Fats Domino: Greatest Hits: Walking to New Orleans

Thirty-track compilation of Domino's tenure at Imperial Records includes 29 top ten R&B records from 1950-1961.

Fats Domino

Greatest Hits: Walking to New Orleans

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2007-08-14
UK Release Date: Available as import

The gap between first and second place, as the brass-balled Blake reminds us in David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, is vast but not immeasurable: First place's award is a Cadillac El Dorado; second place's is a set of steak knives. There is inequity in the nearest of proximities, and that's a cruel if inevitable irony not lost on he who claims the cutlery.

Time only exaggerates the opposite ends of any distance, mythologizing the leader at the expense of each runner-up. In the 1950s, Antoine "Fats" Domino sold more rock records than any other artist -- with the exception of Elvis Presley, the El Dorado to Domino's steak knife. Though Domino is arguably a more important figure in rock 'n' roll's genesis (his first single, "The Fat Man" (1949), is considered by many to be the first rock 'n' roll record, beating out Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats' "Rocket 88" by at least a year), popular history maintains Presley as a rock 'n' roll messiah and cultural icon, while Domino, much like fellow black rock godfathers Chuck Berry and Little Richard, clings to a much smaller plot of the cultural consciousness. And yet half a century ago, the only thing that separated the two singers' renown was a number. It's perfectly sensible to chalk up the disproportion to racism -- racism dictated the playlists of American commercial radio in the '50s and continues to promote rock 'n' roll as music by and for white males -- but the debilitating curse of second place is the major unspoken contributing factor to the preservation of that gap.

Presley didn't steal from Domino like he stole from Big Mama Thornton and Carl Perkins -- that honor went to Pat Boone, who in 1955 hijacked Domino's big pop crossover hit, "Ain't That a Shame", and took it all the way to number one on the pop charts. Domino's original version, released the same year, only got to number ten on the pop charts, but it was the first time he cracked pop's top ten and the first of ten times he would put a single in pop's upper tier over the next six years. Before he crossed over, Domino, a New Orleans native with an effervescent boogie-woogie pulse, was a mainstay on the R&B charts. "The Fat Man", released at Christmas 1949, quickly hit number two on the R&B charts and sold a million copies; its style, a rollicking boogie-woogie rhythm punctuated with bluesy piano licks, would serve as the simple but undeniable template for the majority of Domino's songs in the years to come.

From 1950 until the early '60s, Domino recorded prolifically for Imperial Records, and along with producer and co-writer Dave Bartholomew, contributed a few staples to the rock 'n' roll canon: "Ain't That a Shame", "My Blue Heaven", "Blueberry Hill", "Blue Monday", and "I'm Walkin'" are a few of his most indelible performances. "Blue Monday", in particular, is a torrent of piano pounding, especially in the bridge, where the entire band beats two chords into submission; and the weightless shuffle of "I'm Walkin'" shakes up the boogie-woogie formula enough to make the song's very concept appear downright novel. Other songs get to the same buoyant place on slightly skewed tangents, like the farm yarn "Bo Weevil", the kiss- and clap-populated "Whole Lotta Loving", and the infectious if oddly named "I'm Gonna Be a Wheel Someday".

There have been a number of Domino compilations in recent years, including the Capitol box set Walking to New Orleans and its one-disc summation Fats Domino Jukebox: 20 Greatest Hits the Way You Originally Heard Them (both 2002). Capitol's new collection, Greatest Hits: Walking to New Orleans, sets the single-disc standard: it boasts a total of 30 tracks from Domino's Imperial tenure (ten more than Fats Domino Jukebox), 29 of which made the R&B top ten. With the exception of "Valley of Tears", which flirts a little too close to Presley-esque gospel-pop, the songs included in Greatest Hits: Walking to New Orleans are all essential, from rough-edged early tunes like "Goin' Home" and "Going to the River" to the more pop-polished sound found in early-'60s songs "Walking to New Orleans" and "My Girl Josephine".

For a singer who uses his physical size to define his public identity, Domino's voice remains surprisingly tender and smooth. The syrupy Southern drawl is there, but the rasp and growl of a comparative size-conscious singer like Howlin' Wolf is not. Domino's voice is in league with the material, this wonderful stuff that elevates woe to a celebratory plateau; it's mournful and apologetic and defeatist, but triumphantly so, begging "please don't leave me" and "don't blame it on me", and asking "ain't that a shame?" to the tune of a fluttering backbeat. It's honest and emotionally fearless rock 'n' roll, eternally gregarious and sweetly resigned: the sound of first place making its quiet surrender.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.