A Bit Like You And Me Radio

August 30, 2013

Country Joe McDonald - The 'Fish' Cheer / I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag [Live] (1969)

Note: This is our first post to feature “obscene” language. Read and listen at your own judgment.

Country Joe McDonald, born Joseph Allen McDonald on January 1st, 1942, had been named “Joseph” by his parents after the Soviet Union’s then-leader, Joseph Stalin. McDonalds parents had been devout communists in their youth, but renounced their beliefs later in life. In 1965, McDonald and his friend Barry Melton began writing and performing songs that protested the Vietnam War. They began to call themselves “Country Joe and the Fish.” “Country Joe” was a reference to Joseph Stalin’s colloquial nickname, whereas “the fish” was taken from a statement made by Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong, who stated that a true revolutionary “moves through the peasantry as the fish does through water.” Although their group would see the addition and subtraction of different members over the years, McDonald and Melton were always at its core.

Country Joe and the Fish were at Woodstock during the festival of 1969, but were not scheduled to play until the festival’s third day. As you may remember from our previous post, on the very first day of the festival, the very first act was Ritchie Havens. Havens had gone out on stage because Sweetwater, who had been scheduled first, were bickering amongst themselves and couldn’t make it to the stage on time. When Havens had finished his set, Sweetwater still wasn’t ready to hit the stage. Looking for someone to fill up the time between acts, the organizers of Woodstock located Country Joe wandering around near the stage. Even though he wasn’t with his band, they asked him to perform solo to entertain the audience. Country Joe, terrified of the enormous crowd, made up an excuse that he couldn’t play because he didn’t have a guitar with him. They found a Yamaha acoustic guitar lying around and gave it to him. He persisted that he couldn’t play because he didn’t have a strap for the guitar. They tied a rope to it and pushed him on stage. Joe was left without a choice and performed nine songs, all by himself, on a guitar that wasn’t his.

(It should be noted that accounts of what day Country Joe played solo vary. Country Joe himself claims the above to be true, but other historians claim he played solo on Day 2 of Woodstock and not Day 1. Without any official documentation regarding scheduling as it actually happened, we may never know the unopposed truth.)

The ninth and final song of Country Joe’s solo set is heard below. It’s opened, as it usually was, with a variation of “The ‘Fish’ Cheer.” Written by Country Joe, the original version of this song appeared on Country Joe and the Fish’s second album, I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die from 1967. Although the sarcastic and critical anti-Vietnam lyrics prevented the song from being heard on the radio, the song was very popular amongst the masses of anti-Vietnam youths. In this live Woodstock version of the song, it’s opened with “The ‘Fuck’ Cheer,” a call-and-response interaction with the audience, which had evolved from “The ‘Fish’ Cheer.” Asking the audience to call out letters and then what they spelled, “The ‘Fish’ Cheer” evolved to “The ‘Fuck’ Cheer” after a student demonstration at the University of California, Berkeley (in 1964/1965) successfully fought for the students’ right to use free speech. Country Joe and the Fish often used this cheer to highlight their right to free speech, but were also often fined by venues and cities for its use.

album art

Country Joe McDonald - The 'Fish' Cheer / I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag [Live] (1969)

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Lyrics:

Give me an “F”!
(“F”!)
Give me a “U”!
(“U”!)
Give me a “C”!
(“C”!)
Give me a “K”!
(“K”!)
What’s that spell?
(“Fuck”!)
What’s that spell?
(“Fuck”!)
What’s that spell?
(“Fuck”!)
What’s that spell?
(“Fuck”!)
What’s that spell?
(“Fuck”!)


Well, come on all of you big, strong men
Uncle Sam needs your help again
He got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
Put down your books and pick up a gun
We're gonna have a whole lot of fun

And it’s one, two, three
What are we fightin’ for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn
The next stop is Vietnam
And it’s five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We're all gonna die

Now, come on Wall Street, don't be slow
Why, man, this is War A-Go-Go
There’s plenty good money to be made
Supplyin' the army with the tools of the trade
Just hope and pray that when they drop the bomb
They drop it on the Viet Cong

And it’s one, two, three
What are we fightin’ for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn
The next stop is Vietnam
And it’s five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We're all gonna die

Now, come on generals, let’s move fast
Your big chance is here at last
Night you go out and get those reds
‘cause the only good Commie is one that’s dead
You know that peace can only be won
When you blow ‘em all to Kingdom come

Sing it!

One, two, three
What are we fightin’ for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn
Louder!
(The next stop is) Vietnam
And it’s five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We're all gonna die

Listen, people. I don’t know how you expect to ever stop the war if you can’t sing any better than that. There’s about 300,000 of you fuckers out there. I want you to start singing! Come on!

And it’s one, two, three
What are we fightin’ for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn
The next stop is Vietnam
And it’s five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We're all gonna die

Now, come on mothers throughout the land
Pack your boys off to Vietnam
Come on fathers, don't hesitate
Send your sons off before it’s too late
Be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box

Alright!

And it’s one, two, three
What are we fightin’ for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn
The next stop is Vietnam
And it’s five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We're all gonna die

Alright!

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