Saturday, November 9, 2013

"If You Don't Like My Peaches, Stop Shaking My Tree" in Irving Berlin's Song & In Various Other Songs & Rhymes

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision- December 3, 2020

This pancocojams post provides examples of and comments about the lyrics "if you don't like my peaches, stop shaking my tree". That line is also given as "if you don't want my peaches". 

Examples of some songs and rhymes that include those lyrics are also given in this post.

A sound file of Bessie Smith's "Mamas Got The Blues" 1923 record is featured in this post.

The Addendum to this post includes comments about and song lyrics for Irving Berlin's 1914 song "If You Don't Like My Peaches".

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

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the artists who are featured in this post.

According to Stephen Calt, author of Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary (p. 180), in Blues songs "peaches" means women's breasts. Calt gives these lines from Trixie Smith's 1924 song "Sorrowful Blues" as an example of this usage:
"Have you ever seen peaches, grown on a sweet-potato vine?
Just step in my back yard and get a look at mine.
Stephen Calt also writes "peaches, a term that (in the above instance) predates most recorded double entendres and may thus have a basis in black vernacular speech. In the familiar couplet below, peaches has no express sexual meaning, the singer ordering a female not to pursue him absence* a sexual interests or attraction.
Well if you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree
Get out of my orchard, let my peaches be.
-William Harris, "Hot Time Blues", 1928
*The word "absence: in this sentence means "if she doesn't have".

I believe that the "if you don't like my peaches" verse was originally written for female singers. A woman singing those words is telling a man who says that he is interested in her that if he only wants sex, to go away and leave her alone.

The lyrics "If you don't want my peaches, stop shaking my tree" are part of a four line verse which are found in a number of 1920s Blues songs as well as later songs and rhymes. That four line verse is:
If you don’t like my peaches [If you don't want my peaches]
Don’t shake my tree
Stay out of my orchard
Let my peach tree be.
Here's an excerpt from [Note: The 12/3/2020 version of that wikipedia page doesn't include this excerpt.]
"The 'peaches' verse has a long history in popular music. It appears as the chorus of an unpublished song composed by Irving Berlin in May 1914: "If you don't want my peaches / You'd better stop shaking my tree".

The song "Mamma's Got the Blues", written by Clarence Williams and S. Martin and recorded by Bessie Smith in 1923, has the line: "If you don't like my peaches then let my orchard be".

In her version of "St. Louis Blues", Ella Fitzgerald sang, "If you don't like my peaches, why do you shake my tree? / Stay out of my orchard, and let my peach tree be".

In 1929 Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded "Peach Orchard Mama" ("... you swore nobody'd pick your fruit but me / I found three kid men shaking down your peaches free")...

This verse and its ubiquitous usage is an example of the tradition of 'floating lyrics' (also called 'maverick stanzas') in folk-music tradition. 'Floating lyrics' have been described as "lines that have circulated so long in folk communities that tradition-steeped singers call them instantly to mind and rearrange them constantly, and often unconsciously, to suit their personal and community aesthetics".
This excerpt from Wikipedia was reformatted for clarity.
Here's an excerpt from "Rollin And Tumblin" by Elmore James that includes "if you don't like my peaches" line:*
I roll and I tumble,
cried the whole night long
Yes I roll and I tumble,
I cried the whole night long
I got up this morning,
feeling that something going on wrong

Well now want you to love me baby,
or please let me be
Yes love me baby,
or please let me be
If you don't like my peaches

Click for a post about that song.
Here's a lyric excerpt from "Sweet Mama Tree Top Tall – Birmingham Jubilee Singers" [1926]:
Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.
I smell your bread cookin', honey. Done got good an' brown.
If you don't like my peaches, don't you shake my tree.
... let my peaches be.
Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.
(I said) Baby, turn your damper down.

"[Verse 3]
Well, if you don't want my peaches honey
Please don't shake my tree
Well, if you don't want my peaches honey
Please don't mess around my tree
I got news for you baby
Leave me here in misery

The line "if you don't like my peaches" shows up in contemporary American children's playground rhymes and children's cheerleader cheers as "if you don't like my apples". Here are two examples of that usage:

I'll be. I’ll be
Walking down the street,
Ten times a week.
Un-gawa. Un-gawa {baby}
This is my power.
What is the story?
What is the strike?
I said it, I meant it.
I really represent it.
Take a cool cool Black to knock me down.
I'm sweet, I'm kind.
I'm soul sister number nine.
Don't like my apples,
Don't shake my tree.
I'm a Castle Square Black
Don't mess with me. 

Source: John Langstaff, Carol Langstaff, Shimmy Shimmy Coke-Ca-Pop!, A Collection of City Children's Street Games & Rhymes {Garden City, New York, Double Day & Co; p. 57; 1973)
"Black" here means "Black person". "Castle Square" is either the name of a neighborhood in a particular city or the name of a housing development (low income housing "projects") within that city.

