Sunday music: “Come and Get Your Love”

July 24, 2022 • 2:00 pm

I read something the other day about pop/rock music that argued for the primacy of the tune over the words. Of course the greatest rock has great words and great music (many Beatles songs, like “Blackbird” or “A Day in the Life” are examples), but there are also great songs that have mediocre words. This is one of them. But the music itself is so good, so bouncy and memorable, that it makes you want to get up and dance. More important, this song, “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone, has lasted. You still hear it in commercials and other places.  It was released in 1974, and so it’s lasted almost fifty years.

“Redbone” is a Cajun term for a mixed-race person, and the two founders of Redbone, brothers Patrick (bass and vocals) and Candido “Lolly” Vasquez-Vegas, were of Mexican and Native American ancestry. (Their professional names were Pat and Lolly Vegas.)

They (and others) regarded themselves as a Native American rock band, and the only one I know of.  They were pretty much of a “one-hit wonder” group, but that was a big hit, rising to #5 on the Billboard Top 100 ranking.

It’s an interesting song, originally called “Hail,” referring to the call-and-response word used in each verse. It’s also a simple song, but with a tune that is not only an “earworm,” but makes you want to boogie. (A comparable song that gets you on your feet is “You Make My Dreams” by Hall and Oates.)

The words of the Redbone song, as I said, are lame: they’re simply a reassurance to an insecure woman that the singer loves her despite her insecurities. (You can see the lyrics here.)

In the two versions below, you can see how the band played up its Native American side, with the first version beginning with an indigenous dance by guitarist Tony Bellamy (the drummer is Peter DePoe). They also wear Native American garb.  At first I thought the introductory dance was corny, but after watching it a few times I think it blends really well into the song.

These are two live versions, the first, from Burt Sugarman’s “Midnight Special,” has the dance. In both cases, Lolly is the lead singer, and Pat the bassist in the middle. Sadly, Lolly died at 70 of lung cancer, but Pat is still with us. Lolly’s voice is particularly well suited to this song.

This version begins very differently, with a slow vocal introduction. I can’t choose between them.

Now my question for readers is this: Are there any rock songs that have great words but mediocre tunes? I can’t think of any. After all, it’s called “music” and not “poetry” for a reason!

52 thoughts on “Sunday music: “Come and Get Your Love”

  1. I would say Bob Dillan songs have great words but mediocre tunes due to him being a poor singer. The tunes got better when others sang them.

    1. Others who performed Dylan songs had better arrangements and performances. I was never a huge fan of Dylan’s words by themselves. His words went very well with his music but it mostly took other artists to demonstrate it. Lay Lady Lay is the only exception that comes to mind.

    2. You talkin’ ’bout that Zimmerman fella what changed his name to “Bob Dylan”?

      Bet you wish you had your edit function about now, huh, Bob? Boy, don’t I ever know that feeling! 🙂

    3. Although there are a few songs where I prefer the poppier hit cover versions, mainly Mr. Tambourine Man, to Dylan’s original, I actually do enjoy many of Dylan’s vocals on many of his songs and many of the tunes themselves are very good or great. I’d rate his version of Like a Rolling Stone excellent in lyrics, tune and vocal delivery. Tangled Up in Blue also rates up there with me. But, all a matter of taste.
      Taking Dylan songs out of consideration, can’t really think of any songs right off the bat with great lyrics but a really bad tune, but I imagine that’s mainly due to someone eventually doing a cover version with a much better tune. Most often, by my reckoning, a great cover song takes a good tune and significantly improves it, such as Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower, or Aretha Franklin’s cover of Otis Redding’s Respect. Of course, there are plenty of great tunes with simplistic, trite or even abysmal lyrics.

    4. There aren’t many Dylan songs where I prefer the cover over the original. Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” perhaps, but after that the list grows short. And I think the idea of Dylan being a poor singer is a misconception. Dylan’s phrasing compensated for a lack of range, and he sang in a way that made more conventional singers sound sugary. In his prime Dylan was capable of conventional crooning, as in his Nashville Skyline album. But he chose not to sound that way, just as he chose not to write conventional songs.

      1. Very true. Peter, Paul & Mary did the far more popular version of Blowing in the Wind, but I prefer his version, in which despite only being about 21 when he recorded the song, sounded much older, like a well-traveled troubadour. But they made the song more palatable for the masses. And, IMO, he used his voice perfectly for songs like Maggie’s Farm and Positively 4th Street. Great songs that just wouldn’t work being prettied up.

