Little Willie John – I’m Shakin’ [King]
Despite garnering enormous success (in America’s R&B charts at least) as a raw, bluesy doo wop crooner and Apollo headliner to a young James Brown‘s support, the diminutive Little Willie John’s life and career were derailed by a furious temper and weakness for the bottle that saw him die, aged 30, within the walls of Washington State Penitentiary. From this finger-snapping, rip-roaring polemic against the debilitating effects of mankind’s most trumpeted and maligned chemical imbalance you would believe the thing that troubled him most was the love of a good woman.
‘I’m Shaking’ could almost be a response to his own 1956 smash ‘Fever’ (given a sultry, smokey twist and a further, uncredited verse by Peggy Lee two years later). Where before John appears largely untroubled by the symptoms, by the time of this 1960 release he is riling around in the agony of his multitudinous physical and mental torments.
Penned by Roody Toombs of ‘One Mint Julep’ and ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’ fame, the melodramatic lyrics, that (again like ‘Fever’) tie the personal with the mythic, are brought a visceral glory in the wild and wonderous vocal stylings of John, who lets loose on the then modish, now obscure, cant of the day.
If ever there was a song to belt out in the shower, this is up there with Bobby Blue Bland’s rather more self-congratulatory “36-22-36”.