As an artist primarily known for albums and live performance, it’s hard to imagine anyone but the most ardent Dr. John record collectors being able to name more than two or three of his singles. “Right Place Wrong Time” comes easily to the mind of anyone who was around for its original run up the chart to #9. But other than that, what? Well, it turns out that several of Dr. John’s iconic album tracks – “Iko Iko” from 1972’s Gumbo and “Such a Night” from 1973’s In the Right Place – were also released as singles, though neither had the chart success of “Right Place Wrong Time.” So that’s three. And yet, during Dr. John’s stay on Atco and Atlantic, he actually released a half-dozen more singles, all of which are collected here – A’s, B’s and alternate flips, along with several UK- and promo-only sides.
One has to wonder who Atlantic thought was going to play these singles; particularly since they didn’t often differ greatly from the album cuts prefered by FM. “Iko Iko” was trimmed by a minute, “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” was trimmed and split into two parts, and “Wang Dang Doodle” was excised from the Mar Y Sol concert album, but the rest seem closely aligned with the albums. Of interest to collectors will be a few rarities offered here, highlighted by “The Patriotic Flag Waver.” On this 1968 single, presented in the long mono promo cut, Dr. John manages to combine a children’s chorus, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” “America the Beautiful,” social commentary and New Orleans funk. Even more rare is Dr. John’s guest appearance, alongside Eric Clapton, on the original 1972 single version of labelmate Buddy Guy’s “A Man of Many Words.
The collection pulls together Dr. John’s singles, EP and promo-only sides, and both B sides of “Oh, What a Night,” which featured “Cold Cold Cold in the U.S. and “Life” in the U.K. Presented in roughly (though not strictly) chronological order, the singles tell the story of Dr. John’s early years as the Night Tripper, his ex-pat Los Angeles edition of New Orleans soul, and his brief intersection with mainstream fame. It’s an unusual lens to place on the career of an artist better known for albums and live performances, but as a quick look at his seven years on Atco, it’s surprisingly good. The albums are out there to be had, but hearing the years compressed into a generous 71 minutes is a worthwhile trip. [©2015 Hyperbolium]