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What’s the first swear you remember saying in front of somebody when you were a kid?

Whether an insignificant cuss word or a prohibited expletive chances are you had a curious mixture of emotions as you decided to utter these words you might not have even fully understood…

…Nervous anticipation as it approached your lips and you looked around at whose ears it was intended for…

…A cathartic release as it spewed forth from your mouth and detonated in mid-air…

…Tensing up as you anticipated the recoil when those around you reacted to its impact…

…Finally, when the smoke cleared, a sense of gratified fulfillment that the world didn’t end as a result of your foul language.

From there on in, having thus broken the maiden as it were, the means with which you could express yourself in life suddenly had a lot more options.


Tell Me How Long…
When Aladdin Records had paired two of their struggling artists for a quick session in July 1947 little did they realize that it wouldn’t be long before the music they were best suited for would crystalize, transforming the entire market in the span of a few years. By then of course both Harris and Turner were long gone from Aladdin’s ranks and so, seeing the success that Harris especially was having with rock ‘n’ roll they reached back into the vault and exhumed the two sides he’d cut with Turner… still a formidable vocalist but as of yet unable to consistently connect in rock thanks to uneven commercial aims of his subsequent record labels.

Despite what the titles suggest the songs were not really connected, perhaps hadn’t even been adorned with titles in the studio, but it was all they had and so they slapped a generic but somewhat fitting name on them and declared it to be a two part record, Battle Of The Blues, maybe hoping that should the superior Side One draw interest that jukebox patrons would either be uncertain as to which was the preferred side, or would be curious enough to check out Part Two.

It didn’t matter much, the record wasn’t a hit, Aladdin didn’t bother promoting it and who knows how wide the distribution for it even was… even today the label scans you’re likely to find, including on these reviews, are from a 1956 re-issue on an Australian label, so chances are the original Aladdin 78 RPM releases were few and far between.

We praised Battle Of The Blues (Part One) yesterday for its robust vocal enthusiasm and some key lyrics delivered by Harris who loudly touts the term rock ‘n’ roll in the chorus, showing that though rock music itself was barely gestating when this was cut in July 1947, they’d seen the ultrasound and already knew the baby was going to create a racket once he emerged later that summer.

But while that side proved to be very prescient in both its sonic attack and its thematic concept the same can’t be said for this side which is notable for just one thing all these years later – it’s the first rock song to use profanity… or what passed for it at that time, which might explain why Aladdin held it back from the market for two whole years in the first place.


Don’t Know What’s Happenin’, Don’t Know What’s Going On
The trappings to this song are a little more old fashioned than what adorned the other side, with the usual suspects – the horns – being most out of step, although again it needs to be pointed out that they weren’t SO far behind the curve when this was actually recorded back in 1947.

But outdated musical accompaniment could easily be overcome with two such dynamic singers as Harris and Turner at the helm provided WHAT they’re singing is compelling enough, but alas this is where Battle Of The Blues (Part Two) trips itself up.

As stated on the other side, we’re assuming much of this was ad-libbed, or at the very least only sketched out in broad terms before the tapes rolled, and so when Turner has trouble locking in right away, both in his failure to adopt a driving rhythm and a coherent message, the song already starts to unravel.

Joe attacks this in his usual full-throated roar but without much focus. The lines don’t seem to be leading anywhere and without the confidence that he’d have if there were a killer chorus waiting around the bend to tie everything together, you sense him grasping for something that isn’t quite there.

The song also vacillates between hard-charging and laid back without much rhyme or reason, I guess ostensibly it’s to lead into the shift from Turner to Harris by means of co-opting a familiar refrain from other songs as the transition piece, but upon his arrival even Harris’s cocky demeanor doesn’t change much about this. He states right off the bat he has no idea what’s going on and for once you realize it’s probably not a put-on with him. When Wynonie’s best moments come when he’s bearing down on the “Yessss” and “Wellll” interjections between lines then that pretty much tells you this is one that should’ve stayed on the shelf.


Ain’t Doin’ Nothin’ But Doin’ Wrong
So what about that red meat we dangled in front of you at the start of this review? Ya know, the promise of some dirty talk that might at least make it worth your while to stick it out until the end to hear?

Yeah, that’s still the only real notable aspect of The Battle Of The Blues (Part Two), but outside of the groundbreaking nature of it there’s not much excitement found even there.

Keep in mind that in the late 1940’s vulgarity was taboo, seen as decidedly low-class by the majority of Americans who prided themselves on their verbal discretion, at least in public. Maybe if your ol’ man hammered his thumb instead of a nail by accident, or Mom dropped a mixing bowl of pancake batter on the kitchen floor because Sparky the dog ran through her legs while being chased by four year old Suzy who was screaming like a banshee, well, then the litany of bad words was fair game even though the rest of the family were under strict orders to pretend they hadn’t heard them being uttered.

Songs of course adhered to these lyrical restrictions, although pop music occasionally would try and substitute “clever” euphemisms for sexual themes, or at least take the onus off the true meanings of songs like Temptation by delivering them in a jokey manner… “Tim-Tay-Shun”… so you that you could hear songs about wanton lust without turning red.

Seriously, it’s a wonder any of us are here today if our ancestors were so immature that they treated sex like it was radioactive.

So for Big Joe Turner to violate every standard of decency known to man by shouting the words “What in the hell is going on!” only to be answered by Harris saying “I was tired as hell”, was pretty shocking. You might as well have unzipped your fly in church and pissed in the sacramental wine or sat down at Thanksgiving dinner stark naked.

They both sound as if they’re getting their kicks in unleashing the ol’ H.E. double hockey sticks word (Turner actually does so twice!), but it doesn’t add anything to the flimsy story, nor does it add any excitement to the track… not in our century for sure, but I doubt it really turned anyone on too much in 1949 either. But if it did… well, maybe that’s just a sign you should get out of the house more.


Aww Fudge!
For all of those who were expecting a far more salacious story behind this warmed over song masquerading as smut, sorry to let you down, but then again Turner and Harris should be far more sorry for letting us down as music fans, not connoisseurs of bathroom stall poetry.

While we’re at it, let’s also demand an apology from Aladdin Records for suggesting these two parts of Battle Of The Blues were a continuation of the same song with the same excitement and musical firepower when in fact they were nothing more than two off-the-cuff performances, one really good, one really bad, that they needed to connect somehow in the hopes of getting us to bite on them.

At the time the listeners of Part Two might have their responses to such underhanded subterfuge reduced to a few wordless grumbles under their breath, or if they were feeling particularly spunky maybe a “Gosh Darn It!” if there were no ladies present to object to their potty mouths… but by now the restraints are off and we can tell them how we really feel about this con-job.

“What a fuckin’ waste of time!”

Granted that’s not any more insightful, descriptive or literary than the G-rated complaints but nevertheless it still feels a helluva lot better than just saying “Oh phooey”.


(Visit the Artist pages of both Wynonie Harris and Big Joe Turner for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)