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SELECTIVE 104; JUNE, 1949

 
 

 
With only a few more records to go before we get to the 1950’s we’re going to take some time to add in a few 1940’s songs we either overlooked or intentionally avoided for various reasons when first covering this ground. It won’t take long and hopefully will paint a more vivid picture of the first era of rock as we head into the second era in the next week or two.
 

 

I’m sure that a lot of the roughly 30,000 visitors to this site since its inception have scratched their heads at seeing the names of some of the artists who are completely unknown by most music aficionados in the Twenty-First Century.

Though the purpose of all of this in-depth examination of these artists, both notable and obscure alike, is to bring belated attention to the originators of rock ‘n’ roll it’s understandable that the drawing power of certain figures is significantly lower than others. Many in fact barely elicit a glimmer of recognition.

But finally we have someone coming along who can change that, for in the annals of rock history few names are as widely known as Madonna. Her success over nearly forty years is staggering, her influence on both music and culture is immense, her impact is extraordinary. By any objective measure one can make she’s one of the Top Ten or Twelve rock artists ever…

Wait… What’s that?

This is a different Madonna? Someone who made just a handful of records at the tail end of the 1940’s for a tiny label that few heard then and nobody’s really talked about since? So rather than serving as a towering presence to draw people in she’s actually the epitome of the modernly obscure artist that makes up a good deal of this site’s coverage to date?

$#*+%@^&!

Oh well, those are the breaks I guess, but since we’ve come this far we might as well review her first record anyway and hope that maybe someone looking for that other Madonna might accidentally stumble over us here and be so enraptured by our historical analysis and witty prose that they stick around for the next few decades until we meet up with the more well-known Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone… by which time SHE’LL probably be a fairly obscure name to those about the enter the Twenty-Second Century and we’ll need to find another way to trick those readers into coming here to read about her.

I suppose we have plenty of time to come up with something, but in the meantime we have Madonna Martin’s all-too brief career to delve into.
 

 

Rattle In The Morning
Unfortunately information on Martin is even more hard to find than her records and the next picture I see of her will be the first. But her anonymity is in no way reflective of her talents as she was pianist, songwriter and singer who performed all of those tasks very capably.

We know that at one point she landed in Chicago where she performed at the Silver Frolics Club but it’s doubtful that led to her signing a contract with Selective, a small Los Angeles label that was barely able to keep afloat and thus probably weren’t traveling the country on talent scouting missions.

Whatever route she took on her way to Selective’s doors though she was among their earliest signees and it’s notable that the sides she laid down fell squarely in the rock idiom.

Rattlesnakin’ Papa was not an original composition by Martin (in spite of the what the label credits read, unless you want to give more credit than I would for changing “daddy” to “papa”) but rather a 1935 blues song by Blind Boy Fuller called I’m A Rattlesnakin’ Daddy. The next year Georgia White re-crafted it from the female perspective which is more germane for our purposes when studying Martin’s remake thirteen years later.

Both the Fuller and White versions are emblematic of their era and the blues style, with White’s take on it backed by a finger-picked acoustic guitar, a sultry bass solo and light piano fills which compliments her higher pitched whine. The storyline is standard blues fare concerning sex, specifically the incessant horniness of a man who “wants to rattle all the time”.

Of course she’s eventually won over by his umm… prowess in that department and becomes a willing partner.

Now it needs to be stated that these topics were considered par for the course, as the themes depicted in most blues reflected day to day struggles in a world that was decidedly inhospitable to both its artists and audience and so naturally carnal pursuits were a way to alleviate the monotonous drudgery of life as third class citizens. But while the act was certainly enjoyable for both sexes in the heat of the moment it was usually more burdensome for females who were pursued and often cajoled or forced into compliance and then left to deal with the consequences of those actions which could mean either societal scorn in certain instances and if it resulted in pregnancy they’d be the ones left to raise the offspring of these trysts. So even the physical pleasure of the deed itself never strayed too far from the general despondency of the blues.

To that end while listening to the blues records of this affair you can easily picture them working the fields in the sweltering heat from sunup to sundown before retreating to a barren country shack to wile away the hours until the next day of backbreaking labor for little rewards. In that setting the mood the music strikes is decidedly stark and listening to the temporary respite from the day’s toil that a bedroom tussle would bring might result in a smirk or two, but is hardly designed to be erotic or particularly invigorating.

But Madonna Martin isn’t some hick from the backwoods of Georgia and there’s no grim sharecropper’s pall hanging over her life which can only be vanquished in the confines of their bed. Madonna’s not only a willing participant in these sexual adventures from the start but by the sounds of it she’s doing all she can to encourage the actions of her man… which tells us that city girls who’ve been corrupted by rock ‘n’ roll are a lot more fun after all.
 

Wakes Up At Eleven
The source material for rock songs can encompass a wide array of styles. We’ve already seen songs from the 1800’s sitting alongside original material written by kids who hadn’t yet gotten their driver’s license. What matters in each case is not necessarily where it comes from, but rather where they take it.

Madonna Martin knows precisely where she’s taking Rattlesnakin’ Papa from the get-go. A lot of this is due to the arrangement where horns add a decidedly modern feel to it that the blues versions were purposefully lacking.

Her own piano though remains the lead instrument and her first adjustment is to accelerate the tempo to allow her to ramp up both the excitement but also to imbue the meaning of the song with an added – and far more obvious – measure of horniness.

Whereas on White’s version the initial reaction to his pleas for satisfaction would probably be more like: “Oh no, not again! Can’t you keep it in your pants?”, her resistance wears down as he ties to coerce her using sweet talk, a few gentle touches and maybe some suggestive language to get her to submit. Once their clothes are off and they get to bumping and grinding she gets more into it and finds it enjoyable even though she knows that once its over she’ll be the one left to straighten up the bedroom while he’s in the kitchen fixing a sandwich and drinking a beer.

