This disc compiles some of King’s A-sides for both the RPM and Kent labels throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s.
“She’s Dynamite” is a strong, strident song that is basically R and B. I don’t know the original version but this is gritty and aggressive and surprising it wasn’t a hit.
“3 O’Clock Blues” is a slow blues and much more in line what I was expecting from BB, featuring lots of his signature fills. It’s easy to understand why it made him a bit of a star. This is apparently the first time he’d soloed like this on record.
“Fine Lookin’ Woman” is upbeat and features King’s signature playing, though it’s kind of drowned out by the piano at times. There’s a gritty saxophone solo that I quite like.
“You Know I Love You” is practically a dirge of a blues ballad, showing off his vocal range, rather than his playing. He’s a strong balladeer, certainly much stronger than most blues singers, which is likely why he’s endured so long and is so famous. Not my favourite thing.
“Boogie Woogie Woman” features some strong boogie woogie piano, as you would expect. This is R and B more than straight blues and again the emphasis feels like it’s more on the band than on King himself. I guess he had yet to find his niche.
“Story From My Heart and Soul” is a slow blues with King showing off his strength as as singer. It’s particularly R and B in the bridge and is another song that is more about BB the balladeer than BB the blues guitarist (absent here).
“Woke Up This Morning” is a solid blues with a bit of a Latin vibe; to my knowledge a pretty early example of this kind of thing (my knowledge being very limited here). It’s a cool track, with a time change in it and everything. Excellent stuff.
Now “Please Love Me” is what I’m talking about. This is the kind of blues I thought I’d be listening to when I picked up a BB King compilation. Now part of his appeal is his range, but this track shows he can play straight up electric blues with horns just about as well as anyone else.
“Please Hurry Home” is a strong fusion of blues and R and B, with a blues intro but more R and B in the verses and back to the blues in the choruses (though still with that R and B bounce). Good stuff.
“When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer” is a slow blues featuring lots of playing from King, showing off his famous style. Good stuff.
“You Upset Me Baby” is an upbeat sort of “jump” blues type thing (I think it’s jump). Again there is lots of precise playing from King and this year feels like a bit of a banner year for establishing his signature style.
“Whole Lotta Love” has a classic blues beginning much like “Please Love Me” and lots of strong playing from BB. Though this is not the song you think it is (that’s the Willie Dixon one), it’s a pretty great one.
“Sneakin’ Around” is a slow blues with that kind of swooning horn section famous in the 50s. It’s got vaguely doo wop vocals to balance his ballad-singing and it’s clearly an attempt at a crossover.
“Every Day I Have the Blues” features lots of fills from BB and feels like a signature track.
“Ten Long Years” is a powerful slow blues, one of his most effective, showing off his vocal skills and his guitar skills at the same time, which feels rare for his ’50s singles, which usually focused on one to the detriment of the other.
“Crying Won’t Help You” is a solid uptempo blues featuring plenty of fills and some vocal acrobatics.
“Did You Ever Love a Woman” is a slower blues, with BB singing in a slightly more traditional style than he often does. But it works quite well and I almost prefer this to some of his more “modern” (or commercial) variations on the style.
“Dark is the Night Part 1” is a really uptempo blues that combines a pretty prominent horn section (more than prominent than most of his blues tracks) with prominent playing from BB. It feels like they’ve finally figured out to market him, always promoting the playing now.
“Dark is the Night Part 2” is just a nearly instrumental version of “Part 1” released again for some unknown reason.
“Sweet Little Angel” is a really slow blues that shows that BB’s tone has improved leaps and bounds since his early days. Maybe the recording technology improved, or maybe he wasn’t using Lucille before, but it’s kind of shocking. This song has been sooo influential on so many players, I would think.
“Bad Luck” a bit of a regression in terms of the gorgeous tone found on “Sweet Little Angel,” this feels like it was recorded earlier (or on a different instrument) than that classic track. Still pretty classic BB, but it pales in comparison given that it was released later.
“Troubles, Troubles, Troubles” begins with a really contemporary sounding horn section for its time. The tone is solid and there’s a cool jazz trumpet in the background, which feels novel.
“I Wonder” is one of those deep slow blues which so suggest soul. (I mean, it kind of is.) It’s got a swooning horn section as a backing.
“Please Accept My Love” is a weird R and B and blues fusion the features King’s playing blues fills but with vocals that belong in soul or pop. It’s a weird fusion that doesn’t quite hold as well as one might think.
“Mean Old Frisco” is a super up-tempo blues with a really long instrumental beginning and just a great saxophone solo in the middle.
Hearing “Sweet Sixteen Parts 1 and 2” after the barrage of other, non-traditional blues tracks on this collection is such a refreshing reminder that King is a blues musician. This is a traditional electric blues, but King owns it and his playing is stellar. This long track took up two sides of the single which is super cool. The best thing here.
“Got a Right to Love My Baby” is a pretty standard paced blues with a strong horn section and a rare (for this collection) King guitar solo in the middle. It’s good stuff.
“Rock Me Baby” begins with a piano guitar dual riff that is rather unique is his catalogue. I have heard this song in other versions but this one feels pretty strong – it’s a little slower and has a little more of a classic blues feel than some of the later versions. The playing is relatively gritty for BB.
“Beautician Blues” is a pretty solid up-tempo blues with a strong solo from BB in the middle.
“Blue Shadows” features some excellent playing from BB. Though it’s hardly forward-thinking stuff, it is really a quality performance.
King’s version of “Eyesight to the Blind” is a strong performance, particularly vocally. But that horn section is too much for me.
This collection shows me a side of King I was completely unaware of, namely his rather insane diversity early on in his career. It’s a hard thing to square, given his reputation within popular culture at this point, as being the preeminent blues man, and it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. But this is good stuff, showing off his willingness to try different things and really showing off his vocal talent. Not for blues purists though, I think.