Antoine ‘Fats’ Domino was such an unassuming and gentle man, he became the classic example of someone who let his record sales speak for him. Not only was he one of the hallowed circle of artists who were present at the birth of rock’n’roll, but his almost unique ability to straddle the rhythm and blues and pop markets from 1955 onwards helped him to staggering success as a recording artist and performer. To honour his birthday on 26 February 1928, and his passing on 24 October 2017, we’re celebrating his career with 20 of the best Fats Domino songs.
It’s vital to recall that this totem of New Orleans music and culture was a star long before rock’n’roll ever had that name. We begin in 1950 when, just before his 22nd birthday, Domino made his debut on the Billboard R&B bestsellers with the first of his countless gold-selling hits on Imperial, ‘The Fat Man’.
For the next five years, he was an almost constant presence on that chart, deprived of pop success by the strict segregation of the markets of the day. Ten more R&B hits accrued, any of which would rank among the best Fats Domino songs, but of which we feature the 1952 No. 1 ‘Going’ Home’ and 1953’s ‘Going To The River’ and ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’.
1955 was the year that changed his life, as rock’n’roll arrived and Domino became a central part of its rise. ‘Aint That A Shame’, written with his soul mate and fellow Crescent City giant Dave Bartholomew, was the irresistible catalyst, not only topping the R&B listings for an awesome 11 weeks but reaching the pop Top 10, even as Pat Boone’s white-bread cover stole much of that market.
Then the flood gates opened, as Domino built on his core audience to become one of the most familiar and reassuring figures in the charts, on stage and even on the big screen. He appeared in the rock’n’roll-fuelled 1956 movies Shake, Rattle & Rock and The Girl Can’t Help It, as further giant hits flew in. The R&B No. 1s ‘All By Myself’ and ‘Poor Me’ didn’t cross over, but ‘I’m In Love Again’ did, backed by his distinctive revival of the 1920s favourite ‘My Blue Heaven’.
He finished his memorable 1956 with perhaps one of the best Fats Domino songs of all time. ‘Blueberry Hill’ was another remake, having been a big number for Glenn Miller in 1940. Fats’ version, with the unforgettable piano intro and detail that informed all of his recordings, gave him another 11-week R&B reign, went No.2 pop and later entered both the Grammy and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame. Even by 1970, it had sold some 11 million copies.
Bartholomew’s ‘Blue Monday’, from another movie vehicle, The Girl Can’t Help It, was another solid-gold smash, as was ‘I’m Walkin’ and the remainder of the 1950s brought many more singles that added to career sales conservatively estimated at 65 million. They included his final R&B No. 1, ‘I Want To Walk You Home’, and the charming ‘Walkin To New Orleans’, the Bobby Charles song that celebrated Fats’ beloved home town.
His last Top 10 R&B record came with ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’ in 1961, by which time Domino’s chart supremacy was being challenged by many newcomers and his style began to sound dated – even if the British artists who would soon be staging a transatlantic coup all paid tribute to his influence. But Fats continued to delight audiences everywhere with up to 200 shows a year.
Indeed, Paul McCartney himself said that the style of The Beatles‘ ‘Lady Madonna’ with its dominant piano figure, was completely inspired by the great entertainer. So it’s only right that our list of the best Fats Domino songs concludes with his own version of that song, which modestly became his chart farewell in 1968. The legacy of some of the most joyful music ever recorded will always be felt.
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