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Monday, May 10, 2010

B. B. King: King Of The Blues


1) I've Got A Right To Love My Baby; 2) What Way To Go; 3) Long Nights; 4) Feel Like A Million; 5) I'll Survive; 6) Good Man Gone Bad; 7) If I Lost You; 8) You're On The Top; 9) Partin' Time; 10) I'm King.

It is almost impossible to determine whether King Of The Blues was released before or after My Kind Of Blues, but, in the long run, it does not make much difference: all through the decade, «real» albums like the latter continued to be released side by side with pseudo-albums that con­tinued to combine new tracks, old tracks, hardcore blues, and usually lame excursions into other genres. At least King Of The Blues mostly sticks to hardcore; but the big brass sound is back, and the level of inspiration falls down once again.

Like The Great B. B. King, this is a single-supporting LP, except the hit single is nowhere near as epochal as 'Sweet Sixteen': it is 'Got A Right To Love My Baby', announced by thick pompous fanfares and placing B. B. in some remote corner so that his voice echoes all over the studio — a regular gimmick on this record, supposed to add explicit stateliness — perhaps, even Godliness — to a personality that'd be much better off radiating them implicitly. Truthfully, the song is no better and no worse than the other nine cuts of this blues-de-luxe, most of which are structured around a big brass riff, although B. B. faithfully soloes on every track.

One could speculate that the whole idea was to press down the «king, king, king» image on the audiences, given the diminishing popularity of blues artists, and that the album title, the ever-in­creasing pompousness of the delivery, and the inclusion of a track specifically called 'I'm King' all intended to reinstate the people's belief in B. B. But with the emergence of another King — Freddie — that same year, with the big smash of 'Have You Ever Loved A Woman', far more searing, brutal, and immediate than all of King Of The Blues put together, the idea was doomed. «Mainstreamers» went for totally safe white crooners, and «alternativers» rather went for Freddie, Mud­dy, and Elmore. Efforts like these could only plop through the cracks.

Of course, in retrospect, all of this is nice and perfectly listenable as tasteful background music (muzak). But in its context, King Of The Blues kinda sucks — like most albums that contain the word 'King' and actually intend to mean it. To paraphrase a semi-fictional Roman, "Listen, king of the blues — where is your kingdom?.."


  1. Crown was a "budget" label -- either repackaging albums (or collections of singles) recorded for "real" record labels and now well past their sell-by date or collections of tunes recorded by unknowns artists labeled in such a way as to suggest are relationship to the original performers* (c.f., Beatles songs recorded by "The Bugs").

    United Records, the other label releasing some of these B.B.King LPs, was, I'm pretty sure, Modern's in-house budget line. Again, similar concept to Crown's past-sell-by approach.

    Budget labels often were sold on spinner racks in venues not generally associated with record sales, like in your friendly neighborhood A&P grocery.

    Boy, did I just date myself!

    *And then there was that whole "Hits You Missed" thing -- 45rpm knock-offs of 2 current songs, probably by different artists, also sold in grocery store racks, and for less than the price of the original. Occasionally, these were real gems -- I've seen a couple recorded by Scatman Crothers, well before his role in "The Shining" penetrated the popular consciousness.

  2. The thing is also that Crown was owned by the same people as RPM and Modern, the "real" labels where B.B.'s singles were released, and that was why he never had a "proper" album - his singles were the hits, and the LPs were like direct-to-video sequels.