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ATLANTIC 937; MAY 1951



Yesterday we went on and on about how a poorly chosen title could potentially curtail the casual interest in a record and today we’re focused on how an intriguing title could help entice people to give a record a spin.

How’s that for continuity?

This is a title that was used countless times by a number of prominent artists over the years and though most of which were totally different songs and only a few were hits, it’s rather remarkable that almost all of them were quite good. This isn’t the best of them by any means, but it does get the ball rolling in terms of establishing the saying as a cornerstone of the rock experience.


It’s A Real True Sayin’
The colloquialism itself has a long history in black culture, referring to something that unfortunately is far too common in the lives of those whose every move faces impediments by an unceasingly racist society.

What it means essentially is when you encounter these obstacles you need to go around them, over them, under them or through them to get what you want. The whole point of institutionalized structural setbacks is to rob you of your hope, your ambitions, your determination and your fortitude and the saying One Monkey Don’t Stop The Show basically derides the attempts themselves.

You won’t stop us as long as we don’t stop ourselves. Keep on pushin’ as Curtis Mayfield put it.

The way it’s phrased though also brings to mind another coping mechanism for those forced to exist as second class citizens… the need for humor. Though the line itself isn’t side-splittingly funny, it does make fun of the ones slamming the doors in your face.

But the saying can also be twisted into alternate meanings, ones that other artists in the future would use primarily to mock wayward lovers thinking that a break-up would devastate them (Big Maybelle, Joe Tex, The Honey Cone… or Goodie Mob in a strictly platonic break-up context) which makes for a more traditional topic for rock ‘n’ roll songs, one that is fun to sing and humorous enough to leave the listener with a smile on their face if they’re gullible enough to think the monkey is referring to someone completely unlike them.

Stick McGhee on the other hand is just using the well known saying as a starting point for more generalized advice… some of it related to the primary meaning, but other times straying pretty far from the topic.


Gonna Tell It To You Slow
With the verbal hook of the song evident in the title listeners were sure to know that on this record the lyrics were the main selling point, though that doesn’t mean they’re going light on establishing a musical groove.

After a few meditative notes on piano they jump right into a churning rhythm that never lets up. Three instruments are each contributing distinctive parts. The piano alternates between a simple boogie with the left and a jittery right hand for color and a wheezy saxophone is carrying the melody. Meanwhile McGhee’s ragged guitar is barely audible behind them most of the time but is giving it a more vibrant edge if you listen for it.

On top of this comes Stick’s vocals which takes on a very similar quality in a musical sense, never getting too loud or exuberant in his delivery but rather holding steady with a gently surging pattern like waves lapping against the shore. That naturally rhythmic ebb and flow creates the pattern that the rest of the arrangement plays off, trying to mesmerize you rather than startle and impress you which further helps to focus on what he’s saying.

Unfortunately while the basic advice he’s dishing out is fine there’s not much tying it all together. Rather than address this to a specific person facing a clear-cut problem which would’ve provided much needed focus, One Monkey Don’t Stop The Show is more like a collection of fairly random sayings, all sort of connected but not with any real motivation.

The first couplets finds him almost seeming to be prodding a lazy child into getting off their ass and working harder to get what they want. The second and third stanzas are intentionally vague and esoteric, simple clichés more than actual advice.

By the time we get something more substantial to dig into – following a rather grinding guitar solo with some nice drumming and piano behind it and then a stuttering sax solo, all of which goes down easy – McGhee stars dispensing financial advice, though anyone turning to a rock artist for building a stock portfolio is probably beyond help.

There are some good, albeit very basic, truths contained within, mostly about the benefit of perseverance in a very broad sense, but it’s clear that McGhee was using the saying itself as merely a catch-all phrase – and a catchy title for what it’s worth – to draw interest, not as a way to tell an actual story with a decisive point.

You Will Get There Just The Same
The way in which all the different components of a song need to work together is usually best seen when they don’t.

If the title draws your interest and the lyrics don’t contain the payoff for that interest by being a little bit deeper or a little funnier, you might be a little disappointed.

Yet when you sit down and think about why you’re disappointed you’ll probably realize it’s a deceptive and conditional sort of let-down because your expectations were raised just a little too high by something that seemed so full of promise as a song entitled One Monkey Don’t Stop The Show. The same exact components that work here would probably exceed your expectations if the song was called something more generic.

In both cases though it’d be the same song… one which McGhee knows how to sell vocally as well as instrumentally, and he’d good enough where the sum of the parts obscure the element that falls slightly short.

One subpar element might leave you wanting more, but as it turns out it won’t stop the show altogether.

Good advice in life or when it comes to listening to music.


(Visit the Artist page of Stick McGhee for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)