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MODERN 20-781; NOVEMBER 1950



Trends in music can be good and they can be bad, sometimes they can be both as the industry too often focuses on simply fulfilling the basic requirement for that trend without concerning themselves with actually producing good records in the process.

Male-Female duets in popular music were hardly anything new but in rock circles it was a more recent occurrence and once the first one became a legitimate hit in late spring we’ve seen them start to pop up elsewhere.

When a company utilizes these duets to introduce a new singer on their roster by pairing them with an established star they think they’ve struck gold. In this case the results were golden even if the commercial reception to the actual record was far more measured.


A Brand New Twist
I suppose we should start with the newcomer, Little Laura Wiggins. I have no idea if she was little, or if she was just called that to make for a better pairing with Little Willie Littlefield because the next picture I see of her will be the first. Her biographical background is similarly lacking, but her voice sure isn’t.

Modern Records may have been hoping Wiggins burgeoning career would be helped by this pairing with Littlefield but they had to have also been hoping that Willie got some benefit from it too as following two national hits in 1949 he’d enjoyed mostly regional success since. So putting him with another singer would allow listeners to hear him in a slightly different setting where he’d be interacting with an artist who was trying her best to make a name for herself.

Who knows what sparks may fly between them.

Littlefield and Wiggins start Ain’t A Better Story Told singing in unison over an infectious loping beat, their voices complimenting each other nicely, hers a more shrill and strident tone, his laid back and mellow.

How they’re singing sounds just fine, both when they’re harmonizing together and when Wiggins gets the first stand alone spot, fully in control, holding her notes confidently, riding the rhythm with ease and exhibiting good judgement in how she’s delivering the lines from both a technical and intellectual standpoint, conveying the meaning behind the lyrics without betraying the veneer of respectability they come housed in.

It’s what they’re singing though which raises eyebrows as despite the measured performances by the two leads they’re giving us a song about sex that pulls few punches on the subject once you start really listening to what they’re singing.

Ahh yes, the lyrics… racy without being obvious about it, this is one of those songs where you can listen without actually comprehending its subject and still get plenty out of it as a pure aural experience as the vocals rise and fall with a pleasing melodic quality that sound vaguely suggestive, or at least somewhat alluring, as it’s clear Wiggins and Littlefield are engaged in some sort of vocal flirtation.

But when you actually understand what their exchanges are about that’s when this takes on a whole new meaning that goes a long way in revealing just why humans mastery of language set them apart from the more limited forms of communication of other animals and explains why polar bears, wildebeests and bald eagles don’t make records.

Won’t You Please Put Me Straight
The term rock ‘n’ roll of course stems from a euphemism for sex, we all know that and in fact knowing that fact probably helped promote the music among the hip cognoscente long before the term reached a saturation point.

On Ain’t A Better Story Told we’re given a low-down on the subject of actual sexual intercourse that manages to be incredibly descriptive and entertaining without once violating any blue laws, yet the more you know the more enjoyable it becomes to see just how cleverly they sidestepped the issue to avoid censorship.

For starters the title gives nothing away on the surface. It’s intriguing enough to get you to want to find out what the “story” is they’re describing, but you could conceivably listen to it, transcribing the words like a stenographer, and if taken literally still have it go over your head.

Admittedly you’d have to be pretty dense or inexperienced not to read between the lines, but its genius is in how Willie just tosses in a single word or two here and there to hint at the underlying meaning. For instance when he tells Laura “You’ve got me hook, line and sinker/Oh don’t you change your bait”, the word “bait” is the tip-off about what he’s talking about. I could go one step further myself by suggesting seafood, but that’d be superfluous, something Littlefield is never guilty of here.

Likewise Wiggins talking about ”Early in the morning the rooster starts to crow” it doesn’t take many anatomy lessons to figure out a substitute word for the game fowl that is used in this activity that brightens many a morning for amorous couples before they get out of bed.

Because the song works sonically even without this awareness the simpletons in the audience will still be grooving to it, but it’s the cool cats off to the side hiding their grins who will be one step ahead of them… in music appreciation and in life itself.


Rock With A Steady Even Roll
Musically the band takes a similar approach, giving us a backing track that is suitably raunchy in its textures without ever sounding vulgar. Instead they’re all locked in so tightly on the groove that anyone short of a frigid virgin would be feeling their hips start to twitch as they looked for somebody to grind away with on the floor.

Maxwell Davis gives us another multi-layered arrangement that finds each instrument playing a specific role and sticking to them without any need to improvise in hopes of increasing the record’s effectiveness.

Starting with Littlefield’s bedrock piano playing a tight moderately placed boogie, topped by guitar figure and steady drums they establish the cornerstone of Ain’t A Better Story Told right away, seguing into the vocals that finds Davis answering their lines with his always languid tenor sax that’s just a step above sounding drowsy.

The beat never changes but it seems to become more prominent as they go along, the drummer emphasizing every fourth measure like a metronome while Littlefield’s piano becomes more emphatic whenever Wiggins takes the vocal as well as in between his own lines, giving this a vibrant edge that constantly propels you forward.

That momentum culminates in a solo delivered by Davis – with the others all stepping up their playing behind him – that is as ruthlessly efficient as anything you’ll ever hear. He never gets out of control, doesn’t look to startle you with any sudden shift to crude honks or orgasmic squeals as you’d expect for such a song, but instead emphasizes the constant thrust of the music which works so much better, giving you a sound that replicates the physical motion of the act itself without some listeners even being aware of why their mid-section is doing the rumba while they still have their pants up.

Each decision has been made with an express purpose in mind, all designed to contribute to the overall effect without allowing any of them to stand out and have it come tumbling down. Call it subtle perfection, a track so effortlessly good that you might not realize just how special it is.

All They’ll Think Of
Everybody listens to music differently and thus they get different things out of the same records. Yet I don’t think there’s any question that the closer you connect with the creator’s intent and the more you understand what they were aiming for and how they were attempting to pull it off, the better you’ll like it.

For those taking this as a song played in the background, listening to it without actually hearing what its saying, the record will still hit the spot. It’s far too rhythmically catchy not to get your attention, the vocal byplay is too engaging not to sense their compatibility and the individual performances of the band and the singers are flawless so there’s no awkward moments in their execution that will serve to break the song’s spell over you.

But you’re still not getting it in that scenario. Or “getting any” might be a more accurate term.

On the other hand if you grasp their meaning when they exclaim, “If you know how to do it, Ain’t A Better Story Told”, everything about this falls into place. You see the characters in your mind’s eye and sense the arousal expressed in their voices, you (presumably) can conjure up that same feeling of eager anticipation leading up to their consummation and can delight in their post-coital bliss, envisioning the guilty smiles they can’t conceal as the record winds down.

There have been far more explicit records in rock’s journey that we’ve covered so far, and a lot more graphic descriptions of the events themselves still to come, but in terms of conveying the underlying feelings about it all, this one has the power to… umm… really get you off.

Maybe that was why rock was slow to hook artists up for these male-female duets… the record company owners knew that one of them was going to be stuck changing the bedsheets after all was said and done.


(Visit the Artist page of Little Willie Littlefield for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)