Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time – #499: Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign (1967)

A big helping of soulful blues that helped shape the sound of the genre for decades to come.

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First of all, that album cover, with the black cat/ace of spades/snake eyes dice/Fri 13th/skull n crossbones ensemble, is priceless.  Mr. King’s second record was his finest work and an instant classic that garnered massive critical acclaim although it did not reach platinum sales status.

Only two of the tracks are originals written by Mr. King (“Down Don’t Bother Me” and “Personal Manager”), but they are two of the strongest songs on the record.  Despite this being essentially a covers album, his singing and guitar playing (which is laidback and steady, never flashy or off-putting) makes the songs all his own.  Coupled with this album’s backing band Booker T and the MGs (yes, Isaac Hayes is one of the aforementioned MGs) as well as the Memphis Horns, this record helped Albert and many other bluesmen cross over to a more soul-oriented sound that revived the old blues and made inroads on rock radio in the late 60s.

The title track is a disarmingly clever and fun blues song: “Born under a bad sign, been down since I began to crawl; if it wasn’t for bad luck, you know I wouldn’t have no luck at all”.  This song was the biggest hit here, and Clapton, Vaughn, and Hendrix all would later cite it as one of their influences.  The bassline of “Crosscut Saw” drives the tune while the horns add a boogie flavor, and Albert’s guitar is just the cheery on top.  “Kansas City”, that old standard made famous by Wilbert Harrison, is breathed some new life here.  “Kansas City, Kansas City here I come; they got some crazy little women there, and I’m gonna get me one”.

“Down Don’t Bother Me” is a fantastic song Albert wrote about a man so used to being down that it doesn’t even bother him anymore, and is clearly the inspiration for the excellent “Been Down So Long” that is a highlight of The Doors classic L.A. Woman record released four years later.  You know, this one: “Well, I been down so goddamned long, that it looks like up to me; why don’t one of you people come on and set me free”.

The other King-penned track, “Personal Manager”, is an ode to wanting to do everything for a woman.  He vows to be there for her even after all of her “so-called friends are gone”.  He asks her to sign his contract to be her “personal manager”, and swears that when she does all of her troubles will be through, adding “I wanna be your milkman every morning, and your ice cream man when the day is through”.  The guitar solo is fierce and the ever-present horns add to it, making a dizzying display of yearning that I can’t get enough of.

On the other big hit from the album, “Laundromat Blues”, Albert’s protagonist gets wise to his lady’s cheating ways – she has been sneaking off to meet her new man down at the laundromat.  “I don’t want you to get so clean baby, you just might wash your life away, ya hear”.  Sure, the solo and vibe of this song may seem like the good ol’ blues now, but that is because of the influence this album and others like it had on the next generation, including Billy Gibbons and his comrades in ZZ Top, who happen to be next at #498 on this list…

Worthy Tracks: “Born Under A Bad Sign”, “Crosscut Saw”, “Kansas City”, “Oh, Pretty Woman”, “Down Don’t Bother Me”, “Personal Manager”, “Laundromat Blues”

Final Verdict: Very deserving, as this is one of the great blues albums of the 1960s and led the charge to a more soulful approach to the classic genre.

Spotify album link: