Our Top 10 LaVern Baker Songs looks back at the songs of an American R&B singer born in Chicago in 1929 as Delores Evans. Between the ages of seventeen and eighteen, she began singing in different Chicago-based nightclubs shortly after the conclusion of the Second World War. The billboard featured her as Little Miss Sharecropper and in 1949, recorded an album with that particular stage name. She later changed it to Bea Baker in 1951 before officially going with the name of LaVern Baker in 1952. Starting in 1953, she began recording music through the label, Atlantic Records, which saw the first of her songs released that same year
From 1953 until 1969, LaVern recorded and released a total of forty-eight hits, many of which realized chart success on various US-based billboard charts. She also has eight albums to her credit and was among the first eight recipients of the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1990. In 1991, the year she died from cardiovascular disease, she became the second female solo artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Top 10 LaVern Baker Songs
#10 – Saint Louis Blues
Originally composed in the blues style, “Saint Louis Blues” was first published as a song in 1914. In 1925, it was performed by Bessie Smith, alongside Louis Armstrong’s cornet. The song has since been inducted into the Grammy Award Hall of Fame since 1993. The song has been rearranged a number of times, including becoming a jazz favorite, pop-rock favorite, and R&B favorite. LaVern Baker’s version was recorded and released in 1957 and is a rare gem that displayed the remarkable vocal talent Baker is best known for.
#9 – Harbor Lights
“Harbor Lights” has been a popular song ever since it was first by Roy Fox & his Orchestra, which featured the vocal talent of Barry Gray in 1937. That same year, it was also recorded by Frances Langford. The soulful loneliness that dictated the mood of the song was beautifully performed by LaVern Baker in 1958. Although the song didn’t realize any chart positions on the billboard, it is still among her best.
#8 – I’ll Never Be Free (featuring Jimmy Ricks)
Originally, “I’ll Never Be Free” was a single recorded in 1950 by Kay Starr and Tennessee Ernie Ford as a duet. For them, it was a highly charted success on two different music charts. As for the 1961 performance made by LaVern Baker and Jimmy Ricks, this equally beautiful ballad only charted at 103 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
#7 – Think Twice (featuring Jackie Wilson)
In 1966, “Think Twice” was an R&B duet performed by LaVern Baker and Jackie Wilson. The two artists, despite already having a good friendship shared between them, recorded for the first time together through this song. Although it may only be a moderate hit at a number thirty-seven rank on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, it was a powerful orchestral performance. On the US Billboard Hot 100, Think Twice only appeared at number ninety-three.
#6 – Fly Me to the Moon
In 1954, “Fly Me to the Moon” was a song performed by Kaye Ballard before Frank Sinatra’s 1964 version catapulted its popularity, thanks to it being closely associated with the Apollo moon missions. LaVern Baker’s soulful 1965 version was beautifully performed enough as a jazzy, piano number that earned Fly Me to the Moon a number thirty-one spot on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and a number eighty-four hit on the US Billboard Hot 100.
#5 – I Waited Too Long
On the US Billboard Hot 100, “I Waited Too Long” charted at number thirty-three while on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart it was a number five hit. With soft jazz, this piano-rich single featured the soulful, R&B vocalist at her finest as she longingly sings her blues away in one of her highest charted recordings.
#4 – See See Rider
“See See Rider” was first recorded in 1924 by Gertrude Rainey and continued to be played as a traditional blues song by a number of artists over the years. In 2004, it was selected for entry into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress to preserve its legacy for future generations. The jazzier 1962 performance by LaVern Baker made it a number nine hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and a number thirty-four hit on the US Billboard Hot 100.
#3 – Tweedlee Dee
In 1954, “Tweedlee Dee” was performed as a novelty performance carried out by LaVern Baker as a means to appease the buying market as a lyrically light and frisky R&B single. Fused with Latin riffs, this song became Baker’s first charted hit as it peaked as high as number four on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and at number fourteen on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also became an international hit as it charted as high as number twenty-five on Australia’s Kent Report in 1955.
#2 – I Cried a Tear
In 1958, from LaVern Baker’s Blues Ballads album, “I Cried a Tear” became her top-charted single on the US Billboard Hot 100 when it peaked at number six. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it climbed as high as number two on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. This soulful jazz number featured the saxophone talent of King Curtis, which seemed to add even more soul into one of Baker’s best-performed singles.
#1 – Jim Dandy
According to Rolling Stones Magazine, “Jim Dandy” was ranked at number 343 on its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was also named one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. At the timing when the song came out in 1956, it became the first song from LaVern Baker that became a number one hit, at least on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. On the US Billboard Hot 100, Jim Dandy charted as high as number seventeen.
This dedication song about a man who rescued women from precarious situations refers to a jim-dandy, which was an American slang term used for men who performed good-natured deeds to benefit other people. The jazzy, saxophone classic was featured in the 1972 motion picture, Pink Flamingos. If there is a signature song that instantly points the finger to LaVern Baker as the vocal genius, Jim Dandy is it.
Photo: Atlantic Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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