Friday, November 7, 2014

What "Sugar On The Floor" Means (The American Folk Cultural Meaning & The Kiki Dee composition)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information about the American folk meaning of the phrase "sugar on the floor" and the meaning of that term in the Kiki Dee's song that was recorded by Elton John, Etta Cox, and others.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those composers and performers who are noted in this post. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post, and thanks to the publishers of the video and the sound file that are featured in this post.

The folk meaning of "sugar on the floor" is "sprinkling sugar on the floor to enhance social dancing".

"At house parties they used to shake sugar on the floor so it would crunch when stepped on, hence “to shake sugaree” meant to have a good time dancing. Even today, there’s a dance step called the “sugar step” which is an action like grinding sugar on the floor." “Shake Sugaree”
One suggested meaning of the Elizabeth Cotton song "Shake Sugaree". is that it refers to sugar being sprinkled on the floor for dancing. Click for a pancocojams post on "Shake Sugaree".

Also, click this link for my new playground rhymes blog cocojams2 to read a version of the playground rhyme "Here We Go Round The Mountain" that is prefaced by the saying "Sugar's on the floor!!":

The song "Sugar On The Floor" was recorded by Jean Ritchie in the 1950s region. "Jean Ritchie (born December 8, 1922) is an American folk music singer, songwriter, and Appalachian dulcimer player."

If I'm not mistaken, "Sugar On The Floor" is featured in Jean Ritchie's 1956 album Children's Songs & Games from the Southern Mountains (1956). Here's a review of a CD of that album: "Childhood Songs"/Jean Ritchie
"Previously available on cassette only, this collection of songs from Jean’s childhood, and songs she sang to her children is now available on CD. The booklet contains directions for the singing CD".

(Jean Ritchie)

"(A) Sugar on the floor (D) sugar on the floor
Eat that up and (A) call for more
Dance my shoes right (D)off-a my feet
With (A)you, my little (E7)sugar on the (A)floor (A,D,E7,A)


Now (A)shake that little foot, sweet Sally Ann
With a hey ho, (E7)sugar on the (A)floor
If (F#m)she can't shake it (E)nobody (D)can
O (E7) watch that sugar on the floor

Do si do and shy all around her,
Hey, ho, sugar on the floor.
Eat that sugar-pie til you founder,
Watch that sugar on the floor.

Faster, girls, you not a-goin'fast enough,
hey, ho, sugar on the floor;
Slow down boys you a-gettin too rough
Now watch that sugar on the floor.

Jeremiah Johnson, let me have your daughter,
hey, ho, sugar on the floor;
Bake my bread and carry water and
Throw a little sugar on my floor.

O swing 'er and hug'er and stand'er in the corner,
Hey, ho, sugar on the floor.
Hain't she a purty thing, 'pon my honor!
Sweetest little sugar on the floor.

Gimme little sugar and gimme little sweetnin',
Hey, ho, sugar on the floor.
Clap your hands and stamp your feet 'n'
Watch that sugar on the floor.


1964, 1971 Geordie Music Publishing, all rights reserved."
Source: "Lyr Add: Sugar On The Floor by Jean Ritchie", posted by harpgirl. 22 Apr 01 - 03:10 PM.

This is the only post on that discussion thread.
"Sugar On The Floor" is probably Ritchie's version of a Kentucky Mountain folk song. If so, it's somewhat curious that there doesn't appear to be any other lyric versions of that song online. And unfortunately, I've not been able to find the Jean Ritchie song "Sugar On The Floor" on YouTube.

In various verses of Jean Ritchie's song, "sugar" can also be interpreted as an affectionate referent for a female.

In American English "sugar" can be a referent for a female or a male. Also, among African Americans, the nickname "Shug" -from the word "sugar"- is a uncommon, but still heard, nickname for a male or a female. [i.e. "Shug Avery", a woman in Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple and "Shug Knight" is an African American male Hip-Hop music entrepreneur.

