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The odd phrasing of the title may leave you more confused than curious, which couldn’t have helped its ability to pull coin in the jukeboxes, and considering the very real threats of violence in a relationship found on the chilling flip side this was one single that a lot people might just have thought better to avoid.

Yet for his first solo release on Federal Records, Little Willie Littllefield restates his case to be included in the upper echelon of rock artists even if the resulting sales didn’t support his efforts.

But for those paying attention it wasn’t Willie whose stock rose with this release, it was the two guys whose names appear in smaller print under the title who wrote the song and gave the still largely unsuspecting public a glimpse into their blossoming creativity.


If You Want Your Work Done Right
A record about unionism in 1952 may be the ultimate irony. Artists, especially black artists in this era, were so brazenly ripped off by their record labels that even a moderately good union would’ve been able to shut down the entire industry in a matter of minutes at a fair arbitration hearing.

Musicians themselves had unions of course, led by the notoriously controversial – and occasionally stubbornly self-defeating James Petrillo – but those battles were over more mundane things like session fees and working conditions.

The artists actually singing on record, the ones the companies sold to the public and who gave the labels their credibility and income, were more or less left on their own to fight against conniving owners who stole their songwriting credits, publishing concerns, underreported their record sales, skimped on the royalty rate in the contracts or just flat out refused to pay it, then had the audacity to charge the artists for the entire costs of the sessions on top of it.

Ahh, the morally bankrupt corporate climate in a nutshell, folks!

Leave it to Jerry Leiber to take up the cause for unfair treatment of artists… even if it’s not Little Willie Littlefield’s record deal that is the focus of Striking On You Baby. Rather the song is actually a joke about Willie protesting his girlfriend’s treatment of him by cleverly adopting union methods to get a better contract of love with his sweetheart.

If you know just the hits of Leiber and Stoller, be advised that their lesser known songs weren’t creative failures just because they were commercial misfires, but as with this record, oftentimes were hidden gems with plenty of sly wit and sharp observations wrapped in a tidy musical package.

Still Workin’ Overtime
One of songwriting’s most reliable tools, although like any creative endeavor not always easy to get right, is the use of metaphors – substituting one situation for another unrelated one to make the same point.

Smokey Robinson practically wrote a How-To manual on this technique over his career, and here Jerry Leiber shows he too had that instinct pretty well honed, even this early in his own career by suggesting a romantic partnership is in many ways like a business deal and can be treated as such if the employer-employee relationship deteriorates.

Even as he’s admitting that in this case the woman is the boss, presumably with the right to hire and fire a boyfriend, Little Willie Littlefield has some rights as an employee which if worst comes to worst includes Striking On You Baby to get what he’s demanding.

The idea itself is very clever but at always it still requires more than just a good concept to make it pay off, and thankfully Leiber doesn’t run out of examples to make his point. He complains about the working conditions – “the worst in this town” – and voices protest over his paltry financial renumeration, as it seems the girl is the breadwinner in this case, giving him just a small allowance for his own use.

Considering the thoroughly unfair way that women were treated culturally in 1952, not just in the workforce where jobs outside of teacher, nurse or secretary were scarce, but in relationships where men exerted their dominance, sometimes with unpunished violence, as well as the legal system which offered little recourse, maybe the song would’ve been rang more true coming from a female singer. But Willie presents his list of grievances with the right amount of hurt indignation to make it feel authentic, like he’s the one who’s not empowered and is resorting to the one social organization designed to make the mighty respect the needs of the small.

Musically, unlike the brilliant flip side, this is more routine by nature. It’s a little more spry than that half of the single, but not something that will get you moving. Though it’s not out of date, it’s certainly not cutting edge in any way either, so this aspect isn’t going to pull in casual listeners.

The parts all fit, as Willie’s piano is out front for much of this, and the same tightly honed band led by Maxwell Davis are solid across the board, but there’s nothing designed to stand out and so if you’re one of those weirdos who insists a song’s lyrics are irrelevant, then there’s little here to make you think this is a standout track.

Luckily we’re not among those misguided souls, as lyrics and story ultimately matter just as much as everything else, if not slightly more because the creators of the songs are putting so much emphasis on them, and in this case the story and all of its quips are really well done making the resulting record another winner for both its writers and for Littlefield himself.


I’m Not Worried Baby, I’ve Paid My Union Dues
Relationships in real life are not always equal of course, but being a one on one proposition there’s much more each party to can do to even out the playing field to get things working to their advantage and “walking out on the job” and finding a new partner is something both sides are always acutely aware of and tend to tread more carefully in matters of the heart as a result.

In the business world however the power imbalance has been prevalent from the very beginning which means corporations can hold salaries and benefits down without much recourse, because if ONE employee gets disgusted and quits, they’re easily replaced with no real loss of production for the company.

Why unions are so effective in countering this is because they have the power of numbers over the corporations, as it’s not just one or two who will Strike Over You Baby, it’s all of them at once, thereby shutting down the entire operations until a more equitable deal can be reached.

In the past forty years corporate valuations have skyrocketed while employee wages have remained stagnant relative to inflation. As anyone spending a fortune on a box of cereal or a skimpy can of cashews can plainly see, companies are not keeping wages down to make sure consumer prices stay low, they’re doing it solely to enrich themselves. Greed is always considered “good business” to perpetuate an unstable wealth gap in society to keep power in the hands of a few at the expense of many, even if by doing so inevitably leads to unrest and potentially even revolution in some cases.

When it comes to individual people the same foolhardy discrepancy between the two entities has similar long term consequences as if one partner gets all the benefits of the relationship while the other puts in all the work, the relationship crumbles.

Every individual would like to think they’re strong enough to face down either of these situations by themselves, but unfortunately in this world few people do the right thing without being forced to in some way and so it always helps to have a thriving union of likeminded support behind you to make whatever countermove you undertake pay off in the end.

We’ll see ya on the picket line, Willie.


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