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Music / Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings

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"Now run here, baby, set down on my knee. I wanna tell you all about the way they treated me."

The Complete Recordings is a compilation album by Robert Johnson, released in 1990. Recorded in the mid-1930's, it collects all his work, except for one alternate take of "Travelling Riverside Blues". In that regard it replaces and surpasses the first two compilation albums released under his name: King Of The Delta Blues Singers, Volume I from 1961 and Volume II from 1970.

Apart from the musical qualities the historical importance of this excellent compilation can't be overstated enough. It is per definition the most essential Blues record ever made and the tracks presented here inspired countless blues, Folk Music and Blues Rock singers who followed in Johnson's footsteps. Several of the songs are also Covered Up to this day. "The Complete Recordings" won the 1991 Grammy Award for "Best Historical Album", was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame a year later and in 2003 the National Recording Registry included it in their collection for its "cultural, historical and aesthetical significance".

In 2011 the album was remastered as The Centennial Collection, with a changed track order and with the missing alternate take of "Traveling Riverside Blues" added. The original 1990 album placed the alternate takes side-by-side with the master tracks, instead of at the end of the discs. In all incarnations this album is one of the most essential and timeless musical works in existence.


Disc One

  1. "Kind Hearted Woman Blues" (2:49)
  2. "Kind Hearted Woman Blues (alternate take)" (2:31)
  3. "I'll Believe I'll Dust My Broom" (2:56)
  4. "Sweet Home Chicago" (2:59)
  5. "Ramblin' on My Mind" (2:51)
  6. "Ramblin' on My Mind (alternate take)" (2:20)
  7. "When You Got a Good Friend" (2:37)
  8. "When You Got a Good Friend (alternate take)" (2:50)
  9. "Come On in My Kitchen" (2:47)
  10. "Come On in My Kitchen (alternate take)" (2:35)
  11. "Terraplane Blues" (3:00)
  12. "Phonograph Blues" (2:37)
  13. "Phonograph Blues (alternate take)" (2:35)
  14. "32-20 Blues" (2:51)
  15. "They're Red Hot" (2:56)
  16. "Dead Shrimp Blues" (2:30)
  17. "Cross Road Blues" (2:39)
  18. "Cross Road Blues (alternate take)" (2:29)
  19. "Walkin' Blues" (2:28)
  20. "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" (2:39)

Disc Two

  1. "Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)" (2:50)
  2. "If I Had Possession over Judgement Day" (2:34)
  3. "Stones in My Passway" (2:27)
  4. "I'm a Steady Rollin' Man" (2:35)
  5. "From Four Till Late" (2:23)
  6. "Hellhound on My Trail" (2:35)
  7. "Little Queen of Spades" (2:11)
  8. "Little Queen of Spades (alternate take)" (2:15)
  9. "Malted Milk" (2:17)
  10. "Drunken Hearted Man" (2:24)
  11. "Drunken Hearted Man (alternate take)" (2:19)
  12. "Me and the Devil Blues" (2:37)
  13. "Me and the Devil Blues (alternate take)" (2:29)
  14. "Stop Breakin' Down Blues (alternate take)" (2:16)
  15. "Stop Breakin' Down Blues" (2:21)
  16. "Travelling Riverside Blues" (2:47)
  17. "Honeymoon Blues" (2:16)
  18. "Love in Vain Blues (alternate take)" (2:28)
  19. "Love in Vain Blues" (2:19)
  20. "Milkcow's Calf Blues (alternate take)" (2:14)
  21. "Milkcow's Calf Blues" (2:20)

The Centennial Collection track listing:

Disc One: San Antonio recordings

  1. "Kind Hearted Woman Blues" (2:55)
  2. "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" (3:02)
  3. "Sweet Home Chicago" (3:02)
  4. "Ramblin' on My Mind" (2:25)
  5. "When You Got a Good Friend" (2:41)
  6. "Come On in My Kitchen" (2:47)
  7. "Terraplane Blues" (3:03)
  8. "Phonograph Blues" (2:43)
  9. "32‐20 Blues" (2:53)
  10. "They're Red Hot" (3:02)
  11. "Dead Shrimp Blues" (2:35)
  12. "Cross Road Blues" (2:43)
  13. "Walkin' Blues" (2:33)
  14. "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" (2:41)
  15. "Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)" (2:55)
  16. "If I Had Possession over Judgement Day" (2:40)
  17. "Kind Hearted Woman Blues (alternate)" (2:33)
  18. "Ramblin' on My Mind (alternate)" (2:55)
  19. "When You Got a Good Friend (alternate)" (2:55)
  20. "Come On in My Kitchen (alternate)" (2:55)
  21. "Phonograph Blues (alternate)" (2:37)
  22. "Cross Road Blues (alternate)" (2:32)