        1. I’d like to put in a good word for the Kingston Trio’s version of “Blowing in the Wind.”

          What makes music more palatable to “the masses,” as opposed to what makes it less palatable to the (for lack of a better descriptor) “non-masses”?

  2. I’d imagine there are loads of great pop songs with mediocre, or unsophisticated, tunes: Chuck Berry’s top songs spring to mind. You prettify melody through rhythm, harmony. production and dynamics.

      1. Oh, I see, Jerry: that’s harder. people say The Fall had great lyrics. I could never get past the execrable singing and ramshackle, can’t-be-bothered arrangements to check them out fully. Plus there’s ‘Mrs. Quill’ by Yeah Yeah Noh, the group I joined years after: listed as Mojo’s top English song of 1985. Production is absolutely awful. Words are great: mind you, the lyricist is me best mate.

  3. “Redbone” is a Cajun term for a mixed-race person …

    I was watching a doc the other day about the delta blues (which is, after all, the taproot for R&B and rock’n’roll), and it spent some time exploring how so many of its practitioners — including the father of the form, Charlie Patton — were of mixed ancestry, particularly black and Native American.

    1. Your post reminds me of another documentary well worth seeing. Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World. Redbone gets attention, of course. Along with the awesome (sadly deceased) Link Wray, whose biggest hit gave the film its name. I believe it was the only instrumental number ever banned by many rock stations. I am a big fan of his type of music. Robbie Robertson is another featured musician.

        1. Something went terribly wrong there, don’t know what.

          Try Youtube “Buffy-Sainte Marie live performance of Starwalker”

  4. Well as a die hard Rush fan, I think the music is great too, but for all those who don’t like their style, or make the tedious complaint about Geddy Lee’s voice, I would point out that Neil Peart’s lyrics are among the best creations in music, period. Plenty of examples, but I’ll just mention Closer to the Heart, Turn the Page, Bravado, A Farewell to Kings, Territories, Time Stand Still, Everyday Glory… the list goes on.

  5. I can’t as yet come up with the answer to the question, but there are sure a lot of examples of terrible lyrics embedded in a far better tune. A quick perusal of my iTunes list soon returned Rock Lobster by the B52’s. Lord, those lyrics are criminally bad!

    1. Rock Lobster has great lyrics. So fit the humor of the song. Most everything the B-52’s did was humorous in both music and lyrics. Their performances were lots of fun too. One of the best shows I ever went to was a billed as an outdoors dance party led by the B-52’s at Irvine Meadows in Orange County, CA. Google tells me it was in August, 1989.

      1. To each their own, I guess. It must be allowed that lyrics on their own can come across as strange, but nevertheless I was going to put up a sample of them. I couldn’t since they were making me ill.

      2. Paul Topping, a brave pick – I’m with you!

        That tune is brilliant!

        OOO- AHHH

        Gotta hear the smoke alarm solo!

      3. You know I think Rock Lobster came up here before – it has been on a playlist if mine ever since!

        1. What i am referring to are the lyrics, which to me at least are an abomination. Yes, the music is good.

          1. I’d say they are weird and … unserious … is unserious a word?… and the guy’s voice adds to this – he sounds weird. Total weird fest – I love it, makes me laugh.

            I guess one of those tunes – either you love it or hate it!

          2. Ugh – apologies – I get it!

            I’m trying to comment while doing other stuff. Not good. Even for something as easy as this!

  6. The weak composition and strong lyrics quadrant – I’ll have to ponder. I see how it is tricky.

  7. … but there are also great songs that have mediocre words.

    Lots of opera for example, such as Nessun Dorma.

    … or Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.

    1. There’s a further bugbear of mine, Coel: how often classical words (in song, opera) simply don’t fit the place-holder, the stress is wrong and they are too commonly the opposite of mellifluous, especially in English. It drives me crackers: contrast that with W.S. Gilbert who was bang on.

  8. This is a tough question, mainly because any rock song one can remember almost by definition is remembered/memorable because of the music. It is much, much more likely for one to listen to a good tune with lousy/unintelligible lyrics than the other way ’round.

    That being said, one (not me) could argue that “American Pie” has “good” lyrics but fairly banal music. Or you could say that Dylan’s lyrics outstrip his music, but that’s mainly a relative difference. Finally, maybe something like Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” would qualify as a song that exists mainly for the lyrics, and not the music.

    1. Well, he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, much as I’d listen over and over to him sing anything he wrote. Jennifer Warnes on Famous Blue Raincoat did his music justice, I thought.

