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Old 07-26-2012, 09:18 AM
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Song Black Betty - whats it saying?

One of my favorite hard rock songs. By Ram Jam. Black Betty also by Lead Belly.

Whats it about? Is it mostly celebrating mind blowing sex with a Black lady? They got rhythm and all. This song is from the late 70's and those stereotypes were still around.
http://youtube.com/watch?v=R044sleOW6I

he talking great sex here?
http://lyrics.wikia.com/Lead_Belly:Black_Betty
She's so rock steady (bam-ba-lam)
And she's always ready (bam-ba-lam)
Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)

Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
She's from birmingham (bam-ba-lam)
Way down in alabam' (bam-ba-lam)
Well, she's shakin' that thing (bam-ba-lam)
Boy, she makes me sing (bam-ba-lam)

Last edited by aceplace57; 07-26-2012 at 09:22 AM.
Old 07-26-2012, 09:26 AM
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I could never figure out:

Quote:
Black betty had a child (bam-ba-lam)
The damn thing gone wild (bam-ba-lam)
She said, "i'm worryin' outta mind" (bam-ba-lam)
The damn thing gone blind (bam-ba-lam)
Why?
Old 07-26-2012, 09:28 AM
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Kids been masturbating? <shrug> another old stereotype about sex.
Old 07-26-2012, 09:32 AM
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In today's society, does this song have some racial undertones? I ask, because a few years ago my daughter's dance studio performed a number to this song, and it kinda made me cringe a bit.
Old 07-26-2012, 09:33 AM
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Betty
I knew the Ram Jam song was based on an older blues recording, but Wikipedia says it goes back even farther than that, to a musket, a whiskey bottle, a prison transfer wagon, and a whip.
Quote:
The earliest meaning of "Black Betty" in the United States (from at least 1827) was a liquor bottle.[3][4] In January 1736, Benjamin Franklin published The Drinker's Dictionary in the Pennsylvania Gazette offering 228 round-about phrases for being drunk. One of those phrases is "He's kiss'd black Betty."[5][6]
Old 07-26-2012, 09:35 AM
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I assumed, given the earlier blues roots of the song, that it was originally a chant - there might be a standard set of verses, but a chanter/singer could make up verses along the way. And Leadbelly's or anyone else's early recorded version was just the way they learned the song. Stagger Lee/Stag O' Lee and other songs are like this - weird variations with plot twists half-referenced, etc...

The rock version just took what verses they heard in earlier versions...

Just thinking out loud...although a check on wikipedia suggests that I am right about it being a work song, but originally about a flintlock musket.

Quote:
The origin and meaning of the lyrics are subject to debate. Historically the "Black Betty" of the title may refer to the nickname given to a number of objects: a musket, a bottle of whisky, a whip, or a penitentiary transfer wagon, as referenced in the following paragraphs:

Some sources claim the song is derived from an 18th century marching cadence about a flint-lock musket with a black painted stock; the "bam-ba-lam" lyric referring to the sound of the gunfire. Soldiers in the field were said to be "hugging Black Betty". In this interpretation, the musket was superseded by its "child", a musket with an unpainted walnut stock known as a "Brown Bess".
ETA: Simul-post! Beaten by 2 minutes!!

Last edited by WordMan; 07-26-2012 at 09:36 AM.
Old 07-26-2012, 10:40 AM
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To me most all the lyrics correspond with it being a woman. Guns and liquor don't "shake that thing." I'm not sure about the blind part though, it could be literal or just mean the child is out of control and can't see what they're doing wrong.
Old 07-26-2012, 10:55 AM
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.....aaaand now it's stuck in my head.

Last edited by Soylent Juicy; 07-26-2012 at 10:56 AM.
Old 07-26-2012, 10:59 AM
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Nothing to add to the interpretation, but wouldja believe that guitarist Bill Bartlett, the leader of Ram Jam, was also the leader of the Lemon Pipers? Yes, the Sixties psychedelic bubblegum group that played "Green Tambourine."
Old 07-26-2012, 11:09 AM
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Tom Jones singing Black Betty. No question what he's talking about.
Black Betty had a child
Swears its mine
She must be out of her mind

