Submitted by: raveonreviews
Publication date - 06 July 2009
Never has the musical output of Hank Ballard and The Midnighters been presented in such high style. The many fine ’Best Of’ packages represent only a handful of his greatest sides, but if you like Rock and Roll and R&B, you’ll want to dive into this box head first.
Discovered by Johnny Otis at a talent contest, Ballard and his group inspired countless acts to follow. One in particular was the young James Brown, who later signed with the Federal label as well.
Recording as The Royals at the Brewster Street Studios, the group crafted such great sides as “No, It Ain’t,” “Hello Miss Fine” the ballad “Someone Like You,” and “Get It” which went to #6 on the R&B charts. However, their reputation as a salacious act was born when they recorded the highly suggestive classic. “Work With Me Annie." Although they recorded a cleaner version, they still released the risque lyrics landing their first #1 R&B. Other songs, ala“Give It Up” proved quite sexual as well.
The group changed their name to The Midnighters in 1954 and continued the Annie craze with rollicking versions of “Annie Had A Baby,” (R&B #1) and “Annie’s Aunt Fannie.” (R&B #10) This inspired Etta James's group The Peaches recorded an answer to “Work With Me Annie” called “Roll With My Henry”, which was later retitled "The Wallflower,” which led to the Midnighters’s “Henry’s Got Flat Feet (Can’t Dance No More).” Surprisingly the controversial Annie songs achieved the group's most consistently successful chart positions.
All the hits are here from 1952-1962; “It’s Love Baby (24 Hours A Day),” “Finger Poppin Time,” “Teardrops On Your Letter,” “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” and “Sexy Ways” to name a few. “Cute Little Ways” is cleaned up version of “Sexy Ways.” Ballard wrote most of his hits and some that didn’t make the charts were certainly worthwhile.
Ballard deftly covers label-mate Rusty York’s version of “Sugaree” a song written by Marty Robbins. Ballard’s “Tore Up Over You” rocks the house; later York would record this, as would Sleepy LaBeef. Speaking of covers, fans of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s remake of the Hank Ballard penned “Look At Little Sister" will certainly dig the bluesy original.
The consummate Ballard historian, Bill Dahl tells the group's story year-by-year without leaving any stone unturned. Included is the true legend behind “The Twist” - Ballard recorded “Miss Twister,” “Do You Know How To Twist,” “It’s Twistin’ Time,” “Good Twistin’ Tonight” just to make sure he had the most popular fad of the early 60's covered along with another, oft-forgotten dance craze, "The Continental Walk.”
For those who like R&B seasonal material the set also includes “Santa Claus Is Coming” and “Christmas Time For Everyone But Me” The compilation also contains many delightful alternate takes of “Up And Away,” “Do You Know How To Twist,” “Santa Claus Is Coming,” “Young Lady,” “When I Need You,” The Hoochi Coochi Coo,” “Work With Me Annie,” “Switchie Witchie Titchie” and the first attempt of “Let ‘em Roll.”
The previously unreleased tracks are pure gold. The Midnighters’s rendition of Wynonis Harris's 1952 tune “Keep On Churnin’ (Till The Butter Comes)" clearly provided the basis for the sound-a-like “Keep On Dancing.” Versions of “Work Baby” with and without a drum overdub. The big band backing on “Hello Lover, Goodbye Tears” eschews the Midnighters and allows Ballard to cover this unissued gem on his own. Finally, “Love, Oh Love (Where Can You Be) sounds good enough to be a regular group release.
Inventive and occasionally outrageous, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters tried many different approaches and they all presented here. Fans of this seminal R&B group should consider this remarkable set the greatest insight into their musical legacy. It's a stone gas as well.
- Johnny Vallis