Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Every history of rock and roll devotes a paragraph or two to sexy Fifties r&b, smirking over Hank Ballard's Work With Me Annie, Billy Ward's Sixty Minute Man, and the back seat of Dad's Ford. But only collectors own even those two censored hits, much less Bullmoose Jackson's Big Ten-Inch Record, covered by Aerosmith in 1975, or the Bees' Toy Bell, which resurfaced as Chuck Berry's My Ding-A-Ling. So Rhino's Risqué Rhythm, which compiles 14 blue obscurities, is a revelation.

Since I'm a heterosexual male, I wasn't surprised at the erotic charge of Dinah Washington's Big Long Sliding Thing (about a trombone player, natch) and Long John Blues (about a dentist filling her cavity). I'd expected salaciousness a la Julia Lee's My Man Stands Out or Roy Brown's Butcher Pete ("chopping up all the women's meat," students of rap metaphor will want to know). But nothing prepared me for the sensuality of the Swallows' deep-swinging It Ain't the Meat, or of the insufficiently legendary Wynonie Harris's simply titled Wasn't That Good. It's about how wonderful good sex is. And it makes you hear the magic.

In part that's Harris's achievement--the ease and energy of his sound and groove radiate a sexual confidence most of us only aspire toward. But in part it's a tribute to prerock r&b itself--not the teen anthems, but the grownup bar and dance music that engendered them. Risqué Rhythm is more than a great collection of dirty songs. It's a great introduction to a rich music.


Fast Cuts: Elmore James's "Let's Cut It": The Very Best of Elmore James (Flair/Virgin): the man who perfected electric bottleneck. John Lee Hooker's The Ultimate Collection (Rhino): You've heard of forever young? This is never young.

Playboy, Jan. 1992


Dec. 1991 Feb. 1992