Music Throwback Saturday: Cool Jerk

“Look at them guys looking at me like I’m a fool
Ah but deep down inside they know I’m cool… “

Cool JerkFor whatever reason, I just never much a singles (45) buyer when I was growing up. I preferred albums, LPs, some of which I have to this day. The infrequent 45 purchase was of songs by groups I didn’t know, when the song was SO infectious, I just HAD to have it.

Such was the case with the song Cool Jerk by the Capitols, a group out of Detroit. One thing I did not know: “The backing track for this song was actually recorded (secretly) by the Motown house band The Funk Brothers.”

It was released on tiny Karen Records and was likely distributed by Atco (Atlantic Records) because it was the group’s only Top 20 record. “Released in 1966, it reached No. 2 on the American R&B chart, No. 7 on the pop chart, and No. 9 on the Canadian Singles Chart.”

But what did it MEAN? “Per one of the Funk Brothers, the song was originally to be called ‘Pimp Jerk.’ This was taken from watching neighborhood pimps, who would dance in the clubs, but were too ‘cool’ to do the jerk [a popular dance] like regular folks… The producer was afraid that a song with the word pimp in the title would be banned or not receive much positive attention, and had the title changed…”

There’s some disagreement about the lyrics, but one source says:

“When they see me walkin’ down the street
all the fellas they want to speak
on their faces they wear a silly smirk
‘cause they know I’m the king of the cool jerk”

“Look at them guys looking at me like I’m a fool
Ah but deep down inside they know I’m cool… “

The song was written by the trio’s guitarist Donald Storball, and was later covered by several artists. Unfortunately, lead singer Samuel George was stabbed to death in 1982 at the age of 39.

I have this CD collection of soul oldies that is quite disappointing, actually. It’s the original artists, but it’s mostly rerecordings. Cool Jerk, though, is the original track.

Listen to Cool Jerk:

The Capitols; The Capitols; The Capitols

The Go-Go’s, whose version hit #60 on the UK charts

Todd Rundgren, in 7/8 time, of course

Human Sexual Response

The La De Da’s

The Creation

The Tremeloes

The Coasters, with a Latin flavor

Bootsy Collins and the Funk Brothers, from the film Standing in the Shadows of Motown

A version of the song with different lyrics (“Do the Cool Whip”) used in Cool Whip commercials, c. 1999

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

5 thoughts on “Music Throwback Saturday: Cool Jerk”

  1. Is that the sheet music for it? That makes me grin. I rarely think of “later” pop music existing in sheet music form.

    I “inherited” a bunch of older (mostly 1930s era) popular sheet music. (A client of my uncle’s gave it to him, thinking his son was was a musician would want it. His son didn’t so my uncle sent it to me. I tend to be about sheet music like I am about books: can’t stand to see it thrown out).

    Most of the songs I don’t recognize; I guess they are from “B” musicals. But there are a few gems, like an arrangement of Eric Coates’ “Sleepy Lagoon” that I am going to work on when my piano lessons start back up.

  2. That is indeed the cover of the sheet music. But sheet music is still available for some pop hits.

  3. The Funk Brothers were moonlighting for just about every label in Detroit at one time or another; Berry Gordy was vexed enough to buy out Eddie Wingate’s family of labels (Ric-Tic, Golden World) just to get Wingate to go away. (And Wingate’s biggest star, Edwin Starr, would continue to make hits for Motown.)

    The influence of “Cool Jerk” is considerable; the bit about “you’re cookin’ followed by “ooh, you’re smokin’!” was lifted in its entirety by Carl Carlton, then not quite 15, for “46 Drums 1 Guitar” two years later.

    Oh, and I have sheet music for “Friday” (by Clarence Jey/Patrice Wilson, as recorded by Rebecca Black). But then, I would.

  4. Karen Records, incidentally, continued to be distributed by Atlantic through the end of the Sixties, and survived as an independent for a few more years; apart from the Capitols, their best-known acts were Bettye LaVette, who recorded many of her early singles for them, and Matt Lucas, a chap who fused R&B with rockabilly.

  5. “Cool Jerk” is a great arrangement. If you don’t have that bass piano line, there is no point. It’s a song you can spin anytime and I will dance. Must. Dance. GOTTA DANCE!

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