Shake it with passion, shake it with forbidden lust, shake it with desire, shake dat ass temptingly, honey…or shake your fist threateningly like you just don’t care! Go on shake your wrist bones down to yer trembling thigh bones! Shake it like a Fleetwood Mac rattlesnake. Shake it like you are in Harlem, and the Pink Man taught ya how to get freaky Osaka stylee! $5 shake it Martin and Lewis or Amos and Andy with Tarantino in Pulp Fiction…and when your date mistakes the smack for coke, ask Vincent if his hands shook as he stabbed that adrenaline right into the heart of his boss’s wife as she lays overdosed on the floor of his Kurt Cobain-esque dealer. The shake doesn’t know no color barriers, all of God’s children have the right to shake! Those of us in the know, know that the right shake is worth every cent, Vincent. “Goddamn!” …”Just shows you never can tell..” ..The right kinda shake is priceless.
Didn’t we shake, sugaree? – if you got no connections, baby you ain’t no good and you know come afternoon you are gonna be shaking that thang whether you want to or not. Shake it to earn a buck, shake it all the way till it rattles and the rolls. Shake it with glee. Shake your mop top as you twist and shout. Shake with narcissistic self centered introspection with those new wave Depeche boys.
Birds do it, bees do it, even hair bands from the 80s do it: Do you want to shake your mullet with Cinderella?…Get shook down by the law with the Gorrilaz, as they Feel Good, Inc. trying to stay ‘bad and free’, or would you rather shake all over with The Who as they battle the communal band-wide DT’s and feel deliriously terrible but sound better than any shaking trembler has any right to sound. Shake it, baby, shake it like you know you want to. Shake it like you have no choice. Shake it with me, as we take a tour around the best jittery shakers in rock n’ roll history.
Gandhi once said ‘you can’t shake hands with a closed fist’, but lets see about that! I guess it depends on whether you are shaking it alone or shaking it with someone else. Big Joe Turner in 1954 did Jesse’s Stone’s Shake Rattle and Roll (as a side note, for the man who wrote the first rock song, Stone is a hugely appropriate name!), but it didn’t take off with the racist and snooty ’50s audiences until a white radio john called Alan Freed renamed it ‘rock and roll’…and set those shaky wheels in motion. As Dylan wrote in Song For Woody, “Seems sick an’ it’s hungry, it’s tired an’ it’s torn/It looks like it’s a-dyin’ an’ it’s hardly been born.” Rock and roll was sick and shaking, strung out and lusting right from the start. It is the music of excesses that sicken and overstimulate…and the kids loved it. This was the music that could make a bar room brawl shut up and listen when Jerry Lee proclaimed there was a ‘whole lotta shaking goin’ on’. Rock and roll, shake and shout, slip and slide, it could have been anything, but what it was ended up being far too much. But isn’t too much what we all need sometimes?
Too much sex, too much booze, too much fun, too much shaking, too much ‘too much’ in order to feel at all alive? Standing on a piano, those uptight young silent generationers, the proto baby boomers letting it all hang out and forming the first sweaty mosh pit, letting their hormones and their freedom teach them how to headbang, building the tension, walking away from jazz and bebop and entering the frenzied frenetic world of shake. Jerry Lee Lewis might have been a bad man, but he sure taught those kids a thing or two about the shaking as he stood on the piano, a manic psychotic look on his face, and the kids in the audience didn’t know whether to click their fingers like Neal Cassady at a jazz bar (shake a rooney rooney, hep cats) or just headbang before it had a name.
The name rock and roll might have stuck, but let’s face it, it is all about the shake, from Little Joe Turner and his Shake Rattle and Roll, that rock and roll was torn from, stealing the sound of the black artists and appropriating it for something whiter, leading to Elvis who shook rattled and rolled in a cover of Turner’s song, and then those those hep cats around the piano with Jerry Lee Lewis in a direct musical lineage to the The Who and their pinnacle of shake on the Isle of Wight, where the trio of Shakin’ All Over/Spoonful/ and the most vicious rendition of Twist and Shout ever torn from insanely stacked 100w Marshall amps took the shake to where it belonged: fucked up, strung out, thrusting, delirious and shaking from the hair on their heads, to the soles of their feet, the entire band performing an ode to alcohol abuse, the delights of groupies, and the rigors of the DT’s.
