It doesn’t get much better than this. This wasn’t a huge hit but it doesn’t mean that much when it’s The Band.
The Band did this song by playing musical chairs with the instruments. Most of them grabbed something different than what they normally played. Levon (drummer) sang and played Mandolin, Richard Manuel (piano) played drums, Rick Danko (bass) played fiddle, Garth Hudson (keyboards) played uprigtht piano and producer John Simon played Tuba.
Robbie Robertson wrote the song and was the only one playing their normal instrument…guitar.
The song peaked at #57 in the Billboard 100, #46 in Canada, and #16 in the UK in 1970. The song was on their second album The Band.
One of the Band’s first big European hit singles, “Rag Mama Rag” has some unusual instrumentation. Lead pianist Richard Manuel played drums, drummer Levon Helm played mandolin and sang lead, and bassist Rick Danko played a fiddle. This left the bass spot open on this track, and it was filled by the album’s producer, John Simon. He improvised a bassline on tuba, although he had no idea how to play the instrument. >>
Robbie Robertson is the only songwriter credited on this track, although other members of the group claim they made contributions. The song finds Levon Helm trying to convince his girl to come back home so she can “rag all over” his house. What he has in mind in unclear: “rag” could mean playing ragtime music (a possibility, considering the line “rosin up the bow”), but he might have more prurient intentions.
Rag Mama Rag
Rag Mama rag, can’t believe its true.
Rag Mama Rag, what did you do?
Crawled up to the railroad track
Let the four nine-teen scratch my back
Sag mama sag now
What’s come over you
Rag Mama Rag, I’m a pulling out your gag.
Gonna turn you lose like an old caboose,
Got a tail I need a drag.
I ask about your turtle,
And you ask about the weather,
Well, I can’t jump the hurdle
And we can’t get together.
We could be relaxing in my sleeping bag,
But all you want to do for me mama
Is rag Mama rag there’s no-where to go,
Rag Mama rag. Come on resin up the bow.
Rag Mama rag, where do ya roam?
Rag Mama rag, bring your skinny little body back home.
Its dog eat dog and cat eat mouse, you can
You can rag Mama rag all over my house.
Hail stones beating on the roof,
The bourbon is a hundred proof,
Its you and me and the telephone
Our destiny is quite well known.
We don’t need to sit and brag.
All we gotta do is
Rag Mama rag Mama rag.
Rag Mama rag
Where do you roam?
Rag Mama rag, bring your skinny little body back home