Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Shama Lama Ding Dong" / Otis Day and the Knights

Flying home from Milwaukee in a post-Nick Lowe euphoria yesterday (more on that to come), I was seated next to an ineffably cool gentleman with long graying dreadlocks, obviously a musician -- the fact that everyone in his party was carrying a guitar case was a dead giveaway. It turns out that he was Gemi Taylor, guitarist for Otis Day and the Knights, en route to Orlando to play a Disney World gig. Ever since our delightful plane conversation I've had this song in my head -- no, not "Shout", which is the song Otis sings in the famous toga party scene in Animal House, but the one they sing later in the film, in the roadhouse scene, where Boon ecstatically greets the singer with the famous line, "Otis -- my man!"

Otis Day and the Knights, it turns out, was a band concocted specifically for the movie; DeWayne Jessie was an actor hired to play Otis, who'd never even sung professionally before. (I haven't fully researched this yet, but it looks like someone named Lloyd Williams actually sang the vocals used in the film.) But folks phoned up to offer them gigs once the movie was released, so of course they took them -- and they haven't stopped touring since.

Everybody knows "Shout", a pumped-up Isley Brothers hit that's perfect dance party material. "Shama Lama Ding Dong" is much mellower, with a groove just dripping with honey. I now learn that it was originally written by Otis Redding, which makes perfect sense -- that cha-cha rhythm, the supple melody, were Redding's stock in trade. But what I most love about this song is its light-hearted lyrics, which half the time seem to mean nothing at all: "Cause you shama lama / In the rama lama ding dong / Baby, you put the ooh mau mau (oh, oh, oh, oh) / Back into my smile child." Do "shama lama" and "rama lama" mean something specific in street slang? Does it matter? You can imagine what he means, and it's best left unspoken.

You almost have to dance, working your way into that bridge: "That is why / That is why-y-y / You are my sugar dooby doo." I love how Otis cascades over those extra syllables in the "why's." This thing is just so damn smooth it hurts.

Shama Lama Ding Dong sample

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