Bo Diddley, Who Do You Love, 1956
Bo Diddley was born December 30, 1928 in Archer Florida. One of the greatest things Bo Diddley is known for is helping set the almost standard beat for rock & roll rhythm. Diddley studied classical violin before the guitar. Bo Diddley changed his music style after hearing John Lee Hooker. It was during the 50s that Diddley developed the popular sound he is known by. Even in his first single “I’m a Man” (1955), we hear a revolutionary guitar based rock & roll that takes style from blues and R&B.
“Who Do You Love” is as catchy as it is strange. With its up beat tempo and strong drum beat, you cannot help but at least bob your head to it. I personally cannot help but move in my seat when the guitar solo enters. With its chorus that is hard to get out of your head, one can understand why this song was and is so popular. But what’s really interesting about this song is its lyrics.
The lyrics are full of imagery. These lyrics are no ordinary lyrics, being that these lyrics actually relate to Hoodoo rituals. When you actually listen or read the lyrics, you wonder what he’s trying to say when he sings,
“I use a cobra-snake for a necktie,
I got a brand new house on the roadside,
Made from rattlesnake hide,
I got a brand new chimney made on top,
Made out of a human skull,
Now come on take a walk with me, arlene,
And tell me, who do you love?”
“Tombstone hand and a graveyard mine,
Just 22 and I don’t mind dying.”
“I rode a lion to town, use a rattlesnake whip,
Take it easy arlene, don’t give me no lip, ”
“Night was dark, but the sky was blue,
Down the alley, the ice-wagon flew,
Heard a bump, and somebody screamed,
You should have heard just what I seen. ”
“Arlene took me by my hand,
And she said ooowee bo, you know I understand. ”
Now you guys tell me, what kind of person does these things and then asks someone if they love them? I’ll tell you, someone who is doing this with a purpose. Snakes are used in a lot of Hoodoo rituals, mainly for protection, but other things as well such as reversing bad luck, and making spells for attraction. So Bo diddley is singing about placing a spell on a woman named Arlene and checking to see if the spell worked. It seems that in the end, Arlene was taken by the spell and is now “in love” with a guy named Bo.
Another interesting thing is the first line that Bo Diddley writes, being that there is controversy as to what it means. “I walk 47 miles of barbed wire, ” Now Wikipedia had a couple of different explanations for this verse, the most plausible of the explanations, and the one I figured is true, is that he spent time in prison. The barbed wire would be referring to the courtyard, where they were able to spend time outside for a short time daily and walk around and exercise.
Bo Diddley did amazing work on this song, as unusual as the song meaning is. In this piece he personified his version of Rock and Roll. He may be a weird guy, but this weird guy knows how make a catchy tune.