Following on from last week’s ‘Mama’ theme, here is one of my favourite Band tracks. It exemplifies the sort of raucous almost ramshackle sound at which they excelled and which proves irresistible.
Not the best quality film (Garth Hudson ends up hiding in the shadows at times), but a great vocal by Levon Helm – and well recorded for a live cut nearly 50 years old. There’s a cast of, well not exactly thousands, but an augmented group with horns including a Tuba which sounds just great. As does the piano, invoking as it does the spirit of Doctor John and all things New Orleans.
Not sure what the lyrics mean? It seems you are not alone, here’s a sample from Wikipedia.
‘In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, Matt Kemp described the song as a ‘rural dance tune’. According to Goldmine critic Rob Bowman, the lyrics are ‘about a rather curious mind-twisting woman’. AllMusic critic Thomas Ward views the lyrics as ‘almost nonsensical’. The Band biographer Barney Hoskyns describes the lyrics as ‘lusty tomcat lyrics’, noting that both the lyrics and the instrumentation, particularly the ragtime piano, make the song seem like, ‘Storyville, ‘brothel music”. Something Else! critic Nick DeRiso described the lyrics as ‘randy’, stating that the song ‘becomes a moment of boozy, brothel-shaking joy’. Steve Millward interprets ‘Rag Mama Rag’ as a ‘gently satirical’ song about ‘a hapless country bumpkin’, who ‘can’t control his girlfriend’’.
Me, I haven’t much of a clue, but then there’s not much more to say about this group that hasn’t already been said. So just enjoy it.