DeepSoul Salutes Fats Domino: "Blue Monday"

Our salute to the R&B pioneer continues with a 1956 classic first introduced in a seminal rock film.
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Rolling Stone calls it the "working man's blues," and "Blue Monday" does demonstrate rock's indebtedness to the genre.  While Fats Domino did not write the track--he was not even the first to record it--he transformed the song into a memorable blend of rock, blues, country, and New Orleans jazz.  What results is a track addressing a subject with which most listeners can relate, along with a dose of good-natured naughtiness.

Domino's longtime collaborator Dave Bartholomew originally penned "Blue Monday" for New Orleans R&B singer/guitarist Smiley Lewis.  Released as a single in 1954, this version prominently features rhythm guitars, horns, and a blistering guitar solo courtesy of Lewis.  It radiates a bluesier, raw feel, a grittiness otherwise couched in traditional New Orleans swagger.  Buddy Holly tried his hand at the track, but no one had a bigger hit with "Blue Monday" than Domino.  He essentially stayed true to the original arrangement, but predominantly featured his piano and charmingly enthusiastic vocals.  

In 1956, a revolutionary movie debuted: The Girl Can't Help It, a musical comedy starring sex symbol Jayne Mansfield.  Today the film is remembered less for Mansfield and more for its unabashed celebration of early rock.  Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and Domino made cameo appearances, attracting teenage audiences.  Future stars such as Paul McCartney and John Lennon cited the film as a major influence on their music, and Domino's filmed performance of "Blue Monday" proved to be an inspiration. The song was released as a single in December 1956, and by 1957 the success of "Blue Monday" further cemented Domino's prowess as a crossover artist.

Surveying Billboard's top records of 1957, it is evident how Domino stood out from other artists of the time.  While "safer" artists such as Pat Boone, Perry Como, Debbie Reynolds, Andy Williams, and Patty Page still inhabited the charts, rock and roll began making inroads.  Unlike Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, however, R&B artists often found it difficult to crack the top 40 as well as the soul charts.  Domino proved the rare exception to the rule, however, as he scored an impressive four hits that year: "I'm Walkin'," "Blueberry Hill," "Valley of Tears," and "Blue Monday."  

Over a New Orleans strut, Domino bemoans the working week.  "Blue Monday, how I hate Blue Monday / Got to work like a slave all day," he sings.  He lists every day as worse than the next, revealing the bluesy underpinnings of the track "Here come Tuesday, oh hard Tuesday / I'm so tired got no time to play," he wails.  The climax of the song occurs, naturally, when Saturday arrives; "all my tiredness has gone away," Domino declares, and with a smile in his voice, announces that he's "got my money and my honey / And I'm out on the stand to play."  Clearly, he is in for a wild night, as the next day his head aches.  "But it's worth it for the time I had," Domino sings.  The last two lines suggest that the cycle will resume Monday, as the narrator will work his way to weekend escapes.  "But I've got to get my rest / 'Cause Monday is a mess," he concludes.

The danceable beat, Domino's easygoing delivery, and the rhythmic piano drive the irresistible "Blue Monday" (despite a rather unimpressive saxophone solo during the instrumental break).  In addition, the highly relatable lyrics appeal to anyone longing to break free from their mundane jobs.  This gentle, inoffensive kind of rebellion permeates Domino's music and, in turn, typifies early rock and roll.