he's got several alternate lyrics
http://youtube.com/watch?v=ckH2fjLeY9A

Last edited by aceplace57; 07-26-2012 at 11:10 AM.
Old 07-26-2012, 12:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by astorian View Post
Nothing to add to the interpretation, but wouldja believe that guitarist Bill Bartlett, the leader of Ram Jam, was also the leader of the Lemon Pipers? Yes, the Sixties psychedelic bubblegum group that played "Green Tambourine."
The Lemon Pipers did have a hard rock side. Although most of their recorded output was in the same vein as "Green Tambourine" (which they only recorded under duress), they managed to slip a few heavy rock songs with growling vocals on their albums. Once their record contract was up, they reportedly reverted to a Steppenwolf-like sound. They even played at the Fillmore on a bill with Traffic.
Old 07-26-2012, 12:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Biffy the Elephant Shrew View Post
The Lemon Pipers did have a hard rock side. Although most of their recorded output was in the same vein as "Green Tambourine" (which they only recorded under duress), they managed to slip a few heavy rock songs with growling vocals on their albums. Once their record contract was up, they reportedly reverted to a Steppenwolf-like sound. They even played at the Fillmore on a bill with Traffic.
No end to what you can learn at the SDMB!
Old 07-26-2012, 01:14 PM
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My favorite cover of Black Betty.
Old 07-26-2012, 01:54 PM
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Bam-ba-lam! That's what it's saying, what more do you need?!

BAM-BA-LAM!
Old 07-27-2012, 08:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sicks Ate View Post
I could never figure out:
Quote:
Black betty had a child (bam-ba-lam)
The damn thing gone wild (bam-ba-lam)
She said, "i'm worryin' outta mind" (bam-ba-lam)
The damn thing gone blind (bam-ba-lam)
From the "lyrics I've been mishearing my whole life" file, I thought she was saying "It weren't none o' mine," as if she's disowning her child because the damn thing gone wild. Now I see she's an appropriately concerned parent.

<emily litella> Well, that's very different. Never mind. </el>
Old 07-27-2012, 09:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wheelz View Post
From the "lyrics I've been mishearing my whole life" file, I thought she was saying "It weren't none o' mine," as if she's disowning her child because the damn thing gone wild. Now I see she's an appropriately concerned parent.

<emily litella> Well, that's very different. Never mind. </el>
That's actually exactly how I heard it, and was surprised when I read these lyrics after following the link from this thread...
Old 07-27-2012, 09:15 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sicks Ate View Post
That's actually exactly how I heard it, and was surprised when I read these lyrics after following the link from this thread...
Of course, an error on a lyrics website is not exactly unprecedented. I'm going to give it a listen as soon as I get a chance and see what I can make out.
Old 07-27-2012, 09:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by astorian View Post
Nothing to add to the interpretation, but wouldja believe that guitarist Bill Bartlett, the leader of Ram Jam, was also the leader of the Lemon Pipers? Yes, the Sixties psychedelic bubblegum group that played "Green Tambourine."
Listen while I playplayplayplayplay

Old 07-27-2012, 09:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Beware of Doug View Post
Listen while I playplayplayplayplay

The follow-up "Jelly Jungle" is one of my favorite examples of a band (or in this case, a producer) trying to repeat a hit. It's all there: the sitar, the strings, the funny percussion effects, and the chorus that goes:

In the Jelly Jungle of orange marmaladeladeladeladelade
Old 07-27-2012, 09:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wheelz View Post
Of course, an error on a lyrics website is not exactly unprecedented. I'm going to give it a listen as soon as I get a chance and see what I can make out.
The "weren't none o' mine"/"worryin' outta mind" part hits me ear roughly as "wharnoddamahn" -- quite inconclusive. One could easily hear either phrase in there.

But what precedes that is far more likely "I'm" than "it." There's clearly an m sound there.

I think I have to concede that the site is correct in this case.

Last edited by Wheelz; 07-27-2012 at 09:58 AM.
Old 07-27-2012, 10:42 AM
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FWIW, the line in the Lead Belly version is "The little thing went blind, blam-de-lam/I said it wasn't none of mine, blam-de-lam/They said it wasn't none of mine."
Old 07-27-2012, 02:14 PM
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I believe newborns from women with syphilis sometimes go blind.
Old 07-27-2012, 02:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by don't mind me View Post
I believe newborns from women with syphilis sometimes go blind.
Hence the practice of routinely treating newborns' eyes with silver nitrate.
Old 07-27-2012, 03:08 PM
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Could 'blind' be, blind as in drunk, enforcing the liquor aspect?
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