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Fats Domino: 12 Essential Songs

From “The Fat Man” to “Blueberry Hill” and beyond, we look back at the late New Orleans hitmaker’s finest

fats domino

We look back at 12 great songs by late New Orleans hitmaker Fats Domino, including "Blueberry Hill," "Ain't That a Shame" and more.

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Few artists embodied the innocent release and ecstasy of early rock & roll like Fats Domino. He was the music’s first piano wizard and a huge influence on generations of musicians, from fellow Fifties icons like Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard to future New Orleans soul stars like Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, to rock-era piano men like Billy Joel and Elton John. “That innocence is there in his music,” Dr. John wrote in a tribute when Rolling Stone named Domino one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. “He’s a good man, and people respond to that goodness.” The effortless easy-rolling freedom of songs like “Whole Lotta Loving,” “I’m Walkin'” and “Blueberry Hill,” the ticklish intimacy of “I Want to Walk You Home” and the cool heartache of “Ain’t That a Shame” still resonate more than 60 years after they were hits. Though his chart success dried up in the 1960s, Fats Domino still sits smiling and vibrant, at the center of everything wide open and fun about American pop music. 

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“Whole Lotta Loving” (1958)

Fats needed cooling, and he wasn’t fooling. Aside from a title that would be cribbed a decade later by a certain British hard-rock act, this Domino-penned nugget offers pure hand-clappy joy, plus kissy noises in the chorus. It sounds effortless, which it apparently was: A New Orleans newspaper reporter happened to watch Domino and his band, led by longtime collaborator Dave Bartholomew, record “Whole Lotta Loving” over six quick takes one November day. “When things go right,” Domino said immediately afterwards, “I can make records all day.”

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“I Want to Walk You Home” (1959)

Domino – like Buddy Holly – was the rock originator who knew how to pour some sugar on his rhythmic fire. The innocence and devotion of this song, a piano stroll about taking a stroll that went to Number Eight, is absolutely overwhelming. How devoted is the singer? He doesn’t just want to walk the song’s subject home, he hopes he can keep walking her right down the aisle. At the one-minute mark Fats makes his plea so simply and universally, it’s impossible to deny: “I want to hold your hand.” Across the Atlantic, Lennon and McCartney were taking notes. 

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“Walking to New Orleans” (1960)

Louisiana songwriter Bobby Charles grew up in Abbeville, Louisiana, and worshipped Fats Domino from the first time he heard one of his songs as a teenager. According to a possibly apocryphal story Charles liked to tell, he met Domino when he came to town and the pianist invited him to New Orleans. Charles told him he had no way of getting there since he didn’t have a car. “Well,” Domino supposedly sad, “you’d better start walking.” From that kernel, Charles wrote “Walking to New Orleans” in just about 15 minutes. Dave Bartholomew added a lush string section when Domino put it down on tape, helping turn it into a huge hit. It’s been covered many times over the years, but the most emotional rendition was performed by Neil Young in 2005 at the React Now benefit for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. 

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“Jambalaya” (1961)

This Hank Williams song had become an instant standard – after Williams took it to Number One in 1952, Jo Stafford quickly followed with a sappy pop version that made it to Number Three. Jerry Lee Lewis subjected it to a whole lot of shaking in 1956, but it wasn’t until Fats took hold of it in November of 1961 that anyone actually connected to New Orleans had a go. In his hands it goes from a novelty song to a fully felt description of a life well lived – you could say Fats Domino’s entire career had been dedicated to big fun on the bayou. Over a horn section that swells and kicks, Fats lays down a steady-rolling rhythm that clears space for one of his most relaxed vocals, near to crooning. A B side to “I Hear You Knocking,” his cover went to Number 30. The following year came Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, but Fats was there first.

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