“Don’t be ‘shamed“, “Call my name“, “Oh, our hot lips kissing, Girl, I’ll beg mercy, Oh, hugging and more teasing, Don’t want no freezing” are fragments of the original song lyrics. Although the title ‘Work With Me, Annie’ is a double entendre, the lyrics don’t lie.
‘Work With Me, Annie‘ came from the creative hand of Hank Ballard, and together with The Midnighters, he recorded the song for Federal Records in 1954. The content of the song was considered too sexual in its time and as a result, there was a ban on playing it at the radio stations. Because of its great rhythm, influenced by the mid-era doo-wop sound, the song became an instant rhythm-and-blues hit. Although it was banned from broadcasting, it spread like wildfire.
In rhythm-and-blues, it was common for artists to record so-called ‘answer songs’. What it means is that another artist, and most commonly from the opposite gender, would record a response to the song. This response could be a sarcastic comment to acclaim the original. This is what Etta James did a year after the song ‘Work With Me, Annie‘ hit the charts. She recorded ‘The Wallflower‘ and replaced “Work With Me Annie” with “Roll With Me, Henry“. The song was written by Etta James with the help of her friend Johnny Otis, and Hank Ballard. To avoid censorship upon its release, they titled the song ‘The Wallflower‘ instead of ‘Roll with Me, Henry‘. Do me a favor and listen to both songs while comparing the lyrics.
In the 1950s, it was usual for big record labels, such as Mercury, to copy the original rhythm-and-blues songs from black artists, with white musicians. This was done because of commercial politics. Those records would sell often better with the white audience. They would keep the original rhythm and music but clean-up the lyrics. In 1955 Georgia Gibbs recorded a cleaned-up version of the song called ‘Dance With Me, Henry‘. Her version became the most played one in jukeboxes and radio stations. This is not to be considered a response song but, a commercial adaptation.
Shortly after the release of the original song by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, an LA-based deejay joked about the aftermath of Annie’s unprotected adventures. Federal Records followed-up on this and a couple of months after the release of ‘Work With Me, Annie‘, Hank Ballard & the Midnighters recorded the sequel ‘Annie Had A Baby‘. The writing credits go to Henry Glover. The lyrics are short and simple but they contain a great amount of humor when placing them next to the lyrics of ‘Work With Me, Annie‘.
As in movies and a lot of other things, 3 is better. That same year, 1954, Hank Ballard & The Midnighters recorded ‘Annie’s Aunt Fannie‘. I didn’t come by upon much information regarding the history of the recording but, after analyzing the lyrics, I can conclude that also this song follows the same path. “I sent her to the store for candy. But she came right back so dandy. Before I could cuddle with my Annie.” are just a part of the full lyrics which are filled with humor and sexual content.
I’ve got all copies of the songs mentioned in my collection, with the exception of Georgia Gibbs, as I consider them masterpieces in its genre. Influenced by mid-era doo-wop and being rhythm-and-blues classics, they were a great deal of inspiration for the music that would erect in the following decades.