This exemplary collection of rhythm & blues and proto-rock & roll songs does a nice job of showcasing the incredibly deep roster of Aladdin Records, an independent West Coast label notable for being among the first to document the emerging new sounds of post-World War II America. Unlike the earthier music that was emerging from Sun Studios in Memphis and other places in the South, this Los Angeles-based company featured artists who, for the most part, displayed a more sophisticated style that was influenced by jump blues, jazz, and big band music of the preceding years. That's not to imply that these selections don't rock - because they do - but there is just as much emphasis on the roll.
Things start off with Helen Humes' "Be-Baba-Leba," which sounds quite ahead of its time for 1945. Indeed, Big Joe Turner, another one-time Aladdin artist, was clearly influenced by this number when he recorded "Feelin' Happy" in 1950 as it also contains the "Oh well, oh well, I feel so fine today" refrain. This performance, in turn, would help inspire Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA." The oft-covered "Let the Good Times Roll" still sounds best in its original version by Shirley and Lee, which was recorded at Cosimo Matassa's studio in New Orleans, Aladdin's major outpost in the South. Yeah, you've heard this song hundreds of times before, but check out the definitive embryonic version of this early rock & roll standard. Their "Feel So Good" is its artistic equal and contains many of the same winning attributes. Peppermint Harris gave the label one of its early #1 R&B hits in 1951 with "I Got Loaded," distinguished by his smooth vocals and the sublime piano accompaniment.
Louis Jordan was already an established recording star by the time he signed with Aladdin and keeps up his penchant for humorous songs with the wonderfully-titled "Messy Bessy." While Peppermint Harris was getting loaded, Amos Milburn was imbibing "Bad Bad Whiskey." Maybe the booze wasn't good, but his understated piano and the beautiful complementary work of his guitarist are simply outstanding. "Chicken Shack Boogie" is another one of those songs that sounds ahead of its time for the year of its release (1947) and is just on the verge of being rock & roll. The drinking continues with The Five Keys' "I'm So High," which in my estimation is about as good as doo-wop gets. Remember, that in the vernacular of the time, "high" and "drunk" were synonymous.
Big "T" Tyler's "King Kong" is a fine novelty rock number with an infectious beat, rollicking piano, and mean honking sax. If Thurston Harris' "Little Bitty Pretty One" sounds familiar, it may be because you've heard the Jackson 5's version. As good of a cover as it is, it doesn't hold a candle to the original. Speaking of covers, his "Hey Baba Leba" picks up where Helen Humes left off 13 years earlier. Gene and Eunice, a couple in the studio and in real life, contribute with the Latin-tinged "Ko Ko Mo" and the weepy "This Is My Story." After having some success with Specialty in the early 1950s, Marvin and Johnny moved over to Aladdin and cut eight sides, with "Yak Yak" arguably their greatest.
1. Be-Baba-Leba - Helen Humes
2. Let the Good Times Roll - Shirley and Lee
3. I Got Loaded - Peppermint Harris
4. Messy Bessy - Louis Jordan
5. Bad Bad Whiskey - Amos Milburn
6. I'm So High - The Five Keys
7. King Kong - Big "T" Tyler
8. Little Bitty Pretty One - Thurston Harris
9. Ko Ko Mo - Gene and Eunice
10. Chicken Shack Boogie - Amos Milburn
11. Feel So Good - Shirley and Lee
12. Yak Yak - Marvin and Johnny
13. This Is My Story - Gene and Eunice
14. Hey Baba Leba (Be-Baba-Leba) - Thurston Harris