Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-02-15


Hank Ballard & the Midnighters: Sexy Ways: The Best of Hank Ballard & the Midnighters (Rhino, 1993) Doing my due diligence, I bought the easier-to-find 2005 King iteration of this canonical comp, All 20 of Their Chart Hits. But though you may have to settle for it, I'm glad I don't. I prefer the dance novelties (best: the stepping-in-space "The Float," complete with wobbly out-of-phase backup) with which it replaces Rhino's r&b marginalia (best: the Marty Robbins tune "Sugaree"), but the sound is tinnier and the annotation nonexistent all the way down to the composer credits. The 15 songs the two share are the nub of Ballard's achievement not counting "How You Gonna Get Respect (If You Haven't Cut Your Process Yet)." That the man who had hits with "Work With Me Annie" and "Annie Had a Baby" also had hits with "The Twist" and "Finger Poppin' Time" (and wrote three of them) is all you need know of the breadth of his vision. Ballard's businesslike determination to create a disturbance in your equilibrium never slackens. He's disruptive in a way most quality r&b is too focused on music per se to have time for. A-

The Platters: Enchanted: The Best of the Platters (Rhino, 1998) It's arguable that the most successful vocal group of the '50s by far--20 top 40 pop hits between 1955 and 1961--weren't doowop at all. They never sang on street corners, that's for sure. And although they started at King, their hits were on a major label, Mercury, overseen by a songwriter named Buck Ram who insisted Mercury market them on its pop rather than "race" imprint. All but one featured Tony Williams, a funny-looking little dude with a precise, melodramatictenor. Ram's piano triplets on their breakout "Only You" inspired a Stan Freberg parody, and his "When I feel your charm/It's like a fourth alarm" was one of the worst couplets of the decade. But the Platters' half-heartsong, half-heartbreak oeuvre proved romance needn't be adolescent or evanescent, and although Williams is dismissed as Jackie Wilson writ small, I prefer him just because he doesn't have what it takes to go all operatic on his timeless standards and period originals. This hitches up three collectors' items from the group's post-Williams and -Ram incarnation where Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, and Ink Spots covers should be. But "Smoke Gets in You Eyes" remains, as it must. Zora Taylor's ingenue lead on the early-'57 "He's Mine" is girl-group before the Chantels. And where do you think Chrissie Hynde got her band name? Some Jackson Browne album? Or "The Great Pretender," which she thrilled to as a horny youth? A

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