HANK BALLARD AND THE MIDNIGHTERS-UNWIND YOURSELF-THE KING RECORDINGS 1964-1967.

HANK BALLARD AND THE MIDNIGHTERS-UNWIND YOURSELF-THE KING RECORDINGS 1964-1967.

Hank Ballard played an important part in musical history. He was a successful singer and songwriter, whose career spanned fifty-two years. The most successful period of Hank Ballard’s career, was between 1953 and 1969, when he was the lead singer of Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. 

They were one of the pioneers of rock ’n’ roll in the early fifties and helped shape this new genre. Hank Ballard and The Midnighters also enjoyed twenty-one hit singles in the US R&B charts. This included twelve top ten singles, and a trio of number ones. The first was Work With Me Annie in 1954. Later that year, one became two when Annie Had A Baby reached number one in the US R&B charts. Six years later, Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go gave Hank Ballard and The Midnighters their third number one in the US R&B charts in 1960. However, the most successful and famous song that Hank Ballard wrote was The Twist.

When Hank Ballard and The Midnighters released The Twist in 1959, it reached number sixteen in the US R&B charts. This looked like the end of the story of The Twist.

That was until The Twist became popular on Baltimore DJ Buddy Dean’s television dance show. Buddy Dean recommended the songs to Dick Clark, the host of American Bandstand. Dick Clark tried to book Hank Ballard, but he wasn’t available. So Dick Clark began looking for a local artist to record The Twist. The artist he chose was Chubby Checker

Having recorded The Twist, Chubby Checker first sung The Twist live at the Rainbow Club in Wildwod, New Jersey in July 1960. Already the momentum was building. Then when Chubby Checker performed The Twist on American Bandstand in August 1960, the genie was out of the bottle. Soon The Twist reached number one the US Billboard 100 and two in the US R&B charts later in 1960; and in the process, launched a dance craze. Hank Ballard must have been rueing being unable to perform The Twist on American Bandstand.

To make up for this missed opportunity, King Records decided to reissue Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ version of The Twist in 1960. It reached number twenty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and sixteen in the US R&B charts. While this didn’t come close to matching Chubby Checker’s version, at least Hank Ballard and The Midnighters had enjoyed another hit single. So would Chubby Checker when he reissued The Twist in 1962.

Less than two years after Chubby Checker originally released The Twist, he rereleased his biggest hit in 1962. Not only did it reach number one in the US Billboard 100, but number four in the US R&B charts. Chubby Checker had enjoyed two number one singles with the Hank Ballard penned The Twist. Things were looking good for Chubby Checker in 1962. Meanwhile, the hits were drying up for Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. 

The last hit single that Hank Ballard and The Midnighters released, was Nothing But Good in 1961. It staled at forty-three in the US Billboard 100, but reached number nine in the US R&B charts. This was a familiar story. Although fourteen of Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ singles had charted in the US Billboard 100, only 1960s Finger Poppin’ Time and Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go reached the top ten. However, music had changed since then.

That continued to be the case, and by 1964, the British Invasion groups had arrived on American shores. Suddenly, many young Americans’ musical tastes were changing. Pop and rock were proving popular, blues, R&B and soul were no longer as popular. For Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, this was bad news. The period between 1964 and 1967 was tough for them. It’s documented on Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967, which was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. These twenty-six tracks are a mixture of singles, album tracks and unreleased tracks. Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967 is a reminder of the last few years of Hank Ballard and The Midnighters King Records years.

1964.

The first recording session that Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967 covers, took place on the 2nd of June 1964. Four songs were recorded. Three of these songs, Let’s Get The Show On The Road, Everybody Do Wrong and Knock On Wood I Feel So Good were written by Hank Ballard. Willie Hooks had penned A Winner Never Quits. Of these four songs, two would be feature on  a single, while the others would find their way onto Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ next album.

Let’s Get The Show On The Road was released on King Records in November 1964, with A Winner Never Quits on the B-Side. Despite the quality of the song, commercial success eluded Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ latest single. It had been three years since their last hit single Nothing But Good in 1961. This was a worrying time for Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. By then, they had returned to the studio.

Ten days after their last recording session, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters returned to the recording studio on 12th June 1964. They were scheduled to record another four tracks for their forthcoming album. Unlike the previous session, only one Hank Ballard composition was chosen, Somebody’s Got To Help Me. The other tracks included That’s Your Mistake, One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show and Watch What I Tell You. Once these tracks were recorded, they would become part of Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ new album Those Lazy, Lazy, Days.

