Lonesome Onry and Mean was hanging with some folks the other night when Rufus Thomas' classic Memphis dance tune "Do the Funky Chicken" came on the jukebox. The owner happened to be standing near the volume control and cranked it; the energy level in the place went off the meter, smiles broke out, swaying commenced and two women got up and danced.
While the chicken has been described as funky, that's probably the only cool cred it has going for it. It doesn't have the majesty of the bald eagle, the historical significance or stature of the turkey, the literary significance of the raven, or the fear factor of the falcon, but there sure are a lot of mostly goofy songs about the world's go-to edible bird.
Rufus Thomas, "Do the Funky Chicken" A disc jockey in Memphis, Rufus Thomas had a great sense of what dancers like. While it doesn't happen much anymore -- "Wobble, Baby" would be the most notable exception -- songs specifically about a certain dance with its own steps were very popular through the Seventies: "Mashed Potatoes," "The Twist," "The Dog," "The Stroll" etc.
Pop culture was perfectly primed to accept this blaring Memphis workout, and Thomas set the airwaves and dance floors around the world on fire with his hilarious goof and even more hilarious dance moves.
You raise your left arm up, your right arm too Let me tell you just what to do Start both of them flapping, start your feet to kickin' That's when you know you're doin' the funky chicken
If you don't know what WattStax was, hip yourselves. An American classic.
Little Feat, "Dixie Chicken" Of course, the pejorative term "chick" has been part of hepcat jive since way back in the day. Lowell George and Little Feat hit a nerve with their tune just as the bloom was wilting off the flower of hippiedom. George, who learned his funkification via the Meters, removed any pejorative aspect by lovingly telling the woman he's singing to if she will be his Dixie chicken, he'll be her Tennessee lad. The best part of this is that most Aggies think Dixie Chicken is a bar-restaurant in College Station and have no clue that the name is derived from the tune.
Hasil Adkins, "Chicken Walk" Rockabilly wildman Hasil Adkins did his own chicken dance number in 1962. With only guitar and drums, Adkins cooks up a kooky, propulsive racket to accompany his lyric, which is really little more than introducing a new dance and then giving instructions for it:
Quiver yourself from head to toe, do your stuff wherever you go Do your stuff up on the floor, do your stuff wherever you go Come on, baby, do a chicken-chicken walk Push in, a-push out, push in, a-push out
Okay, you get it. No one said it was rocket surgery. Adkins was such an aficionado of chicken he issued an entire chicken-themed album, Poultry in Motion: The Hasil Adkins Chicken Collection 1955-1999.
Merle Travis, "I Like My Chickens Fryin' Size" One of the cleverest songwriters in country music's golden era, Merle Travis was a hipster before most people had ever heard the term, although he was a hillbilly hipster for sure. Back in the days before anyone had heard about political correctness, Travis wrote a tongue-in-cheek ode to women and sex that must have caused many a knowing smile -- or smirk.
I like my chickens fryin' size when they're hangin' around my pen I like 'em young and tender and not so wise like some old stewin' hen 'Cause she's done seen a lot of every rooster on the block Yeah, I like my chickens fryin' size when I get my skillet hot
Andre Williams, "Chicken Thighs" Andre "The Godfather" Williams scored in the dance record category early in his prolific career with "Bacon Fat," a 1956 tune which was later covered by the Sir Douglas Quintet. Another attempt to plug into the dance tune market, "The Greasy Chicken" just never caught on the way the "Bacon Fat" did.
But later in his career, Williams dropped another rocking novelty, "Chicken Thighs," filled of course with his classic salacious double entendres and sexy sounds in the background. As usual with the great soul innovator who produced records for Motown and also recorded with Houston label Duke-Peacock, the lyrics get straight to the point.
I'd give my right eye for a thigh Cook it, cook it, big fat juicy thighs That's where my happiness lies
The Meters, "Chicken Strut" By the time they dropped Struttin' in 1970, the Meters were already near the top of the heap when it came to funk. The band had developed its own style based on the rhythms of traditional New Orleans second line funeral music, and with maestro Allen Toussaint at the controls the Meters laid down a wicked groove that definitely sounds like it was composed while watching the choppy gait of chickens pecking in the yard. The tune is instrumental except for background shouts of "keep on struttin'," etc. "Chicken Strut" was the single released off the album.
Story continues on the next page.Houston's own rock and roll godfather Amos Milburn and his Chicken Shackers
Amos Milburn, "Chicken Shack Boogie" A Houston legend, Amos Milburn is one of the godfathers of rock and roll and boogie-woogie. "Chicken Shack Boogie" was his rave-up stomp, guaranteed to fill the dance floor at places like the Eldorado Ballroom.
Co-written with Houston talent scout/entrepreneur Lola Cullum, this tune is believed to be about Ms. Ivy Anderson's Chicken Shack restaurant in Los Angeles, which was a popular spot with Texas expatriates during the '40s and '50s. It was so popular Milburn eventually named his band the Chicken Shackers. Back in the day, this could have been the Third Ward national anthem.
Did you say it was located down by the creek Where you can get a whole gob of good things to eat All good portions of chicken once more is a cinch You can even get the last part that went over the fence They say it's the place where all the bad cats meet You'd better be mighty careful where you take a seat
Jimmy Smith, "Back at the Chicken Shack" In an obvious tip of the hat to Amos Milburn, organist Jimmy Smith extends himself on an eight-minute blues workout over a groove straight out of Memphis. This was an important side for the legendary Blue Note label due its commercial appeal outside the limits of the jazz world.
The reference to the "chicken shack" also signals that Smith is going back to a less sophisticated, down-and-dirty mode. The groove is deep, wide and entrancing, and Smith is accompanied by an all-star ensemble of Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Burrell and Donald Bailey.Louis Jordan used to tear up Houston joints like Club Matinee and Bronze Peacock
Louis Jordan, "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" Perhaps because "chick," the shortened version of chicken, has been used as slang for females, writers found it easy to use chicken as a form of double entendre in a number of songs.
Writers Alex Kramer and Joan Whitney certainly seem to in this goofy, super-charged bopper sung from the point of view of the hens who are bedded down in the hen house. Tunes like these were Jordan's stock in trade, his oeuvre if you will.
Tomorrow is a busy day We got things to do, we got eggs to lay We got ground to dig and worms to hatch It takes a lot of settin' getting' chicks to hatch
Bent Fabric, "Chicken Feed" Bent Fabric had some minor hits when radio was still amenable to piano instrumentals. His biggest hit was a soulful little ditty titled "Alley Cat," but Fabric's virtuosity shone bright on the wacky "Chicken Feed." Beginning with staccato "pecking" like a chicken pecking in the dust for grain, "Chicken Feed" may not have quite the sophistication of "Alley Cat," but Fabric manages to deliver smiles with this goofy instrumental amusement.
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