2020-05-19 12:46:59 UTC
Societal scorn for certain subjects the masses find unbecoming has been around ever since Eve and her layabout boyfriend Adam got hungry one day and ate some rotten apples and rather than merely get indigestion for a few hours as a result of their fruit snatching they wound up getting cursed by the onset of shame for their supposed misdeeds.
But while society itself – the faceless conglomeration of people whose collective views shape the way the rest of the world is expected to conduct themselves – might still have vestiges of guilt and shame for the irrepressible urge to prance naked through the garden from time to time, there are those who could care less what their neighbors think and shed clothes along with their inhibitions at the drop of a hat.
Wynonie Harris was just such a guy. But while his enjoyment of the less civilized forms of recreation brought him fame and admiration there were still those pesky guardians of good taste lurking around waiting to criticize him and those like him who took pleasure in flaunting convention when it came to celebrating sex and debauchery.
I Like It Best Of All
A reputation for being a perpetually horny roustabout is a lot to live up to and while Wynonie Harris may have thought of himself as virile superhero and did his best to project that image at every turn, he occasionally did require help to keep his legend intact.
I don’t mean that he did anything quite so rash as turn down a last round at the bar, or settle for a kiss on the cheek rather than a roll in the hay, but rather that he looked for assistance when it came to his primary means for advertising his scandalous wares – songwriting.
Now Harris at his best was a fairly good wordsmith… and had he actually been allowed to dip into his vast array of X-rated words and phrases that he used in everyday life then he undoubtedly would’ve been even more prolific a tune-smith, but that aforementioned societal scorn for merely suggesting various bedroom antics would have turned into a tsunami of societal reprimand had he begun using outright obscenities on his records. Thus euphemisms were born, not just for Harris to take advantage of, but for anyone throughout history who wanted to talk and joke about these risqué topics in mixed company without drawing outright condemnation for their brashness.
Here it’s writer/producer Henry Glover who steps to the plate for Harris and serves up on a silver platter an unlikely dish for Wynonie to dive into, one that on the surface seems innocuous if the word itself is mentioned without any off-color context. Unlike more frequently heard euphemisms for various body parts – meat, melons, fish… and as a verb rather than a noun, pork – the image of pudding is hardly scandalous.
But Glover knows that as long as you frame it properly anything can be turned into a racy substitute for sex, a task that is made infinitely easier when the one who is stating I Like My Baby’s Pudding is a singer who has such a long list of moral offenses to his name that anyone hearing this might be at risk for never being able to think about the word as a harmless desert again.
All Those Dishes Are Mighty Nice
The fact that this record IS so direct is part of its charm. It’s not being discreet about it, aside from the title line itself, and so that leaves Harris free to inject this with as much sly wit and enthusiasm as he wants.
Maybe the intro is a little too straitlaced for our tastes and could be a sign that Glover is reverting back to his days as a trumpeter in more respectable bands, or it could just be designed to throw off the censors, but once their ineffectual bleating dies down and Harris comes in ostensibly talking about various food dishes, then it doesn’t take long for his real meaning to become clear as the music’s rhythmic thrusts accentuates the visuals already forming in your deviant minds.
There’s no long-winded explanation, no roundabout way he leads into the X-rated shenanigans he’s describing, he just tells all of the girls flocking around him what he likes, focusing on his main squeeze but also making it fairly clear that if any OTHER girls want to put on their chef’s hat (and take off everything else) he’d be more than happy to sample their pudding as well.
Wynonie is clearly having a ball with this, his eagerness apparent in every word he sings as he emphasizes the key word with definite purpose throughout each chorus, ensuring that nobody misses the point (the fact he also consistently drops the “g” in his pronunciation also adds greatly to its appeal somehow). Despite the salacious undercurrent he’s not coming across as lecherous exactly, but rather just someone with wicked sense of humor when it comes to sex.
But as is often the case with Wynonie Harris’s raciest songs the mere suggestiveness of the theme is left to compensate for a dearth of X-rated, or even R-rated, details that would’ve made I Like My Baby’s Pudding a much tastier dish.
Ninety Nine Times I Tried To Eat
Anything pushing the envelope for its time in any regard – sex, language, images, you name it – is bound to seem relatively tame seventy years down the road, so we have to be sure not to apply modern standards to something that predated the birth control pill, color television and Playboy magazine!
But even after acknowledging the limitations on what was legally permissible at the time we have to say that Glover’s lyrics could’ve gone much further and done so in ways that would’ve been just as enjoyable to hear for their wittiness as for their raciness had they chosen well.
