Bear Family Records' "Eat to the Beat" compilation is likely to amuse most pop fans old enough to attend R-rated movies, and the album's subtitle tells you why: "The Dirtiest of Them Dirty Blues."
You can get further clues to the album's decidedly adult content from the titles of two earlier CDs devoted to the same theme, "Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts and Lollypops" (a 20-track album released by Columbia/Legacy in 1991) and "Risque Rhythm: Nasty 50s R&B;" (an 18-song disc from Rhino Records the same year).
The Bear Family package, which features tracks by such celebrated artists as Dinah Washington, Jackie Wilson and LaVern Baker, is much superior to the previous collections, both in number of tunes and in packaging. The album's 92-page booklet contains lyrics, artist photos and histories of each of the 28 tunes.
The CD would certainly brighten a New Year's Eve party -- but only if you are sure you know the sensitivity level of everyone on hand.
"Eat to the Beat: The Dirtiest
of Them Dirty Blues"
The back story: Think of these songs, mostly recorded in the '40s and '50s by indie R&B; and blues labels, as the pop equivalent of the film world's "Forbidden Hollywood," the term given to sexually provocative films released before the Motion Picture Production Code went into effect in 1934.
In the years just after World War II, R&B; record companies relied heavily on jukebox sales, and most of the records on this disc were aimed for jukebox trade, meaning the artists didn't have to tone down the lyrics to get radio airplay.
Still, eyebrows were often raised. In reviewing Julie Lee & Her Boyfriends' "Don't Come Too Soon," Billboard magazine warned, "Lyric is certainly too blue for airing and juke ops with finicky locations should listen carefully before installing this one."
If you listen casually to the record, Lee seems to be just telling her date not to stop by for her too early. But you don't have to listen all that "carefully" to notice that there's a more intriguing subtext at work.
While that record never made the national R&B; charts, Dinah Washington's far more outrageous "Long John Blues" not only made the Top 5 in 1940, but it also remained part of the marvelous singer's repertoire for years.
The song is supposedly about a dentist who is over 7 feet tall, but you get the sense the dentist-patient relationship is more than an occasional crown.
Another clever novelty is "Weddin' Day Blues," recorded in 1947 by Cousin Joe with Pete Brown's Brooklyn Blue Blowers. The Savoy recording starts off with a couple eager to start their honeymoon and their frustrations of working with a photographer to get the right shot for their memory book.
But the photographer angle doesn't pop up until the final line, leaving you to rethink what was going on earlier as Cousin Joe sings:
We tried it on the front porch
We tried it in the hall
We tried it in the dinin' room
We even backed against a wall.
Two of the album tracks -- Billy Ward & the Dominoes' "Sixty Minute Man" and the Royals' "Work With Me Annie" -- were huge R&B; hits and are now viewed as celebrated moments in the evolution of rock 'n' roll. Moose Jackson's "Big Ten Inch Record" is also an R&B; classic, and the song was popularized in the rock world by Aerosmith.
But the most talked about number on "Eat to the Beat" may well be an X-rated version of "Think Twice" recorded by Jackie Wilson and LaVern Baker after they cut a "clean" version of the song in 1965. The regular version was a modest hit, while the "X" version became an underground wonder.
The import album was produced by Dave Booth, who also was the chief force behind "Blowing the Fuse," the excellent R&B; series released earlier this year by Germany's Bear Family Records. Information about "Eat to the Beat" can be obtained through www.bear-family.de or www.ccmusic.com.
Further listening: For anyone who wants more of this novelty R&B;, the next stop should be "Raunchy Business," because none of the tracks is repeated on "Eat to the Beat." "Risque Rhythm" is also fun, but it contains eight of the "Beat" songs.
"A Fine Time! The South Side of Soul Street"
There's one track (Gable Reed's suggestive "Who's Been Warming My Oven") on this salute to a little-known '60s soul label (Minaret) that would have been right at home on "Eat to the Beat," but the real reason to check out this 18-song disc is the potency of the music. The songs themselves aren't always top level, but the vocals and arrangements have much of the toughness and grit of the music from such other Southern soul labels as Stax/Volt and Fame. In fact, Minaret booked sessions at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., before setting up shop in Valparaiso, Fla. The standout track is Doris Allen's anxious "A Shell of a Woman." The label, largely guided by Finley Duncan, may not have had much commercial success, but it has a good home. It's now part of Shelby Singleton's Nashville holdings, along with Sun Records.
Backtracking, a biweekly feature, highlights CD reissues with special attention to artists or albums deserving greater attention than they received originally.