logo for the Sing Me A Story article series

One thing I hold historical fiction to is when they mess up that history. Some are more accurate than others. I’m not talking about minor mistakes; I’m no historian and wouldn’t catch that either. I’m also not talking about parody or comedy; I’m not about to complain that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is historically wrong. I may be an idiot but I’m not stupid. However, when you get an egregious error like the one in this edition’s song choice I’m going to stand up and complain about it.

“Fever” was originally written by…actually, that’s a bit tricky. According to Songfacts:

There is some controversy over who wrote this, but according to Otis Blackwell, he wrote it with Eddie Cooley. Otis Blackwell was a singer/songwriter/pianist, but most well-known for his songwriting. Some famous songs he wrote/co-wrote are “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and “All Shook Up.” Cooley was a songwriting partner on many of his songs, and accordingto Blackwell, they had an agreement that Cooley would split his weekly paycheck as a jeweler with him. They would pen songs together and Blackwell would go to New York City to “hustle” them.

Using the name John Davenport (his stepfather) because he was under contract to a rival music publisher at the time, he got the song to Little Willie John, an R&B singer who used it as the title song for his 1956 album Fever. However, the most popular cover of this song came in 1958 by Peggy Lee, who was a jazz singer influenced by the blues. As a songwriter she decided to alter the song, and that’s where the problem started. Lee’s may be the most well known but, again according to Songfacts, John’s sold more. (Some kind of statistical error.) Meanwhile Lee added two particular sections and one of them, when you know the actual event, is less a story of love and more a messed-up relationship that thankfully didn’t happen. First I want to show you Little Willie John’s original but I couldn’t find a lyric video for it so just pay attention as you listen or follow along with this posting of the original lyrics.

If you do follow the lyrics and already know Lee’s version you already see the difference. The original is about one man singing about the woman he loves and the fire she puts in his heart, especially when they’re in a more passionate moment. Peggy Lee however starts out singing about her man but at some point she transitions to just tales of romance. See if you can guess who the pedophile is in her version. (I’m sure that wasn’t intentional on her part, but her history teacher really dropped the ball here.)

Peggy Lee opted to keep only the first and final verses of Little Willie John’s song and followed that with totally original lyrics. I’m not sure why but it worked for her, silly pseudo-Shakespeare aside. Her last verse is also generally about how a woman can affect a man when she kisses him. I’m not complaining about the song, although this may be the earliest example I’ve seen of a re-imagining of a song. I find this strange. So did you catch the part I was talking about? Allow me to highlight:

Captain Smith and Pocahontas
Had a very mad affair
When her daddy tried to kill him
She said “daddy oh don’t you dare”
“He gives me fever with his kisses”
“Fever when he holds me tight”
“Fever, I’m his misses”
“Daddy won’t you treat him right?”

Again, I’m no historian but I still know that’s wrong. It wasn’t John Smith that Pocahontas became the misses of but John Wolfe, a tobacco farmer she met after going to England. She didn’t travel there willingly mind you but that’s a whole other story. Yes, she did save John Smith more than once from her father’s wrath (at least that’s how Smith told it or saw what could have just been ceremonial the first time and the other was about stopping a war over abundant resources) as she tried to bring peace between her tribe and the English settlers. They did not have a “very mad affair” though. At least I hope not because….


Or somewhere between ten and thirteen years old, not that it matters. Either way Lee is (most likely accidentally) pretty much accusing John Smith of being a pedophile with Pocahontas as his Lolita to his whatever that character’s name was. That’s one book I really don’t want to research. It’s not just her though. For example Disney made the same mistake in their even more inaccurate version. (I’m pretty sure her grandmother wasn’t a talking tree but I wasn’t there at the time.) So yeah, BIG mistake there, miss Lee.

That’s not a commentary on the song itself. I don’t know what Blackwell’s opinion was about her changes and if you look up Willie John’s profile you’ll see he had more important concerns (like jail), but those changes do kind of mess up the song unintentionally and yet it’s the version we all seem to know today even though jazz is not as mainstream as many other genres. (I happen to like a little smooth jazz myself.) It’s just that one addition she put in that kind of gets to me and I don’t know why she didn’t just stick with a gender-flipped take on the original instead of cutting half of it out to talk about love in general. It’s not bad but it somehow is still really wrong.

About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

One response »

  1. […] Sing Me A Story: Fever: I originally made this one to vent on a certain verse of the song, but like the time I reviewed “Mack The Knife (bonus link)” for the same reason I ended up learning something I didn’t know. […]


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