BIG JOE TURNER: JOE TURNER/ROCKIN' THE BLUES (1951-1956; 2000)
1) Shake, Rattle & Roll; 2) Flip, Flop & Fly; 3) Feeling Happy; 4) Well, All Right; 5) The Chicken And The Hawk; 6) Boogie Woogie Country Girl; 7) Honey Hush; 8) Corrine, Corrina; 9) Midnight Special; 10) Hide And Seek; 11) Oke-She-Moke-She-Pop; 12) Crawdad Hole; 13) Sweet Sixteen; 14) Chains Of Love; 15) (We're Gonna) Jump For Joy; 16) Teen Age Letter; 17) Love Roller Coaster; 18) Lipstick, Powder And Paint; 19) Morning, Noon And Night; 20) I Need A Girl; 21) Red Sails In The Sunset; 22) Blues In The Night; 23) After A While; 24) World Of Trouble; 25) Trouble In Mind; 26) TV Mama; 27) You Know I Love You; 28) Still In Love.
Again, this album, or, rather, couple of albums on one CD, is a non-album, or, rather a couple of non-albums. Joe Turner is a compilation of Joe's biggest hits from the Atlantic years; Rockin' The Blues, coming out a little bit later, is a compilation of Joe's medium-size hits from the Atlantic years. Together, this 28-song package contains all of Joe Turner from 1951 to 1956 that one really needs to hear — and no one who has not heard it can ever claim to have properly understood the genesis of rock'n'roll.
Fortunately, Big Joe's Atlantic career seems to have easily withstood the test of time, and all of these recordings sound just as spick and span today as they did half a century ago. Pre-war purists may show off all they want, but R'n'B does affect one's nerve centers mighty more effectively when it's driven by a well-oiled boogie-woogie rhythm section with a big and clean drum sound, not to mention ever-improving standards of sound capture that finally allow backing bands to sound just as tight on record as they do in nightclubs.
Funny enough, the man who made his first big impact on the musical world with the proto-rock'n' roll of 'Roll 'Em Pete' started off on Ahmet Ertegun's label at a slow pace: the first two years were mostly dedicated to slow loungey blues and ballads. 'Chains Of Love', 'Sweet Sixteen', 'Still In Love', that sort of thing; well in line with Atlantic's general standards, professionally and cleanly recorded, sung with Big Joe's usual soulful brawn (even his sappiest tunes have a bit of the Neanderthal spirit to them, which makes it so much easier to stomach than Bing Crosby).
The big break comes in 1953 with 'Honey Hush': "Let it roll like a big wheel, in the Georgia cotton fields!". It ain't nothing Big Joe hadn't really done before, including the famous opening line which must have already figured in at least several of his 1940s recordings. All it takes is a few subtle production twists, and a wonderful «Zeitgeist» to carry it along to a success among young audiences, much huger than anything Big Joe could have hoped for in the previous decade.
'Honey Hush', 'Shake, Rattle & Roll', 'Flip, Flop & Fly', 'The Chicken And The Hawk' — they're all the same song, really, also in line with the general style of work of all pre-war artists, but already the sprouts of the new age of popular music are beginning to show, because each of the numbers has a tiny individual angle of its own: a different hook in the chorus, a variation on a brass riff, an unexpected bit of vocalizing (like the famous "Hi-ho Silver!" on 'Honey Hush'). R'n'B changed the face of jump blues, and this means that there will always be a reason to put on a jump blues record (simply because it gives you a different kind of feeling); but the primary goal of jump blues was to let people have a good time, and in terms of good-time-giving, jump blues is to R'n'B what Intel 8088 is to a Pentium.
It must also be said that Big Joe's hit records on Atlantic, after 'Honey Hush', were much less diverse than the material in general. The man did not always rock out to the exact same formula: 'Boogie Woogie Country Girl' and 'Teen Age Letter', for instance, follow entirely different recipés. Then, towards the end of that hit run, he started experimenting with speeding up old folk blues standards: the boogie version of 'Corrine Corrina' came first, the dance avatar of 'Midnight Special' came next, and both just completely chucked away the pain and anguish of the working class and replaced them with mindless good-time party atmosphere. Karl Marx must have been turning over in his grave, but the face of popular music didn't much care for that.
There always remains the issue of whiteys «stealing» this music from Big Joe and his brethren: I think that time will slowly heal this wound, and eventually those billions of miles that separate Big Joe's popularity from Elvis' will accelerate their shrinking, even if they will be doing this for the wrong reason (instead of more people learning about Big Joe, more people will start forgetting about Elvis). Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that Elvis' version of 'Shake, Rattle & Roll' is wilder and crazier than Big Joe's: deeper, louder, speedier, and, above all, the kids really loved it when the stingy aggressiveness of the electric guitar solo ushered out the jazzy smoothness of the saxophone, which, in the 1950s, was still more of an outdated leftover from the swinging 1930s and 1940s than a «progressive» instrument (it took the birth of jazz-rock to redeem it). And, personally, I'll always take the awesome distorted sound of the Burnette brothers' version of 'Honey Hush' over the original...
...which is not to say that the original ain't pretty awesome in its own right. "Come over here, woman, stop all that yakety-yak, don't make me nervous, I'm holding a baseball bat", despite the poor rhyming scheme, still has to rank as one of the most delightfully provocative lines of all time (a duet with Aretha Franklin would probably shorten all the circuits). This is golden stuff, very much of its time and still timeless, and also a perfect introduction to the world of «older» R'n'B for those who are heavily spoiled by modern values and attitudes and need a safe and steady passageway to the vaults. Thumbs up.
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