The most obvious missed opportunity is how they didn’t take advantage of pudding’s normal role as desert to mix and match that term with the age-old euphemism of desert standing in as a way to cap off a night of romance in the bedroom. The means with which to do so could’ve been put to far better use than having Harris disparage other meals as being not to his liking – meat, mostly, which I don’t think he really had to tell us considering his almost weaponized heterosexuality.
Had they had him report that after fine supper she cooked for him she told him she’d made a “special” desert, one that was sweet, soft and creamy the lines would practically write themselves and anything not put down on paper would’ve been instantly conjured up by the listener himself. Harris could’ve then spent the next few lines detailing the bounteous feast, running down everything from the various flavors he sampled to the many toppings being used.
If anyone complained about the obvious subtext they could feign innocence by pointing out the literal meanings of the offending lines while grinning like the Cheshire cat and gloating over the free publicity. I can just see Harris trying to interest Jell-O into taking him on as a spokesman for their product as the record climbed the charts… tell me it wouldn’t have gone flying off the shelf after housewives suffering through their loveless marriages heard him braying about I Like My Baby’s Pudding.
But alas, they pulled up short in this regard, leaving the majority of the responsibility in selling it to Harris’ lusty vocals. Naturally he doesn’t disappoint and his delivery on the chorus is so rhythmic that it suggests more than deviant language ever could.
Give My Pudding Away
But clearly if this is going to fill you up completely Harris is going to need the musicians to all pull up a chair and dig in, but unfortunately by the sounds of it they’re not accustomed to such fine dining as this. In fact, at times it seems they might be malnourished when it comes to sampling the pudding Harris is crowing about.
The good thing about music as opposed to lyrics when you want to impart some ribald mischief is that it can’t be held directly responsible for whatever charges the morality police want to lay at their feet. Raunchy saxes, throbbing basslines, hyperactive guitars, pounding drums all contributing to a bump and grind aesthetic might not leave any doubt as to their intent, but proving it is another matter altogether. After all, there’s nothing patently obscene about any of that since the sounds instruments are producing don’t come with colorful descriptions attached.
That’s why Glover’s rather tame, if serviceable, arrangement is such a let-down. Maybe he’d be able to convince us that he had to tone down the lyrics and substitute a stanza about Wynonie’s de facto rival Henry Jones going without his meat in place of something more explicit that Glover really wanted to use, but granting him the benefit of the doubt in those instances doesn’t mean he gets a free pass for saddling the musical side of I Like My Baby’s Pudding with such bland flavor.
The back beat is present but hardly emphasized enough, nor does it have any perfectly timed kicks to really get the point across after each chorus… I mean, isn’t that what rim shots were invented for after all?
But while the lack of humor in the music to match the story is a missed opportunity, the bigger issue is when you really focus on what they’re playing there’s really not much happening, and certainly nothing that could stand on its own and make you want to keep listening even if Harris left his duties on the bandstand to go back in the kitchen for more pudding.
The horns are just sort laying there, mostly impotent, especially Orrington Hall’s rather feeble solo, and while there’s a deceptively neat melody crammed in the arrangement somewhere it never comes to the forefront and so it’s left to the circular riff to establish some familiarity as it goes along. While none of it might leave a bad taste in your mouth and the intentional blandness means it’ll down easy, those same qualities means it won’t win any good cooking awards.
I’ll Just Have To Wait And See
All of this detailed criticism might lead some to think that it’s a total failure, or at least an underwhelming meal, but that’s not the case. Instead, to use the food analogy this seems ready made for, the record is like a meal out where nobody sends anything back, it looks okay, smells okay, tastes okay and isn’t too pricey for the amount of food on your plate, but an hour later you’re stopping somewhere else for ice cream just to satisfy the urge you have for something a little more filling than this.
Though it hasn’t quite hurt them yet King Records is in danger of becoming overly reliant on Harris’s reputation alone to keep him on top. While undoubtedly it’s smart to mine that side of his persona when coming up with material that will please his fans, they seem to think that the mere surface appearance of impropriety is all they need to do to get them hits.
Of course with all that being said Harris himself is as engaging as ever and because of that I Like My Baby’s Pudding is enjoyable to listen to, particularly when it’s being done in less analytical fashion than we’re required to do when it’s the only dish on the table.
If they had put some whipped cream on it before serving this up it might’ve had an easier time living up to its reputation, but even without that it’s still a lot better than going hungry.
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT: 6/10