A Crying Shame

Woman crying.

The common bit of schoolyard wisdom that “ain’t ain’t in the dictionary,” turns out to be untrue. Every dictionary that I have ever looked in contained an entry for ain’t. Although widely disapproved as nonstandard and more common in the habitual speech of the less educated, ain’t in the sense of “am not” or “are not” has flourished in American English and evidence shows that British usage to be much the same as American.

Ain’t is also used for metrical reasons in popular songs such as Ain’t She Sweet, It Ain’t Necessarily So, and, of course, for the 1955 song by Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew, Ain’t That A Shame.

The recording (Ain’t It a Shame) was a hit for Domino, eventually selling a million copies. It reached #1 on the “Black Singles” chart and #10 on the “Pop Singles” chart. The song is ranked #438 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Antoine "Fats" Domino

Antoine “Fats” Domino

Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. is the Louisiana Creole French name for the fat man whose honey voice, Creole inflection, rock-steady piano triplets, basic boogie blues and love songs endeared him to the world in the 1950s, as New Orleans rhythm and blues flowed into the mainstream of American pop music. The quasi-biographical song The Fat Man was recorded in 1949 and like many of Domino’s songs, it was co-written by the man Domino came to count on as a producer and arranger, Dave Bartholomew. Domino finally crossed into the pop mainstream with Ain’t That A Shame in 1955, which hit the Top Ten, though Pat Boone characteristically hit Number One with a milder cover of the song that received wider radio airplay in a racially-segregated era. Domino eventually had thirty-seven Top Forty singles.

Fats Domino and his producer/collaborator Dave Bartholomew pioneered the big beat of rock with Ain’t That a Shame. (Domino’s original single bore the title Ain’t It a Shame.) According to legend, Pat Boone suggested the title and lyrics be altered to Isn’t That A Shame to make his whitewashed cover version more appealing to a broader audience but was dissuaded by his producers. Despite his suggestion being rejected, Boone had his first Billboard number-one single in 1955. Thanks to Pat Boone, this was the first song to crossover from the R&B charts to the mostly white pop charts of the day.

Regardless of what it was called, the public preferred Fats Domino’s New Orleans-flavored original and made it a Top Ten hit. Domino’s version soon became more popular, bringing Domino’s music to the mass market a half dozen years after his first major recording, The Fat Man. Bartholomew, who initially had his doubts about the song, warmed up to the simplicity of Domino’s lyric: “Ain’t That A Shame will never die,” he said. “It will be here when the world comes to an end.”

This was Fats Domino’s first hit song that had not been recorded in New Orleans where he lived. He recorded it in a Hollywood studio when he was on tour in Los Angeles. His recording company at the time, Imperial Records, had its engineers compress Domino’s vocals and speed up the song a bit to make the song sound less bluesy and give it more mainstream appeal. This engineering strategy made it more difficult for other artists to cover the song. Fear of imitation was quite legitimate in those days in the early 1950s, as many R&B artists had their songs covered by white pop performers whose versions were often more palatable to their white mainstream public.

This is a heartache song about a breakup that was the other partner’s fault. Although these lyrics reflect the sorrows of a jilted lover, they also capture an important older concept that has relevance for today, namely, the dynamics of shame. This enduring hit showcases Domino’s powerful blues piano and stop-time, swamp-pop texture with an abundance of saxophones, plus his warm Creole-accented voice telling the simple but sincere story of romance found and lost. In 1960, Domino recorded a sequel to Ain’t That A Shame called Walking To New Orleans, in which he goes back to his hometown. (I have included this sequel)

THE LYRICS
Ain’t That A Shame
Words by Fats Domino
Music by Dave Bartholomew

You made me cry, when you said goodbye
Ain’t that a shame
My tears fell like rain
Ain’t that a shame
You’re the one to blame

You broke my heart, when you said we’re apart
Ain’t that a shame
My tears fell like rain
Ain’t that a shame
You’re the one to blame

Oh well, goodbye although I’ll
Ain’t that a shame
My tears fell like rain
Ain’t that a shame
You’re the one to blame

You made me cry when you said goodbye
Ain’t that a shame
My tears fell like rain
Ain’t that a shame
You’re the one to blame

Oh well, goodbye although I cry
Ain’t that a shame
My tears fell like rain
Ain’t that a shame
You’re the one to blame

THE RECORDINGS
Fats Domino
Pat Boone
Fats Domino I’m Walking To New Orleans

2 Comments

Filed under Pop Music

2 responses to “A Crying Shame

  1. Now you are gettin it. Love it.

  2. Pingback: Fats Domino – Ain’t That A Shame | mostly music

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