  9. Must admit that as a child in the 1970s, I heard the song “Come and Get Your Love” quite often on the radio, and heard the djs refer to the band as Redbone, but I never saw them on tv. However, I did see Leon Redbone on tv several times in the late ’70s, including on Saturday Night Live and somehow I got into my head that he was the “Redbone” that did “Come and Get Your Love”. I’d even read somewhere that Redbone was a Native American band but still thought maybe Leon Redbone was half-American Indian who just happened to dress like a gangster from the 1930s. It wasn’t until after he died recently and reading his obituary, revealing he was of Armenian ancestry, and doing a little further research that it finally sunk in that Leon Redbone had nothing to do with the band Redbone or their most popular song. And oddly enough, although I recall seeing him on tv at least 3 or 4 times, I can’t think of any one song I’d associate with him. His style was rather old-fashioned, as in songs that were decades old even before he was born, and to my understanding that wasn’t because that was what he grew up with but because that was the sort of music he got into and loved and enjoyed performing.

    In my fractured memory, I thought I’d seen him perform “Come and Get Your Love” but clearly that was a figment of my imagination fooling me, likely because none of his actual songs made any impression on me, except for not sounding like any current music I was familiar with. And, of course, his singing and talking voice sounded nothing like that of Pat Vegas. Should have been a clue, but it wasn’t something I put a lot of deep thought into in the ’70s or the decades since until I finally figured out that my assumptions had been wrong.

  10. I’m thinking The Doors – they might have some weak numbers with good poetry – I’m in the Morrison is a poet camp… maybe Horse Latitudes?… that one’s a cliché 70’s psychedelic trance, I think … the poetry is strong maybe… I’ll have to listen…

  11. I’d say The Eagles have several songs where the lyrics outstrip the music. The most obvious example is “Lyin’ Eyes,” which employs a brilliant use of ABAB-rhymed quatrains, many with feminine endings:

    She wonders how it ever got this crazy
    She thinks about a boy she knew in school
    Did she get tired or did she just get lazy?
    She’s so far gone, she feels just like a fool,

    My, oh my, you sure know how to arrange things
    You set it up so well, so carefully
    Ain’t it funny how your new life didn’t change things?
    You’re still the same old girl you used to be

    Another would be “Hotel California”:

    Her mind is Tiffany-twisted
    She got the Mercedes Benz
    She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys
    She calls friends
    How they dance in the courtyard
    Sweet summer sweat
    Some dance to remember
    Some dance to forget

  12. Maybe Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad. Boss has tons of good songs. This ain’t one of them. It sounds like a South Park satire of a Bruce Springsteen song. But the lyrics are damned solid.

  13. This is a *great* and classic song! I love it! Rediscovered it last summer when it was used on a Tv show called Reservation Dogs which is filmed in Oklahoma. Also, coincidentally, I found the used vinyl at a local record shop here in town about the same time for $10. Great post!

  14. In the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie series, “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone is the first song on the mixtape of 1970s pop hits that is all that Chris Pratt’s character, a Han Solo-style space rogue, inherited from his late mother after she was abducted from the Midwest by Kurt Russell’s space alien.

    OK, that doesn’t make much sense. But it’s nice that Pat and Lolly Vegas got a sizable amount of mailbox money 40 years after they wrote the song.

  15. It’s an oversimplification, of course (and there is some overlap, obviously), but rock songs can essentially be broken down into two categories — those built around a riff and those built around a story.

  16. Is anyone else old enough to remember Steve Allen’s routine in which he mock-read lyrics from rock ‘n’ roll classics such as “Be Bop A Lula” as if they were erudite poetry? Very funny.

    1. I’ve seen a few clips of Allen doing that. Allen was very amusing and wise in many aspects, but he clearly did not understand or appreciate rock music and made a point of trying to show how much he disliked it, even while he occasionally had some rock & roll performers on his program, including Elvis Presley, whom he had sing Hound Dog to a dog.

      1. Well, it is a pity he did not live long enough to appreciate “Wap.”

        No doubt, he had an opinion about Bloodrock’s “D.O.A.” from 1971.

  17. Skinny Puppy’s lyrics can be impenetrable but the music can be as well. A lot of bands in the Industrial mode have problems with lyrics, probably part of the style, and the music almost overpowers everything.

    An Indigenous American band – a Tribe Called Red, now called the Halluci Nation is comprised of People of the First Nations. Check them out.

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