Disc Two: Dallas recordings

  1. "Stones in My Passway" (2:31)
  2. "I’m a Steady Rollin' Man" (2:40)
  3. "From Four Until Late" (2:27)
  4. "Hell Hound on My Trail" (2:40)
  5. "Little Queen of Spades" (2:16)
  6. "Malted Milk" (2:24)
  7. "Drunken Hearted Man" (2:32)
  8. "Me and the Devil Blues" (2:38)
  9. "Stop Breakin' Down Blues" (2:26)
  10. "Traveling Riverside Blues" (2:42)
  11. "Honeymoon Blues" (2:20)
  12. "Love in Vain Blues" (2:21)
  13. "Milkcow's Calf Blues" (2:26)
  14. "Little Queen of Spades (alternate)" (2:23)
  15. "Drunken Hearted Man (alternate)" (2:30)
  16. "Me and the Devil Blues (alternate)" (2:36)
  17. "Stop Breakin' Down Blues (alternate)" (2:21)
  18. "Traveling Riverside Blues (alternate)" (2:56)
  19. "Love in Vain Blues (alternate)" (2:29)
  20. "Milkcow's Calf Blues (alternate)" (2:18)

You've got keep readin, tropes fallin' down like hail...

  • Alliterative Title: "Malted Milk".
  • Artistic License – Geography: There's still lots of debate over the chorus of "Sweet Home Chicago": "Oh, baby don't you wanna go?/Back to the land of California/To my sweet home, Chicago." The consensus is that this wasn't a mistake on Johnson's part, but there are endless guesses as to why he wrote it that way. The song's supposed to be about a road trip from California to Chicago. Or he was combining two places that people in the Mississippi Delta wanted to move to. Or the song's Unreliable Narrator doesn't know that Chicago isn't in California. Or Johnson was giving a Shout-Out to friends/relatives who lived in the small California towns of Chicago Park or Port Chicago.
  • As the Good Book Says...: "If I Had Possession over Judgment Day", "Cross Road Blues" and "Me and the Devil" all talk about devil imagery, redemption and paying for your sins.
  • At the Crossroads: "Cross Road Blues," while ostensibly about a failed attempt to hitch a ride, is often linked to the legend that Johnson made a Deal with the Devil for the ability to play music (a legend more supported by his "Me and the Devil Blues").
    Standin' at the crossroad, baby
    While the sun goin' down
  • Blues: More specifically, Delta Blues.
  • Break Up Song: Whenever a woman is mentioned in Johnson's songs it's usually someone who treats him bad, for example "Walkin' Blues":
    I feel mistreated, baby, and I don't mind dying
  • Captain Obvious: "Sweet Home Chicago"
    Now one and one is two
    Two and two is four
  • Covers Always Lie: It is the most complete collection of Johnson's work around, except for one missing alternate take of "Travelling Riverside Blues". This was restored when the album was remastered as The Centennial Collection.
  • Cover Album: Many songs on this albums already existed in some form or another and were played by earlier blues artists, but often in different arrangements, with different titles and lyrics.
  • Deal with the Devil: "Me and the Devil Blues" is the reason the legend about Johnson selling his soul to the devil exists. It features the protagonist meeting the devil and being tempted about the afterlife in Hell.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Unavoidable, seeing that this photo of Johnson was taken in the 1930s and only one of two that certainly depicts him.
  • Distinct Double Album: Disc 1 of The Centennial Collection contains Johnson's Nov 1936 San Antonio recordings, while Disc 2 has the June 1937 Dallas Recordings.
  • Domestic Abuse: "Me and the Devil Blues:"
    Me and the Devil, ooh was walkin’ side by side
    And I’m goin’ to beat my woman until I get satisfied
  • Double Entendre: Johnson was quite fond of these, and sex was the subject of many of his songs. Although if you are not familiar with blues slang, a lot of it is easy to miss. Virtually any time he mentions food or his "rider" are examples.
    • "Traveling Riverside Blues"
      You can squeeze my lemon til the juice runs down my leg.
      Till the juice run down my leg baby, you know what I'm talkin' about.
    • "Terraplane Blues" talks about a car that doesn't start and Johnson suspecting his girlfriend having let another man drive with it, while he was gone.
