Nobody should have to settle for ten Fats Domino songs, since the man left us such an embarrassment of riches (and the last we checked, the hundred-song Imperial box could still be had for cheap). So consider this something of a starter mix, mostly Imperial essentials but with a few later gems thrown in.
“The Fat Man” (1950): One of the two records most often cited—along with the Ike Turner-produced “Rocket 88,” from 1951—as the first rock ’n’ roll record. Contrarians say it was really more of a jump-blues record, but the easy-rolling Domino style needed only a few tweaks to be undoubtedly R&R.
“Ain’t That a Shame” (1955): Time to give a cheer for Dave Bartholomew, who co-wrote this and many other Domino touchstones. Note how well a song like this was tailored to Domino’s upbeat personality: It’s a breakup song where the singer already sounds halfway over it.
“I’m in Love Again” (1956): Everybody’s got to have a favorite and this one’s mine, crystallizing all of the Domino joie de vivre in two tidy minutes. “Baby, don’t you let your dog bite me”—perfect.
“Blueberry Hill” (1956): One of the few songs around that had two definitive versions, by Fats and Louis Armstrong, and Fats only needed to add a stronger backbeat to make it a rock ’n’ roll ballad. Proof of how quintessentially New Orleans he was, if you needed any.
“Blue Monday” (1956): The beautiful simplicity of Fats’ and Bartholomew’s lyrics is always worth noting, but this song ranks as one of the first rock classics to employ working-class themes—and to do it in a universal way. “Got to get my rest, ’cause Monday is a mess”—Who can’t relate to that?
“Walking to New Orleans” (1960): His pronunciation of “New Orlin” is one of the many wonderful things about this record. Writer Bobby Charles also pitched Fats “See You Later Alligator,” which he turned down because he didn’t like alligators.
“Dance With Mr. Domino” (1962): Sometimes called “Domino Twist,” this minor hit was among the most frantic of his vintage singles. It was a real treat to hear him revive it at later Jazz Fest appearances, especially with the great Herb Hardesty still around to do the sax honors.
“Packin’ Up” (1964): One of the unsung gems from the post-Imperial ABC/Paramount era, when Fats was working with Chris Kenner and going for a more produced soul sound; the horns and backup vocals on this one make it sound more like a Ray Charles record. Elvis Costello collectors may recognize this song as covered on his early demos.
“Lady Madonna” (1968): It was probably inevitable that Fats would cover the Beatles hit written in his style—the first of three consecutive Beatle-cover singles, by the way—and he doesn’t have to change anything to make it work. He turned the piano chair over to James Booker for this one, making it more a pity there’s no solo.
“Whiskey Heaven” (1980): A moment of glory from the later years—from a Clint Eastwood soundtrack, of all things—and proof that Fats could have followed Jerry Lee into the country charts if he’d had more songs on this level.