Little Willie John

Fever

Song Review by

A new generation of young, gospel-trained singers invaded the R&B scene during the mid-'50s, their innovative, melismatic excursions signaling the imminent birth of soul. Diminutive Detroiter Little Willie John stood foursquare in the vanguard of the movement; there was nothing tiny about his booming voice (or his off-stage exploits, for that matter). John, the Cullendale, AR-born younger brother of singer Mable John (whose "Your Good Thing [Is About to End]" crashed the soul charts for Memphis-based Stax in 1966), signed with Syd Nathan's Cincinnati-based King Records in 1955 and immediately hit with the swinging Titus Turner-penned jump blues "All Around the World." But it was his April 1, 1956, waxing of "Fever" that won the boisterous teen an across-the-board audience. This was no boilerplate 12-bar R&B workout: written by prolific New York tunesmith Otis Blackwell (under the pseudonym of John Davenport) and Eddie Cooley (who scored his own 1956 hit with "Priscilla"), the distinctive minor-key opus sported an ominous arrangement dominated by the low-end saxes of Ray Felder and Rufus "Nose" Gore, Bill Jennings' jazzy southpaw guitar, a moaning male vocal group, and finger-snapping that only marginally lightened the mood. John's sweaty case of love-rooted "Fever" was seemingly grave, judging from his riveting intensity, yet he doesn't sound like he minds at all. "Fever" proved John's only R&B chart-topper during the summer of 1956, vaulting to number 24 on Billboard's pop lists as well. But his wasn't the only case of "Fever" to warm up the hit parade. Two years later, the sultry Miss Peggy Lee changed the lyrics dramatically by invoking all sorts of historical parables, cooling the tempo down into torchy lounge mode over only bass and bongos, and supplying the finger-snaps herself, and cracked the Top Ten for Capitol. During his initial 1960 post-Army sessions for RCA Victor, it was Elvis Presley's turn to contract "Fever," displaying allegiance to Lee's arrangement, and in 1965, the McCoys made it two major hits in a row for Bert Berns' Bang imprint by making "Fever" sound a lot like their previous smash, "Hang on Sloopy."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Fever 1956 King 2:42
No Image 1985 Charly Records 0:00
Greatest Hits 1956 1987
Various Artists
Deluxe 2:41
Golden Oldies, Vol. 7 [Original Sound 1989] 1989
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 0:00
Fever [Charly] 1990 Charly Records 2:44
Born Bad [002] 1991
Various Artists
Born Bad Records 2:39
Rhythm & Blues: 1956 1991
Various Artists
Time / Life Music
Fever: The Best of Little Willie John 1993 Rhino 2:43
The Rock 'N' Roll Era: 1956 1993
Various Artists
JCI Associated Labels 2:43
No Image 1994 Deluxe
Memories of Those Oldies But Goodies 1995 Del-Fi Records, Inc.
All 15 of His Chart Hits 1953-1962 1996 King 2:42
Greatest Hits 1996 King 2:42
The King R&B Box Set 1996
Various Artists
King 2:47
Blues Brother Soul Sister [Time Music] 1997
Various Artists
Crimson Productions
No Image 1997
Various Artists
Crimson Productions
The King's Record Collection, Vol. 2 1998
Various Artists
Hip-O 2:44
Super Hits of 1956 2000
Various Artists
King 2:44
The Golden Age of American Rock 'n' Roll, Vol. 9 2001
Various Artists
Ace 2:42
The Classic Rhythm & Blues Collection, Vol. 6: Heroes & Legends 2001
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:42
The Very Best of Little Willie John 2001 Collectables 2:42
28 Big Ones 2001 King 2:42
The Early King Sessions 2002 Ace 2:43
Best of the Best 2002 Federal Records 2:41
Home at Last 2002 Ember 2:38
The Very Best of King/Federal/Deluxe, Vol. 2 2004
Various Artists
Collectables 2:42
Good Rockin' Tonight: 25 Essential Rock & Rhythm Classics 2004
Various Artists
Varèse Sarabande / Varese 2:42
Blowing the Fuse: 30 R&B Classics That Rocked the Jukebox in 1956 2006
Various Artists
Bear Family Records / BCD 2:41
Heartbreak Hotel [Essential Gold] 2007
Various Artists
Dynamic 2:39
Hard to Find Jukebox Classics 1958: Rhythm and Rock 2009
Various Artists
Hit Parade Records 2:44
Handy Man: The Otis Blackwell Songbook 2012
Various Artists
Ace 2:43
I Like It Like That! 2012
Various Artists
Bear Family Records 2:41
The R&B No. 1s of the '50s 2013
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 2:42
Bob Dylan Cover To Cover: The Originals, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Music Melon 2:42
Jazz Dance, Vol. 1
Various Artists
Charly Records
Mojo Music Guide, Vol. 4: Blues Power
Various Artists
Mojo Music (Independent) 2:42
The Doors Jukebox: The Songs That Inspired the Band
Various Artists
Chrome Dreams / United States of Distribution 2:42
The Greatest R&B Hits of 1956, Vol. 1
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 2:42