Dr. John – Right Place, Wrong Time

“Right Place, Wrong Time” was Dr. John’s only trip to the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100. It peaked at #9 in 1973. For the longest time, I thought the name was “Brain Salad Surgery”. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer later used that name for their fourth album.

Dr John (Malcolm John Rebennack) said this about the song. “That was my life for a long time. At the same time I was in the wrong place at the right time, and the right place in the wrong time, too. That was the problem. We’re always shifting those gears.”


From Songfacts.

Easily the most recognized song from Dr. John’s long and varied recorded output, “Right Place, Wrong Time” is a pivotal track that marries the legacy of the good doctor’s New Orleans rhythm-and-blues ancestors to the bold funk that dominated black American music at the time of the record’s release. This musical apotheosis marked a new height for Mac Rebennack, a New Orleans session musician since the 1950s, who’d reinvented himself as Dr. John, The Night Tripper in the late 1960s, in theatrical homage to the Big Easy’s voodoo traditions. A Top 10 chart success in 1973, the tune momentarily elevated Dr. John in the public consciousness from “musician’s musician” to pop star.

“Right Place, Wrong Time” opens the similarly titled LP In the Right Place, Rebennack’s sixth album under the Dr. John persona. Whereas Dr. John’s previous album, 1972’s Dr. John’s Gumbo had paired him with producer Jerry Wexler in an affectionate tribute to classic New Orleans rhythm and blues compositions of the 1950s and ’60s, “Right Place” enlisted the production talents of NOLA’s own Allen Toussaint, in a far more contemporary setting. Adding to the disc’s Funk credentials, was the inclusion of the New Orleans Soul talents, The Meters, who were merely a few years removed from instrumental hits like “Cissy Strut,” and only a few years away from mainstream success like a Saturday Night Liveappearance and opening on tour for The Rolling Stones. The combination of Dr. John’s growling vocals and blues piano with Toussaint’s tight arrangements and The Meters in-the-pocket groove proved to be a funky alchemy of the first order. “We were making fun music, and doing it at our pace,” Toussaint said.

Of musical interest, too, is Rebennack’s continued tribute here to his musical ancestors in the stride piano part that comprises the song’s bridge.

Lyrically, “Right Place, Wrong Time” is standard blues fare, documenting in ironic one-liners the singer’s propensity for misfortune. In the tune’s weirder moments, Rebennack fuses this blues-based sense of the absurd with a psychedelic sensibility in line with the late ’60s mood that saw Dr. John’s emergence. He calls, for instance, for a little “brain salad surgery” to fix his ailing mind, articulated here as “refried confusion.”

The song has been ubiquitous in American popular culture for decades since. Notably, director Richard Linklater used it to evoke the 1970s on the soundtrack to his period piece, Dazed and Confused.

The “brain salad surgery” line in this song provided the title for the Emerson, Lake & Palmer album which was released later in 1973.

Right Place, Wrong Time

I been in the right place but it must have been the wrong time
I’d have said the right thing but I must have used the wrong line
I been in the right trip but I must have used the wrong car
My head was in a bad place and I’m wondering what it’s good for
I been in the right place but it must have been the wrong time
My head was in a bad place but I’m having such a good time

I been running trying to get hung up in my mind
Got to give myself a good talking-to this time
Just need a little brain salad surgery
Got to cure my insecurity

I been in the wrong place but it must have been the right time
I been in the right place but it must have been the wrong song
I been in the right vein but it seems like the wrong arm
I been in the right world but it seems wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong

Slipping dodging sneaking creeping hiding out down the street
See me life shaking with every ho’ I meet
Refried confusion is making itself clear
Wonder which way do I go to get on out of here

I been in the right place but it must have been the wrong time
I’d have said the right thing but I must have used the wrong line
I’d have took the right road but I must have took a wrong turn
Would’ve made the right move but I made it at the wrong time
I been on the right road but I must have used the wrong car
My head was in a good place and I wonder what it’s bad for

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

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