Cotton Eye Joe

Cotton Eye Joe by krin.jpg

Date Aired
May 29, 2013
Running Time
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Todd plays "Cotton Eye Joe" on the piano.

A pop song review

Todd: If you're a bunch of Europeans from a wealthy socialist country pretending to be a bunch of poor white trash from the Deep South, you might be Rednex.

Video for "Cotton Eye Joe"
Anders "Ken Tacky" Arstrand: If it hadn't been for Cotton-Eye Joe
I'd been married long time ago
Where did you come from, where did you go
Where did you come from, Cotton-Eye Joe

Todd: Welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, where we take a look at the full careers of bands and artists known for only one song. And today, we're taking a look at a bizarre attempt to mix country music with an entirely different genre.

Clip of "Accidental Racist"
Brad Paisley: I'm proud of where I'm from
LL Cool J: If you don't judge my gold chains...

Todd: No, no, no, no, no, no, not...not that one.

Todd (VO): No, we're talking about 90s dance music, specifically the Eurodance, mid-90s groove of Rednex, who became international stars by adding a thumping dance beat to the bluegrass classic, "Cotton Eye Joe". This bunch of Swedes went all out, dressing on full-on, Li'l Abner hillbilly costumes while adopting a bunch of hick stage names. But just as quickly as they came, they left, probably because they were [picture of dancing hillbilly with jug of moonshine] too blitzed on moonshine or tripping over their comically long beards.

Todd: Well, I like seeing how bizarre novelty acts try to adapt to a second hit that clearly couldn't and wouldn't happen. That's why I have this show.

Todd (VO): And I seriously can't imagine how a group like this could've ever hoped to sustain any kind of career. But believe it or not, they could and they did and they continue to this day, although not exactly as you might imagine.

Todd: How? Well, sit and watch. Let's check out those tobacco-chewin', tractor-pullin' hayseed yokels from the land of [pictures of...] Ikea and köttbullar.

Karin Annika "Mary Joe" Ljungberg: And left only men cause of Cotton-Eye Joe
[Horse whinnies]

Before the hit

Todd: Well, before "Cotton Eye Joe"...

Paintings of the old Deep South and various videos of hoedowns

Todd (VO): ...America was transitioning from an agrarian to an industrial society and was increasingly being torn apart by the question of slavery, when a songwriter whose name is lost to history composed a song about some guy named Joe stealing all the hot women in the county, which eventually became very popular in the latter half of the 19th century, becoming a bluegrass standard and later getting popular again in the 80s and 90s when the line-dance craze took off.

Todd: But I suppose you thought I meant what was going of with [single cover] Rednex before "Cotton Eye Joe". Well, there is no "before 'Cotton Eye Joe'" for Rednex. Rednex did not exist before the hit. Okay, well what about [picture of the group] the individual members. Well, Rednex doesn't have individual members because they're not really a band.

Montage with clips of Real McCoy (aka "M. C. Sar & the Real McCoy") - "Another Night", album cover of Ace of Base - "Greatest Hits", clips of Baby D - "Let Me Be Your Fantasy", Culture Beat - "Mr Vain" and Whigfield - "Saturday Night"

Todd (VO): See, Eurodance really doesn't worry that much about who's making the music. To be sure, the genre [album cover of Ace of Base's Greatest Hits] does have stars and recognizable names, but it's not that big a deal if you don't know the biography and characters of the people making the music that you're dancing to. That's just kind of the way it is, the labels just had a grab bag of performers, producers and musicians, and it's not uncommon for them to drift in and out of various projects without much regard for making any particular authorial marks themselves. So Eurodance artists cannot be thought of as artists, I guess. At least not auteurs.

Todd: For example, [cover of All Music Guide to Electronica] AllMusic's biography of Rednex could probably stand to be a little more detailed.

Rednex page on AllMusic

Todd (VO): "The Swedish dance combo Rednex had an international novelty hit in 1995 with "Cotton-Eyed Joe," a driving number that reworks American country music into disco."

Todd: That's it, only one sentence, and they didn't even spell the name of the song correctly; that's how much AllMusic cares about them.

Rednex performing live

Todd (VO): But Rednex does have their own story of sorts. See, they have a distinct image and sound to maintain.

Todd: They're not a band, but they are a brand.

Todd (VO): They don't have any consistent members. In fact, every one of their original members, either in front of or behind the camera, was already gone around the time they released their second album. Eventually they grew to the point were they now have a large group of performers that go out on separate tours simultaneously, and none of whom perform on the record—those are all done by studio musicians.

