Friday, 7 March 2014

The ten best Bo Diddley songs not written by Bo Diddley

The odd thing about Bo Diddley's distinctive "shave-and-a-haircut-six-bits" clave rhythm is that he didn't use it that often after his eponymous breakthrough single in 1955. Among my top twenty Diddley tracks it only really appears on three: "Bo Diddley", "Pretty Thing" and "Mona" (musicologists will no doubt tell me it's magically embedded in all the rest, but the hell with them). Nevertheless, for the past 59 years, whenever we hear a record with a rhythm that goes "bom-da-bom-bom...da-bom-bom" we immediately think of the great man.

Here, I've chosen my ten favourite tracks that Bo Diddley had nothing to do with - but which wouldn't have existed without him. All but one feature his signature beat: the exception is the earliest example of another artist paying homage to the man born as Elias Otha Bates in McComb, Mississippi in 1928 - Muddy Waters'"Mannish Boy", his "answer" to Bo's 1955 hit, "I'm a Man" (which, to be fair, "borrowed" the rhythm from Muddy Waters' own 1954 hit, "Hoochie Coochie Man"):

Aren;t the backing singers wonderful? Interesting chap, Johnny Otis. By the time this great No.1 single was released in 1958, he'd already deservedly earned the sobriquet "The Godfather of Rhythm 'n" Blues" thanks to a string of thirteen Top Ten R&B hits with his own orchestra. Like many people, I'd always assumed he was a light-skinned black - but he was the son of Greek immigrants who, as he himself put it, chose to be black. Whatever, "Willie and the Hand-Jive" is probably the best non-Bo Diddley Bo Diddley song of the lot.

Dee Clark's "Hey Little Girl" was co-written by the great Otis Blackwell. I won this record at a funfair on Wimbledon Common in 1962 - can't remember what for.

Yes, I know "His Latest Flame" doesn't sound in the least bit like a Bo number, but it demonstrates how ubiquitous his beat had become by the early sixties:

On the other hand, it's hard to believe that "I Want Candy" wasn't written by Bo:

I recommend ignore the pretentious prat singing off key in the foreground on this last number and concentrate on Johnny Marr's magnificent "Mona"-style guitar-playing instead:

Mind you, I can't really imagine Bo Diddley whining about going home and crying and wanting to die - not his style, really.

Finally - thanks to commenter GCooperwho spotting my grotesque mistake, here's the cleverest and most original of all Diddleyesque records - Buddy Holly and the magnificent "Not Fade Away":


  1. No 'Not Fade Away'?

    A great man, much missed. I'll never forget an appearance on the (also much missed) The Tube. The audience looked at this fat old black guy with all 'WTF?' they could muster. Then the fat old black guy pinned them up against the wall with That Sound.

    You're right about Marr, too. Great player. Wrong band.

    1. "Not Fade Away" (B Holly version) was on the list and - like a fool - I left it of, for some odd reasonf. Bugger!

    2. Also, you omitted the British R&B artist, Bo Duddley, and his version of "Mama's got a brand new bag". The best version is on an LP called "Derek & Clive - Live!" which contains a helpful explanation of the lyrics.

  2. I can't wait to finally get a minute or two in my office to rattle these off as a play list.

    I've been a roadrunner this week.

  3. You might want to expand the list to at least four...the story of no diddly is right down the line.

    1. The Story of Bo Diddley not No Diddley is a nightmare.

    2. I love The Animals' "The Story of Bo Diddley", but I left it out because, although he had nothing to do with it, it was about Bo Diddley. Anyone who hasn't ever heard it can find it here:

  4. Damn it you're right. I didn't even think about that...the version I've listened to 5,000 times is Bo Diddleys.

    You can't go wrong with the animals though.