Martin on the other hand is the one taking matters into her own hands here. Her guy might be slippin’ over to her place in the middle of the night for some extracurricular activity in a clandestine way but she leaves no doubt that she’s unlocking the door without any complaint when he comes knocking and may even be leaving the door open and the porch light on for him just to save time.

What this change in the singer’s demeanor does so effectively is makes the guy almost irrelevant to the song. He’s still the focal point of the lyrics but not of the feelings she conveys. In the other renditions, whether sung by a male or a female, the male was the one having his needs met and the woman was merely the means for which he’d get his rocks off.

Not here.

In the rock version of Rattlesnakin’ Papa the specific man is all but superfluous. If vibrators had been around back then this guy would’ve had his work cut out for him just to get her to come to the door in the first place. Yes, she loves that he’s going to satisfy her cravings, but even if his sex-drive is of legendary proportions it doesn’t sound as if it’s possibly greater than her OWN!

In other words, they’re together because they both want it and need it as much as possible but if he fails to keep making these 4 AM visits she’ll simply find another who’s just as willing. Somehow I doubt Madonna is going to have much trouble finding a replacement… or three!
 

An Awful Sting
The music is right alongside her riding shotgun for this dissolute romp through her bedroom. Martin’s piano playing shows a good left hand to keep the rhythm stomping and some interesting, if intermittent, right hand flourishes. The guitar takes up the slack when she bows out, filling in the crevices as it were with some slinky lines that are hinting at suggestiveness without making their intent too blatant. Because the guitar doesn’t have as much to do in this version as in the blues takes on it when it was the main accompaniment it’s able to be used more subversively. It’s discreetly done – I guess you could say they’re keeping the windows closed during their illicit activities if you want to use a fitting analogy for the song’s content – but you start noticing them the more you listen.

This being rock ‘n’ roll circa 1949 what’s going to lift the song or cause it to fall flat of course is the horn, particularly the solo. Which horn is used, what approach it takes, the intensity of the playing are the questions it’ll have to answer and any attempts at moderation will conflict with the raciness of what Martin’s already delivered and undercut the bite of of this Rattlesnakin’ Papa.

The good news is although it’s not on par with some of the more incendiary tenor sax solos we’ve seen this isn’t due to any high-minded ideals infiltrating their thinking. The solo may be fairly short, the lung-power exhibited is slightly weaker than we’d like, but it has the right tone to carry it off and the right attitude to make it seem more impressive than it actually is note for note.

We don’t know who played it and the reason it doesn’t go quite as far as it might’ve in other hands could simply be that the musician being employed by a new label in one of their first sessions wasn’t as skilled as the top flight names who’ve set the bar so high over the last year. Or if you want to attribute it to a creative decision instead maybe it’s just that the producers wanted to keep the focus on Martin and let her get back into the spotlight quicker since she’s clearly the most captivating figure on the record and her vocal performance contains all the vibrant colors and risqué assertiveness the the best sax solos are often counted on to provide.

After another vocal turn that delivers on that promise with some nice variances she adds to the punchlines that give it more character she gets a piano solo which in theory makes for a good contrast with the sax that preceded it. But while she can definitely play it’s hampered by the fact it’s carried out on the highest range of the treble keys which fails to give it the gravity it needs to fully deliver the “oomph” it needed. Had her left hand laid down a more prominent rhythm here, or if she’d let both hands fly in mid-range, it would’ve lifted the energy making her vocals seem even more salacious by the power of suggestion alone.

But it’s not as if what she sang had any chance to be misconstrued no matter what surrounded it. In many ways this Madonna is eerily prescient to that other Madonna four decades down the road… and I’m not referring to the frank look at sexuality that both felt decidedly comfortable diving into. The reason I’m talking about is a little more subtle than that and concerns each singer’s ability to take on a specific role within the confines of a song where it’s not the quality of the voice that makes the biggest impression but rather about the nailing the brash demeanor the lyrics call for. Both are consummate actors which is often more important than vocal chops when it comes to connecting with audiences.

That listeners at the time failed to respond to Martin’s exuberant efforts almost certainly has far more to do with Selective’s limited reach than anything its singer was responsible for because she really revs your motor with her deviant enthusiasm alone by the time the bed-springs stop squeaking.
 


 

Rattle All The Time
Though she wasn’t destined to be as well-known as her namesake – or known at all for that matter, outside of a few historically minded lunatics – that’s hardly reflective of what she delivered on record.

In turning a pure blues song into something that seemed tailor-made for rock ‘n’ roll she showed how this new genre was as much a matter of artistic intent as it was content. All of the renditions of Rattlesnakin’ Papa have the same substance but it’s the rock version of Martin’s which pushes the boundaries to give it an inclusive spirit rather than merely a voyeuristic one and with the addition of rock instrumentation and a more progressive arrangement the transformation was complete.

In spite of its usefulness to showcase the aesthetic differences between rock and other forms of music at the time the record isn’t quite a lost classic and probably derives the lion’s share of whatever modern day fleeting interest it enjoys to Madonna Martin’s first name, making it more of a curiosity than anything.

But that doesn’t mean that either the record or Martin herself aren’t at least worthy of some praise for their roles in broadening the possibilities of rock ‘n’ roll. With so few women in the ranks of 1940’s rock it was always good to see another take up the mantle, especially one who could be just as defiantly lascivious as many of the fellas.

That should’ve gotten her a few more (pardon the crude and obvious pun) – rolls in the hay, but at least with this effort you get plenty of… ahh… oh, what the hell… bang for your buck.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Madonna Martin for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)