Todd: They're a lot like [clip of performance by...] Sha Na Na, in that they're as much a performance ensemble as they are recording artists. All the people in it are replaceable and the music doesn't really matter all that much compared to the image. [Picture of...] Like KISS. (You know it's true.) But before it evolved into all that, Rednex did at least start out as a normal musical project. It was created in 1992 by three Swedish producers—[image not found] Jan Ericcson, [red x icon] Örjan Öberg, [sorry no pic] and Pat Reiniz, [album cover of MTV Music History] who were the guys who came up with the idea to mix bluegrass with oontz-oontz Europop. That's literally all I know.

The big hit

Ken Tacky: If it hadn't been for Cotton Eye Joe
I'd been married long time ago
Where did you come from, where did you go?
Where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe?

Todd (VO): Rednex's first single was "Cotton Eye Joe", released in late 1994. By the early months of 1995, it was a Top 40 in America and a #1 hit in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Norway, and for some reason, New Zealand. It was a big damn deal, so it does deserve at least some analysis, but I usually like to analyze lyrics, and...

Todd:'s pretty safe to say the lyrics don't matter to this one.

Todd (VO): There is basically one trick and one trick only to Rednex's Europop reworking of "Cotton Eye Joe".

Todd: Mainly that it's a Europop reworking of "Cotton Eye Joe".

Todd (VO): I mean, listen to it. It's "Cotton Eye Joe" with a dance beat.

Todd: Isn't that amazing?

Todd (VO): This may have been more of a novelty back in 1995. Nowadays, we have the Internet, and anyone with a garage band can add a donch-donch-donch into all sorts of stupid things. Even back then though, adding dance beats to non-dance music wasn't new.

Todd: They've been doing that since the days of disco.

Brief clip of Meco - "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band"

Todd (VO): But "Cotton Eye Joe" isn't exactly worthless or lazy either. This song isn't entirely awful, it's...because the original "Cotton Eye Joe" was a good, sturdy folk song, and I like fiddle music. From what I've read, I think the vocals are new and not sampled from an old recording, but it sounds like it very well could've been. On top of that, bluegrass and Europop aren't completely incompatible. Bluegrass can be dance music, you know, and the [pictures of...] stomp-stomp-clap of a square dance hootenanny isn't all that different from the oontz-oontz-oontz of techno.

Todd: That said, it wears out its welcome very fast, and I find it very annoying.

Todd (VO): It doesn't exactly modulate or go up and down, it's just too much energy all at once. Like, if you listen to when the fiddles play in the background, you can hear it going, [high-pitched] hee-hee-hee-hee!

Rednex: Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey
Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey

Todd: Once you notice it, you'll never not notice it.

Mary Joe: He brought disaster wherever he went

Todd (VO): Also they add their own new verses with a distinctly Swedish-sounding singer and a very not-bluegrass melody that...that doesn't match at all. Oh, that does not work.

Todd: Thank God this song is short.

Rednex: Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey

Todd (VO): Now, many techno acts will dissolve pretty quickly when they run out of ideas, but [sigh] Rednex...

Todd: ...were not one of them. Let's see what they came up with next.

The failed follow-up

Todd: It's just the same song again.

Video for "Old Pop in an Oak"
Ken Tacky: Old pop in an oak, pop in an oak
Once you could hear the sucker linger show
Thought I ever gonna see my old pop in an oak
Ever gonna see his old pipe in a smoke

Todd (VO): It's almost literally the same song again. They made so few changes, I'm not sure I wouldn't just call this a cover of "Cotton Eye Joe". And yet despite being exactly the same, it's also somehow like a thousand times worse. "Cotton Eye Joe" did at least have the authenticity of being based on a real, old American standard. "Old Pop in an Oak", as far as I can tell, is just something they made up themselves, something about someone's dad getting chased up a tree by a skunk. I...I'm pretty sure it's basically just nonsense words thrown together because they sort of sound like "Cotton Eye Joe".

Ken Tacky: Old pop in an oak, pop in an oak

Todd: And, know, I'm not sure if I should even mention it, but am...

Todd (VO): I the only one uncomfortable by the way these guys dress up in their "Hee-Haw" bib overalls and their stupid stage names like Billy Ray, Misty Mae, Maverick, Ace Ratclaw? You know, it's one thing for southerners to dress themselves up like that, but these guys are all mostly from Sweden. I get no indication from any of these songs they know shit about bluegrass or the people they're dressing up like. I...I don't think that's how a fiddle is even played. I...I'm honestly not comfortable that the name is Rednex either. You know, like...

Todd: No! That is our word! We are allowed to use it, not you! (Todd was born in San Diego.)

Todd (VO); Okay, maybe I'm not a redneck myself, but I...I did live up in the Appalachians for a while, it''s where I ate, shat, and slept for a good many years, I know the area. I'd like to think that I have a pretty high tolerance for a caricaturing and stuff like that, but this is tiptoeing right up to the line.

