Before We Was Fab

While Ruth Brown never made much of an impact on the Billboard pop charts, her legacy and influence in the larger music world is incalculable. In the 1950s she was the Queen of R&B, and one of the artists primarily responsible for putting Atlantic Records on the map. From 1949 through 1960 Brown released 23 Top 20 singles — including five #1’s — on what was then mostly known as Billboard’s Rhythm & Blues Records charts (really three separate charts measuring sales, radio and jukebox plays). For her role in building Atlantic into a powerhouse imprint, the label became known as “The House That Ruth Built.”

Today’s selection comes from 1952, just a few years into Brown’s hot streak. It’s a smoking hot slice of early R&B written by Rudy Toombs called “5-10-15 Hours.” Toombs had previously written Brown’s first R&B #1, “Teardrops from My Eyes,” in 1950. “5-10-15 Hours” entered the chart in April and hit #1 just four weeks later on May 3. It held the top spot for seven weeks until June.

Ruth Brown, "5-10-15 Hours" 1952 Billboard ad

Of all Brown’s early hits, this one is my favorite. Her voice jumps right into the brain’s pleasure center and stays there, and her earthy delivery is perfectly suited to Toombs’ down and dirty arrangement.

Listen to the way a standard 4/4 blues rhythm is turned into something altogether slinky and seductive. Dig the fluid and smoky sax work from jazz great Willis “Gator” Jackson. And absolutely revel in how that chorus (“Just give me five *pow* ten *pow* *pow* fifteen hours of your love”) demands your attention.

“5-10-15 Hours” might sound familiar even if you’ve never heard it before, and there’s a good reason for that. This and many other songs like it served as a template for some of rock and roll’s earliest stars such as Bill Haley & the Comets. The leap from this tune to, say, “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town)” is not all that large.

I say this not to get into the whole “white man stole the black man’s (or woman’s) music” argument, but merely to acknowledge how potent songs like this are. Even now, more than six decades after its original release, “5-10-15 Hours” remains a great example of how powerful music of its era could be.

Ruth Brown moved away from the music scene in the 1960s to focus on her family. She returned to music in the 1970s, and had success on the Broadway stage as well. She won the 1989 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Black and Blue), and picked up a Grammy for Best Female Jazz Vocal Performance the next year. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Brown, who performed actively until the end of her life, died at age 78 on November 17, 2006.

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About the Author

Chris Holmes

Chris Holmes joined the Popdose writing staff only after enduring a humiliating series of hazing rituals. One day he'll write a tell-all book, and then they'll all pay. Until then, you can also catch him at his regular home, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, or you can follow him on Twitter.

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