Friday, August 14, 2009

Larry Williams

Growing up when I did, I picked up the old 50s rock and roll by hearsay and nostalgia. There was American Graffiti, there were spinoff albums, there were rock and roll revival concerts (not that I went to any), there were “graffiti weekends” on the radio, there were “best hits of all time” weekends, usually on Labour Day. And so I got to hear the originals: Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Danny & The Juniors, Bill Haley & His Comets.

There were some, though, Like Larry Williams, whose voices never surfaced. I understand that some recording artists would inevitably be relegated to obscurity, even some who were popular in their day. But Williams, his songs were all over the place. The Beatles recorded his stuff, as did a hundred and two other English bands. How many versions of Boney Maronie are there? I don’t know. Google it. Check, Wikipedia.

Williams recorded for Specialty; that’s the same label that Little Richard recorded for, and it’s possible that the competition was too harsh. I can’t say. I just know that he was a pioneer who deserves recognition.

So let’s express our gratitude to the Province of Quebec, through whose generous library funding I procured this copy of Bad Boy by Larry Williams, 23 tracks in all, including all 5 of his Specialty hits. He did have one hit on Okeh records, that was in 1967, a version of Mercy Mercy Mercy, the Cannonball Adderley hit I assume, covered so ably by The Buckinghams. But anyway, it’s not here.

Larry Williams:

Boney Maronie – The character song. There isn’t too much about Boney, but we know that she’s pretty darn skinny, and Larry makes love to her under the apple tree. Lucky guy. A favourite for bands to cover – Johnny Winter had a crack at this, so did The Cyrkle. A hit in late 1957.
She Said Yeah –The most basic statement of a successful relationship, at some level. The Stones covered this, but they didn’t capture the exuberance. • Hocus Pocus – Not the Focus song. Shades of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Lawdy Miss Clawdy – Williams’ take on the Lloyd Price classic.
Just Because – A statement of romantic defiance. It was a hit for Lloyd Price.
Dizzy Miss Lizzy – Something about the riff must have appealed to John Lennon; The Beatles covered this – it closed the Help album in its original incarnation. In North America it was in the middle of side 2 of Beatles VI, and a live version appears on The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl. From the spring of 1958.
Rockin’ Pneumonia – A world in which our hero’s rocking ambition is fraught with danger, and rock itself is some kind of illness – the rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu. A hit for Huey Smith & The Clowns, and revived by Johnny Rivers in the early 70s.
High School Dance – You’d think this would be the perfect high school dance song, but of course it isn’t. It’s a bit too tongue-in-cheek for one thing; for another it’s too self aware. Still, it’s not terrible or anything. The B side of Short Fat Fanny and a hit in the summer of 1957.
Heeby Jeebies – By Little Richard. As uptempo and rocking as this is, it doesn’t approach the franticness of the original.
Iko Iko (Aka Jockano) – Some kind of New Orleans anthem. This was a hit for The Dixie Cups, and it was covered almost reverentially by Dr. John.
Short Fat Fannie – There was Long Tall Sally and there Skinny Minnie, and now there was Short Fat Fannie. Features a who’s who of song titles, the ultimate rock and roll spoof. From the summer of 1957.
Zing Zing – The sound of his heart, in response to his loved one. I’d see a doctor.
Ting-A-Ling – Ok, this guy’s addicted to sound effects or something.
Make A Little Love – Sounds quite a bit like Heeby Jeebies, especially on the refrain at the end of the chorus.
Hootchy-Koo –A dance song, with subthemes of death, disease, urban angst. Chubby Checker, eat your heart out.
Slow Down – Kicks off with a galloping rhythm and doesn’t let up. You’re moving way too fast he sings to his girl, which given the gender direction here becomes interesting. The Beatles did this very famously, originally on an EP, and on the Something New album, and, not to be outdone, so did Gerry & The Pacemakers. Oh, and so did The Young Rascals.
You Bug Me, Baby – I don’t know if “bug” used to mean something else, but he sure isn’t singing about bugging in the sense with which I am familiar. From late 1957 and the B side of Boney Maronie.
Oh Baby – Think of a generic song title...
Little School Girl – This is Good Morning Little School Girl, recorded by Muddy Waters, by Ten Years After, by a young Rod Stewart, by The Yardbirds. Lewd and lascivious by every one of them. Written, for the record, by Willy Dixon.
Bad Boy – Another Williams song covered by The Beatles. Interesting that it was released in North America in 1965, on Beatles VI, the same album that had Dizzy Miss Lizzy, but it was not released in the UK for another year, and then only on A Collection Of Beatle Oldies. The Beatles do it pretty straight. Williams has a bit of humour going on, not unlike The Coasters’ Charlie Brown.
Peaches And Cream
Marie Marie – Not the Santana song.
The Dummy – Love song to a manequin. Honest…

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