Detailed Discussion: Jessie Hill: Ooo Poo Pah Doo

This is a detailed discussion of Jessie Hill: Ooo Poo Pah Doo (“OPPD”)
The discussion is based on the following clip:

The discussion was developed with the aid of an OMS Profile,  see the following .
OMS Composite Score is: 124

[1] OPPD was a Top5 R&B hit recorded by Jessie Hill in 1960. Jessie Hill (1932 – 1996) was a legendary New Orleans R&B performer. OPPD was his only big recorded hit song. Some notes on the origins (from Yahoo Music):

The origins of “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” reportedly lie with a local pianist known only as Big Four–a drunk who played the club Shy Guy’s Place for booze and tips, he once performed the song with the House Rockers in attendance, and Hill scribbled the lyrics and melody on a paper sack, later fleshing it all out with an intro cribbed from Dave Bartholomew. Its dubious evolution notwithstanding, “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” remains one of the classics of New Orleans R&B–a nonsensical yet rollicking call-and-response workout that perfectly captures the energy of French Quarter life, it was honed to a fine edge onstage before Hill cut a demo that he shopped to local labels, among them Joe Ruffino’s Ric and Ron imprints. Ruffino passed, but recommended Hill pitch Joe Banashak’s Minit, which agreed to book session time at Cosimo Matassa’s Cosimo’s Studio. The resulting date would prove the first production credit notched by the great Allen Toussaint, and upon its early 1960 release, “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” first emerged as a favorite at Mardi Gras–eventually, the single broke nationally, selling 800,000 copies on its way to cracking the Billboard R&B Top Five and the pop Top 30. Hill took the House Rockers on a national tour that culminated with an appearance at New York City’s legendary Apollo Theater, but his accounting practices so angered the other members of the band that it dissolved prior to a performance in Washington, D.C.

OPPD is a favorite of mine. I hope this essay sheds light on the kind of work it is, and what makes it effective.

[2] OPPD is a classic example of “party music”. Some key characteristics that I think make it great party music:

Plenty of “funny sounds” – shouts, hollers, babbles, …

Solid beat with colorful (contrapuntal) syncopation

Naughty and rebellious

Vague, nonsensical lyrics

Many elements sound “familiar”, “comfortable”

Minimal mu-motion

Fairly simple – even conservative – in most other respects

Transparent (almost elegant) in its construction

[3] The simplicity and conservatism are notable:

OPPD is essentially a slow march – spiced up with funny sounds, New Orleans rhythms, and intentionally primitive lyrics (“I want to tell you about Ooh Poo Pah Doo … and I won’t stop tryin’ till create disturbance in your mind …”)

The structure, harmonies, rhythms, and many of the sound effects are traditional New Orleans – have been used many times. These aspects are familiar and “comfortable”.

In many ways, OPPD is un-exciting, non-stimulating, e.g.:

Minimal mathematical stimulation

Very little of Jessie Hill personal stamp in the work (primarily just the funny sounds)

Very limited dynamic range

Minimal mu-motion

No narrative or dramatic structure

Almost no virtuosity displayed

(Not all popular music is un-exciting, non-stimulating in these respects. E.g. consider

Benny Goodman big band music, the Supremes, many many other examples)

[4] Nonsensical lyrics / incoherent lyrics are something that instinctually I do not like (Nonsense frustrates me.) But they are such pervasive aspects of popular music (and even serious music) that they must serve some function from an OMS point of view.

In OPPD, one function the lyrics serve is to set a mood of naughtiness/rebelliousness (“I want to tell you about: Ooh Poo Pah Doo” ) Lyrics like that make it clear that this is definitely not a “serious” work.

[5] Although OPPD has a “crude” aspect, it also is an excellent work in some sense. Some of the attributes that account for the excellence:



Draws nicely on historical and traditional elements

The opening (introduction + beginning of main theme) is outstanding – makes a compelling initial impression. This is a paradigm for a good opening! The opening is so good that it nearly makes the overall success of OPPD a “done deal”.

Although there is some looseness in the construction, this doesn’t seem to actually detract from the work (from an OMS point of view).

[There is a traditional view in classical music that tight construction (integration of motivic elements, management of form, etc.) is a virtue; but from an OMS point of view, tight construction in and of itself is not a significant virtue. Why is this? Primarily because tight construction itself is not a stimulus. Tight construction – utilized by a skilled musician – can be used to achieve more and better stimulation. But there are also many examples of well-constructed works that are weak in terms of their ability to stimulate.]