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Fats Domino's 10 Best Songs: Critic's Picks
While Chuck Berry and Little Richard brought edge to rock n' roll, Fats Domino was every bit as influential in the creation of the world-changing genre – and he got there well before they did. Combining exuberant instrumentation with lovelorn lyrics and an impossibly charming attitude, Fats Domino (frequently in association with songwriting partner Dave Bartholomew) delivered some of R&B and rock's finest recordings.
Here are Fats Domino's 10 best songs from his substantial catalog of hits.
10. Fats Domino – "Blue Monday"
No, it doesn't have anything to do with New Order, but it has everything to do with the Garfieldian view of the first day of the working week. "Blue Monday how I hate Blue Monday / got to work like a slave all day," Domino moans, and the hammering, repetitive piano chords seem to echo his malaise.
9. Fats Domino – "Blueberry Hill"
So distinct was Fats Domino's touch in the '50s that when he turned out a version of the already well-covered 1940 tune "Blueberry Hill," he pretty much erased all memory of previous ones from the public's mind, imbuing the song with his easy-going, down home charm and twinkling piano work.
8. Fats Domino – "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)"
New Orleans played a central role in Fats Domino's sound, and Fats Domino's sound played a central role in New Orleans. So it was inevitable that at some point, the Fat Man would have to record a song about NOLA's most famous culinary export (sorry, gumbo, you're a close second). Unlike a number of his biggest hits, this upbeat number also finds Fats sounding like he's having a great time. There's no loneliness or heartbreak here, just a fervent celebration of the food and attitude of his hometown.
7. Fats Domino – "Whole Lotta Lovin'"
In just one minute and forty seconds, Fats Domino delivers one of his most rollicking and playful numbers, complete with handclaps and kissy noises to demonstrate just how much loving he's got in store for his sweetheart. The buoyant beat and jumpy piano make this one of his most pleasurable listens, even if it's not quite as celebrated as some of his other classics.
6. Fats Domino – "I'm In Love Again"
The A-side was the wonderful "My Blue Heaven," but "I'm In Love Again" stands as the more memorable tune. A vibrant, propulsive love song that's sweet, funny and a little bit sad, it's everything Fats Domino excelled at – and all within the space of two minutes.
5. Fats Domino – "I'm Gonna Be a Wheel Someday"
Early rock n' roll records were a melting pot of (at the time) undervalued genres, from rhythm and blues to boogie-woogie to jump blues to country to rockabilly. While Fats veered toward New Orleans R&B, songs like "I'm Gonna Be a Wheel Someday" show his willingness to incorporate a guitar tone and style of playing you were more likely to hear out of Memphis than NOLA. The genre-blurring song is Fats at his shuffling, bouncy best.
4. Fats Domino – "I'm Walkin'"
Love and loneliness are key themes for Fats Domino, and he's at his best when pairing a forlorn lyric with upbeat music. "I'm Walkin'" is one of his finest entries in that category: the shuffling beat, the frisky guitar line and exuberant horn give a sense of optimism to what could otherwise be a dreary, depressing tale of romantic emptiness.
3. Fats Domino – "I Want to Walk You Home"
Rock n' roll was strictly the domain of teenagers in the '50s, so naturally a number of songs were about puppy love and schoolyard crushes. "I Want to Walk You Home" is Domino's entry in that nascent field, an endearingly gentle invitation to hold hands and get to know each other. Yes, it's pretty G-rated stuff, and unlike similar songs from Chuck Berry, there's no PG-13 subtext. But that's part of what made Fats Domino so appealing – his unabashed sweetness was ever present, and rarely did it dip into saccharine territory.
2. Fats Domino – "The Fat Man"
If you're talking contenders for "first rock n' roll song," look no further than Fats Domino's breakout hit "The Fat Man." Recorded in 1949 – years before Chuck Berry and Little Richard debuted – this song shows New Orleans rhythm and blues morphing into a swaggering, stomping genre with a sturdy back beat previously unheard in recorded music. There's also a playfulness to the recording that characterized Domino's contribution to early rock – his fingers fly across the ivories mischievously, and when he starts singing in a wah-wah falsetto as if imitating a trumpet, it's clear no one was having more fun behind the mic than Fats back in the day.
1. Fats Domino – "Ain't That a Shame"
Not just Fats Domino's best song, but one of the greatest achievements in all rock n' roll. The lyrics are blunt, effective poetry – "you made me cry / when you said goodbye / ain't that a shame / my tears fell like rain" – that would influence generations of songwriters to express heartbreak in minimalist terms. The music is similarly direct, with horns punching out from the speakers on the chorus and Fats pounding his piano chords while a relentless drum beat thuds during the verses. It's somehow sad, swaggering and resilient all at the same time.