Friday, 26 October 2012

The greatest song in the world ever . . . today
Number one: Fats Domino’s The Fat Man

This is the thing. I’m sure you feel the same way, too.

You’re listening to the radio or to your iPod on shuffle and a song comes on, one you already know well but probably haven’t heard for a while, and you think: how wonderful is this, now I remember why I was so driven by it in the first place.

You play it again. And you feel the same again. And again. It’s like love at first sight on repeat mode. Rapturous. Childish wonder. Intimations of immortality, that kind of thing. It is, without doubt, the greatest song in the word ever.

Then you forget it again. Well, I do.

So writing about these moments here is a way of fixing that memory. Some kind of memento of lost todays. From now on, every time I find myself thinking: that is the best song ever, I will post something here. With a link to the song. And picture of the artist. Plus a little information, a story or two and a bit of an attempt to explain why it is the best song in the world ever.

And so to the Fat Man’s The Fat Man.

It was Fats Domino’s first record, cut as long ago as 1949, in New Orleans. Antoine Dominique Domino Jr was then twenty-one and, well, good golly, miss molly, he is still with us. I’ve only seen him play once, in the late 1970s. He seemed ancient — not to mention enormous. But he was only the same age as I am now. (I’m bigger than I was then, too.)

The Fat Man is a song about hanging on a street corner watching the girls go by. Not just any corner either but Rampart and Canal, then the heart of non-white New Orleans.

Non-white? Why didn’t I write black? Because of the kind of girls the fat young man is scoping. These are not just any girls. These are Creole girls. I assume the singer referring to what are now called Creoles of color — ie they have African ancestry. Pre-Civil War, they were classified as neither black nor white. Creoles were a kind of black upper middle class in New Orleans. Fats was a Creole himself — hence the Frenchie Christian name. If you want an idea of the kind of girl he was lusting after, think Beyoncé — she’s another Creole.

There’s another story behind that story, too. While Domino took a credit for writing The Fat Man, it’s really just his cleaned-up take on an earlier New Orleans anthem, Junker’s Blues. That’s the one Dr John played as Junco Partner. It’s possible that, these days, it’s best known as the basis for the Clash’s Wrong ’Em Boyo.

This greatest song in the world ever is all about hitting a piano hard and keeping on hitting it. Even sitting at a desk, you nod your head along. I guess that is its secret. And the whah-whah bit. It was possibly the first rock and roll record to sell a million. I think it was the whah-whah bit that did it.

Sing it, Fats.

‘Whah-whah-whah. Whah-whah. Whah-whah-whah-whah-whah.’
Thanks, Fats.


Johnny Morgan said...

Who doesn't love a jolly fat man? Slight Clash correction, though: they recorded two versions of Junco Partner for Sandinista (both Mikey Dread productions, one a dub 'Version Partner). Joe used to cover Junco Partner while in the 101-ers. You mean Staggerlee for Wrong Em Boyo, right?

Peter Silverton said...

you're absolutely right, of course - i stared at that section and knew there was something wrong with what i'd written but just couldn't figure out what . . . thank you

Lo Jardinier said...

I agree completely - a great record and one that really started something. But it's different from Junkers Blues/Junco partner, especially in the rhythm - Fats and Dave Bartholomew came up with a faster, slightly simpler version of the New Orleans syncopation and that makes it stick in the mind. People talk about melodies, but coming up with a new beat is something else.

Peter Silverton said...

again, i think you're right - i was lazy in repeating what new orleans people say about the song's roots in junker blues - there are echoes but no more really, it's a different song, isn't it . . .