Rolling Stones songs: Harlem Shuffle
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
You scratch just like a monkey/ Yeah you do real cool…
Written by: Relf/Nelson
Recorded: RPM Studios, NYC, July 16-Aug. 17 & Sept. 10-Oct. 15 1985; Right Track Studios, NYC, USA, Nov. 15-Dec. 5 1985
Guest musicians: Chuck Leavell and Ivan Neville (organ and synthesizer), Bobby Womack, Don Covay, Ivan Neville and Tom Waits (backing vocals)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
The “Harlem Shuffle” is a dance that was popular in the ’50s and ’60s originating in Harlem ballrooms. Harlem is a section of New York City with a large black population.
This was originally recorded by the R&B duo Bob and Earl in 1969. Their version, which was produced by Barry White, hit #7 in the UK. Keith Richards wanted to record this for quite a while. He would put the original version on demo tapes for Mick Jagger. The Bob and Earl version was sampled on the House Of Pain hit “Jump Around.”
In 1964, The Stones released a cover of The Valentinos’ “It’s All Over Now.” Bobby Womack, who wrote that song and sang lead on the original, sang backup on this and other songs on Dirty Work.
Backup singers included Womack, Tom Waits, Don Covay, and Patti Scialfa, who would later marry Bruce Springsteen.
Keith Richards said of this song in a 1986 promotional interview: “I’ve been trying to get ‘Harlem Shuffle’ on an album, without actually telling Mick, for five or six years. I thought that was a natural number for him to sing – it was made for him. I’ve been giving him cassettes with ‘Harlem Shuffle’ stuffed in the middle somewhere for a long time, but I never got any real response. One night we were in the studio and Woody and I started plunking away at it. We were amazed at how simple the song was – about two chords. The band was just warming up on it, jamming, when Mick walked in and started singing. We realized, YEAH. And we did it in two takes. So it paid off eventually, though it cost me a fortune in cassettes.”
Two extended versions were released as 12-inch singles, the “London Mix” and “NY Mix.”
The video was one of the first to combine live action with animation. It opens with a cartoon featuring some cats going to a club, where the Rolling Stones are playing. The cartoon cats show up throughout the video. Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi did the animation. Both artists pioneered adult animation and specialized in cats: Bakshi worked on Fritz the Cat, which was the first cartoon movie to get an X rating, and Kricfalusi drew for the raunchy cartoon Ren and Stimpy.
The Rolling Stones played the song live for the first time in nearly three decades during their gig at East Rutherford New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium on August 5, 2019.
“Has anyone crossed two rivers to get here tonight?” Jagger asked the crowd prior to playing the tune. “Anybody here from Queens? Anyone from Manhattan? Westchester? Staten Island? The Bronx? Hartford? Anyone here from New Jersey? We’re going to do a song sort of locally, vaguely, based. It’s called ‘Harlem Shuffle.'”
The Stones’ previous performance of the song was during their August 25, 1990 concert at Wembley Stadium.
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
With a background in doo-wop, the duo Bob & Earl (Bobby Relf and Earl
Nelson) recorded a number of songs at the beginning of the sixties before
entering the charts in 1963 with “Harlem Shuffle,” arranged by Barry White
and Gene Page and produced by Fred Smith. This was a song made for the
dance floor, and one that pays tribute to the Harlem Renaissance.
Keith Richards had been a fan of the song for many years, even to the
point of recording it on the cassettes he took with him when touring. In
1985, he finally got his way when Mick and the other three members of the
band agreed to record it. This turned out to be a very good idea. “Harlem
Shuffle” was the first single not signed Jagger-Richards to be released by
the Stones since “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” in October 1974 (with the
exception of the live version of “Going to a Go Go”). It got to number 1 in
New Zealand, number 5 on the Billboard 100, number 4 in Belgium, but
“only” number 13 in the United Kingdom.
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