Monday, 11 June 2018

Talky Songs #3: Somewhere Down The Crazy River

Another hot, summery talky song today... as the weather continues to defy expectations.

3. Robbie Robertson - Somewhere Down The Crazy River

Robbie Robertson's only solo hit was released in 1987 and I loved it so much I bought the 7". I was somewhat disappointed, on later buying the album, to find that the rest of the tracks weren't in the same vein. Indeed, this appears to be one of the only times Robertson has used his rich, gravelly voice in this way... rather than just doing that more straightforward "singing" stuff he was already famous for with The Band.

The rambling story features Robertson reminiscing about long summer nights spent in his hometown of Arkansas with fellow Band member Levon Helm. Apparently they used to go "fishing with dynamite"... and I'm not sure that's a metaphor. The video, directed by Martin Scorcese, features Robbie getting particularly smoochie towards the end with a young Maria McKee. Legend has it not much acting took place here.

For me, this song is as evocative of long summer nights as it is one of my childhood heroes: Huckleberry Finn. I have a special affection for Huck since playing him in a junior school play and the idea of Huck and Jim sailing down the Mississippi to freedom is extremely romantic. This song can't help but remind me of Moon River and the "Huckleberry Friend"... although the actual river is only a small part of the lyrics. But it's also a very sexy song in its own right too, dripping with the promise of hot summer nights and verging on innuendo in places. No wonder Robbie and Maria got a bit carried away in the video... although, to be frank, she can do a lot better for herself: he's old enough to be her dad!

Take a picture of this
The fields are empty, abandoned '59 Chevy
Laying in the back seat listening to Little Willie John
Yea, that's when time stood still
You know, I think I'm gonna go down to Madam X
And let her read my mind
She said, "That Voodoo stuff don't do nothing for me."

I always loved that last line above too, the tongue-twisting nature of it, emphasised by Robertson's laconic delivery. This is a great track to "talk along to", if you can approximate a half-decent southern accent. Which I can't. Not that that ever stopped me.


  1. Legend has it (or rather, Levon Helm once claimed) that Robbie's stage mic was usually turned off in the days of The Band. He certainly isn't much of a singer, but he didn't have to be back then, surrounded as he was by three of the greatest rock vocalists to have ever walked the Earth. Robbie's great gifts were as songwriter and arranger. He does have a thoroughly captivating speaking voice though, which is probably why 'Somewhere Down The Crazy River' caught on like it did.

    1. Even more reason that he should have done more stuff like this, then. He could have been the next Tom Waits!

  2. Ooh - I love everything about this post. This was one of the first songs I downloaded when we installed iTunes on our computer yet for some reason I haven't written about it. Yes it oozes a sense of long, hot summer nights, but other-worldly summer nights unlike the ones we experience here. I love the talky part as it really sets the scene and then when he "Catches the blue train", well, we're off on a journey.

    Love that line in Moon River about the Huckleberry Friend too - I was a bit besotted by all things "American" whilst growing up (although that feeling has since subsided) so anything by Mark Twain was read voraciously.

    If I have one criticism it is that Maria does indeed look as if she should be his daughter, and not his love interest - Makes for squirmy viewing.

    1. Glad you're a fan too - but yes, we could have done without the video. Usually the case though: the pictures are always better in our heads.


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