As the original singer of some classic songs made famous by others (I hear you knocking, One night, Blue Monday), it was inevitable that I would eventually buy some music by Smiley Lewis. Back in the fifties, people tended to buy records by music by singers from their own ethnic group, so a lot of black singers missed out on the more lucrative white market. Fortunately, the brilliance of black singers and musicians eventually overcame the prejudice, but too late for Smiley, who was dropped by his main record label in 1960 and died of stomach cancer in 1966.
The music here covers Smiley's best years from 1950 to 1956 and includes his versions of the three famous songs as well as Smiley's other hits on the American R+B charts, notably The bells are ringing and Please listen to me. Much of the music here is up-tempo, good-time music and deserved to reach a wider audience than it did, or is ever likely to. The compilation is book ended by two different recordings of Shame shame shame, one of them being recorded for a movie (Baby doll) that incurred the wrath of the Catholic community even before it was released, resulting in the movie's failure.
You could say that Smiley Lewis was unlucky, in that his songs became more successful for other singers than they did for himself, but at least it proves that he recorded some great songs, some of which he wrote or co-wrote. While Gale Storm (I hear you knocking), Elvis Presley (One night) and Smiley's friend Fats Domino (Blue Monday) had huge pop hits with his songs, Smiley could only reflect on what might have been. In 1971, Dave Edmunds revived one of the songs (I hear you knocking) and made the song a huge international hit. Yet without those cover version successes, it is likely that Smiley's legacy would have been totally overlooked.
There is, of course, a lot more to Smiley's music than the songs I've mentioned. This compilation contains 32 different songs, one of them in two versions. It doesn't include one song (I love you for sentimental reasons) that Wikipedia thinks is one of his important recordings, but that wasn't one of Smiley's original songs anyway, that honor belonging to Nat King Cole. So here you'll find all the tracks that matter and plenty more besides - a fitting collection to represent a singer that most people have never heard of, but who could have been a huge star.