Thursday, November 04, 2010

Rip This Joint

Through their song-writing skills, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards show a deep appreciation for American music and culture. Let's take a quick look at one song, "Rip This Joint," as an example. It was recorded in 1971/1972 and released on Exile on Main St (1972), a very American title in its own right (the British equivalent is High Street). This song has at least one strand that can be traced via Howlin' Wolf to levee camp songs and "Lookin' for the Bully" ditties that go back at least into the early 1890s.*

Mama says yes, Papa says no
Make up your mind 'cause I gotta go
I'm gonna raise hell at the union hall
drive myself right over the wall!

Take a thread from "Wang Dang Doodle," a song Willie Dixon wrote for Howlin' Wolf that was recorded and released fifty years ago (twenty plus years before "Rip This Joint"):

. . . we gonna pitch a ball
down at the union hall
We gonna romp and stomp till midnight . . .

Stones: Short Fat Fannie is on the loose
Wolf: . . .tell Fast Talking Fannie . . .

Stones: Yin yang, you're my thing
Wolf: . . . wang dang doodle all night long

Stones: Down to New Orleans with the Dixie Dean
'cross to Dallas, Texas and the Butter Bean
Wolf: equal littany of funny-sounding names

"Rip This Joint" also pokes a little fun at the Nixon White House:

Dick and Pat in ole D.C.
well they're gonna hold some shit for me

. . . giving the "Joint" in the title a second twist, tapping into another history that goes back to the early 20th century.

You can bounce all sorts of lyrics through the mix.

Throw in the ranch
And sell the damned farm
Go now baby and
Kill 'em with charm!

Music is always like that: microcosmic cultural telegrams, living artifacts that keep giving little presents to the always roving present. It's also as good a way as any to get a real feel for the historical record and cultural transmission down through the ages.

*Paul Oliver traces the bully song in "LOOKIN' FOR THE BULLY: An Enquiry into a Song and Its Story," in Nobody Knows Where the Blues Come From: Lyrics and History edited by Robert Springer (University Press of Mississippi, 2006).  

Photo Source for Philadelphia Union Hall sign above: (May 2008).

Today's Rune: Fertility.


Charles Gramlich said...

I like a lot of the Stones lyrics, some of which they borrowed, of course. Have you read Richard's aubotiography yet?

Erik Donald France said...

No, but I'm definitely looking forward to doing so! Thanks for the comment, and cheers on the Stones and their lyrics . . .