of those who happened to hear it.

Obviously not.

So what we’re left with is a halfway decent but forgettable song which is notable only because of who cut it, not because of anything special he brought to the table.

If he didn’t want to know What’s The Matter Baby then he shouldn’t have asked us. We like him but we can’t lie just to spare his feelings and to protect his reputation.

The hard thing about trying to be objective about subjective opinions is that we all tend to let our pre-existing views color our verdicts, but when that happens all it tells someone reading these is that you’re a Fats Domino fan. For someone who isn’t one already who comes here trying to get a sense of his importance and the quality of each of his releases, that approach would be severely flawed and downright misleading.

So while it’s true that on the whole I might rather listen to a subpar Fats Domino record than one by Floyd Dixon or Joe Thomas or The Shadows with the same grade, the fact of the matter is their quality, irrespective of tastes, remains the same.

In the end a single with two A-sides is an unexpected bonus, but one like this with two obvious B-sides (both in a secondary stylistic approach for him no less) is a let down, especially coming from someone like Fats. You shouldn’t pass this single over completely by any means, but there’s really no way to claim it wasn’t a missed opportunity all around.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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