top of page
  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

The broad political frustration of "Talkin' Out the Side of Your Neck"

Cameo unload a widespread critique of those in power over the lies they tell with their signature, hard-hitting funk.

Today's song selection begins with football and takes us to an under-appreciated, genre-crossing 80s jam.

Tonight, Georgia beat Alabama in the the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, a result that left me completely shocked but also completely satisfied. The game had a very exciting second half, but the low-scoring first half led my thoughts to wander toward other recent championship games. I first thought of the previous matchup between Alabama and Georgia in 2018, specifically its dramatic ending. The next moment that stood out to me, perhaps a bit surprisingly, wasn't something in the 2020 game that happened on the field, but rather in the stands and on the sideline. With LSU comfortably winning in the final minutes, their players were beginning to celebrate a bit. Among them was their star quarterback Joe Burrow, who was shown dancing to the Tiger Marching Band as they played the fan-favorite tune "Neck" (content warning for a somewhat audible, vulgar chant from the LSU faithful), much to the Superdome crowd's delight.

In a flash of inspiration, I began to investigate "Neck," its origins, and its meaning. The full name of the song is "Talkin' Out the Side of Your Neck," and it was first released by New York-based funk outfit Cameo in 1984. I'll leave the song's marching band history to this excellent article from HBCU Gameday, because I'm going to take a dive into Cameo's original recording.

The theme of "Talkin' Out the Side of Your Neck" is frustration with politics, specifically with "[a]ll you people in Washington." Cameo speak for the common people, constantly maligned and suffering from decisions made by those who think of themselves as above the law once given the power to legislate themselves. The expression in their song title simply means talking nonsense, either by straight-up lying or exaggerating to the point that someone can't back up their own words with their actions. The band don't hold back when singing that line or saying that those at fault will "get what's comin' to [them] yet" (which they do with some nice extended harmonies), a reminder that the people still do have an important hand in the political landscape in the vote, through which the citizenry can keep those they elect in check.

I love the unreserved nature in which Cameo deliver their message. Larry Blackmon and Tomi Jenkins lead the band in rap-relaying their frustrations with a swagger that also makes it clear that nobody involved in the performance is playing around. The same goes for the backing instrumental, where you can just hear the force going into every note and figure through the volume and attack. From Blackmon's guitar to the various keyboards, to the horn section arranged by Nathan Leftenant — an area of particular personal interest as a brass player — no player holds back, both in big unison lines and the short harmonies that emerge. It's a tune with an arrangement built for a big ensemble to cover it, and it's no wonder it's become a marching band favorite essentially from right when it was first released (again, see the HBCU Gameday article I linked above the embedded video for details).

The other thing I really enjoy about "Talkin' Out the Side of Your Neck" is that its critique isn't sectioned off to one band of the political spectrum. Before their second chorus, Cameo implicate each of the four most recent presidents at the time of the song's release — in order going toward 1984, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan, who would be re-elected in a landslide that November. By attacking both sides of the aisle, Cameo hit at perhaps the biggest frustration of all: the fact that so little changes in terms of politicians' behavior even when power changes hands. The question then becomes what it will take for the cycle of lying and blowing smoke to stop, and the answer, if there ever will be one, is likely to come from the people. All I can say for now, though, is that close to four decades and six presidents later, "Neck" remains a poignant representation of the popular exasperation toward politics.


bottom of page