When Those Lazy, Lazy, Days was released in 1965, the eight songs recorded in June 1964 were included and also feature on Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967. A surprising omission from Those Lazy, Lazy, Days was He Came Along. Especially when it became apparent that a couple of songs that had been recorded in 1962 were included. Critics remarked that the older songs  sounded slightly dated. Especially when compared to the contemporary sound of the songs that were recorded in June 1964. These songs found 

Hank Ballard and The Midnighters in good voice as they rolled back the years. Despite this, Those Lazy, Lazy, Days didn’t match the commercial success of previous albums. For Hank Ballard and The Midnighters it was back to the drawing board.

1965.

Hank Ballard and The Midnighters didn’t return to the recording studio until 18th February 1965. They prepared to record two new songs penned by Hank Ballard, Poppin’ The Whip and You, Just You. They became Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ next single.

Poppin’ The Whip was chosen as the single, and released later in 1965. Tucked away on the flip-slide was You, Just You, an impassioned, soul-baring ballad. It’s a real hidden gem from Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ back-catalogue. Sadly, history repeated itself, when Poppin’ The Whip failed to trouble the charts. Maybe things might have been very different if You, Just You had been released as a single? Still, the search went on for a hit single.

After a five month absence from the studio, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters returned on the 2nd of July 1965. This time around, they were going to record Rudy Clark compositions. Usually, Hank Ballard preferred to record his own songs. However, he was desperate for a hit, and was willing to record someone else’s songs if it resulted in that elusive hit single. So the heartfelt ballad I’m Just A Fool (And Everybody Knows) and the dance track Do It Zulu Style were recorded, and would become Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ new single. 

When Hank Ballard and The Midnighters released I’m Just A Fool (And Everybody Knows) as a single in 1965, it failed to chart. Four years had passed since their last single. It was no surprise that all wasn’t well with the Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ camp.

Later in 1965, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters split-up. However, Hank Ballard continued to release singles and albums bearing the name Hank Ballard and The Midnighters.

15th November 1965 was the first recording session that featured just Hank Ballard. He had written four new songs, and  laid down all the vocals on Sloop And Slide,Togetherness, I’m Ready, My Sun Is Going Down. They would provide Hank Ballard and The Midnighters with their next two singles.

1966.

The first of these singles Sloop And Slide, an explosive slice of R&B. It was released in January 1966, with My Sun Is Going Down on the flip-side. Stylistically, Sloop And Slide seemed to have been inspired by some of the music coming out of Stax. While it was one of soul’s most successful labels, Sloop And Slide didn’t bring commercial success the way of King Records. Neither did the followup to Sloop And Slide.

Togetherness was released as the followup single to Sloop And Slide, but failed commercially. It was a single that deserved to fare better. Hank Ballard’s lyrics to Togetherness were hopeful and full of social comment. Those that flipped over to the B-Side, discovered I’m Ready, a fusion of soul and funk that came complete with vamp. This made I’m Ready sound like a homage to another King Records’ artist James Brown. Sadly, Hank Ballard wasn’t enjoying any of the success the self-styled Godfather of Funk was enjoying.

By 19th July 1966, Hank Ballard was ready to record two new songs. Both Get That Hump In Your Back and He Came Along were Hank Ballard compositions. These two tracks were recorded on the 19th July. Since then, Get That Hump In Your Back has never been released, and makes its debut on Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967. He Came Along would be released much sooner. Before that, Hank Ballard was back in the studio three days later.

Hank Ballard was scheduled to lay down vocals on two tracks on 22nd July 1966. One of these tracks, Teardrops On Your Letter, was a Henry Glover composition which Hank Ballard and The Midnighters had recorded back in 1958. However, (Dance With Me) Annie was a new song, written by Hank Ballard. It would become Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ new single.

(Dance With Me) Annie was released later in 1966, and exploded joyously into life. Surely, this was going to bring Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ that elusive hit single. Even the B-Side He Came Along, oozed quality. It finds Hank Ballard delivering a heart-wrenching and soulful vocal. Sadly, (Dance With Me) Annie passed record buyers by, and Hank Ballard was left wondering what it would take to give Hank Ballard and The Midnighters their first single in five years?

1967.

After the commercial failure of (Dance With Me) Annie,  Hank Ballard didn’t return to the recording studio until 4th February 1967. That day, Hank recorded two songs. The first was Here Comes The Hurt, a song penned by Gordon Brisker, Ural Thomas and Bud Hobgood. He also wrote Dance Till It Hurtcha with Hank Ballard. These two songs were released as a single in 1967.

Dance Till It Hurtcha was chosen as the single. It’s a fusion funk and soul, that sounds as if it was recorded at Stax in Memphis. With a sound that was right on-trend, things were looking good for Hank Ballard. On the B-Side was the heart-wrenching ballad Here Comes The Hurt. Hank Ballard sounds as if he’s lived and survived the lyrics. They proved to prescient. 

