Thursday, March 26, 2020

Non-Sense: Rubber Biscuit

The Blues Brothers: Rubber Biscuit

If you knew that the original version of this song was released in 1956 by The Chips, then a tip of my fedora to you. Because I suspect that most of us first became aware of this song from its recording and performance by The Blues Brothers, a band fronted by Saturday Night Live performers John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, and featuring some of the best studio musicians around. Their debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues was a chart topping success, and both “Rubber Biscuit” and Sam & Dave cover “Soul Man” were top 100 singles—and their first movie was a huge hit, commercially, if not completely artistically (although, this is still one of my favorite scenes).

Some critics had reservations about the quality of the music—mostly focusing on Belushi, who sang lead on most songs—and whether or not it was a ripoff (or, as we might call it today, “cultural appropriation”). But others pointed out that Ackroyd and Belushi highlighted a number of obscure songs (like “Rubber Biscuit”), revived interest in the genre, and probably got more than a few performers and songwriters unexpected royalty checks or gigs. To quote the Allmusic review of Briefcase,

The guardians of popular music have always been entirely too reverent and humorless, however, and it wasn't long before they were leveling charges of rip-off against the Brothers and complaining that John Belushi couldn't sing as well as Otis Redding. So what?

“Rubber Biscuit” was Ackroyd’s showcase, and featured him on lead vocals. Ackroyd loved blues music and had performed it on and off since his college days, sometimes sitting in with the Downchild Blues Band in Canada, and even played the drums behind Muddy Waters at a show. Here's a video of Ackroyd performing with them at their 50th Anniversary show last year.

The song is filled with nonsense scat singing, interspersed with spoken comments by the singer. Interestingly, much like the song featured in my last Non-Sense post, “Rubber Biscuit,” despite its silliness—and it is silly—has an underlying serious message. It is about poverty and hunger—the spoken part of the lyrics refer to “food” such as a “wish sandwich,” which is “the kind of a sandwich where you have two slices of bread and you wish you had some meat,” or a “ricochet biscuit,” which is “the kind of biscuit that's supposed to bounce off the wall back in your mouth. If it don't bounce back, you go hungry.”

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