Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Wailers - "Rude Boy" (sound file & comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides a sound file & the lyrics to the Wailers' 1965 song "Rude Boy", along with explanations about the meaning of those lyrics.

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

This post is a spin off of That post focuses on the phrase "wheel and turn" in the Jamaican Mento songs "One Solja Man" and "This Long Time Gal" and contrasts that meaning with the use of that phrase in the Wailers' Ska song "Rude Boy".

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to The Wailers for their musical legacy. Thanks also all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to all those who are featured in these videos. Thanks also to the publisher of this sound file on YouTube.

SHOWCASE EXAMPLE: The Wailers - Rude Boy

Short and Sweet, Uploaded on Jul 29, 2008

An early Jamaican hit for the Wailers when they were with the legendary Studio One. Bunny Wailer sings lead. Bob redid it later as Rebel's Hop and again as Walk the Proud Land. This last version was also re-recorded by Bunny.

(The Wailers, 1965)

Why? (x4)

Walk the proud land my friend, with me! (x4)

Now waan u come wheel an tun me (x3)

Fi go lick mi head pon yuh tambourine! I've got to keep on movin (x5)

Wanti wanti caan getti, an getti getti nuh wanti! (x2)

Gimmi likkle soul, oh Lord (x6)

Rude boy rub, rude boy scrub (x2)

I've got to keep on movin (x5)

Skank quadrille (x4)

Gimme little while (x5)
-transcription posted by Rebelman19, 2009, [hereafter given as "The Wailers: Rude Boy sound file comments"]
These lyrics have been reformatted for this post.

"Rude boy" = "bad boy" ; "Rude boys" is a Jamaican referent for sharp dressing young men who hang out in the streets and are known for their violent, anti-social behavior.
From "Rude boys: Shanty Town to Savile Row":
"It was towards the end of 1963 that the Wailers released their first single, Simmer Down, on the legendary Studio One label in Jamaica. The song was written and sung by an 18-year-old Bob Marley, the lyrics intended to placate his mother, Cedella, who was worried about the company her son was keeping in the Trench Town ghetto of the Jamaican capital, Kingston, where they lived. Simmer Down was aimed directly at the often sharply dressed young men locally known as "rude boys", who were making headlines in the then newly independent island with their violent and antisocial behavior/"
Note that 'rude boy"-now often given as "rude bwoy" may be a complimentary referent.

This discussion focuses on certain lines in The Wailer's "Rude Boy". For referencing purposes I've numbered the lines being discussed.

1. Why = question about why the world is like it is; why is there injustice, inequality etc.

2. Walk the proud land my friend, with me! - encouraging people to walk in their homeland (and in the world) with pride

3. Now waan u come wheel an tun me


4. Fi go lick mi head pon yuh tambourine!
"Wheel and turn" refers to a dance move in which dancers spin as fast as they can to the beat (wheel), then stop and spin in the opposite direction (turn)*.

*Source: "Part Admin/Part Tour Guide", self-described as Jamaican, in 2010 in response to the question "Jamaicans what does "wheel and turn me" mean?",

The phrase "wheel and turn" is found in a number of Jamaican Mento songs, including "One Solja Man (also known as "Wheel And Turn Me") and "This Long Time Gal". The "wheel and turn" dance move can be seen in the Kumina [religious] dance and in other Jamaican folk dances.

The "wheel and turn....lick my head" lines in The Wailers' "Rude Boy" are adaptations of a verse in the Mento song "One Solja Man". That song is included in the 1951 collection Folk Songs of Jamaica editor Tom Murray (Oxford University Press), but it's s probably much older than that. In "One Solja Man" the lines are:
A weh yuh dah weel an' tun me,
A weh yuh dah weel an' tun me,
Yuh mussa wan' me fe go fall dung,"
An' lick me belly pon tambourina.
That song is about a woman's complaint about a soldier who likes her, but who she doesn't like. That particular verse the woman complains about the way the soldier dances with her, and her complaint that his wheeling and turning her around might make her hit her belly on a tambourine player (i.e. crash into a member of the band). Click for a pancocojams post about this song.

However, the line "Now waan u come wheel an tun me" in the Wailers' "Rude Boy" song doesn't refer to a dance movement. I think that the "wheel and turn, hit my head lines" in the Wailers' song is an analogy to how rude boys are moving around at a fast pace in one direction and then another only to crash into (hit one's head) against the tambourine (player). In the context of that song the tune that is being played and the tambourine player herself (or himself) symbolizes the System (Babylon)*.

