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“Rubber Biscuit” is a doo-wop song performed by the vocals-only team The Chips, who recorded it in 1956. It was famously covered by The Blues Brothers, on their debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues, among many other artists, as well as being featured in the 1973 film Mean Streets.
Label credit for writing and composing the song was given to Chips lead singer Charles Johnson and Adam R. Levy. But Levy's father, label owner Morris Levy, was notorious for adding either his or his son's names to songwriting credits in order to claim partial, or in some cases full, author-composer royalties on songs they did not write. There is no evidence that Morris or Adam ever wrote any songs.
Few of the lyrics can actually be understood, as they are sung in the scat manner. The scat is interrupted every few bars for short one-liners, most of which are implicit references to the singer's poverty and the low-grade food he eats: a "wish sandwich" (where one has two slices of bread and wishes for meat in between the slices of bread), a "ricochet biscuit" (which is supposed to bounce off the wall and into one's mouth, and when it does not, "you go hungry"), a "cold-water sandwich" (or a "cool-water sandwich") which refers to consuming watermelon, and a "Sunday-go-to-meeting-bun," which is a reference to taking a little lady to church as Elwood explains in a live version of the performance. The song closes with the question, "What do you want for nothing--a rubber biscuit?"
Elsewhere in popular culture
"Rubber Biscuit" became the theme tune to Jimmy's Food Factory, a programme about supermarkets's food tricks on BBC One. The Chips's version is played at the beginning and end of each show. It was also featured in the 1990 John Waters film Cry-Baby. It also featured in the Martin Scorsese film Mean Streets.
The Chips themselves
The Chips were teenage friends in New York: Charles Johnson (lead vocal), Nathaniel Epps (baritone), Paul Fulton (bass), Sammy Strain and Shedrick Lincoln (tenors). "Rubber Biscuit" started life as Johnson's answer to the marching rhythms of the Warwick School For Delinquent Teenagers while he was an intern there.
Performance and aftermath
When Josie Records heard the tune they signed the group and the record was issued in September 1956. Although it did not chart, "Rubber Biscuit" became an instant east coast radio favourite, and saw its performers touring alongside The Dells, The Cadillacs, and Bo Diddley, but the momentum gained by their debut single was waning and the group broke up at the end of 1957. Only Sammy Strain went on to success in the music industry, as a member of Little Anthony & The Imperials from about 1961 to 1972, when he left to join The O'Jays. Strain left the O'Jays in 1992 to return to The Imperials, where he remained until his retirement in 2004.
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