Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Greatest Delineator of Rhythm Singing

... sounds weird? No, I didn't think it up! Instead, you'll find it on the back cover of Jackie Wilson's Brunswick LP # BL 54110 released in April 1963. This LP was entitled after his recent hit, »Baby Workout« (02/1964). Now let's just for a moment imagine that Jackie Wilson browsed the Billboard issue which was issued exactly  t o d a y  
5 0   y e a r s   a g o
. He would have found his latest single »Baby Workout« for the first time entering the pop Hot 100 charts on # 81.

ad in BB March 09, 1963, p. 17
It took another two weeks until »Baby Workout« also entered the R&B singles charts, immediately rocketing to # 14. As you will probably know, »Baby Workout« was to become Jackie's fourth #1 r&b hit, and it eventually made it to #05 pop, becoming one of the biggest successes of his entire career.

In the charts of the time, Jackie's »Baby Workout« competed with »Our Day Will Come« (Ruby & the Romantics), »Puff (The Magic Dragon)« (PP&M) and the Orlons' »South Street«, not to mention the girl groups dominating the upper charts regions, e.g. the Chiffons with »He's So Fine« and the Cookies with »Don't Say Nothing Bad About My Baby«. In April, »On Broadway« (Drifters) and »Surfin' U.S.A.« were coming up strong against Jackie's hit tune.

However, »Baby Workout« was released at a time when Jackie Wilson wasn't passing the best of times. Well, there was still some of the glamorous life left for Jackie, for example at a dinner in honor of the president of Brunswick Records in the New York Key club when he was approached by »cute Playboy Club bunny« Marion Barker for an autograph (from JET, Dec. 20, 1962, p. 33):
But there were problems as well, because a year ago Jackie had been shot in his abdomen by a woman. The bullet had never been removed, but towards the end of 1962 the bullet started to move in his body and Jackie had to cancel several enga- gements. In January 1963, he even entered a hospital in order to prepare for an operation to have the bullet removed. In the end, there was no operation because the bullet's wanderings were judged less dangerous than risking an operation. The medics concluded that Jackie was overworked and a »victim of nervous exhau- stion«, so they sent him home, bullet and all. »Singer Jackie Wilson checks X-ray which indicated that he is not in need of an operation, because of a bullet moving about in his abdomen ...« (from JET, January 24, 1963, p.32):
In January '63, Jackie also escaped a paternity-case warrant by the Detroit police by sending a buddy of his to turn himself in and claiming to be Jackie Wilson while Jackie himself left the town and disappeared (JET Jan. 24, 1963, p. 43). Living on with the bullet (and an open paternity case), Jackie did not heed the medics' advice to relax but rather went back to the stage and in mid-February performed at Pittsburgh's Syria Mosque. In March, he then witnessed the rise of his latest single release »Baby Workout« (the first reports, on March 2, indicated »strong airplay« of his song in the New York area), and later that month he made an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

At the beginning of April, Brunswick rushed an album out which was meant (as so often) to cash in on the recent success of »Baby Workout«.
The 12 songs on the LP, including of course »Baby Workout«, are claimed on the back cover to be »patterned after Jackie's smash hit single« in order to »lend further proof that Jackie Wilson is probably the greatest delineator of rhythm singing of his day« (oh, how I love that term!). As a dance compilation, the LP is no bad at all as there are mostly uptempo songs, but we have little overall variety and indeed the album seems very much constructed around Jackie's latest hit. It may be considered a pity, though, that Jackie's artistic talent and magnetic voice was - hmm, let's say: - squandered for rather mainstreamy stomp-your-feet-and-clap-your-hands tunes which recall, in their banality, many of the ditties Elvis was pumping out on his movie soundtracks during the mid-1960s. However, there are no outright turkeys on Jackie's LP, and the instrumentation and the arrangements are way better than what we find, to continue the comparison, on Elvis's movie albums. I for my part espe- cially love »The Kickapoo«, in itself little else but the umpteenth novelty dance tune, for its »overture« that has Jackie's voice shine forth so characteristically. And then there is »Baby Workout« which first charted today 50 years ago.

Jackie Wilson: »Baby Workout« / »The Kickapoo« from the Brunswick LP # 54110 (1963, mono):

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