Album: VARIOUS – The Greatest R&B Hits of 1957 (Acrobat ACQCD7007 2008)

The concept is simple. Take the 96 biggest hits of 1957 on the American R&B chart, arrange them chronologically and stick them on four CDs. Job done. And that is precisely what Acrobat have done here.

Unlike the Boulevard Vintage series of year-themed Rhythm and Blues collections (which go back to 1947 but have yet to get beyond 1956), this set has no editorial picking and choosing (with one exception, which I’ll return to). It’s just the hits, arranged chronologically. It’s a format that has worked well for the label. Its twice annual collections of UK hits take everything that made the chart that year, regardless of genre or quality. They’ve proved a resounding success, and the company has extended the format to cover the American country and rhythm and blues charts. This can all be done, of course, because of the European fifty year copyright expiry which means that all recordings made before January 1st 1958 are now public domain. Songwriter royalties still have to be paid, but basically anyone has the right to release this material.

Despite being a heavily segregated country, especially in the south, the American record buying public has seldom been as united as it was in the mid to late fifties. White kids had tired of the sanitized, ersatz covers foisted on them by the likes of Pat Boone, Georgia Gibbs and the Crew Cuts, and were buying the real stuff. The likes of the Coasters, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino were huge stars who crossed the colour divide. But it wasn’t just one way traffic. Dale Hawkins and the Crickets both played the Harlem Apollo in 1957 – the first white acts to do so. Elvis Presley was hugely popular, and Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” uniquely topped the pop, country, and r&b charts – a feat that’s extremely unlikely to be repeated.

This brings me to the editorial policy I referred to above. All white pop and rock acts have been excluded, which seems to me to be a ludicrous move. If you are going to reflect the music that black America was buying in 1957, you cannot simply cut stuff simply because it falls the wrong side of a colour line. Buddy Holly, Elvis and Carl Perkins were being bought by black folks, and this collection should reflect that. If it was strictly an r&b collection, that would be fair enough, but there is still a lot of pop fluff here (albeit black pop fluff).

Aside from that, the collection does tend to suffer from a fair amount of filler. Hits that are justly forgotten, and a few real stinkers (It was the start of a regrettable period during which Atlantic Records in particular started to cover their ballads with choral schlock that made them sound like those awful fifties Nashville productions – check out “Empty Arms” by Ivory Joe Hunter and drown in sugary gloop). Inevitably, there are acts under-represented, or absent, due to the strict chart criteria. Having said that, there’s a hell of a lot of good stuff here. A glance at the track listings below will reveal the plethora of classics that have become standards. I needn’t point them out. But there are a lot of unfamiliar songs that deserve to be remembered. Little Joe and the Thrillers’ “Peanuts” is a bonkers rock and roll track, and probably the pick of the obscurities. Elsewhere there are blues, ballads, rock, doowop, jump jazz, pop and, in Sam Cooke’s evergreen classic “You Send Me”, stuff that is undeniably soul music.

The sound is good, and one thing that this collection has that the Boulevard Vintage series lacks is decent sleeve notes. These come in the form of a generous 48 page booklet with thumbnail biographies and plenty of reproductions of contemporary advertising material. All of this for the price of a single CD. I can’t not recommend it, despite the reservations outlined above. It’s really a must buy for anyone into rock & roll, r & b and early soul music.

Tracks

CD 1:
01 I’ll Be Spinning – Johnnie & Joe
02 All Around the World – Little Richard
03 Without Love – Clyde McPhatter
04 What’s the Reason I’m Not Pleasing You – Fats Domino
05 Little by Little – Nappy Brown
06 Ain’t That Love – Ray Charles
07 Bacon Fat – Andre Williams
08 Walking by Myself – Jimmy Rogers
09 Honey, Where You Going – Jimmy Reed
10 Shirley – the Schoolboys
11 When I Saw You – Shirley & Lee
12 Bad Boy – the Jive Bombers
13 Lucky Lips – Ruth Brown
14 I’m Walking – Fats Domino
15 It Hurts to Be in Love – Annie Laurie
16 Ram Bunk Shush – Bill Doggett
17 Party Doll – Roy Brown
18 Next Time You See Me – Junior Parker
19 Come Go with Me – the Del Vikings
20 Fools Fall in Love – the Drifters
21 Should I Ever Love Again – Wynona Carr
22 Lucille – Little Richard
23 Just Because – Lloyd Price
24 Little Rain – Jimmy Reed

