Not Your Music

Documenting the history of popular music that your fancy schools won't touch

A More Sinister Side of Sloopy

The McCoys

The popular garage rock song “Hang On Sloopy” has earned a well-loved place in the hearts of millions, particularly Ohioans.  But despite the enduring popularity of the song - The McCoys’ lone #1 hit on the Billboard Charts - its little-known political subtext always threatens to undermine the frat rock classic’s good feelings.

A collaborative effort by record producers and pop hit makers Bert Russell (Berns) and Wes Farrell, the commonly-held belief is that the song was written as an ode to the jazz singer and clarinettist Dorothy Sloop Heflick.  In fact, “Hang On Sloopy” pays homage to the radical left-wing activist Beatrice “Sloop” Merriweather, whose Greenwich Village newspaper New Amsterdam Militant was reputed to grace bulletin boards all over the Brill Building, a notorious hive of socialist thought.

The lyrics illustrate the songwriters’ admiration for a woman the FBI considered an “enemy subversive.”   The opening lyric, “Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town,” sarcastically refers to the reputation the Village held among members of conservative New York society.  However, the “everybody” who “trie[d] to put my Sloopy down” was not limited to the political right.

As “Sloopy” Merriweather was the daughter of shipping magnate Reginald Thurston Merriweather III, there were significant numbers in both the mainstream and countercultures who deemed her a hypocrite, her family background robbing Merriweather’s cause of its legitimacy.  Most commonly, the accusation - one leveled from both sides of the spectrum - was that her childhood of wealth and comfort in The Hamptons carried with it sufficient reason to write “Sloopy” off as someone spoiled and out-of-touch.

As the song suggests, Russell and Farrell thought otherwise; the writers supported the political icon in her cause, regardless of “what your daddy do/Don’t worry, Sloopy, girl; I’m in love with you.”

It is also worth noting that a popular edit of The McCoys’ recording omits the second verse which refers to a red dress that “Sloopy” Merriweather claimed was originally sewn by Mary Harris “Mother” Jones to commemorate the blood shed by labor activists in the Haymarket riot of 1886.  Merriweather would wear the dress at her speeches in Union Square, and largely became identifiable with the garment.  Russell and Farrell were among those who associated the woman with the dress, so much so that, as they admitted in the oft-excised verse, whenever they saw her wearing the article of clothing, it gave them “the chills.”

Despite the enthusiasm displayed towards their subject, Russell and Farrell were not completely harmonious in their tribute to Merriweather.  Disagreement was said to have erupted over the line, “Don’t worry Sloopy, girl, you belong to me,” after Russell decried the line, penned by Farrell, as sexist, and championed the more class-oriented lyric, “One day all those bankers they will just be dust beneath your feet.”  Farrell eventually won Russell over when it was agreed that the former lyric simply rhymed better.

Though the song endures as a staple of the mid-1960s garage rock scene as well as the last aspect of Ohio anyone still gives two shits about, it’s debatable whether mainstream society would continue to respond so enthusiastically to “Hang on Sloopy” if the stridently socialist political tone was more well-known.  But, then, nobody really pays attention to the verses.

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