Cheesetastic Classics: Rednex “Cotton Eye Joe”
Jeffthewildman is bringing back Cheesetastic Classics with a look at a Swedish group that mixed a little country into their techno pop. Are they two great tastes that taste great together? The folksy Swedes had a novelty hit with their dance-mix version of the line-dance standard, Cotton Eyed Joe. Where does their take on the song fit into the pantheon of cheese? That’s for you readers to decide.
While the 1990s on the whole were a great decade for music, they did have their share of mistakes and stuff that could only have hit in that era (so did the 60s, so don’t get high and mighty).
One particular example of this is a 1995 song that could only be described as “Country Techno”. Or more accurately “Swedish Country Techno”. As opposed to Swedish techno which GEICO already covered.
No purple cows here though. While this particular version of “Cotton Eye Joe” was created by some Swedish guys, the original “Cotton Eye Joe” had been around for over a century (albeit titled “Cotton Eyed Joe)”. The song itself is reported to pre-date the Civil War and has been popular for years in Southern and Appalachian circles. Quite a popular number for line dancing and partner dancing.
In doing some research for this article, I came across the following version of the song from 1980 by obscure country singer Isaac Payton Sweat. This version sounds more country than techno and includes the memorable lyric “Got a ball-peen hammer and a two by four/gonna whip the hell outta Cotton Eyed Joe”. Note: there is some language NSFW.
Which brings us to the Swedish Rednex responsible for this version. They were a Swedish band known for mixing modern pop and techno music with old school influences like country, folk and bluegrass. The bandmembers took on stagenames befitting their rural influences. Annika Ljungberg went by Mary Joe and Kent Olander was dubbed Bobby Sue. The rest of the group included Ken Tacky (Arne Arstrand), Billy Ray (Jonas Nilsson) and Mup (Patrick Edenberg). Edenburg also served as the band’s producer under another name, Pat Reiniz. These guys were committed to their shtick, you have to give them that much.
Ljungberg, the sole female member of Rednex, was fired by the rest of the band shortly after “Cotton Eye Joe”. She pursued a solo career while the men released their next album, Riding Alone. The band’s line-up continued to change regularly. Ljungberg was replaced by another female singer, Mia Löfgren (nicknamed Whippy).
Over the years, the band has persisted. But the members have come and gone and come back again. As the band entered the 21st century, they struggled with changes in the music industry. Edenberg wanted to double down on their hokey image as an “entertainment group” rather than a band. When the rest of the Rednex resisted his new direction, Edenberg replaced them all. At some point, the band wasn’t even 100% Swedish. Eventually, they cycled back around and the first bandmember ousted, Ljungberg aka Mary Joe, was invited to rejoin Rednex.
Believe it or not, the rotating band members have fought over the Rednex brand. Legal disputes have resulted in a number of “spin-offs”. While she was ousted, Ljungberg formed the Rednex Revival Band. Several former Rednex also performed as the Cotton Eye Joe Show. There was even a splinter group that performed in New Zealand as Rednex NZ.
While they had numerous hits in Europe, they’ve pretty much been regarded as a novelty act in America since the beginning. They don’t really count as one-hit wonders even in terms of chart success since “Cotton Eye Joe”, while a staple of sporting events, parties and anywhere there’s dancing, never actually made it to the top 40.
But does it qualify as a mistake, the way that say “Achy Breaky Heart” or “Sex And Candy” do? While I can’t in all honesty say it’s a good song, as a novelty party number it ain’t bad. Sure it’s made by Europeans with an understanding of Americana that seems pretty myopic. But if looked at in that context, it’s easier to enjoy. Besides a little cheddar once in a while tastes quite good.
Now it’s time for readers to have their say. Can Rednex techno update on a country classic be considered a slice of cheesy goodness? Or is this oddity from the mid-nineties too stinky to qualify as a cheesetastic classic?