Hank Ballard & The Midnighters: a touch of the James Browns

29th August 2016


Title: Unwind Yourself : The King Recordings 1964-1967

Label: Kent

Hank Ballard? Raunchy. The man could paint a pink stain on the cheeks of a blue comic. Maybe that’s why many of his songs were banned from play on the radio. Maybe that’s a reason why his jukebox plays when through the roof. His was a hard R&B style. One that got under the skin of James Brown, although not too many people talk about that. He certainly got under Chubby Checker’s skin. Ballard’s composition, The Twist, would give Checker a career and change the culture of the times.

This compilation, collecting Ballard’s output from this era for the first time, sees Ballard with plenty of fine tunes but a career that was on the downward slope, as far as the Midnighters were concerned. As this CD ends, so did the association. A brief solo career turned into work with his growingly assertive young fan, James Brown by the end of the decade. But Brown found Ballard too great an attraction to wait…

Sound tests began with the first track, Let’s Get The Show On The Road. Recorded in 1964, there is compression attached to the track as whole which can be identified in vocal crescendos and guitar high notes but, that said, the compression is not oppressive at all and perfectly listenable. That’s Your Mistake, from 1965, has a similar level of sonics but praise has to be given to Ace which has produced a very clean and, with the ammunition to hand, an open soundstage.

I expected the sound quality to improve as the 60s progressed so headed off to He Came Along from 1966 to see if my theory was right. Broadly speaking, yes, the sound did improve. There is still some compression added to the midrange but the soundstage was far richer in nature with improved lower frequencies creating a welcome tonal balance. This was a song made for 60s-level hi-fi as opposed to a Dansette. In for a penny, then and I headed over to 1967’s Here Comes The Hurt and Dance Till It Hurtcha. Oddly enough, in sonic terms, the quality was quickly reversed with compression upped so much that I had to lower the volume on my pre-amp. I look closely at the tracks and noticed that both were under the supervision of James Brown’s associates and, at times, James Brown himself so I wondered if the compression was an engineering decision made in the studio by this group? It’s intriguing to hear the dramatic difference and, listening to James Brown’s own output, the compressed tone heard here would make sense.

A fascinating CD in both technical and creative terms.