Give the People What They Want: This song is a commentary on the desires of people, especially groups of people. We all have our desires – maybe physical, maybe existential, maybe political, maybe financial. And someone or something will always emerge to provide what we crave. Sometimes our desires are reorienting or cathartic. Sometimes they’re misguided or chaotic.
The character that sings the song claims to be a “medicine man” who can provide whatever you might need. If you want it, he’s got it. It’s a classic American archetype – the huckster, the traveling salesman. This is a kind of American character often associated with the 19th or early 20th centuries in America, but in fact it’s still a very real phenomenon for us, and can be found in most of our major institutions at this very moment.
The lyric “give the people what they want” is innocent and fun loving enough. Musicians often endeavor to give an audience what they want – a good show! But “give it to them ‘til they bleed” is a bit less obvious. Is it really a gift to give someone something that will hurt them, even if they ask you to?
The song itself is psychedelic, raucous, funky, nasty. Influenced by Sly Stone, Dr. John, and late 60s soul, it’s an example of a musical misdirect – a feel good groove with a sharp edged message.
The imagery of the video calls on the euphoria of the late 1960s counterculture, Woodstock, Altamont and the like. The 60s were a defining decade in which freedom, sex, drugs, and music were all significant in changing the culture. But as so often happens, when a good impulse is taken to the extreme, at once scaled up and dumbed down for mass appeal – and especially if it is commodified – even the best idea can bring out the worst in humanity.
So while the video at first may look like a celebration of group excess, in the context of the lyrics, it’s not so simple.
As they say, “be careful what you worship, for what you worship you are becoming.”
1 – Give the People What They Want
Leo Sidran: drums, percussion, bass, guitar, wurlitzer, lead and backing vocals
Paul Peterson: backing vocal
Joy Dragland: backing vocal
Recorded by Leo Sidran at Electric Poodle Stoodles, Brooklyn
Mixed by John Fields
Mastered by Greg Reierson