Unwind Yourself: The King Recordings 1964-1967 Hank Ballard & the Midnighters Primary Artist
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Early in the '60s, Hank Ballard was one of the biggest R&B stars around, with two big pop crossover hits to his credit (Finger Poppin' Time, Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go) and kick-starting the dance craze The Twist to boot. In 1962, his record sales fell off a cliff. Ballard's swift reversal of fortune can be chalked up to two things: the rapid musical changes of the era and the messy business practices of Syd Nathan's King Records. Nathan was one of the great record men of the '50s, but once Motown changed the rules of the game in 1962, he discovered his old tricks of recycling stockpiled material and cranking out sequels no longer worked quite as well as they once did. Ballard bore the brunt of this tactic, churning out twist singles in the wake of {|Chubby Checker|}'s hit cover, and then subsequently revisiting old sounds and hits once he failed to capitalize on the dance fad. King kept recording Ballard, though, and they released his singles all the way until 1969. Due to various reasons -- licensing problems, shoddy catalog keeping, and perhaps a general lack of interest -- anything Ballard recorded for King after 1962 didn't see the digital light of day until 2016, when Kent/Ace released Unwind Yourself: The King Recordings 1964-1967. This can't be said to be the complete second act from Ballard at King -- two other years' singles are missing, including 1968's How You Gonna Get Respect, his last charting single -- but it collects all 26 surviving masters from the mid-'60s, a period when he was out of step with the times but still turning out good music. As the compilation opens, Ballard sings Let's Get the Show on the Road, a single that openly nods to Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go as inspiration, then he cuts a grooving little dance number called Poppin' the Whip -- both nifty singles that don't have much to do with Motown or {|the Impressions|}, not to mention the funk revolution his King labelmate James Brown pioneered during this era. Nathan attempted to modernize Ballard with I'm Just a Fool (And Everybody Knows), a soft breeze inspired by {|Curtis Mayfield|}, and while it didn't hit, it marked the moment when Ballard started to modernize, incorporating elements of Southern soul and Brown into his music. Commercially, none of this worked, possibly because even with these new clothes Ballard was a step or two behind the times. Such distinctions fade away in the course of listening to Unwind Yourself, though, and what sticks is how Ballard gamely adapted to the trends without losing sight of his churchy passion. Taken as music, it's first-rate.


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