The Scoop on Sloop
One of many pleasant aspects of attending an Indians game at Progressive Field is the audience friendly rendition of “Hang on Sloopy”. Most of us can belt out the chorus, mumble through the other lines and do the O-H-I-O part. But what is the song really about and how does it relate to Ohio? Inquiring minds want to know.
The song was written by New Yorkers Bert Berns and Wes Farrell (not the baseball player). Berns wrote/produced such diverse material as “Little Piece of My Heart” (Janis Joplin), “Under the Boardwalk” (The Drifters), “Twist and Shout” (Isley Brothers) and “Brown Eyed Girl” (Van Morrison). Ferrell did “Come A Little Bit Closer” for Jay and the Americans and “C’mon, Get Happy” for the Partridge Family.
Released in 1964, the original title was “My Girl Sloopy” and The Vibrations turned it into a Top Thirty hit followed by a Ramsey Lewis Trio Gold Record version in early 1965.
However, the recording re-done as “Hang on Sloopy” by an obscure group called The McCoys is the one we wail with the Indians and every Ohio kid is weaned on. That version reached No. 1 in October 1965 only to be rudely pushed aside by the erstwhile ballad “Yesterday” by a middling British band, The Beatles.
Groups including the Supremes, The Yardbirds, the Kingsmen and even Bruce Springsteen covered the McCoys’ version in later years.
Anyone who stumbled dazed and confused through the 1960’s or 1970’s knows deciphering the intended meaning of a song or lyric is problematic. As a kid I thought the Creedence Clearwater lyric “There’s a bad moon on the rise” was “There’s a bathroom on the right” (a foreshadowing of middle age?) and I could never tell if Manfred Mann’s “Blinded By the Light” mentioned a deuce or a douche. Still don’t know.
Legend holds the song was inspired by Dorothy Sloop, a Steubenville native who migrated to New Orleans as a jazz musician in the 1950’s with the stage name Sloopy. However, there is no known connection between Sloop and Berns or Farrell and the legend may be only a mere name coincidence.
The urban dictionary meaning of ‘sloopy’ is a combination of ‘sloppy drunk’ and ‘loopy’. Other people claim the term refers to the indolent, bohemian lifestyle of musicians and artists.
The first verse describes lovers desperate to overcome the socio-economic realities of life on opposite sides of the track. A second stanza which refers to Sloopy’s red dress and the chills it causes was removed from the radio, 45 and LP versions to fit under the three minute rule for air play at that time. The vague, simplistic third (second) stanza (‘let your hair hang down on me’) is anybody’s guess although a majority view holds it is sexual symbolism.
The Ohio Connection
The Ohio State Marching Band first performed a brass oriented arrangement of the song in October 1965 (thank you band member John Tatgenhorst) and by popular demand it soon became and remains a standard between the third and fourth quarters of football games. Twenty years later the state legislature decreed “Hang On Sloopy” the official song of Ohio. Why?
Again according to legend, both a group called The Strangeloves (Peter Sellers and the prospect of nuclear winter were big back then) and The Dave Clark Five heard the song on tour and wanted to make a new version. A race to the studio began and on the way to New York the Strangeloves stopped for a gig in Dayton opened by a local pub band called, at different times, the Rick Z Combo, Rick and the Raiders and The McCoys. Richard Zehringer, a mop-topped, freckle-faced 17 year old singer/guitarist born in Ohio but raised in Indiana, fronted the McCoys and his parents agreed to accompany their son and the Strangeloves to New York.
The Strangeloves recorded the backing track and the McCoys, after a few days of practice in a local park, added the vocals and guitar solo. The rest is history.
Inspired by the record company’s use of a small pistol on its logo (Bang Records), Richard Zehringer changed his name to Rick Derringer and became a hard rocker. He opened US tours for the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin and worked with groups like Edgar Winter, Steely Dan and others. His biggest solo hit came in 1973 with “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo”.