20 May 2018

Crime Song

My brother Glen never met a music genre he didn’t like. He came by it honestly, learning brass and reeds as a kid while he tinkered with a marimba. Glen went on to learn guitar and keyboards as I messed with percussion. We’ve attended rock concerts, symphonies, and baroque chamber orchestras. We’ve enjoyed progressive rock, hard rock, fusion, and blues. He’s gone on to embrace electronica, trance, industrial, rap, and world music.

Recently he sent me a link to a familiar early 60s Mersey band, The Hollies, one of the few British Invasion bands still performing. As well as they were received in the US with The Air that I Breathe, Bus Stop, He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother), and numerous other songs, The Hollies grew even more wildly popular overseas.

One of my favorite tunes was the echoic Long Cool Woman, but I’d never listened closely to it. Glen’s link contained lyrics and I suddenly realized it’s a crime song. I found it easy to imagine RT Lawton penning a ballad like this.

Take a listen. Here’s Long Cool Woman:

… and here find the lyrics:

Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)
© The Hollies

Saturday night I was downtown
Working for the FBI
Sitting in a nest of bad men
Whiskey bottles piling high.

Bootlegging boozer on the west side
Full of people who are doing wrong.
Just about to call up the DA man
When I heard this woman singing a song.

A pair of 45s made me open my eyes
My temperature started to rise.
She was a long cool woman in a black dress
Just a 5’9, beautiful, tall
With just one look I was a bad mess
‘Cause that long cool woman had it all.


I saw her head up to the table
With a tall walking big black cat
Well, Charlie said “I hope that you’re able, boy
‘Cause I’m telling you she knows where it’s at.”
When suddenly we heard the sirens
And everybody started to run.
I jumped down and across the table
When I heard somebody shooting a gun.

Well, the DA was pumping my left hand
And then she was a-holding my right,
Well, I told her “Don’t get scared
‘Cause you’re gonna be spared.”

Well I’ve gotta be forgiven
If I wanna spend my living
With a long cool woman in a black dress
Just a 5’9, beautiful, tall.
Well, with just one look I was a bad mess
‘Cause that long cool woman had it all.

Had it all, had it all
Had it all, had it all
Had it all, had it all


  1. I tried for years to figure out the words to this song and never succeeded until I bought the sheet music and was disappointed. I like a lot of the Hollies' early cover versions and still often perform Bus Stop on 12-string.

    So many good crime songs, and now I'm drawing an almost complete blank except for lots of the old folk ballads. Country, too. Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Hank Williams...

    How about the Grateful Dead's "Me and My Uncle" and "Jack Straw?" (Is the John Phillips who wrote "Uncle" the John Phillips from the Mamas & Papas? I've never been clear on that)

    "Delilah" by Tom Jones is a creepy song that's disguised by the over the top music arrangement.

    I keep threatening to learn Elvis Costello's "Watching the Detectives" because I think it would work as a solo acoustic song.

    This is a fun post, Leigh. Brings back memories.

  2. That's one of those songs you know by heart - at least if you grew up in the 60s, because they played that ALL the time. That and the Boxtops' "The Letter". Thanks for the complete lyrics!

  3. Steve, John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas wrote the song although he didn't remember writing it. He created ‘Me and My Uncle’ during a 1963 drinking session in a hotel room with Judy Collins and others. The story behind the story goes:

    “Years ago [John] began receiving publishing royalties from a song on a Judy Collins record with which he was unfamiliar. It was titled ‘Me and My Uncle’. He called Judy to let her know of the mistake because he hadn’t written any such song. She laughed and told him that about a year before in Arizona after one of her concerts, they had a ‘Tequila Night’ back at the hotel with Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and a few others. They were running a blank cassette and John proceeded to write ‘Me and My Uncle’ on the spot. The next day, John woke up to the tequila sunrise with no recollection of the songwriting incident. Judy kept the cassette from that evening and then, without informing John, recorded the song for her own record. Over the years the song was recorded by several people, and eventually became a standard of the Grateful Dead. John used to joke that, little by little, with each royalty check, the memory of writing the song would come back to him.”

    Eve, it was such a creative period on so many fronts. Today, I’ve been listening to Marmalade’s Reflections of My Life, a vastly underrated song.

  4. Leigh, I remember the music. It was a good one.Played it a couple times through just now. Long Cool Woman and anything written by Mickey Spillane go hand in hand (or drink for drink).

  5. John Phillips used to live down the street from me. This was in the 1960s when he was still married to his first wife. Mama Cass lived 1/4 mile away.

  6. Sure, John Phillips was a folkie first, that's how he and Denny and Cass knew each other, isn't it? I never knew about the song, though, so I've learned even more than usual from this post.

    It's interesting that the Hollies produced some of their biggest hits (Long Cool Woman, The Air that I Breathe...) after Graham Nash left the band to join David Crosby and Stephen Stills.

    So much terrific stuff in that time period that never got much airplay. I've been listening to Country Joe & The Fish lately.

    This discussion gives me an idea for a future post, too. Be afraid... ;-)

  7. RT, they do go together, don't they. At least the good guy gets the girl in this one.

    Elizabeth, where was that? I think Cass and Denny (and Sebastian, etc) met in NYC… Mugwumps, wasn't it? They used to hang out near NYU in Washington Square Park. I don't know the background of John and Michelle.

    Steve, I was vaguely aware of considerable interplay between some of the groups like Lovin' Spoonfuls, Mugwumps (if I have that right), etc. It must have been interesting being friends with so many people at the top of their game going their own ways.

    It doesn't often happen, but some bands get better with time, Pink Floyd, for example, and Moody Blues. Syd Barrett might have provided the initial Floyd start, but the band soared without him.

    Good luck with the new post, Steve. We're here to serve.

  8. I can hum the tune to all of those, Leigh. Great memories!

  9. John, thanks. Actually that's my problem: While I'm doing something else, part of my brain hears the tune but not the lyrics. Those I have to focus on.

  10. Leigh, this was in Arlington, Virginia. John Phillips had a son named Jeff who was about my age & a daughter who was called Laurie at the time, a few years younger. She grew up to be Mackenzie Phillips, star of "One Day at a Time". Mama Cass lived close by, but her house was across the county line in Alexandria. Denny I think was Canadian & I don't know where they found Michelle.

  11. Thanks, Elizabeth. I'd wondered. Who knows… your butterfly effect might have influenced one of his songs!

  12. I do not know how many times I'd heard that song but didn't catch half the words. It wasn't just the tune; it was the elocution, but that's OK, it made the sound work.

  13. Keenan, I'm glad I'm not the only one. Now that you mention elocution (apparently a dead art), I hear my parents in my head: "Enunciate. Good Lord, enunciate."


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