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R.I.P. Fats Domino: His Musical Traits, Most Popular Songs Explored

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Renowned musical icon Fats Domino passed away on Tuesday, but the artist's legacy endures. Here we use Pandora's Music Genome project to take a look at some of the traits which permeated Fats' music, and helped to make him so popular.

Guest post by Glenn Peoples, Music Insights and Analytics at Pandora on Medium

Music icon Antoine “Fats” Domino passed away Tuesday, leaving a legacy and an incalculable impact on future generations of musicians and fans. (Click here for a tribute station at Pandora, “Remembering Fats Domino.”) Born February 26, 1928, Domino became a foundation of R&B and rock and roll, his music influenced by an upbringing in New Orleans and exposure to the city’s vibrant jazz heritage.

“Not even Paul McCartney’s imitation of him on ‘Lady Madonna’ nor Cheap Trick’s buttoned-down, power pop cover of his ‘Ain’t That a Shame’ could hold a candle to Fats Domino’s thick Cajun boogie,” says Eric Shea, lead curator and rock programmer at Pandora. Domino’s impact on music made him one of the 10 first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “When you listen to those recordings or Tom Petty’s cover of ‘I’m Walkin’’ or Norah Jones singing ‘My Blue Heaven’ it’s obvious how important his music is to a far-reaching array of musicians and music lovers. His music is in our DNA.”

A glance at some of the top musical traits of Domino’s music, pulled from Pandora’s Music Genome Project, shows some qualities of prototypical rock music:
  • Mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation. Piano, drums, stand-up bass, and electric guitar.
  • A vocal-centric aesthetic. Playing R&B and rock & roll allowed Domino’s voice to loom large. 
  • A 12/8 time signature. This can be heard in one of Domino’s defining songs, “Blueberry Hill.”
  • Blues chord progressions. This is heard throughout his catalog but is familiar in “Blueberry Hill” and “Ain’t That A Shame.”
  • Prominent piano soloing. explosive in the song “Hey! Bas Boogie” 
  • Electric guitar riffs. The guitar engages in a lively call-and-response with Domino’s voice, then the saxophone on “Don’t Leave Me This Way.”
To date, Domino has 75 million spins at Pandora. The most popular song in his voluminous catalog is “Ain’t That A Shame,” co-written by Domino and Dave Bartholomew, a songwriter and producer for Domino’s label through the early ‘60s, Imperial Records. Released in 1955, “Ain’t That A Shame” reached #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and #10 on the broader Hot 100 singles chart. Successful cover versions were recorded by young crooner Pat Boone later that year and rock group Cheap Trick in 1979.

“Blueberry Hill,” Domino’s second most popular song at Pandora, was the 19th best selling R&B record of 1957, hit #1 hit on the R&B chart, and reached #5 on the Hot 100. The song isn’t a Domino original; “Blueberry Hill” was first recorded in 1940 by the Sammy Kaye Orchestra and was a #1 hit for The Glenn Miller Orchestra in the same year.

Domino’s third most popular song at Pandora is “I’m in Love Again,” another Domino-Bartholomew collaboration. The 1956 release reached #1 on the R&B chart and #3 on the Hot 100. The fourth most popular song is “I Hear You Knocking,” a 1961 release that made a small splash on the charts. His fifth most spun song is “I’m Ready,” a hit in 1959 that reached #7 on the R&B chart and #16 on the Hot 100.

Other notable Fats Domino tracks:

“I’m Walkin’” (#1 on R&B chart, #4 on Hot 100) was the 11th best-selling R&B record of 1957 (and #38 on the popular chart topped that year by Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up”) as tracked by Billboard.

“Blue Monday,” #1 on the Billboard 1957 airplay chart and the 6th best-selling R&B record in 1957

“Walking to New Orleans” (#2 on R&B chart, #6 on Hot 100), written by Bobby Charles and released in 1960, featured the New Orleans Symphony.

“Whiskey Heaven,” his final single, peaked at #51 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1981. Domino performed the song—wearing a cowboy hat—in the 1980 Clint Eastwood movie Any Which Way You Can.

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