‘Blue Monday’ Times Three

Originally posted August 5, 2008

“Blue Monday, I hate blue Monday,” sings Fats Domino. “Got to work like a slave all day.”

“‘Blue Monday,’” wrote Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock & Soul, “is the foundation of a rock and roll tradition of songs about hatred of the working week and lust for lost weekends. The chain now includes such significant links as the Coasters’ ‘What About Us,’ Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds’s ‘Seven Day Weekend’ (the first call for the abolition of Mondays, blue or otherwise), the Vogues’ ‘Five O’Clock World,’ ‘Friday on My Mind’ by the Easybeats, ‘Manic Monday,’ the hit Prince wrote for the Bangles, and the Sex Pistols’ ‘Holidays in the Sun’ (in which the vision turns ugly from mass unemployment and begins to die).”

Marsh wrote in 1989, a couple of generations ago as far as music genealogy goes. If I wished, then, I could dig through the last nineteen years of pop and rock and no doubt find other examples of dismay for the fact that we are born to toil, whether that toil be tightening bolts on the assembly line, installing someone else’s new clutch, balancing lunch plates at the diner, making alterations in someone’s new dress, planning lessons and teaching fifth-graders, installing new software, researching legal precedents or writing an account of a ballgame with a deadline fast approaching. I’m sure those songs are out there, but I’m more interested this morning in “Blue Monday,” as Marsh sees it as a signpost.

In “Blue Monday,” Marsh notes, it’s not just hatred of the work week that’s on the table: “Fats,” Marsh writes, “is talking about something much more modern: the demand for leisure. He discards the working week and his loathing of it in the first verse; it’s the weekend that the song dwells upon, and in the end Fats’ feeling for its excesses is clear and profound. ‘Sunday mornin’ my head is bad,’ he sings, ‘But it’s worth it for the times that I’ve had.’”

In other words, Marsh sees “Blue Monday” as possibly the quintessential song for 1950s America, the time and place when leisure became more and more a regular portion of life instead of something possessed by very few and envied by the many. Oh, don’t get me wrong: Not everyone prospered so. But enough did so that having fun for the sake of fun was widespread enough to be the subject of “Blue Monday” and the other songs yet to come in the chain Marsh cites above.

Interestingly, Fats’ version of “Blue Monday” was not the first recorded. Smiley Lewis recorded and released the song – written by New Orleans genius Dave Bartholomew – in 1954, when it was released as Imperial 5268. Modern rock and roll charts starts in 1955, so I don’t know how well Lewis’ version sold. But Bartholomew and Domino recorded Fats’ version in 1956 and released it as Imperial 5417. It entered the charts the second week of January 1957, eventually making its way to No. 5.*

In the fifty years since then, “Blue Monday” has been a popular song to pick up. All-Music Guide lists more than 250 CDs with a version of “Blue Monday.” Even accounting for the repeats of Domino’s version (and for other songs of the same title), there’s an impressive total of covers. Other artists listed as having recorded the song include Bonnie & Francis, the Crickets, Bobby Darin, Dion, Dave Edmunds, Ian Gillan, Wilbert Harrison, Cecil Hill, Huey Lewis & the News, the Kingsnakes, Alexis Korner, Delbert McClinton, Randy Newman, Bob Seger, Cat Stevens, Dave Van Ronk and the Zydeco Boneshakers.

I won’t say that my favorite cover version of “Blue Monday” gets to the song’s center better than any of those versions, as I have – oddly enough – heard none of the versions by the artists listed in the above paragraph. But I really doubt very much that anyone – other than Domino, and maybe Lewis – can deliver the song any better than New Orleans’ own Dr. John, who recorded “Blue Monday” for his 1992 album, Goin’ Back to New Orleans.

Here, then, are Smiley Lewis’ original version, Fats Domino’s hit cover and Dr. John’s take on Dave Bartholomew’s “Blue Monday.”

Smiley Lewis – “Blue Monday” [Imperial 5268, 1954]

Fats Domino – “Blue Monday” [Imperial 5417, 1956]

Dr. John – “Blue Monday” [From Goin’ Back to New Orleans, 1992]

*A quick check of Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B & Hip-Hop Hits shows no sign of Smiley Lewis’ version of “Blue Monday,” making me think – though I could certainly be wrong – that its sales were not too notable. Fats Domino’s version, on the other hand, was No. 1 for eight weeks on the R&B chart.  Note added July 25, 2011.

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