I think the point of those lines is that the rude boys are hurting themselves because they are dancing to Babylon's tune (or will get hurt if they continue moving one way and then another the way that Babylon wants them to).

*" “Babylon” refers to the system built on slavery i.e. the global free market/globalization system"

5. I've got to keep on movin - This line isn't about dancing, but about moving through the world using your own free will, moving when and how you want to move. As such, this line is in contrast to the "wheel and turn...hit my head on your tambourine" lines. And "how" the singer encourages people to move refers back to line #1 "Walk the proud land my friend"

6. Wanti wanti caan getti, an getti getti nuh wanti! = (x2) Want it want it can't get it and get it get it dont want it.

A amaican proverb, included in
""Wanti wanti can't get it, getti getti no want it", i.e., the Have-nots covet what the Haves take for granted."
-end of quote>
A commenter in The Wailers' "Rude Boy" sound file's comment thread offered this meaning of that proverb in response to another commenter's query about that song:
"@djangophile Walk the proud land my friend. Want it want it can't get it and get it get it dont want it. which i interpret to mean. "If you can't get what you want don't worry about it. That's just life. But keep your pride." Its a collection of sayings that come together to say stay proud as a common threme through all of them."
While I think that the first meaning of the proverb fits that song better, I would also suggest that the song is also questioning the value of that which is coveted. Instead, in the subsequent line the Wailers indicate what they value more.

7. Gimmi likkle soul, oh Lord (x6) = This line, in standard American English "Give me a little soul, oh Lord" is not just a religious prayer, but also for the spirit, energy, power, energy, perseverance, and creativity that is embodied in "soul" culture (black culture).

8. Rude boy rub, rude boy scrub
Rub/scrub may just be a creative way of saying that the life of rude boys is one of engaging in sexual pleasures and working hard. However, I wonder if this line (also) alludes to the Caribbean folk music genre of "rake and scrap" (ripsaw music)

If that allusion was what was meant by the rub/scrub rhyme, I believe that lines continue the statement about "soul" and also suggest that rude boys need to take their creativity energy and apply it to the work of making the world a better place.

I also wonder if the rub/scrub rhyming reference might be a reference to some cultural saying, or song. For instance, includes a definition for ketchy - chuby: "It can be a sexual term meaning the man throw it and the woman catch it! It can also mean a game - life's game, how to see through today to meet tomorrow and all the games of life as in "life is just a ketchy-chuby game." :-end of quote-
If that term was alluded to in that line, then it's probable the second meaning that was meant.

9. I've got to keep on movin - Read comment #5.

10. Skank quadrille - Continues the theme of adapting folk cultural creativity to remake contemporary society into a better place for all.
The Jamaican Patois word "skank" has a different meaning than the African American slang meaning of skank (a derogatory term for a usually younger female, implying that that female is trashy, lower-class, with no morals.

Here's the Jamaican Patois meaning of "skank" from "Talk Jamaican"
Skank: "to dance to reggae music (1) to move with cunning, ulterior motives (2)
-end of quote-
Quadrille is an old time Jamaican dance, an adaptation of the European quadrille.

I believe that "Skank quadrille" means that that "Rude Boy" isn't just a Ska song with a great danceable beat- It's (also) a modern day folk song that has subversive intentions.

Read this exchange of comments about the over all theme of The Wailers' "Rude Boy" song :
Edward Cypher, 2012 from "The Wailers: Rude Boy sound file comments"
"I find it ironic that Marley sang songs that praised what was to become one of the most violent cultures in Jamaican history,the rude-boy and badman street-cultures,and then became a notorious figure associated with peace and unity musical pleads.

subg88, 2012 from "The Wailers: Rude Boy sound file comments"
in reply to Edward Cypher
I think the point of those songs anyway is not to praise the rude boy culture, but to tell the rude boys they are doing just what "The Man" wants them to do by committing senseless crime ending up in jail. You can't rule the land in jail, it's time to get serious. At least that's my interpretation
For what it's worth, I agree with subg88's comment. I think that song means that, and more.

11. Gimme little while - In a little while time things will change for the better.

This concludes this post.

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Visitors' comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. The discussion thread to that showcase video about The Wailers' song "Rude Boy" also includes interesting comments about how the early skinheads weren't racist.

    I didn't include any of those comments because I thought that that would be off-topic, but it's actually not given the song's overall theme of making the world a better place for all.