Little Willie John

The King Sessions

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During the period covered by this compilation, Little Willie John was moving into more orchestrated, pop-oriented material and arrangements than he'd used on his initial mid-'50s R&B hit singles for the King label. The change wasn't at all for the worse; he still put a lot of bluesy feeling into this form of blues-R&B-pop-rock & roll, getting his two biggest pop hits with "Talk to Me, Talk to Me" and "Sleep." Both of those songs are on this CD, which actually covers both sides of all dozen singles those hits bracketed, though a couple ("My Love-Is" and "Why Don't You Haul off and Love Me") are represented by previously unissued, more sparsely arranged takes without the overdubs used on the official 45 versions. While the general Little Willie John or R&B/soul fan will likely be better off with an overall best-of that draws from only the best of these sides, this is an admirably thorough (and thoroughly annotated) collection of his work in the era. And it's not all orchestrated R&B-pop by any means: he gets into a credible Little Richard bag on "Do You Love Me," pretty hot classy jump blues on "Spasms," a boppin' blues ballad on "Heartbreak (It's Hurtin' Me)," a great minor-keyed R&B groove on "I'm Shakin'," and more straightforward rock & roll on "Leave My Kitten Alone," which would be covered by the Beatles in 1964 (though it remain an unreleased studio outtake until it was issued on Anthology 1 three decades later). Some of the less familiar orchestrated tunes are good too, though some aren't as memorable; some of the poppier ones veer close to Platters territory, and "My Love-Is" is uncomfortably close to a rewrite of his earlier hit "Fever." It's also obvious from listening to this disc how influential this material in particular was on John's labelmate James Brown, who not only eventually recorded a tribute album to John, but also used a similar approach for his own more orchestrated ballads, such as "Prisoner of Love" and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World."

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
2:43
2 2:43
3 2:42
4 2:17
5 2:24
6 2:48
7 2:38
8 2:31
9 2:39
10 2:46
11 2:35
12 3:03
13 2:33
14 2:53
15 2:00
16
2:46
17 2:26
18 2:15
19 2:31
20 2:54
21 2:57
22
1:59
23 2:55
24 2:22
blue highlight denotes track pick