Dave Van Ronk said of Stagger Lee ‘There’s no point messing around with something that’s already perfect’.
But Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds did mess with it big time and created a masterpiece, surpassing perfection. This is their staged video from the early days.
Later a verse was added.
There is a video of them in Austin City. A nice juxtaposition to consider that any number of people were carrying guns on their persons, ready to mass kill, assassinate Cave, or to ‘defend’ themselves and yet there is a big warning on the video EXPLICIT. You dudes with guns in your pockets? You might be shocked by the language you are about to hear….
But for my money, I love the first version linked to. Adoring crowds add nothing to the song, they are only a distraction for us…and for Cave. One of the things I love about this early video is that it is so male. None of that chicks doing the chorus and gyrating in the background, this is all men and they groove like the best of them.
Derek McCulloch Booknotes:
Stagger Lee – Nick Cave: Probably the most unsparing version ever recorded, Cave’s rendition is a musical transcription of a prison toast (a pre-rap spoken word form) that’s been around for decades. I only say it’s “probably” the most unsparing version on the off-chance that someone else set the toast to music and I haven’t yet heard it. Here, Stag is boiled down to a quintessence of pride and aggression. To say this Stagger Lee takes no shit is like saying the Atacama desert is a tad dry. “He said, ‘Mr. Motherf*cker, you know who I am?’/The barkeeper said, ‘No, and I don’t give a good goddamn.’”
He discusses all the notable versions of the song, and gives references to much more here.