Essential Listening #19: Who Do You Love


“Who Do You Love” is a song originally written and recorded by Bo Diddley in 1956. The song has been covered by various artists, including the rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service, whose rendition is one of the most well-known. Here are the key details about the Quicksilver Messenger Service version of “Who Do You Love”:

Song Composition and Theme

  • Original Writer: Bo Diddley.
  • Genre: Blues rock, psychedelic rock.
  • Theme: The song features vivid and imaginative lyrics that depict a series of wild, exaggerated adventures and boasts. The protagonist describes various mystical and supernatural experiences, creating a sense of mystery and danger.

Quicksilver Messenger Service Version

  • Album: “Happy Trails”
  • Release Date: March 29, 1969
  • Label: Capitol Records
  • Length: The entire suite of “Who Do You Love” on the album is approximately 25 minutes long, divided into different parts.
  • Band Members: The band lineup on this track typically included John Cipollina (guitar), Gary Duncan (guitar, vocals), David Freiberg (bass), and Greg Elmore (drums).

Musical Elements

  • Structure: Quicksilver Messenger Service’s version of “Who Do You Love” is a lengthy suite that is broken down into several sections, each highlighting different musical explorations and extended instrumental jams.
  • Instrumentation: The version is notable for its extensive guitar work, with John Cipollina and Gary Duncan providing dynamic and intricate guitar interplay.
  • Live Performance Feel: The recording captures the energy and spontaneity of a live performance, with extended improvisations and a raw, energetic sound.

Reception and Impact

  • Critical Acclaim: Quicksilver Messenger Service’s rendition of “Who Do You Love” is highly regarded for its innovative approach and skilled musicianship. It is often cited as one of the highlights of the band’s career.
  • Legacy: The song is considered a classic example of psychedelic rock and is a significant part of Quicksilver Messenger Service’s legacy. It showcases the band’s ability to blend traditional blues with the improvisational style of the San Francisco rock scene.

Interpretation and Analysis

The song’s lyrics, originally by Bo Diddley, are a series of vivid, surreal images and boasts, often interpreted as a display of bravado and supernatural prowess. Quicksilver Messenger Service’s extended version amplifies these themes through its intense musical improvisation and exploration.

Notable Lyrics (Original by Bo Diddley)

  • Opening Lines: “I walked 47 miles of barbed wire / I got a cobra snake for a necktie”
  • Chorus: “Who do you love?”

Cultural Influence

Quicksilver Messenger Service’s version of “Who Do You Love” has influenced many musicians and is a staple of the psychedelic rock era. The song’s improvisational style and extended jam format have inspired countless live performances by other rock bands.

Band Members Involved

  • John Cipollina: Guitar
  • Gary Duncan: Guitar, vocals
  • David Freiberg: Bass
  • Greg Elmore: Drums

Live Performances

The live performances of “Who Do You Love” by Quicksilver Messenger Service were known for their electrifying energy and extended improvisations, often making each performance unique. The song became a showcase for the band’s musical talents and was a favorite among fans.

Cover Versions and Adaptations

While Bo Diddley’s original “Who Do You Love” has been covered by many artists, Quicksilver Messenger Service’s version stands out for its distinctive style and length. The song has also been performed by other rock bands, each bringing their own interpretation to the classic track.

Quicksilver Messenger Service’s “Who Do You Love” remains a significant work in the rock and blues canon, celebrated for its inventive approach and the band’s exceptional musicianship.

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