In Jean Ritchie's song "sugar" also refers to a pastry: "Eat that sugar-pie til you founder".

The word "sugar" in Jean Ritchie's song is also used to mean "give me a hug and/or a kiss": "Gimme little sugar and gimme little sweetnin'". ("Give me some sugar" is a relatively common American way of saying "Give me a hug and/or a kiss".)

An American traditional folk music singing group which is named after that Jean Ritchie song gives this meaning of that song title and lyric:
"From ":
"The name of our group is the title of an rollicking old time song about making rough floors more danceable by throwing sugar on them so folks could slide around easily. The song combines snatches of two old dance tunes "The Eighth of January" and "Pigtown Fling."
*The reference to "Sugar On The Floor" being a combination of two old dance tunes refers to the music of those fiddle tunes and not any lyrics those tunes might have. Instrumental videos of "The Eighth of January" (also known as "The Battle Of New Orleans) aand "Pigtown Fling" are available on YouTube.

Judging from the number of Google search hits, the most widely known example and meaning of the phrase "sugar on the floor" is connected to Kiki Dee's 1970s composition with that title. "Sugar On The Floor" has been recorded by Pop/Rock star Elton John, Blues star Etta James, and others. In that song "sugar on the floor" means being discarded by the person you love.

Here's a video of Elton John performing Sugar On The Floor":

Elton John - Sugar on the Floor (1975) With Lyrics!

RonnieFriend, Uploaded on Feb 25, 2009

Released as the B-side to the "Island Girl" single, this song was written by Elton's friend and singing partner Kiki Dee. Elton had produced and played on Kiki's own original version in 1973 on her "Loving & Free" album. On Elton's version he accompanied himself on piano, with just a little bit of guitar added by Davey Johnstone. It's an unusally stark and dramatic performance from the mid-70s Elton John!
Listen to Kiki's version here:
Click for the complete lyrics of that song.

Here's a sound file of Etta James singing "Sugar On The Floor":

Etta James - Sugar on the Floor


tormentor91 Uploaded on Oct 19, 2008

Etta James - Sugar on the Floor
Etta James adds these lyrics to Kiki Dee's song "Sugar On The Floor":
"All I need,
all I need is somebody to love
All I need,
all I need is somebody to care about me
So I won't be wasted
Oh, wasted on the floor
Oh I, oh I
I feel like I'm sugar on the floor"
Click for the lyrics that Etta James sings for that song.

Here are a few selected comments from the discussion thread for the Etta James sound file that is embedded above:
buren86, Sep 20, 2009
"God Bless Etta James....her voice, her feeling, her expression of this song makes me cry. When we're feeling down, unloved, strikes right at the heart. Yet, there is still some Hope, that things can get better for us. When will I be sure? Feels like, sugar on the floor. All we really need is someone to love us, care about us, so we won't be wasted on the floor. God Bless U Etta.

zanderphis, Sep 3, 2010 in reply to buren86
"hi buren86 when i was young my parents thru sugar on the floor so their feet would slid easy while they danced. the sugar was used, but not wasted. love is never wasted."

buren86 Sep 4, 2010 in reply to zanderphis
@zanderphis I'm not sure that's quite what the song is talking about, but your point about love never wasted is well-taken : )

Den Knee Dec 21, 2011 in reply to JloveLamar
@JloveLamar The original studio version was on Etta's 'Deep In The Night' lp on Warner Brothers Records from 1978. Bullseye Blues/Rounder issued it on cd in 1996. Not sure where this live version is from tho.

“All I need is someone to care for me so I won’t be wasted
like sugar on the floor.”

Bill Durling, 2014
"This a cover of a Kiki Dee song, not an Elton John song. First recorded on Kiki Dee's Album "Loving And Free" (1973)."

George Whitney, 2014
"Sometimes I feel like I'm wasted like Sugar on the Floor! ETTA!"

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