Watching Pete Townshend spread his hands wide, and letting his overstimulated nerves shake his hands like a drunk at Christmas dinner who hasn’t been given enough booze to quiet the physical need and sends peas scattering embarrassingly over the festive table, letting his thigh bones shake with the sheer power of leapers and his over amped jitters, not to mention the flow of electricity and sound that flows from his fingertips into the rapt audience. This shake has teeth. As Townshend turns and grins and shakes at the King Lush, Moon, they share an almost private in-joke in front of the world. It is as if they are saying to each other “hey you nutcase, I see yer hands shaking, need a drink? Yeah…me too…” That kind of shaking is only funny for about five minutes, and only if there is a bottle lined up. There is a whole lotta shaking going on on that stage. Shaking and sweating and kicking and feeding the insatiable beast of a physical addiction to ethanol.
It is easy to tell when a band love to play a song, particularly when it is a cover, like Shakin’ All Over, originally done by Johnny Kid and the Pirates. The look of sheer glee on Keith Moon’s face, drumsticks raised triumphantly in the air, the dedication to the shake that Townshend delivers, the supreme thud of Entwistle’s bones of the song thudding giving it a backbone to quiver all while nonchalantly dressed as a skeleton, announcing that one, he was a freak, even if he couldn’t compete with the antics of moon, the showmanship of Daltrey or the sheer rock and rolls balls of Townshend, and two, this was the man who was the very bones of the band. Genius move. Add to that the defiant charge of Daltrey’s vocals, show a band that was born to do this song. Townshend steals the show, shaking his bones, shaking his guitar trying to coax feedback from it, keeping the song going, and all while dressed up as uncle Pete who has come to do the painting and decorating: this is a man who knows the shake. He knows the shake of addiction overload, he knows the shake of the leapers (dexamyl pills beloved of mods), he knows the shake rattle and roll of the music, and the shake of desire, muscular, dominant, sinuous and playing to the grateful crowd.
The rush and release, the holding back and the tremble, fits and starts of the song, has a life and engine of it’s own. This song is the ultimate prick tease. Just when the slow and fast coaxing gets old, the song morphs into an aggro cover of Spoonful by Howlin’ Wolf. The shaking can only be satisfied by a little spoonful of loving, a little spoonful of whatever powder the boys are doing, or a little spoonful of booze. If there can be no release there is at least relief. The performance culminates in the most vicious Twist and Shout ever laid on an audience. The skeleton-boy is pushing the beat forwards, the cutesy vocals of the Beatles version become a yobbish mod riot, a demand, a need for speed, an orgasmic crescendo that abruptly ends in a brutal cessation of sound and movement. These are not nice boys. These are wham bam thank you maa’m rattlers, that leave their audience quivering and shaking all over.
They are not just shaking on the Isle of Wight, they are shaking down on Shakin’ Street with the MC5. Take for the takin’ and shake for the shakin’ on Shakin’ Street with the MC5, where the shake is in the kid’s blood. That need to move it has to be satisfied and that youthful desire to shake it never changes. At the other end of more recent rock history, the joy of the Shake was rediscovered by Joji, the St Francis of Filth as he used to be known back in the days when youtube was hip and didn’t demonetize non child friendly content, and his revolving (and revolting) cast of characters, invented the Harlem Shake, shaking all the way from the badlands of Osaka, Japan into a somewhat reformed existence as the bedroom pop indie kid de jour. It became a viral sensation in those days before covid, where the term only meant something bursting out into the collective consciousness, instead of a thing of horror that meant shaking it together was a form of extreme danger sport, and possibly illegal in many countries.
Talking about illegal in many countries, next up we have the Rolling Stones and Exile On Main Street‘s Shake You Hips….The Stones in 1972 were a far more louche and loose prospect than The Who in their heyday. The laid back rhythm and blues vibe, with a lead guitarist so ragged and torn that he was having to sit down on a chair next to the drummer, his eyes closed, as close to nodded out as a person can be and still play the guitar (can you imagine the conversations! “Keith’s too fucked up to go on stage. Stick ‘im on a chair, e’ll will be alright), the jazz off beat drumming of the late great Watts, and Mick’s overtly sexual exhortations to ‘just shake your hips’ combine to make a shake that rolls a little more than it rattles. Just dig that little drum stick twirl as the announcer talks them in. Watts was cool. Rock steady hands. Unlike the cameraman. That view was shaking around like a rattlesnake’s tail end.
