Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Work With Me Annie"

Monday, November 18: 4:30 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

Born on November 18, 1927 (some sources note 1936), Hank Ballard wasn't the first to write smutty songs, but he was one of the more determinedly single-minded to exploit what he called the "raunch groove." His "Get It" was about, well, getting it. The title was startling coming after "The Shrine of St. Cecillia," the previous release by the Royals (as Ballard and the Midnighters were known prior to being labelmates with a "5" Royales). Its success, however, pointed the way. Ballard hit his stride with "Work With Me Annie," which is not about working. Reportedly toned down from its first draft, "Annie" still didn't leave much to the imagination: “Annie, please don’t cheat/ Give me all my meat / Oooo-weee / So good to me /Work with me, Annie / Let’s get it while the getting is good.” Needless to say, it went to the top of the R&B record charts in early 1954 despite being banned by the FCC. In a 1987 interview, Ballard recalled: "But [controversy] made the record hot. All that carryin’ on. 'What is this record about?' 'You can’t hear it on the radio – banned!' I tell you, in the Boston area, the nuns and preachers were going around snatchin’ my records off the jukebox in all the colleges."

Lasciviousness aside, the appeal of "Annie" also stems from Ballard's urgent vocal and the Midnighters' infectious backup; this would sound good no matter what they were singing about. The song's further claim to fame is that it launched a series of sequels and answer records. The Midnighters themselves provided "Annie Had A Baby" and "Annie's Aunt Fannie." Others chimed in with "Annie Kicked The Bucket," etc. A cleaned-up, gender-switched version of "Work With Me Annie" became Etta James' first hit. This, in turn, was covered by Georgia Gibbs, who had a bigger hit than James or the Midnighters with "Dance With Me Henry." The Midnighters counter-counter attacked with "Henry's Got Flat Feet (Can't Dance No More)." After which Annie settled down and became a housewife and mother to Roxanne. But that's another story. In January 2013, Aaron Neville released My True Story, featuring versions of doo wop classics that pre-date the rock and roll era. Co-produced by the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, My True Story included Neville's version of "Work with Me Annie."

Hank Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and the Midnighters were inducted in 2012. Discover more about the history and roots of rock and roll at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. 

 



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