Robert Parker in a more relaxed moment
"The Secret Service" (Robert Parker)
Robert Parker, Nola, 1966
I got inspired to dig up this track by reading the latest post on Funky 16 Corners, where Larry discusses certain British Invasion bands “borrowing” music outright from American records. That made me think of “The Secret Service” by Robert Parker. But, rather than having been copied, this catchy little song has several borrowing issues of its own going on, one of which involves taking from the British.
It’s hard to listen to the opening of “The Secret Service” and not start singing “Cool Jerk” before Parker’s lyrics kick in. Since the Capitols’ hit was also from 1966, I have to assume that use of that up-tempo riff by Parker and producer Wardell Quezergue was no coincidence. When I first got this single, it took several listens before I picked up that it quotes lyrics from two Beatles hits (one is obvious, one is a little less so – can you name them?). It may have been a sly ploy to try to hook back an audience whose tastes had shifted toward the Brit bands and their American counterparts, taking a toll on the popularity of New Orleans records; but Parker does it lightly and with humor. To me, this kind of quoting is hip and adds more quirky charm to his funny tale of a guy who is trying to make time with his girl away from the not-so-secret prying of her parents.
If you listen to enough music, you come to realize how much inadvertent and intentional replication has gone on over the years. Examples abound. Just for one in New Orleans music, there’s the tale I shared of Little Richard combining Eddie Bo’s “I’m Wise” and Al Collins’ “I Got the Blues For You” to make his hit “Slippin’ and Slidin’”. The respective writers (whose borrowed songs weren’t hits, by the way) called him on that one (legally, I'm sure) and eventually got included in the credits. The use and re-use of other people's material probably goes back to the first jungle drummer by an ancient campfire hearing somebody in the distance copying his beats. Although flattered, he soon got pissed that he had lost his claim to uniqueness. Unfortunately, he had little recourse, as attorneys had yet to evolve from snakes. . . . (apologies to all songwriters, drummers, attorneys, and snakes for any offense). Just ignore me and enjoy the cut.