Fleetwood Mac, with Peter Green was the consummate white boy blues band at their creative peak. Watching Jeremy Spencer do the rattlesnake shake with his maracas, Peter Green’s powerful rich deep voice wail over the top, shamanic and desperately longing. I love a good masturbatory rock song (that is a list for another time and what a fun one it will be!), and this is one of the best. “When I get home tonight/I guess I gotta shake it myself.” yelps Peter in dark frustration, as Danny Kirwan, eyes ecstatically rolled back gets that guitar groove rolling and rocking in response to Peter’s thrusting probing sinister guitar. The blues have always been dirty, but that fabulous little whoop of onanistic joy from Peter gives me the chills. Now I don’t know what Mick Fleetwood did to deserve the bold little verse about a man named ‘Mick’ who ‘don’t care when he ain’t got no chick’, I suspect all he did wrong was had a name which rhymed with chick. No matter, he can just ‘jerk away the blues’ like his best friend Pete told him to. This is a band dedicated to the cause of the blues. They don’t need a no woman, they have a sad tale of jerking off alone to tell, and it is somehow more authentic than the Shake Your Hips jive. The ensuing Green guitar solo, backed up by an accomplished Kirwan, is a thing of such frenetic energizing dark beauty that it sends shivers up spines and leads me on to Feel Good Inc and another kind of creature…the Gorillaz.
Stuart Harold “2d” Pot, the main character in the Gorillaz virtual band looks like what happens when a guy smokes too much weed and jerks off in every waking moment he has. Feed Good Inc shakes in a way which is more dysphoric and ecstatic. The flip side of the shake-it-shake-its is this post industrial hellscape of a world which is wholly dystopian. Perhaps that Rattlesnake has a bite in it’s tail. The disease of lethargy and inaction which breaks the ‘camels back’…
That camel’s back can perhaps take one more straw as Outkast liven the mood up with the funkiest tune to ever accompany such sad lyrics. Hey Ya shakes the world with a brave happy face put onto a life where love has gone wrong, and shaking is just going through the motions of lust. Shaking never sounded so good and ended up so bad. Not even when Nirvana shook it so hard that they beat it all out of Kurt and ‘had a fit’ in Aneurysm.
It is not like Shaking It(tm….or should that be tmi) is a rare event, from rap and hip hop, my favorite old skool exhortation to shake it comes from Tupac (Ft Dr. Dre), in his epic and seminal track, California Love, to the jazz infused semi-skat of Van Morrison in Astral Weeks, where he ‘shakes just like a leaf on a tree’ for his inappropriately underage crush down Cypress Avenue, his voice trembling with ‘anti…ci…… …. …. … …….. .pation’ in a way that would even reduce Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show to a puddle of lustful longing. Music loves a knee trembler, even when it is Eddie Money, and my instinctive reaction to his shakin’ exploration into teenage lust screwing in the back seat of daddy’s stolen car, is to feel a little nauseous and flick to the next track. I won’t do it to ya, if you must listen to the exploits of Eddie and Rosanna you will have to hunt down that one for yerselves!
I need to wipe that bad taste out of my mouth, by taking us down to Athen’s Georgia, to go visit Pylon in 1981, as they get Crazy, “You’re head keeps shakin’/Because your arms are shaking/And your feet are shaking/Because the earth is shaking”, screeches Vanessa Briscoe Hay. It is all so funny and we don’t even know why, but Pylon teaches us the whys and wherefores don’t matter in their twisted Alice in Wonderland fun house mirror world, a southern gothic exploration into the trippy reality of ‘nothing can hurt you’, even if everything is shaking, just ‘take a walk and you try to understand’ which way is up and which way is home. Even the earth is getting in on that shaking, and it all feels elemental, unavoidable and gloriously topsy turvy. This is the weird side of the shake, rattle and roll carnival ride. “Nothing can hurt you!” yelps Briscoe Hay, which is a good reassurance to have when we are all on such shaky ground and reality betrays us all.
From Cinderella to the Five Tones, from the Beatles shaking their mop tops making the girls faint, to Soul Train shaking that booty and making everything groovy, everyone wants to shake it. I wonder what Elmore James would have made of it all. His 1961 track, Shake Your Moneymaker set the scene for much shakin’ going on throughout the years, throughout all of the offshoots of that original shake rattle and rock and roll movement. I would like to think Elmore would have given us all a wry smile, stepped up to the mic and given it once more, with feeling, as Lil Nas X shook his moneymaker in the devil’s lap in the fabulous example of ‘if you can’t live with ’em because they won’t let you be yourself, shut ’em all up by embracing the shaking!’