Todd: I mean, it's kinda...[struggles to say...] ra... (Racist?) Okay, well obviously, that's not the right word; hillbillies and southerners aren't a race. (Problematic?) Oh, oh God, no, I'd rather call it racist. Okay, how about obnoxious and stupid? That sounds right. Although trust me, Eurodance can be much, much worse than Rednex.

Clip of Dr. Bombay - "Rice and Curry"
Dr. Bombay: Hurry, hurry, hurry
Buy my rice and curry
Buy my rice and curry
So hurry, hurry, hurry

Todd: What the hell, Europe?

Todd (VO): I don't know, maybe it wouldn't have rubbed me the wrong way if the music were better, but it's not. It's really bad.

Todd: Ugh.

Did they ever do anything else?

Clip of "The Way I Mate"
Ken Tacky: The way I mate, the way I mate
The way I, the way I, way I mate

Todd (VO): The US enjoyed the novelty of Rednex for one song. The UK let them stick around for one more before getting sick of them, but the rest of Europe? Let them have intermittent success off and on for the next fifteen years, including several hits from that same album.

Todd: The weird thing is they're kind of inconsistent with the whole redneck thing.

Clip of "Wish You Were Here"
Mary Joe: Wish you were here, me, oh my countryman

Todd (VO): The other two big songs from that album were both ballads, and uh...

Clip of "Rolling Home"
Mary Joe: ...found, gaze out of my window

Todd (VO): They don't bother me at all, but at the same time, they're not country either, and it doesn't have any of the novelty. I...I can't say I find them all that interesting.

Todd: About five years later, Rednex regrouped and released a second album, and while they are still [back cover of Farm Out] dressed like rednecks, they decided to expand their influence a bit. Look, this one has an African chant in it.

Clip of "The Chase"
Rednex: Mambway Aa Ee Yaeaea
Mambwe Aa Ee Yaeaea

Todd: And this one is all Native American.

Clip of "The Spirit of the Hawk"
Rednex: The Spirit Of The Hawk

Todd (VO): I guess they were smart enough to stay out of the video and not put on any headdresses themselves and start whooping out a war chant, thank God. [Clip of "Cotton Eye Joe 2002"] Around that second album, they kind of realized that the bottom was about to drop out of the record industry, making them probably the smartest people in the record industry, and they transitioned themselves into the performance group I talked about earlier. They never released a third album, but they have kept issuing singles off and on.

Todd: For example, in 2008, they released a song called [shirt reading...] "Football Is My Religion". Well, if there's anything actual rednecks like more than [picture of Dallas Cowboys fan] football, I don't know it. But...of course, that's not the football they're talking about.

Video for "Football Is Our Religion"
Rednex: Wave your hands
Wave your hands
Football is our religion

Todd (VO): No, this is actually the unofficial anthem for the 2008 European Soccer Championships. So they're dressed as American cowboys...singing about soccer.

Todd: If...if you're not gonna commit to your gimmick, I don't know why you still have it.

Todd (VO): By the way, Sweden got knocked out in the first round of that tournament, in case you were wondering.

Todd: And in case you think this means they've evolved away from clumsily grafting dance beats onto a sad reworking of bluegrass, think again.

Clip of "The End"

Todd (VO): Yeah, they are still flogging that dead pony to this day. Uh, I believe the brand Rednex and their parent company are still owned by the same three producers who started the project in 1992. They put the entirety of the band and its trademarks and properties up [Softpedia article: "World's First Pop Band for Sale: Rednex"] for sale in 2007 for $1.5 million. [Pop Band For Sale! page] As of 2013, that price tag has actually gone up to $2.9 million.

Todd: As of yet, there have been no takers.

Did they deserve better?

Todd: I really grew to loathe this band over the course of this review.

Todd (VO): That said, did they deserve better? Well, they actually did about as well, probably even better than you can expect a novelty Europop group to do, and...honestly, not all of their songs are bad. I kind of like that Native American one and the African one. But...yeah, you only have to hear one techno version of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" before you give up on the entire enterprise.

Todd: Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that one. Oh, thank God I still have the chance to share that one with you.

Clip of live performance of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia", original track dubbed over
Rednex: The devil went down to Georgia
He was lookin' for a soul to steal
He was in a bind, he was way behind
He was lookin' to make a deal

Todd: So, yeah, Rednex—one gimmick extended far too long. And remember, it can all be yours if you've got three mill to spend. Can you believe no one's invested in this amazing business opportunity yet?

Ken Tacky: Where did you come from, where did you go
Where did you come from, Cotton-Eye Joe

Closing tag song: Crazy Frog - "Cotton Eyed Joe"'

"Cotton Eye Joe" is owned by Zomba Records
This video is owned by me

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