  • Face on the Cover: A shot of Johnson posing with his guitar, one of only two verified photographs of him.
  • Hellhound: "Hellhound on My Trail".
    I got to keep movin', I've got to keep movin'
    Blues fallin' down like hail, blues fallin' down like hail
    Blues fallin' down like hail, blues fallin' down like hail
    And the day keeps on worrying me, there's a hellhound on my trail
  • Henpecked Husband:
    • "Kind Hearted Woman Blues"
      But these evil-hearted women, man, they will not let me be
    • "Dust My Broom"
      Girlfriend, the black man you been lovin', girlfriend can get my room
      I don't want no woman, wants every downtown man she meet
      She's a no good doney, they shouldn't 'low her on the street
  • If I Can't Have You…: "32-20 Blues". The 32-20 was a model of revolver.
    I sent for my baby, and she don't come
    I sent for my baby, man, and she don't come
    All the doctors in Hot Springs sure can't help her none
    And if she gets unruly, thinks she don't want do
    If she gets unruly, and thinks she don't want do
    Take my 32-20, and cut her half in two.
  • Intercourse with You: Several songs reference it but in a thinly veiled version as the subject was taboo back then.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: As mentioned above, "Travelin' Riverside Blues".
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: "Dead Shrimp Blues" is an extended metaphor about impotence.
  • Misogyny Song: "Kind Hearted Woman Blues"
    She's a kind-hearted woman, she studies evil all the time
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Walking Blues".
  • One-Man Song: "Drunken Hearted Man".
  • The Quest: "Dust My Broom"
    I'm gon' write a letter, telephone every town I know (2×)
    If I can't find her in West Helena, she must be in East Munroe I know ...
    I'm 'on' call up Chiney, see is my good gal over there (2×)
    If I can't find her on Philippine's island, she must be in Ethiopia somewhere
  • Properly Paranoid: "Malted Milk"
    My doorknob keeps on turnin' must be spooks around my bed
  • Record Producer: Don Law.
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: "Me and the Devil Blues" is one of the earliest incarnations of this trope.
  • A Storm Is Coming: "Come On in My Kitchen"
    You'd better come on, in my kitchen
    It's goin' to be raining outdoors
  • Shout-Out:
  • Something Blues: "Kind Hearted Woman Blues", "Terraplane Blues", "Phonograph Blues", "32-20 Blues", "Dead Shrimp Blues", "Cross Road Blues", "Walkin' Blues", "Preaching Blues", "Me and the Devil Blues", "Stop Breaking Down Blues", "Travelling Riverside Blues", "Honeymoon Blues" and "Milkcow's Calf Blues".
  • There's No Place Like Home: "Sweet Home Chicago", where Johnson asks his sweetheart if she wants to come home with him to Chicago.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: This album proves that less is sometimes more. Nevertheless some songs sound the same, like "Kind Hearted Woman Blues" and "Me and the Devil".
  • Time Marches On: "Phonograph Blues". Younger people will probably be wondering what it is.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: "Love in Vain"
    The train it left the station, was two lights on behind
    When the train it left the station, was two lights on behind
    Well the blue light was my blues and the red light was my mind
    All my love's in vain
  • 12-Bar Blues: "Crossroad Blues", "Love in Vain", "Sweet Home Chicago",...
  • Undercrank: Some researchers claim that Johnson's recordings were significantly sped up due to being recorded at a different speed than the standard 78 rpm, and have tried to slow them down to discover what he really sounded like. Make up your own mind.
  • The Unintelligible: Johnson sometimes garbled his lyrics and the audio quality doesn't help much either in deciphering what he sings sometimes.
  • Unrequited Love: "Kind Hearted Woman Blues".
    "I love my baby, but my baby don't love me
    And I really love that woman, can't stand to let her be"
  • Wham Line: "Last Fair Deal Gone Down"
    "If you cry about a nickel, you'll die for a dime"

Alternative Title(s): The Complete Recordings