A Terrible Blogger is Born!

January 18, 2010

A Song for Sunday #36

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Drugs,Music — rmangum @ 5:15 am
Tags: , , ,

I envy you dear reader, I truly do. I promised to deliver 52 songs this year, which means that when I miss a week, as I did on the Sunday of the 3rd, I have to deliver a double play at a later date. So this week it’s a double-stuffed, high-powered dose of A Song for Sunday! With a theme! Seriously, kids, take this stuff slow, okay? I disavow any responsibility for what might happen to you if you don’t.

In 1983, the pioneering Rap record label Sugar Hill Records released a 12″ entitled White Lines, credited to “Grandmaster and Melle Mel”. It is often mistaken to be a Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (of “The Message” fame) track, but the group had already split up. The group’s DJ Joseph “Grandmaster Flash” Saddler is not on the record, which is by MC Melvin “Melle Mel” Glover, with backing by the Sugar Hill house band playing a bassline lifted from the song “Cavern”, by the postpunk dance group Liquid Liquid, and some vocal harmonies surely influenced by The Beatles version of “Twist and Shout”. Ostensibly an anti-drug song, one cannot help but feel the thrill of the illicit shot through it- the ambiguity perhaps being intentional. The line about a businessman being “caught with 24 kilos” refers to the unfortunate auto executive John DeLorean. Ah, the eighties!

Now, in the thirties and forties, musicians did not have to even pretend to be anti-drugs (well, maybe on the Grand Old Opry). This song by the folksinger/convicted murderer Huddie Leadbetter, a.k.a LeadbellyTake a Whiff on Me sure doesn’t. Folksingers would often record the same song many different times with different verses, but here are some lyrics:

Take a whiff on me, take a whiff on me
And everybody, take a whiff on me.
Ho, ho, honey take a whiff on me.

Verses:                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Walked up Ellum and I come down Main
Tryin’ to bum a nickle, just to buy cocaine
Ho, ho, honey take a whiff on me.

Went to Mr. Lehman’s on a lope
Sign in the window said: “No more coke”.
Ho, ho, honey take a whiff on me.

Goin’ up State Street, comin’ down Main
Lookin’ for the woman that uses cocaine.
Ho, ho, honey take a whiff on me.

I’se got a nickle, you’se got a dime…
You buy the coke and I’ll buy the wine.
Ho, ho, honey take a whiff on me.

The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
Takes a brown-skinned woman, for my particular use.
Ho, ho, honey take a whiff on me.

Cocaine’s for horses and not for men
Doctors say t’will kill you but they don’t say when.
Ho, ho, honey take a whiff on me.

Whiff-a-ree and whiff-a-rye
Gonna keep on a whiffin’ boys, ’till I die.
Ho, ho, honey take a whiff on me.

Of course, few would reckon the itinerant lives of blues singers in general, and Leadbelly in particular, were exemplary. But the romantic part inside us, we respectable bourgeois, needs somebody to live out our dissolute and reckless yearnings.

The reference to “Ellum” refers to the legendary arts district and music hotspot in Dallas, Texas. I can only surmise that the line “cocaine’s for horses” comes from some anachronistic quackery. I tremble just a bit at the thought of horses on cocaine.

I’m tempted to go on, to versions of “Cocaine Running Around My Brain” by bluesman Reverend Gary Davis and reggae master Dillinger, but that’s enough for now. Time to crash.


  1. I aspire to obtain the skills that Grandmaster Flash has. I’m enjoying the “Songs for Sunday” posts.

    Comment by Sue — February 11, 2010 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, I’m having a lot of fun with them myself.

      Comment by rmangum — February 14, 2010 @ 8:46 pm | Reply

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