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One enduring hit song has more power than even its originators realize when laying it down.

They of course hope it has the power to transform their careers… their lives really… resulting in fame and fortune, or what passes for it in the days of record label executives with both hands perennially in your pockets.

The record companies hope a song has the power to become an universal hit and turn around their economic fortunes while the music fans that all this fuss is being done to satisfy hope that every so often a record will have the power to open their imaginations to a new sonic reality, one more exciting than the one they subsisted on contentedly prior to this.

In some cases there actually are songs with just that much power. But like all who grapple with power beyond their control soon realize, it rarely stops there. Power consumes you like nothing else and when it comes to music that power can just as easily wind up derailing your career, overshadowing your broader artistic legacy and in the end subverting the very thing you hoped that first hit had the power to do.


Rock Away All Your Blues
Our stance on thinly veiled remakes is usually pretty cut and dried… we don’t like it. Not so much for the repetitiveness of the material and overall approach, but rather because it deliberately shortchanges the artist’s own talents by forcing them to revisit the land they already traversed rather than explore new territory that might prove equally bountiful in time.

Yet in the singles era, particularly this period when record company edicts carried more weight than individual artistic expression, we have to cut them some slack when they were coaxed (or forced) into reviving the same basic idea, dressing it up in new clothes and putting it out there with no pretense of it being seen as anything but desperate pandering.

Atlantic Records was put on the map by Stick McGhee’s first record for their label, Drinkin’ Wine-Spo-Dee-O-Dee back in March 1949 and since then they haven’t beaten it… not on the charts, not in overall sales and not in a record’s impact, though they’ve come close in all three areas.

For anything that looms so large in their relatively short history it was inevitable that they try and recapture that magic and increasingly they’ve pushed McGhee back into that same box, cutting outright rip-off sequels (Drank Up All The Wine Last Night) and now one that’s not quite as obvious at a glance of the label, but one listen to Let’s Do It and you know you’re in for a repeat of what you’d already heard a few times before.

Yet in the midst of that run of barely disguised quasi-remakes, McGhee released what might be his best record, Venus Blues, which stepped away from that template and amped up the power of the electric guitar to great effect and he carries that advancement over to this record, helping to distance itself slightly from its obvious forerunner that Atlantic was still desperately trying to recreate.

To say that those two goals were in direct opposition to one another would be not entirely true, but to say that this record doesn’t benefit immensely from McGhee’s earlier experiments with a more aggressive sound and boastful attitude would be equally untrue.

Though the source of this record may indeed have been taken from past glories, the outlook he adopted was clearly focused on the future.

Side To Side
The dueling guitars which opens the track, (both Stick and his brother Brownie are playing, though who takes which role isn’t specified), is charged with a vibrant energy that crackles through the speakers. It’s not as distorted as it was last time out but it’s got a definite edge to it that modernizes the sound well beyond what they’d showed in their first Atlantic session.

They share the vocals on Let’s Do It as well, and in a much more prominent way than in the past. Brownie, you all remember, was a well-known blues singer who had cut a rock vocal for Atlantic on the side a few months back, a cover of Tee-Nah-Nah that came out under pianist Van Walls name with Brownie going by the moniker “Spider Sam”.

Their disparate voices stand out here, as Brownie’s gravelly tones answers younger brother Stick who sounds like an swinging urban hipster compared to the rural tinged croak of his sibling. But different though they may be, their interplay is vital in keeping this moving forward as Stick handles the verses which describes a rocking party using the vocal cadences of the familiar
Drinkin’ Wine, before that formula is broken up by Brownie’s replies during the chorus in which he’s the one imploring people to rock.

The back and forth nature of their singing adds greatly to the catchiness and even though Stick has both the smoother voice, livelier patter and more exuberant tone, Brownie’s voice helps to ground it in a way that suggests this kind of music is here for the long haul.

Though the lyrics are just loose-knit scene setters rather than establishing a coherent narrative, they’re nonetheless crucial in reflecting the rising status of rock music itself as all of the important references within the song focuses on it unequivocally. “Put on your rockin’ shoes…”, “Let’s rip… rock and roll, let’s hop, jump, skip…”, “Rock your gal too” – showing that the word itself was already being used interchangeably as a noun, verb and adjective, yet all essentially meaning the same thing.

What that signified in the most elemental of ways was that this term which encompassed the entire movement was now so widely understood that it didn’t require an explanation.


Do The Bumpity Bump
Of course in spite of this forward thinking outlook you’d prefer if they’d used an entirely new structure to let the song stand on its own rather than hearken back to something we’ve already absorbed, but while the melodic and rhythm components have been borrowed from somewhere else at least they’ve added some more sinewy muscle to the arrangement.

Most crucial in this respect are the brothers’ concurrent guitar lines which manage to compliment each other without interfering with the others job. The lower range with its primitive fuzz-tone feel drives the rhythm while the higher pitched guitar lines add the melodic embellishments and give it a sense of space and freedom.

It’s such a full range of sounds they get out of their two instruments that you’re almost surprised to find there’s no saxophone present to add a different element. Instead the aforementioned Van Walls is hammering away on the piano, getting a spastic solo with Stick egging him on by name, and throwing in so many different fills during the meat of the song that if you focus on him exclusively you’ll find Let’s Do It could’ve just as easily been led by his piano rather than have it act merely as showy support.

Even the drummer plays with a frenetic energy that gives this party the slightly chaotic feel that all good drunken bashes thrive on… that sense you get that everything is about to come crashing down but somehow it never does.

McGhee’s vocals skirt that edge between control and calamity throughout the record and while it can’t help but suffer some from the sense of déjà vu not to mention a lyric that’s all atmosphere and no story, the energy and buoyant confidence shown by the lot of them makes up for any unfortunate lack of artistic ambition.

Just Fall In Line
It’s been just over a year since Stick McGhee heralded the future in many ways, but while his record label and the music itself would reap the rewards in that brighter tomorrow, McGhee was already being forcibly tied to his past.

Yet as predictable as this fate was – and as predictable as the fate of a record with such compromised commercial goals was – Let’s Do It still has more than enough power coursing through its veins to throw off those restrictive shackles and dance with the rest of the heathens who found in this music the means with which to celebrate the changing times.

Rock music was surging faster and farther with each new season now, no longer able to be passed off as a fad and well past the point of being called just a trend, it was now a way of life for its denizens who by this point didn’t need the likes of Stick McGhee to tell them what they already knew.

But they knew it – in part at least – because he’d helped to tell them to get ready for it many many months before this.

By their embrace of the music that followed across the ensuing decades he had no reason to think they’d ever forget that, but just in case with songs like this he and Atlantic Records would do their best to never allow them to forget it either.


(Visit the Artist page of Stick McGhee for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)