Title: Nothing But Good 1952-1962
Artist: Hank Ballard and the Midnighters
Label: Bear Family (Germany)
Format: 5 CD box set with hardcover book inserted
Catalog No.: 978-3-89916-422-0
Release Date: April 7, 2009
Bear Family Records has done the popular music world a huge service by issuing this five CD box set, Nothing But Good: the King/Federal Labels, 1952-1962, accompanied by a colorfully illustrated 83-page oversized book authored by Bill Dahl. The CDs contain the recordings of the band known variously as the Royals, the Midnighters, and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, starting with 1953’s “I’m so Blue” and ending with 1962’s “Bring Me Your Love.” The music itself is infectious, reproduced with splendid production values (a Bear Family hallmark), and the package includes alternate takes and previously unreleased tracks.
Significantly, the songs are all ones on which Ballard, not an original Royal, sang lead. In the early going the members shared vocal duties more evenly, but Ballard’s clear, strong voice; faultless phrasing; and songwriting prowess made him the star of the act. As Dahl notes, the Midnighters “were the first Detroit R&B group to transcend their local standing to really make it big on a national basis, and Ballard was their chief source of material.” And as a contemporary of the Midnighters told Dahl, “The Midnighters were the Temptations before the Temptations in Detroit.” [p. 3]
Hank Ballard is probably most often remembered for his role in two incredible pop music phenomena. In 1954 he and the Midnighters recorded a string of records that, despite a near-total lack of mainstream radio airplay, sold in the millions. These were the “Annie” songs: “Work With Me Annie,” “Annie Had a Baby,” “Annie’s Aunt Fannie,” and the thematically linked “Sexy Ways.” Then, in 1958, the Ballard-penned “The Twist” launched a dance craze that lasted a few years (odd for a teen dance craze), transformed how people danced to up-tempo pop music, and inspired dozens of Twist songs by acts as diverse as the Isley Brothers (“Twist and Shout,” “Twistin’ with Linda”), Sam Cooke (“Twistin’ the Night Away”), and Joey Dee and the Starlighters (“The Peppermint Twist”).