Sitting on Top of the World
|"Sitting on Top of the World"|
|Single by Mississippi Sheiks|
|B-side||"Lovely One in This Town"|
|Format||10-inch 78 rpm record|
|Recorded||February 17, 1930|
|Label||Okeh (no. 8784)|
|Songwriter(s)||Walter Vinson, Lonnie Chatmon|
|Mississippi Sheiks singles chronology|
"Sitting on Top of the World" (also "Sittin' on Top of the World") is a country blues song written by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon. They were core members of the Mississippi Sheiks, who first recorded it in 1930. Vinson claimed to have composed the song one morning after playing at a white dance in Greenwood, Mississippi. It became a popular crossover hit for the band, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.
"Sitting on Top of the World" has become a standard of traditional American music. The song has been widely recorded in a variety of different styles – folk, blues, country, bluegrass, rock – often with considerable variations and/or additions to the original verses. The lyrics of the original song convey a stoic optimism in the face of emotional setbacks, and the song has been described as a “simple, elegant distillation of the Blues”.
The title line of "Sitting on Top of the World" is similar to a well-known popular song of the 1920s, "I'm Sitting on Top of the World", written by Ray Henderson, Sam Lewis and Joe Young (popularised by Al Jolson in 1926). However the two songs are distinct, both musically and lyrically. Similarities have also been noted that "Sitting on Top of the World" was derived from an earlier song by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, "You Got To Reap What You Sow" (1929). Tampa Red used the same melody in his version from the same year.
In May 1930, Charlie Patton recorded a version of the song (with altered lyrics) called “Some Summer Day” During the next few years renditions of "Sitting on Top of the World" were recorded by a number of artists: the Two Poor Boys, Doc Watson, Big Bill Broonzy, Sam Collins, Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, and Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. After Milton Brown recorded it for Bluebird Records the song became a staple in the repertoire of western swing bands.
Lyrically “Sitting Top of the World” has a simple structure consisting of a series of rhyming couplets, each followed by the two-line chorus. The structural economy of the song seems to be conducive to creative invention, giving the song a dynamic flexibility exemplified by the numerous and diverse versions that exist.
Harmonically the song differs from a standard 12 bar blues, and though the original has a clearly bluesy harmonic feeling, including blue notes in the melody, there is some disagreement about whether it is really a blues.
The numerous versions of “Sitting Top of the World” recorded since 1930 have been characterized by variations to the original lyrics, as recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks in 1930.
“Sittin’ on Top of the World”, recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1957 (and published under his birth-name Chester Burnett), is a well-known and widely used version of this song. This was the version recorded by Cream in 1968.
Howlin’ Wolf shortened the song to just three verses. The first and third verses are similar to the second and fifth verses of the Mississippi Sheiks’ song. The middle verse of Howlin’ Wolf's version – “Worked all the summer, worked all the fall / Had to take Christmas, in my overalls” – was an addition to the 1930 original, but had previously appeared in a version recorded by Ray Charles in 1949.
The ‘peaches’ verse has a long history in popular music. It appears as the chorus of an unpublished song composed by Irving Berlin in May 1914: “If you don't want my peaches / You'd better stop shaking my tree”. The song "Mamma's Got the Blues", written by Clarence Williams and S. Martin and recorded by Bessie Smith in 1923, has the line: "If you don't like my peaches then let my orchard be". In her version of "St. Louis Blues", Ella Fitzgerald sang, "If you don't like my peaches, why do you shake my tree? / Stay out of my orchard, and let my peach tree be". In 1929 Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded “Peach Orchard Mama” ("... you swore nobody’d pick your fruit but me / I found three kid men shaking down your peaches free"). In later years lines using similar imagery were used in "Matchbox" by Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis; "The Joker" by the Steve Miller Band; an early version of "Pipeliner Blues" by Moon Mullican; and, most directly, "If You Don't Want My Peaches, Don't Shake My Tree" by Fox. Ahmet Ertegun was able to convince Miller to pay him US$50,000, claiming authorship of the line in his song "Lovey Dovey". This verse and its ubiquitous usage is an example of the tradition of floating lyrics (also called 'maverick stanzas') in folk-music tradition. ‘Floating lyrics’ have been described as “lines that have circulated so long in folk communities that tradition-steeped singers call them instantly to mind and rearrange them constantly, and often unconsciously, to suit their personal and community aesthetics”.
Recordings by other artists
From The Cold Mountain soundtrack. It was performed by Jack White for the film, in which he played the character Georgia
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- Bob Wills (Vocalion 03139, 1935) (78 RPM)
- The Shelton Brothers (Decca 6079, 1935) (78 RPM)
- Light Crust Doughboys (Vocalion 04261, 1938) (78 RPM)
- Ray Charles (Swingtime/Downbeat 215, 1949) (78 RPM)
- Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee (Jax 305, 1952) (78 RPM)
- Howlin' Wolf (Chess 1679, 1957) (78 & 45 RPM)
- Bill Monroe (Decca 30486, 1957)
- Doc Watson on his self-titled, debut album (1964)
- Grateful Dead from The Grateful Dead (1967 album)
- Chet Atkins from Hometown Guitar (1968 album)
- Cream from Wheels of Fire (1968 album)
- Cream from Goodbye (1969 live album)
- Howlin' Wolf from Howlin' Wolf London Sessions (1970 album featuring Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood)
- Chris Smither from It Ain't Easy (1984 album)
- The Seldom Scene from 15th Anniversary Celebration (1986 album)
- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band from Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two (1989 album)
- Bob Dylan from Good as I Been to You (1992 album)
- Taj Mahal from Dancing the Blues (1993 album)
- BBM a.k.a. Bruce-Baker-Moore from Around the Next Dream (1994 album)
- Nomeansno from Mr. Right & Mr. Wrong: One Down & Two to Go (1994 album)
- Blackfoot from After the Reign (1994 album)
- Sweet Honey In The Rock from Selections 1976-1988 (1997 album)
- Bill Frisell from The Willies (2002 album)
- Jack White from Cold Mountain (2003 soundtrack album)
- The Radiators from Earth vs. The Radiators: the First 25 (2004 album)
- Harry Manx from West Eats Meet (2004 album)
- James Blood Ulmer from Birthright (2005 album)
- Richard Shindell from South of Delia (2007 album)
- B.B. King from One Kind Favor (2008 album)
- Jeff Healey from Mess of Blues (2008 album)
- Willie Nelson from Willie and the Wheel (2009 album)
- Robert Cray from Cookin' In Mobile (2010 album)
- Cary Ginell, Milton Brown and the Founding of Western Swing, University of Illinois Press, 1994, p. 284 - ISBN 0-252-02041-3
- 2008 Grammy Hall of Fame List Archived June 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- Liner notes by Stephen Calt, Tampla Red also recorded "Things 'bout Comin' My Way" with lyrics in 1932 for Vocolian and instrumentally in 1934. Reference Liner Notes "The Guitar Wizard" released by Coloumbia in 1994. Michael Stewart & Don Kent on the album Stop and Listen Blues (a collection of Mississippi Sheiks’ recordings), Mamlish S-3804.
- ‘Some Summer Day – Version 2’, The Bluegrass Messengers web-site.
- The Musical Frameworks of Five Blues Schemes. Nicholas Stoia. Ph. D. Thesis/dissertation. City University of New York. 2008. pages 155, 159,160
- Howlin' Wolf interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
- Carl Lindahl, ‘Thrills and Miracles: Legends of Lloyd Chandler’, Journal of Folklore Research, Bloomington: May-Dec 2004, Vol. 41, Issue 2/3, pp. 133-72.