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.
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.
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-sided” Melod-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….