It’s been over four years since our last Five Star Fav so I probably should explain that it’s a special feature that spotlights one of my favorite recordings. It’s similar to Anatomy of a Song, but instead it focuses on a specific version of a particular song, one that I like so much that I’ve rated it five stars.
And that’s where we’re headed, but first a little history is required. Although its roots might go back even earlier, “Baby, Please Don’t Go” first burst on to the national scene in 1935, when Big Joe Williams and the Washboard Blues Singers recorded it.
As the years passed it became a blues standard, one that just about everybody performed and recorded, albeit with some differences. Some of the more notable versions included those by Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker, whose version inspired the performers on today’s spotlighted record.
Which brings us to that record. In 1964, Van Morrison – then just nineteen years old – heard Hooker’s record and thought it was something that Them, the relatively unknown Irish group he fronted, could turn into gold. It begins with a driving guitar riff that continues to carry through and support the entire song. There’s no mistaking Morrison’s vocal but accounts vary on the instrumental components. Lead guitar is probably Billy Harrison, backed by Alan Henderson on bass, but some accounts relate that young legend-to-be Jimmy Page sat in too.
Whatever the case, the result was a underappreciated gem, one that barely made the Top Ten on UK charts and was even less popular in the US. But in the years since, it has become one of the iconic bands most memorable records.