Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Act I: Z.Z. vs. Ethel

Z.Z. Hill:

It Ain't No Use

Ha Ha (Laughing Song)

Today's selections make up one of the 45s that I heard growing up that helped shape my appreciation for vintage soul music. My mother would play both sides of Z.Z. Hill's Mankind single "It Ain't No Use" b/w "Ha Ha (Laughing Song)" and I loved it, even though I didn't quite understand the seriousness of the lyrics. I don't know why I failed to mention the 45 in my 2007 Vinyl Record Day post, but I suppose it's better late than never to feature it, right?

Red Kelly has an excellent biography of the late soul blues superstar on The B-Side, so I'll just get to the music. The 45 was one of several successful singles pulled from The Brand New Z.Z. Hill, a Swamp Dogg-produced (he wrote or co-wrote many of the songs - including today's selections - as well) soul "opera" of sorts. Today's selections constituted the first two "scenes" of "Act I." On "It Ain't No Use," we meet Z.Z. and his new woman as they return to his pad for some drinks and romance. As the bluesy groove shuffles along, Hill is working on his mack, offering to make a drink ("put a little ice in it ... make some Kool Aid") and anticiping a good time ("heeeeeeeey, mama, girl that's out of sight!" he hollers as she makes her move). But before any "getting on" starts, the proceedings are interrupted by a knock on the door by his ex-flame, Ethel, whose initial tough posturing ("open this damn door, I wanna talk to you") quickly fades into a tearful plea for forgiveness. Hill's not hearing it, though, so he launches into the song, whose blunt lyrics were lost on me as a child (I was still hung up on the "Kool Aid" part). "Ha Ha" continues the withering dismissal, albeit with a funky groove this time. In the dramatic portion, Hill sends his unfortunate guest home and further expands on how Ethel mistreated him to the point that folks were laughing at him ("it's got so good now, they just kind of walk up and giggle in my face," he asserts). The lyrics to "Ha Ha" aren't as sharp as those in "It Ain't No Use," but the groove romps along and there's a great horn vamp before the final verse.

Oh, in case you want to know what happens in the rest of the album - Ethel eventually is forgiven and they get married at the end! How about that?

1 comment:

Unknown said...


Kudos for posting these tracks and letting more people get to know this acknowledged soul masterpiece. As you already know in the early 70's Jerry Williams aka SwampDogg produced perhaps the greatest triumvirate of soul albums ever known to the genre - The Brand New Z.Z. Hill - Doris Duke's I'm A Loser - and Irma Thomas's In Between Tears. Add Swamp's own debut album Total Destruction To Your Mind and the case is put to rest that The Dogg was one of the greatest there ever was.

I think that another posting from this album is in order - the stone cold classic "Second Chance" - complete with opening dialog.