When Dance Till It Hurtcha was released in 1967, Hank Ballard and everyone at King Records must have felt that this was the single that would get Hank Ballard and The Midnighters back on track? Sadly, it was a false dawn, and Dance Till It Hurtcha disappeared without trace. For Hank Ballard, it was a case of Here Comes The Hurt.

By then, Hank Ballard had endured six years of hurt. During that period, a hit single continued to elude him. That’s despite his best efforts. He returned to the studio on 12th July 1967 and recorded two tracks he had written with singer-songwriter Charles Spurling. They were You’re In Real Good Hands and Unwind Yourself. Once the two tracks were recorded, it was  a case of choosing which would be Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ next single.

Eventually, You’re In Real Good Hands was chosen as the single, and Unwind Yourself was relegated to the B-Side. Both tracks featured a much funkier sound. However, You’re In Real Good Hands had a tougher edge. This was a long way from Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ hit making days. Maybe this funky makeover would result in a change in fortune for Hank Ballard and The Midnighters?

By the time You’re In Real Good Hands was released, funk was growing in popularity. One of the most popular artists was James Brown, who was signed to King Records. He often produced singles released on King Records. You’re In Real Good Hands sounded not unlike a James Brown track. Despite the quality of  You’re In Real Good Hands it failed to trouble the charts in 1967. For Hank Ballard this was a huge disappointment. However, he remembered the Willie Hooks song, and told himself  A Winner Never Quits.

So when Hank Ballard returned to the studio on 7th September 1967, he was still hoping that the session might produce a hit single. Neither Which Way Should I Turn nor Funky Soul Train had been written by Hank. He was willing to record other people’s songs in the hope that this would result in a hit single.

With the two songs recorded, James Brown, Bud Hobgood, William Bowman and Troy Seals’ Which Way Should I Turn was chosen as the single. On the flip-side was James Brown and Bud Hobgood’s Funky Soul Train. When Which Way Should I Turn was released in October 1967, the single never came close to troubling the charts. It was now over six years since Hank Ballard and The Midnighters had enjoyed a hit single. 

The period between 1961 and 1967 had been the least successful period of Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ career. Before that, they enjoyed twenty-one hit singles in the US R&B charts and fourteen hits in the US Billboard 100. That’s not forgetting three hit singles. For a seven year period between 1954 and 1961, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters were one of the most successful American bands. However, nothing lasts forever.

Music began to change. Especially between 1964 and 1967 which the compilation Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967 covers. In 1964, the British Invasion groups arrived on American shores. Soon, singles and albums by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and The Animals featured on the American charts. Suddenly, soul wasn’t as popular. 

That’s apart from labels like Atlantic, Stax and Motown. Mostly, pop and rock ruled the roost. Then when the psychedelic age began in 1965, many soul groups failed to adapt. It was a case of adapt or die. The Midnighters decided to call it day. Not Hank Ballard though. 

He continued to release singles and albums as Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. Gradually, the music Hank Ballard and The Midnighters released began to change. By the end of the period that Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967 covers, Hank Ballard was no longer a soul man. Instead, his music headed in the direction of funk. This was just another side to a truly versatile and talented singer, Hank  Ballard.

This is apparent on Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967. It was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. Listener hear the different sides to Hank Ballard and The Midnighters on twenty-six tracks. They veer between heart-wrenching ballads, dance-tracks, rousing R&B and funk. These tracks are a mixture of singles, B-Sides, album tracks and even a previously unreleased track. Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967 is the most comprehensive overview of the music released by Hank Ballard and The Midnighters between 1964 and 1967. It’s also a reminder of a talented singer and songwriter, Hank Ballard.

Sadly, none of the songs on Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967 enjoyed the same commercial success as The Twist, Work With Me Annie, Annie Had A Baby, Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go and Finger Poppin’ Time. These were the most successful songs of Hank Ballard’s fifty-two year career, and even today, are all still favourites on oldies’ radio stations.  For Hank Ballard, these tracks were akin to a pension plan, and ensured that he was able to live comfortably for the rest of his life. However, there’s much more Hank Ballard than just five songs.

Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967 is proof of this. It’s a reminder of the latter years of the three decades that Hank Ballard and The Midnighters spent at King Records. Sadly, this wasn’t the most successful period of Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’ career. Still, they were still recording and releasing music that was the envy of their contemporaries. This music makes a welcome return on Unwind Yourself-The King Recordings 1964-1967, which for newcomers to Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, is the perfect introduction to their music.

HANK BALLARD AND THE MIDNIGHTERS-UNWIND YOURSELF-THE KING RECORDINGS 1964-1967.

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