Saturday, November 8, 2008

LaVerne Baker

Alright let’s talk about the library again. This one is here in Montreal, and it’s called La Grande Bibliothèque du Québec, that’s Quebec’s big library – “grand” means big, not grand – and it is big.

It is an imposing building, at least I believe so, but I’ve only ever seen it twice from the outside, though I’ve been there probably hundreds of times. I go straight from the Metro station, so I never go from outside, which is just as well, because apparently said library is architecturally challenged, and big chunks of it have fallen and hit people on the head, or almost hit people on the head.

But inside, so far, it’s safe. I borrow books there, and the truth is that I have found books there that I would not find elsewhere, but the real truth is that the main reason I go there is surprise, surprise, for the music.

They have a CD collection like no library I’ve ever seen. It is particularly rewarding if one is interested in classical music; whatever you want, they have. So I go now every Tuesday on my lunch hour, and that seems to work.

Now I’m cheating here, because I’m writing about my LaVerne Baker collection, because she comes between The Penguins and Muddy Waters, but right at that spot I’ve only got 4 tracks: “Tweedle Dee,” “Jim Dandy”, “I Cried A Tear,” and “Saved.” And I will tell you that they all came from various Atlantic Records compilations, and leave it at that. But it was at the Grande Bibliotheque that I found Souls On Fire: The Best Of Lavene Baker, and it comes later, as part of my MP3 collection, but I can’t help it. So I’m cheating by putting it here. I’ve been having a crisis of conscience about this, and I may not sleep well for a while, but it can’t be helped.

Briefly, Laverne Baker was the Aretha Franklin of her day, in a way. They both recorded for Atlantic, and neither compromised her sound or style. She switched to Brunswick around 1966, Laverne did, and she wasn’t much heard from after that.

It happens that she had 20 songs on the Billboard Hot 100, and that there are 20 tracks on this disk, but they are not the same 20 tracks. One of the 20 hits (“Think Twice” – not the Brook Benton song) was on Brunswick. But what of the others? Missing in action here are: “Tra La La”(1956), “Humpty Dumpty Heart” (1957), “Tiny Tim,” “If You Love Me” (1959), “Shadows Of Love,” “Wheel Of Fortune”(1960),“Bumble Bee,” “You’re The Boss(1961), “Fly Me To The Moon” (1965).

Laverne Baker:

  • Soul On Fire – Her first hit.
  • Tomorrow Night – always promising…
  • Tweedle Dee – her big breakthrough from early ’55. It has been said that it was an attempt to tame her style with a ‘cute’ song; maybe so, but tamed she wasn’t. This song fairly rocks. She rode it to number 14 on Billboard; Georgia Gibbs put it up to number 2
  • That’s All I Need
  • Bop-Ting-A-Ling – “Tweedle Dee” redux, after a fashion
  • Play It Fair
  • Jim Dandy – a top 20 hit in early 1957
  • My Happiness Forever
  • Get Up, Get Up (You Sleepy Head)
  • Still – this was the B-side of “I Can’t Love You Enough,” and it reached number 97 on its own merits. Covered by the Fontaine Sisters, and it was not the Bill Anderson song
  • I Can’t Love You Enough – from the fall of ‘56
  • Jim Dandy Got Married – maybe he married Peggy Sue. This was from the spring of ’57.
  • I Cried A Tear – this is the exact same song as “What Am I Living For” (Chuck Willis) with different words. It was her only top 10 single, and that was in early 1959.
  • Whipper Snapper
  • I Waited Too Long – from the spring of ‘59
  • Shake A Hand – a worthy cover of the Faye Adams classic
  • How Often
  • You Said
  • Saved – a song of religious conversion, not to be confused with the Bob Dylan album of the same name. Laverne sounds like she’s having a heck of good time being saved… it was a hit in the spring of ‘61
  • See See Rider – the perennial. Laverne’s take on this was a hit in early ’63.

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