CD 2:
01 School Day – Chuck Berry
02 He’s Mine – the Platters
03 I’m Sorry – the Platters
04 Send Me Some Lovin’ – Little Richard
05 C C Rider – Chuck Willis
06 Empty Arms – Ivory Joe Hunter
07 Love’s a Hurting Game – Ivory Joe Hunter
08 Just Because – Larry Williams
09 Little Darlin’ – the Gladiolas
10 Just to Hold My Hand – Clyde McPhatter
11 There Ought to Be a Law – Mickey & Sylvia
12 Rang Tang Ding Dong (i Am the Japanese Sandman) – the Cellos
13 Searchin’ – the Coasters
14 Young Blood – the Coasters
15 The Rooster Song – Fats Domino
16 Valley of Tears – Fats Domino
17 It’s You I Love – Fats Domino
18 Jim Dandy Got Married – Lavern Baker
19 Pleadge of Love – the Penguins
20 Over the M,ountain Across the Sea – Johnnie & Joe
21 Let the Ofur Winds Blow – Roy Brown
22 Keepr of My Heart – Faye Adams
23 What Can I Do – Donnie Elbert
24 Short Fat Fannie – Larry Williams

CD 3:
01 High School Dance – Larry Williams
02 The Sun is Shining – Jimmy Reed
03 My Dream – the Platters
04 Jenny Jenny – Little Richard
05 Miss Ann – Little Richard
06 United – the Love Notes
07 Out in the Cold Again – Frankie Lymon
08 Oh Baby Doll – Chuck Berry
09 Stardust – Billy Ward & the Dominoes
10 Miss You So – Lilian Offitt
11 My Baby’s Gone on on – Johnnie & Joe
12 Tears of Joy – the Five Royales
13 I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter – Billy Williams
14 To the Aisle – the Five Satins
15 Cool Shake – the Del Vikings
16 Whispering Bells – the Del Vikings
17 Please Send Me Someone to Love – the Moonglows
18 Everybody’s Laughing – the Spaniels
19 Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu – Huey Piano Smith and the Clowns
20 What Will I Tell My Heart – Fats Domino
21 Long Lonely Nights – Clyde Mcphatter
22 When I See You – Fats Domino
23 Sick and Tired – Chris Kenner
24 Farther Up the Road – Bobby Bland

CD 4:
01 Long Lonely Nights – Lee Andrews and the Hearts
02 Peanuts – Little Joe and the Thrillers
03 Keep a Knockin’ – Little Richard
04 Happy Happy Birthday Baby – the Tune Weavers
05 Love Roller Coaster – Big Joe Turner
06 Think – the Five Royales
07 Mr Lee – the Bobbettes
08 Little Bitty Pretty One -Thurston Harris
09 Honest I Do – Jimmy Reed
10 Silhouettes – the Rays
11 Daddy Cool – the Rays
12 You Send Me – Sam Cooke
13 Could This Be Magic – the Dubs
14 Rock and Roll Music – Chuck Berry
15 Raunchy – Ernie Freeman
16 Teardrops – Lee Andrews and the Hearts
17 Swannee River Rock – Ray Charles
18 Wait and See – Fats Domino
19 Darling It’s Wonderful – the Lovers
20 Buzz Buzz Buzz – Hollywood Flames
21 You Can Make It if You Try – Gene Allison
22 Hard Times (the Slop) – Noble Thin Man Watts
23 I’ll Come Running Back to You – Sam Cooke
24 The Big Beat – Fats Domino

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