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Wooly Bully

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"Wooly Bully" is a popular song originally recorded by novelty rock 'n' roll band Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs in 1965. Based on a standard 12-bar blues progression, it was written by the band's leader, Domingo "Sam" Samudio. It was released as a single on the Memphis-based Pen label and distributed via MGM. The song was recorded at Sam Phillips Recording studios at 639 Madison Avenue in Memphis, the successor to Phillips' original Sun Studios. It proved to be the only recording made at the studio to achieve national success.


History[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"Wooly Bully" was the band's first and biggest hit. It became a worldwide sensation, selling three million copies and reaching No. 2 on the American Hot 100 chart on June 5–12, 1965, kept off the top by The Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda"[1] and The Supremes' "Back in My Arms Again".[2] It was the first American record to sell a million copies during the British Invasion and was influenced by the British rock sound which was mixed with traditional Mexican-American conjunto rhythms.[3][4] It stayed in the Hot 100 for a then-impressive 18 weeks, in fact the most weeks for any entry within that calendar year, and was nominated for a Grammy Award. It was also named Billboard's "Number One Record of the Year" despite never reaching No. 1 on a weekly Hot 100; this feat was achieved again by Faith Hill's "Breathe" in 2000 and Lifehouse's "Hanging by a Moment" in 2001 (all three hits peaked at #2).

Title and lyrics[edit source | editbeta]Edit

As the Pharaohs prepared to write their debut album, lead singer "Sam the Sham" (Domingo Samudio) wanted to write a tribute to the Hully Gully dance. His record label's legal department feared using that title due to the existence of another song with a similar title. The song was given the green light after Sam rewrote the lyrics and replaced "Hully Gully" with "Wooly Bully".[5]

The lyrics of "Wooly Bully" were hard to understand, and some radio stations banned the song. The lyrics describe a conversation between "Hattie" and "Matty" concerning the American Bison and the desirability of developing dancing skills, although no attempt is made to synthesize these divergent topics. The warning, "Let's not be L-7's", means "Let's not be squares", from the shape formed by the fingers making an L on one hand and a 7 on the other. Sam the Sham underscores the Tex-Mex nature of the song by counting out the rhythm in Spanish and English, and the characteristic simple organ riffing. According to Sam: "The name of my cat was 'Wooly Bully', so I started from there. The count down part of the song was also not planned. I was just goofing around and counted off in Tex-Mex. It just blew everybody away, and actually, I wanted it taken off the record. We did three takes, all of them different, and they took the first take and released it."[6]

Legacy[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The song is referenced by Joe Strummer in the live version of The Clash hit "Capital Radio" featured on the live album titled Live: From Here to Eternity. The song is also heard in a number of films: Big BullyThe RookieFast Times at Ridgemont HighFull Metal JacketThe Shrimp on the BarbieSplashScroogedHappy GilmoreMonsters vs. AliensMegamindReligulousMonsieur IbrahimEncino Man, and The Chipmunk Adventure, in which it is performed byAlvin and the Chipmunks. It is currently used as an entrance theme by PDC darts professional Terry Jenkins due to his darting nickname, the Bull. Gonzo the GreatRizzo the Rat, and Fozzie Bear covered the song for the 1993 albumMuppet Beach PartyThe Tubes included a song on their final album from 1985, Love Bomb, entitled "Theme from a Wooly Place," a mashup in which the string arrangement for "Theme from A Summer Place" was played over "Wooly Bully" for 46 seconds. Another cover of the song was made by Canned Heat. The song is also referenced by Bruce Willis as Officer John McClane in Die Hard (1988) when he is trying to convey to Reginald VelJohnson as Sgt. Al Powell that Sam (Alan Rickman as Sam, alias Hans Gruber) is a sham (not to be trusted), as in Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs. The Iranian musical group Zinguala Ha covered the song, renamed "Atal Matal"; it is featured on the "Raks Raks Raks – 27 Golden Garage Psych Nuggets From The Iranian 60s Scene" compilation. The Romanian Rock group Sincron covered the song in the 60's. English Ska band Bad Manners also recorded a version on their debut albumSka 'n' B.

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