Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B (36202)

“I ain’t had no baby, don’t want no baby, don’t need no baby. And I don’t know why they told that lie…”

– Hazel McCollum, “Annie’s Answer” (Vee-Jay Records, 1954)

Among the memories that came rushing to my mind in the wake of the recent deaths of Etta James, Don Cornelius and Whitney Houston is the titanic talent of so many trendsetting Black singers and musicians of the 1950s and ’60s. Indeed, countless numbers have entertained, enchanted and inspired us to the present day.

These performers provided a unique approach to music in general and original Black rhythm and blues in particular. One of the best loved were “answer records” during their 1953-1963 golden era. I revel in the fact that I was around to enjoy these innovative sounds.

An example was James’ “Roll With Me Henry” with the Peaches on Modern Records in 1954. This answered the suggestive “Work With Me Annie” written by Hank Ballard with his Midnighters–initially the Royals–on the Federal label.

However, the most authentic answer to “Work With Me Annie” was “Annie Had a Baby,” which began the trend in 1954. Also waxed by Ballard, it was a gas. To wit:

“Annie had a baby, can’t work no more. Every time we got to workin’, she has to stop and walk the baby across the floor. She has to walk with the baby, instead of me; talk to the baby, instead of me; sing to the baby, instead of me; cling to the baby, instead of me. Annie please don’t tease, give me all my meat. Now I know Annie understood, that’s what happens when the gettin’ gets good.”

This tune by Ballard–who made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990–is king of the answer record genre. It spawned 11 answers by nine different artists from 1954-1965. Ballard made one more with the Midnighters in 1954: “Annie’s Aunt Fannie.”

Others that year include “Annie’s Answer” by Hazel McCollum and the sensational El Dorados on Vee-Jay; “I’m the Father of the Baby,” Danny Taylor on Bruce; “My Name Ain’t Annie,” Linda Hayes on King; “Mama Took the Baby,” Lena Gordon and the Sax Kari Orchestra on Checker; “Annie Pulled a Hum-Bug,” Midnights on Music City; and “Annie Kicked the Bucket,” the Nu-Tones on Hollywood Star.

The “Annie” craze continued in 1955 with the Midnighters’ “Henry’s Got Flat Feet” on Federal; “Hey, Henry,” Etta James and the Peaches on Modern; and “Annie Met Henry,” the Champions on Chart. Finally, in 1965, there was “Annie Don’t Love Me No More” by the Hollywood Flames on Symbol.

Of note, the Midnighters’ 1959 version of “The Twist” on King–which hit big in urban Black communities–was not the initial recording of the tune written by Ballard. It was first done by the Spaniels on Vee-Jay but was deemed too sexy and wasn’t released.

“The Twist” was covered by Chubby Checker in 1960 on the Parkway label and became a crossover smash with white record buyers. Over the next few years, Checker followed this success on Parkway and MCA with “Let’s Twist Again” and “Twistin’ U.S.A.” (1961); “Slow Twisting” with Dee Dee Sharp (1962); and “Twist it Up” (1963).

As to the legendary Spaniels, their 1958 hit “Everyone’s Laughing” on Vee-Jay was answered that year by the Jesters’ “I Laughed” on Cyclone. Four years earlier, the Spaniels’ surging “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight” was covered by eight other artists.

Getting back to the “Annie” records, one of the things that made them so popular and successful was the Midnighters’ clearly sexual lyrics. To wit: “Work with me Annie, don’t be sane; work with me Annie, call my name. Work with me Annie, let’s get it while the gettin’ is good. Annie please don’t cheat, give me all my meat. Work with me Annie, let’s get it while the gettin’ is good, so good, so good.”

And there was Ballard’s “Sexy Ways” in 1954: “Move, baby, move, move, I just love this carryin’ on. Move baby, move, move, ’cause your Mama and Daddy is gone. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle till your hips get tired and weak. Oooo, wiggle baby, wiggle, wiggle till you fall out on your feet. On the wall, in the hall, I just love your sexy ways.”

Others with suggestive lyrics in 1953 prior to the “Annie” records include the Clovers and Ruth Brown on Atlantic and the Spaniels on Vee-Jay. First, two by the Clovers:

“Comin’ On”: “My love’s as deep as the ocean, endless as a canyon, I’m the latest addition to the Woman’s Home Companion. Comin’ on, comin’ on, I feel that mood comin’ on. ‘Cause I’m just a natural lover, and you can make this my happy day.”

“Good Lovin’”: “Chills me, thrills me, good lovin’. Almost kills me, good lovin’. Hollerin’ and clangin,’ good lovin’. Don’t mind dyin,’ good lovin’. Your good lovin’ satisfies my mind.”

“Daddy, Daddy” (Ruth Brown): “Daddy, daddy, daddy, love me strong. I don’t mind it if it’s all night, daddy. Daddy, daddy, daddy, right or wrong… Hold me in the mornin’. Hold me every night. Thrill me, daddy, thrill me, till I scream with all my might. Oooo, a long, long time.”

“Housecleaning” (Spaniels, with Gerald Gregory’s bass lead): “Just call Gerald, just call for Gerald, yes, call me at Central 69. I raise up all your curtains and give your house some class. I’ll guarantee satisfaction, baby, my work is known from town to town.”

Those who weren’t around to hear this great stuff really don’t know what they missed. Original Black R&B was–and still is–where it’s at. And that’s the name of that tune.