Mother Popcorn

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Mar 11 02:28:40 UTC 2009

On Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 10:18 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
> Interesting, Ben.
> But, James Brown an "ass-man"? Who knew? He had no such reputation,
> back in the day, it being such a well-known fact that any famous man,
> from Presidents on down, brings P, that JB was doing it, too,
> engendered no particular interest.

I omitted this part from Douglas Wolk's WFMU piece:

"It got a little more blatant later on with 'Hot Pants'; a decade later, he was
recording 'For Goodness Sakes, Look At Those Cakes.'"

> On Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 9:50 PM, Benjamin Zimmer
> <bgzimmer at> wrote:
>> On Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 9:45 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
>>> On Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 9:25 PM, Scot LaFaive <slafaive at> wrote:
>>>> Can anyone illuminate me on what James Brown means by "(mother) popcorn" in
>>>> his song "Mother Popcorn?" I can only assume it isn't Orville Redenbacher.
>>> Well, the "popcorn" was a popular dance amongst the colored, when the
>>> side was new. I was still young enough to be partying back, at the
>>> time that the 45 dropped. However, it was never my impression that
>>> "*Mother* Popcorn" had any special meaning, except, possibly, to JB
>>> himself. At the time, I vaguely wondered only whether the popularity
>>> of the popcorn had inspired JB to write the song or whether the
>>> popularity of the song had inspired JB or someone else to devise a
>>> dance to go along with it, a la the "twist."
>> Some more info...
>> ---
>> The first hint of Popcornitude turned up in January of 1968, with the release
>> an inconspicuous instrumental single called "Bringing Up The Guitar"... Brown
>> started doing a little dance to "Bringing Up The Guitar" on stage, and it
>> caught on. He called the dance the Popcorn, and in late August, 1968, the
>> re-recorded the instrumental as "The Popcorn" (credited to James Brown Plays
>> Directs). In fact, he wasn't playing, though he can be heard yelping a
>> this time, Ellis switched to organ, and Maceo Parker contributed a smoking,
>> curlicuing tenor sax part. It's not quite as crisp or funky as the first
>> version, but when it was released in May 1969, it clicked, going to #11 on
>> R&B chart.
>> Now, let's backtrack a little. In January of '69, he'd recorded a song called
>> "You Got To Have A Mother For Me," the first blatant lyrical indication of
>> an ass-man he is. Â ... When "The Popcorn" clicked, though, the Godfather
>> moved-fast. (This, please note, was in a year when he released 13 singles and
>> albums, and that's just counting the ones under his own name.) On May 13, he
>> hybridized the words of "You Got To Have A Mother For Me" with the basic
>> of "The Popcorn," and came up with "Mother Popcorn," one of the most
>> funky records ever made.
>> ---
>> --Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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