No tags :(

Share it

FEDERAL 12022; APRIL 1951



Has there ever been another all-time great rock act whose most famous record is one that is somewhat atypical from what made them special in the first place?

One where the group’s lead singer – arguably the most influential lead singer of any group ever – doesn’t even sing lead on it but instead is just contributing backing harmonies?

Is there any other act whose dominant sound is largely absent from their biggest hit, yet that hit is no less magical for its absence?

Though in some respects this record might be the last one you’d choose to explain to a novice The Dominoes’ particular brand of genius, at the same time it shows their genius truly knew no bounds.


If You Don’t Believe I’m All I Say
Last month a record came out that would soon top the charts, helping to establish its label – Chess – as one of the vital companies of the next twenty years while the song itself would be heralded as a turning point in rock history.

All of which is very impressive and very important. But as monumental an achievement Rocket 88 was, a lot of that which it gets praised for was also achieved by this record which was cut a few weeks earlier but released a few weeks later.

Though it too has received its fair share of acclaim over the years and is hardly lacking in notoriety even now, more than seven decades after the fact, it does still lag behind the Jackie Brenston sung hit in widespread recognition even though, truthfully speaking, this one is more important.

For one thing Sixty Minute Man was a bigger hit, not just spending a longer time at #1 on the R&B Charts, where rock ‘n’ roll ruled the day (14 weeks for it, compared to five weeks for the other), but this song – despite far more racy, sexually explicit lyrics – managed the incomprehensible fear of crossing over into the Pop Charts… hitting #17 on those listings… which showed that the clout of the minority market (literally and figuratively) was far more potent than anybody suspected because let’s face it, it’s highly doubtful that many white listeners were plunking down eighty cents for a lewd record by a bunch of guys they never heard of on a label most of them didn’t know existed.

But while the bigger than anticipated core audience turned out to be an enormous revelation that would signal what was to come in terms of the intense devotion rock fans had to this music, it’s hardly the only significant element of this release.

Whereas the Brenston/Ike Turner landmark recording had effectively re-written an older rock classic, updating the sound through use of a distorted guitar, The Dominoes did them one better, for while their record was an original composition they managed to take a slightly older prototype (The Ravens use of a lecherous bass lead vocal) and not only use far more explicit imagery to sell it but they also managed to completely modernize the rest of the vocals so they were every bit as alluring as the lead. At the same time they constructed a musical framework that was as up to date as could be, complete with a prominent guitar as well, which was also captivating enough to stand on its own, sans vocals.

It’s not too much of a stretch to say that virtually all of rock music’s past glories, from 1947-1950, was codified in this record, while much of its future came exploding out of its grooves.


Please Don’t Stop
When Billy Ward formed The Dominoes and consented to write rock ‘n’ roll rather than his preferred pop music once they were signed to Federal Records, the rock vocal group realm was still being significantly shaped by its initial entrants, namely The Ravens.

So it’s hardly surprising that even with the most dynamic lead tenor in rock history in his midst in Clyde McPhatter, that two of their initial six sides were led by bass voice Bill Brown instead. That’s how large the shadow of Jimmy Ricks spread.

But while Ricky’s lusty delivery was clearly the basis for Sixty Minute Man in concept, Ward managed to shake up the surrounding structure and give the other Dominoes an equally important role in conveying the song in a way that nobody would ever mistake for a Ravens record.

With the pianist hammering the keys and the stinging liquid notes of a guitar ringing in your ears, the first voice you hear is McPhatter soaring like an uncaged bird before the other Dominoes, Joe Lamont and Charlie White, join him to state the title line as the lead in to the story which finds Brown boasting about his sexual prowess in a surprisingly casual way.

It’s hard to say which is more shocking, the actual claims themselves which cross all lines of decorum that were in place for public performances in 1951, or how relaxed and conversational he is in telling you about this impressive feat.

After the obligatory “fifteen minutes of kissin’, which comprised the standard foreplay, he announces with understandable pride that he provides all of the lucky girls he beds with ”Fifteen minutes of teasin’, fifteen minutes of pleasin’ and fifteen minutes of blowin’ your top!”, the latter of which represented a prolonged orgasm which many of the males in the audience surely doubted was an honest accounting of his time, while the girls listening were eager to discover just how close to that number he – or some available stand-in – could achieve.

To think, On Top Of Old Smokey, a children’s song done by The Weavers was one of the biggest hits on the pop listings when this was hitting its peak and which shows just how far apart the two worlds – pop and rock ‘n’ roll – were at the time.

Though lyrically the song pulls no punches, where it really comes alive is the overall arrangement which blends every aspect of rock ‘n’ roll into a heady brew.

I’ll Rock ‘Em, Roll ‘Em All Night Long
The intertwined vocals are so vibrant that the combined sound of their voices acts almost like an instrument unto itself – maybe taking the place of the tenor sax which is the one rock staple left out of this song – as each of the four singers have such distinctive timbres that you can pick all of them out at any moment.

There’s McPhatter’s high tenor piercing the speaker and Brown’s honeyed tones locking the bottom while the others create the harmonic blend as well as the rhythm – or did you miss the “bop, bop” in the background – and the tonal shifts as Brown drops out, Clyde jumps in and everybody’s voices come together for a line or two, all of them moving effortlessly, shifting your focus from one second to the next.

Then there’s the instrumental track which seems to fill in each moment of otherwise dead air in the vocal delivery with something different to grab your attention. The guitar plays a lot of single note accents with a glassy shimmering quality before putting together a quick run with an exaggerated twangy tone that comes across as an almost cartoonish sound effect.

Not interested in that? Okay, listen instead to the piano climbing the scale in the turnarounds to give the song added momentum for the next vocal stanza which helps to trick you into thinking Sixty Minute Man is slightly faster paced than it really is.

If all that still isn’t enough, notice how the hand-claps are providing the steady beat, a trait that was first established as a rock characteristic way back on Wynonie Harris’s Good Rockin’ Tonight in 1948 and which is still just as effective today.

Though it’s lacking anything truly explosive in the record, a rousing solo or a thumping rhythm, what it has in its place is so much color, so much variety, so many overlapping layers that it becomes almost a three dimensional image of sound, each one captivating enough on its own, but together it becomes almost spellbinding.


When I Let You Go
If you’re a cynic you might say that lyrically explicit records are always going to draw undue interest for their X-rated content alone, but the fact is non-musical smut has little staying power. If this had nothing going for it but a racy topic then like most dirty jokes it would lose its power to shock after one or two listens and thus couldn’t sustain its initial popularity. Furthermore, songs that were meant only to titillate never hold up in the years to come after far more salacious material gets issued as society’s moral defenses crumbled over time.

By contrast a record that may draw initial attention for being scandalous but packs an even greater musical wallop is assured of being widely revered for that magical combination of sound and content… provided it doesn’t get censored altogether before enough people can hear it.

Sixty Minute Man had nothing to fear in that regard, for while society as a whole surely would’ve liked to have squashed this record so it didn’t promote unwholesome thoughts and corrupt the sexually innocent in the audience, the irresistible pull of the record beyond that notoriety was so immediate that once it was heard there was no stopping it.

This is one of rock’s most exhilarating linchpin records… borrowing from the past, altering it for the present and influencing the future. In that way it was a climax of sorts for rock to this point, but what was to follow after this hit the market would last a helluva lot longer than just one measly hour.


(Visit the Artist page of The Dominoes for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)