"I'm a Cougar from Cougar town
and only a Cougar can knock me down
If you don't like my apples,
don't shake my tree
'cause I'm a Cougar
Don't mess with me!"

The message conveyed by those taunting rhymes/cheers is that "if you don't like me/then you better not try to start any trouble with me"." Those lines have no sexual connotations. "Apples” may have have been used instead of peaches because apple trees are a more widely known form of trees in the USA than peach trees.

Added December 3, 2020:
One  middle school age & younger stomp and shake cheerleading squad performed the "Don't Like My Apple" cheer:
KM Elite vs Huskies Cheer Battle, Angel Byrd, Oct 16, 2018 

Here's a comment from that discussion thread:
LifeWithRena, 2019
"When I was hs we had a cheer like that. It’s goes:

“Imma RAM from Edgewood town and it takes a RAM to knock me down if you don’t like my apples then don’t shake my tree cause I’m from Edgewood baby don’t mess with me” so it’s prob something like that"

SHOWCASE YOUTUBE EXAMPLE: Bessie Smith - Mamas Got The Blues (1923) 

warholsoup100, Uploaded on May 1, 2011

Columbia A3900 - 4-28-1923 - Mamas Got The Blues - Fletcher Henderson at the Piano Song Written By (Sarah Martin / Clarence Williams)

Bessie Smith (April 15, 1894 -- September 26, 1937) was an American blues singer.
Sometimes referred to as The Empress of the Blues, Smith was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and, along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on subsequent jazz vocalists.
Here's the lyrics to that song:
Some people say that the weary blues ain't bad
Some people say the weary blues ain't bad
But it's the worst old feeling that I've ever had
Woke up this morning, with the jinx around my bed
I woke up this morning with the jinx around my bed
I didn't have no daddy to hold my aching head

Brown skin's deceitful, but a yellow man is worse
Brown skin's deceitful, but a yellow man is worse
I'm gonna get myself a black man and play safety first

I got a man in Atlanta, two in Alabama, three in Chattanooga
Four in Cincinnati, five in Mississippi, six in Memphis, Tennessee
If you don't like my peaches, please let my orchard be"

American composer & lyricist Irving Berlin (May 11, 1888 – September 22, 1989)'s 1914 song "If You Don't Like My Peaches" includes the lines "If you don't want my peaches/Stop shaking my tree". However, that song wasn't publshed until the beginning of the 21 century. (Read the comments below)c0th at 3200 However, it's important to note that Irving Berlin never claimed that he made up the "If you don't want my peaches, stop shaking my tree" verse. I believe that Berlin heard a Black American Blues artist or artists singing that verse, and then composed his song around it.

Here's some comments about that Irving Berlin song that were posted on by Calpurnia Feb 10 02, 2:59 AM
"'If you don't want my peaches, you'd better stop shaking my tree' was written by Irving Berlin but the song was either unpublished or unsung during his lifetime. After his death, it was published by the Irving Berlin Music Company as part of the 'Lower East Side Songbook'.

A two-CD album entitled 'Unsung Irving Berlin' was issued a few years ago. On this, 'Peaches' is sung by Mary Ellin Lerner, Berlin's granddaughter."
Information about that CD album can be found at

Irving Berlin's "If You Want My Peaches" differs considerably in structure, lyrics, and spirit from Blues songs that include that verse. In that Irving Berlin's song, the woman is chiding her suitor for his reluctance to ask her to marry him. Here's an excerpt of that song:

[1st verse:]
Mary Snow had a beau
Who was bashful and shy
She simply couldn't make the boy propose
No matter how she'd try
Mary grew tired of waiting
So she called her beau one side
While he stood there biting his fingernails
Mary cried:

If you don't want my peaches
You'd better stop shaking my tree

Let me say that you're mighty slow
You're as cold as an Eskimo

There's a thousand others waiting
Waiting to propose to me

So, if you don't want my peaches
You'd better stop shaking my tree"
for the complete lyrics to this song.

You'd Better Stop Shaking My Tree

Shannon Collins, Uploaded on Dec 14, 2011

You'd Better Stop Shaking My Tree by Irving Berlin
Shannon Collins Senior Voice Recital for NYU Vocal Performance Program

Accompanied by Jason Burrow

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  1. Ms. Powell,

    Thank you for posting this blog. I had wondered about the history of the phrases and lines.

    I've also seen it used a local song in a way that meant that if you don't like/want a Georgia girl, to stay away from Georgia ( In the song it's understood that they're so pretty you'll marry one regardless)

    1. Thanks for your feedback, anonymous.

      I appreciate it.

      I'd like to know the name of the local song that you mentioned in your comment.

      Thanks again!