Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Fats Domino

  • Fats Domino: Legendary Masters Series [United Artists, 1971]  
  • The Best of Fats Domino [EMI, 1987]  
  • My Blue Heaven -- The Best of Fats Domino (Volume One) [EMI, 1990] A+
  • Fats Domino Jukebox: 20 Greatest Hits the Way You Originally Heard Them [Capitol, 2002]  
  • Alive and Kickin' [, 2006] A-
  • Live From Austin TX [New West, 2006] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Fats Domino: Legendary Masters Series [United Artists, 1971]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]  

The Best of Fats Domino [EMI, 1987]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]  

My Blue Heaven -- The Best of Fats Domino (Volume One) [EMI, 1990]
Domino was the most widely liked rock and roller of the '50s--nobody hated him, which you couldn't say of Elvis, or Pat Boone, who despite the color of his skin charted just two more top 10 records. Warm and unthreatening even by the intensely congenial standards of New Orleans, he's remembered with fond condescension as significantly less innovative than his uncommercial compatriots Professor Longhair and James Booker. But though his bouncy boogie-woogie piano and easy Creole gait were generically Ninth Ward, they defined a pop-friendly second-line beat that nobody knew was there before he and Dave Bartholomew created "The Fat Man" in 1949. In short, this shy, deferential, uncharismatic man invented New Orleans rock and roll. These 20 two-minute hits, import-only for years, are where he perfected it. I'm overjoyed that the laggards at EMI promise another nicely annotated volume "in the coming months," and will believe it when I see it. Grab this one, kids. A+

Fats Domino Jukebox: 20 Greatest Hits the Way You Originally Heard Them [Capitol, 2002]
If rock is a music of voices and guitars, its New Orleans variant is a music of pianos and drums. It rocks, sure, but people love it for the way it rolls. Its friendliest exponent is charter Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Antoine Domino, who scored more pop hits in the '50s than anyone except Elvis, Pat Boone, and Perry Como. Every one shows up on the solidly enjoyable "They Call Me the Fat Man . . . ." box. But the best are concentrated on this cheap little party record--a surprisingly intense one, given the sweet lassitude of Fats's drawl. Break your own heart--put on "Walking to New Orleans." [Rolling Stone]  

Alive and Kickin' [, 2006]
What connects these 13 tracks to Hurricane Katrina is that without the disaster they might not have been released until the man died. All were recorded by 2000, and only two, neither the stone standout you'd assume, didn't originate with Domino, who says it took years to write some of them right. You'd never guess it. The descending four-note piano hook on "One Step at a Time," for instance, could be played by a three-year-old--with a perfect sense of rhythm. But just ask Ernest Hemingway when you get the chance: Artistic simplicity can be that way. Compared to the uncredited studio work here, Richard Perry's tastefully star-studded Fats revivals of the late '60s sound like, somewhere between Phil Spector and Phil Ramone. Calm and meditative rather than playful and ebullient, this is a record only the most congenial of rock 'n' roll legends could have created. We're lucky to have it. A-

Live From Austin TX [New West, 2006]
Back in its release year of 2006, I figured no one needed a verbatim live version of one of his greatest-hits records, plentiful then and impossible to keep track of now. Me, I A-shelf both 1996's The Fat Man: 25 Classic Performances and 1990's 25-track My Blue Heaven: The Best of Fats Domino because they share only 11 songs, and keep the entire 100-track Legendary Imperial Sessions on my iPod because it don't stop. Aided and spurred by bandleader-producer Dave Bartholomew, who played trumpet at this gig decades before he died at 100 in 2019, Domino's songbook was bigger if less wordly-wise than Chuck Berry's. So you don't quite need this 1986 set, recorded when Fats was 58 with a band that also included saxophone titans Lee Allen and Herbert Hardesty. But first of all it's not verbatim. The tempos are less speedy and the vocals deeper--not just because Fats is older but because his hits were mastered faster so he'd sound more like a kid. Moreover, it documents the hardest-touring of the '50s titans in a habitat every bit as natural as New Orleans itself: a nightclub. That's one reason he put down an extra set of roots in Vegas, where it took him years to learn not to gamble away his paychecks and throw in his cufflinks. So in order to support his eight kids and buy more jewelry, this shy guy stayed on the road until 1995. "Over a million records sold," brags the hype man. Make that 50 million, actually. A-

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