Ricky Nelson gets more chicks than you. All ethnicities, even (except Africans). He collects them as if they were so many stamps – a 1 centavo from Mexico, a 5 pfennig from Deutschland, licked once before being pasted in a philatelist’s notebook and left on the shelf. It’s abhorrent behavior, traveling around the world for the express purpose of making girls fall in love with you before shipping off to the next port. Ricky offers no apologies either – just a simple shrug, “I’m a travelin’ man,” my only love is the open road and my only lady is the sea. But somehow, Ricky has a way of making you feel sorry for him. The way he sings it, it’s not a boast but a lament. He’s condemned to spend his days dragged from one port to the next by his incessant wanderlust, the vast stretches of loneliness broken only by the rare comfort of another human being (who may or may not speak English, but who is at least pretty). Just as Ricky came out the victim of “Poor Little Fool,” despite his caddish ways, here too he spins the situation in his favor and demonstrates just how he charmed all those girls before breaking their hearts. It’s the singer not the song pulling the weight, but unfortunately even Ricky’s charisma can’t elevate it above mediocrity. 5
Hit #1 on May 29, 1961 for 1 week; repeaked on June 12, 1961 for 1 week; total of 2 weeks at #1
51 of 969 #1′s reviewed; 5.26% through the Hot 100
How to defend a song that’s essentially an extended mother-in-law joke? It helps if the lyrics are actually pretty clever: ”She thinks her advice is the Constitution,” grumbles K-Doe, ”but if she would leave, that would be the solution.” ”Mother-in-Law” was the first major success by R&B legend Allen Toussaint, and if you go by chart rankings (as we do here), it was also his biggest hit. But Toussaint wasn’t just a songwriter; he was (and still is) a producer too, and a piano player in the tradition of New Orleans greats Professor Longhair and Huey “Piano” Smith. And despite K-Doe’s flamboyant personality, the song is covered in Toussaint’s fingerprints - the second line rhythms, the blast of horns and above all, the syncopated piano that’s the backbone of the song’s indelible funkiness. The contrasting vocals, ping-ponging between K-Doe’s whiny drawl and Benny Spellman’s cavernous bass, is the song’s ace up the sleeve, one so effective that Toussaint would recycle it for K-Doe’s 1962 single, “A Certain Girl.” I’m still a little disappointed that this is how Toussaint is commemorated in the Hot 100 (not “Working in a Coalmine”? “Brickyard Blues”? Anything with Irma Thomas but especially the transcendent “Ruler of My Heart”?), but it has everything an iconic Toussaint song should have: understated swagger, an interlocking puzzle of ragtag sounds, and that unrelentingly funky piano. 8
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Hit #1 on May 22, 1961; total of 1 week at #1
50 of 969 #1′s reviewed; 5.16% through the Hot 100