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Slithery People

January 5, 2014

 northern soul dancer

In 1963, civil rights activist and singing jazzman Oscar Brown Jr wrote and recorded The Snake, a finger clickin’, stand-up bass poppin’ bossa nova, free from unnecessary jazz frill but full of electric piano stabs and fluid electric guitar riffs. It‘s a cracker.


oscar brown jr

Borrowing heavily from one of Aesops’ fables, Brown’s track was a metaphorical parable about trust – a woman is conned by a seemingly in need of help half-frozen snake who by the end of the song has bitten her with poisoned tongue.

“Oh shut up silly woman!” said the reptile with a grin. “You knew darn well I was a snake before you took me in!”

You might know The Snake better as a northern soul belter. Half a decade after the original, Al Wilson took the tune by the scruff of the neck and turned it into something that, by 1975 (No. 41 on the UK charts), would be a talcum-dusted Mecca floor-filling monster.

Propelled by a properly frugging four-to-the-floor soul bassline, brass stabs build and build with each increasingly frenetic key-changing verse, Hal Blaine’s drum fills tumble like acrobats atop oil cans and the kitschest of hissing female vocals (Yesssssss! Come on in!) carry the chorus.

Without a doubt it‘s guaranteed to get me dancing like the rhythmically-challenged Ayrshireman I am.


al wilson

You might be surprised to learn that neither Al Wilson’s version nor the more unknown original were the first versions of The Snake I heard. Nope, it was second division indie also-rans Dodgy who first brought The Snake to my attention in 1994, including it on the b-side of their “double E-sidedMelod-EP.


Sticking with Al Wilson’s as their blueprint, the Dodgy version is a rush. It’s faster, fatter and has added mariachi trumpets in the tripping-over-itself finale. I love it. They’re still going, you know….

dodgy 2013

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2 comments

  1. Always loved the Al Wilson version although it’s ubiquity on the Scooter scene of the late 80s meant that for quite a few years I didn’t need to play it. It is one of L’s favs and about 10 years ago, one drunken night tried to play my Casino Classics 7″ which was totally shagged, eventually got round to replacing it about two years ago with a Bell re-release from 74.

    Guaranteed to fill any floor around Lanark with a certain group of 40 somethings. Not a pretty sight!

    Never heard the Dodgy version and am a bit reluctant to click on play now.


  2. Al Wilson’s version is one of the few songs that’ll get me on the floor!



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