After all this shaking and trembling, embracing the disease is the only way out of here alive. We are all gonna shake, so might as well accept it. Depeche Mode struggle to do just that in their spectacularly un-self-aware ode to obsession, Shake the Disease. The entitlement to love and devotion, the demands for ‘forever’ and the new age whining submissive self-centered begging for his girl to see how important it is all for him to make her responsible for relieving his misery. I suppose from a jaded been there, done that and worn the Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness teeshirt all this teenage shake rattle and roll devotion gets a little tiring. I mean I am old but I am not quite ready to hang up my shakin’ boots just yet.
Peter Gabriel and Shaking the Tree provide some solace and respite from all this frenzied fucking and drinking and speed driven knee jumping. The young girl that once sat in a history lesson, her hand on her knee, trying to stop the amphetamine from making her knee shake and jump around harder than Pete Townshend’s on stage at the Isle of Wight is now an exhausted old bird trying to make a life. All this shaking got me nervous. I am all tied up in knots, I can’t talk anymore, and if anyone told dude told me to shake my moneymaker, I think I might lose it entirely and shake my puny fist in his face screaming vengeance. No, the only shaking I am gonna be doing is shaking that shekinah, seeing what tumbles from the tree of life, shaking it down for words, shaking it for inspiration, shaking it for somewhere to perch, somewhere to live forever more. I can only hope Gabriel is right when he sings about tides turning.
Turning the tide, you are on the incoming wave
Turning the tide, you know you are nobody’s slave
Find your sisters or brothers who can hear all the truth in what you say
They can support you when you’re on your way
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
Looking backwards over my shoulder I have only one thing left to say; “Oh Lord oh me! Didn’t we shake, sugaree!” The ultimate shaking song, the magnificent godmother of picking, the woman who could have been Jimi Hendrix’s spiritual grandmother she was so skilled with her acoustic guitar. Cotten played upside down, back to front and left handed. No restringing the guitar for her, so she could play lefty, she just played with the high e string on the top and the low e on the bottom, naturally drifting towards an almost honky tonk pianist kind of sound. Her picking is so clean, her sound so perfect, she is Beethoven with six strings and a lonesome wail to her voice. Grateful Dead stole the song, and I never heard them credit her, but ain’t that the way it goes. Stealing Cotten’s voice, her words, her genius stolen by white boys stealing from black artists, like Elvis stole the hound dog from Mama Thornton, like Rock and Roll stole from the bluesmen, like Dink’s Song was stolen from the enslaved Dink, and popularized by the Gaslight folkies of the early 60s, the only credit in the title, makes me shake with anger. Where is the credit!
Shake Sugaree is a fading in the rear view mirror kind of song. A reminiscence of the bad old days, where everything is down in pawn, even the pipe, a song which comes on like an ode to addiction out of the mouth, not of a babe, but wise old woman, half giggling, half saddened as she remembers how they shook, sugaree. This is the story of poverty, of need, of having nothing left, not even the ‘old girl’. Shaking with fear. “I know something, I ain’t gonna tell, I’m going to heaven in a brown pea shell”, the fear of not even having a decent coffin to be buried in, because everything she has is in pawn, is a fear I know well. “I pawned my tobacco, I pawned my pipe, I pawned everything that was in my sight”, she carries on, as the young audience laughs at something that really isn’t funny. It is all fun and games to the young and privileged, it is all a blast, all this shaking. “I would raise Cain, but it ain’t no bit of use” she spits out, with as much kindness as she can manage. Libby Cotten has the secrets to the evolution of Shake. In the end, all that shaking leads to devastation. I am no puritan, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Too much shakin’ going on leads to waving goodbye even to the old cow, as is meanders down the road on the way to the pawn shop, giving it’s sweet milk to another soul. As I settle down to listen to Libby Cotten tell me she pawned everything in her lot, that everything she “got is down in pawn’, not even a bed or somewhere to lay her head, I wonder about what is left after all this shaking has calmed down. There is something in the youthful voice of her granddaughter, Brenda Evans, as she sings her grandmother’s sadness, if not her shame, that makes me feel hopeful that although there is a legacy of shaking, that it is possible that the inheritance of shake might be a poisoned quill, but not necessarily one that is inescapable.
To shake when I want to, I shake when I need to. To shake the tree. To look back at all that shaking and be able to smile at the gladness in the horror, and the pure joy of letting it all shake itself out, that is the gift. That is the evolution of shake.