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POP ABROAD

This blues chestnut has legs

June 27, 2004|Michael T. Jarvis

The artists: Spiderbait

The song: "Black Betty," from the album "Tonight Alright," a bit of rock 'n' roll sophistication slated for a summer U.S. release on Interscope

The lyrics:

Whoa Black Betty bam-ba-lam

Yeah Black Betty bam-ba-lam

Black Betty had a child bam-ba-lam

Damn thing gone wild bam-ba-lam

She's always ready bam-ba-lam

She's so rock steady bam-ba-lam

Whoa Black Betty bam-ba-lam

Where it's charting: Currently No. 4 on the Australia Record Industry Assn.'s top 50 singles list, where it recently hit No. 1.

The concept: An update of the vroom-vroom cool of ZZ Top's early MTV days, with a video that Spiderbait's Damien Whit summarizes (on Australian music site Undercover, www.undercover.com.au/idol/spiderbait.html) as "a car chase with lots of burnouts, and we smashed a drum kit at the end. Why? Because it's fun and it's rock 'n' roll and that's it."

The back story: The song was written during the Depression by Huddie Ledbetter, the legendary black folk and blues singer better known as Leadbelly, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Where you've heard it before: A loud and rowdy "Black Betty" was made popular by U.S. rock band Ram Jam in 1977 and reached the Top 20 on the U.S. charts but was criticized by several groups who considered it offensive to black women. The song's been recorded by performers ranging from Tom Jones to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.

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-- Michael T. Jarvis

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