Remember Me Original
Woman of the Ghetto – the Remember Me Original
Note: this article refers to the 1997 song by Scottish DJ Blue Boy and the “Remember Me” “original” – Marlena Shaw’s “Woman of the Ghetto”. It is not about the song of the same name from the 2017 Pixar film, Coco.
The lyrics, “Remember me? I’m the one who had your babies, I,” refer to African-American maids raising white children for barely any pay. Blue Boy took the song’s title from a line sampled from Shaw’s live performance of “Woman of the Ghetto” at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Blue Boy arranged his song around two samples from Shaw’s performance.
The “Remember Me” “original” – “Woman of the Ghetto” – is a 1969 soul song, originally recorded for Shaw’s second album The Spice of Life. The version we discuss comes from her album 1974 soul-jazz album Live At Montreux. Blue Boy’s “Remember Me” is technically a sample rather than a cover but since it’s so heavily built around Shaw’s lyrics, we wanted to explore it here. Both are very interesting songs held together by that iconic refrain “ging, gi-gi-gi-gi-ging”.
Shaw was born Marlena Burgess in 1942 in New Rochelle, New York. In 1952, her uncle Jimmy Burgess invited ten-year-old Shaw on stage at the Apollo Theater in Harlem to sing with his band. He wanted to take her on tour, but Shaw’s mother said she was too young. Later, Shaw enrolled in the New York State Teachers College (now known as the State University of New York at Potsdam) to study music. However, she didn’t complete her schooling. Instead she married and had five children. But Shaw never gave up on her singing career.
In 1966, Shaw got a gig with the Playboy Club chain in Chicago. There she met representatives from Chess Records. She signed up to the label and commenced her recording career, releasing two albums with Chess subsidiary Cadet Records. Her five-year stint fronting the Count Basie Band earned Shaw high praise from the jazz community. In 1972, she became the first female artist to sign to the prestigious Blue Note Records.
In 1977, Shaw released an LP called Sweet Beginnings on Columbia. A medley on this album, “Yu Ma / Go Away Little Boy” (an old Gerry Goffin and Carole King standard, originally recorded by Nancy Wilson) is often considered Shaw’s best work. Another big hit was Shaw’s 1979 disco cover of Diana Ross’s “Touch Me in the Morning”.
Shaw performs a variety of music genres, including soul, jazz and disco. In later years, hip-hop and electro artists often sampled her music. Shaw still performs today.
Woman of the Ghetto
“Woman of the Ghetto” is the first track from The Spice of Life, the last studio album Shaw recorded with Cadet Records.
The version Shaw sings at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival is fantastic. She opens singing a prayer for the members of her band, then eases into the song, accompanied by her band (George Gaffney on piano, Ed Boyer on bass and Harold Jones on drums). Her voice is sublime and powerful, taking us on a journey as she tells the story of black history in the United States.
The “Remember Me” lyrics come in around the eight-and-a-half-minute mark of this almost ten-minute-long song. But listen to the track in its entirety, as well as the version from The Spice of Life which has more of a funky soul sound. The Live At Montreux version is jazzier.
Scottish DJ Alexis “Lex” Blackmore performed under the pseudonym Blue Boy. He started his music career as a DJ in Glasgow and London. In 1991, he toured with the British electronica group the Shamen. In 1995, Blackmore established the name Blue Boy following the release of his single “Sandman” on Ascension Records.
Blue Boy’s best-known release is “Remember Me” which came out in 1997. He arranged the song by sampling Shaw’s lyrics “Remember me? I’m the one who had your babies, I” from Live At Montreux. The scat portion, “ging, gi-gi-gi-gi-ging”, is the refrain from Shaw’s original 1969 song. Shaw’s voice blends wonderfully with the 90s dance beats and sound effects.
Blue Boy’s “Remember Me” originally appeared on house DJ Mark Farina’s remix album Mushroom Jazz Volume One. The radio edit was remixed by DJ Sure Is Pure and released on the Pharm sub-label imprint.
“Remember Me” reached number 8 on the UK singles chart and number 2 on the American dance chart. It also reached the top ten in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, as well as number 13 on the Eurochart Hot 100. In 2012, Australian music channel Max ranked “Remember Me” number 557 in their list of the 1000 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Billboard’s Larry Flick described “Remember Me” as a “wickedly catchy dance anthem”. He also noted that:
… while the groove is appropriately aggressive and street-credible, the song is iced with accessible keyboards, and a loopy hook takes up permanent residence in the brain upon impact.”Larry Flick
Shaw’s Response to Remember Me
Shaw’s reaction to Blue Boy’s version of her song was on the whole positive.
When it first happened, and the Mushroom Jazz people contacted me from San Francisco, I was kind of excited about it. But then, once I actually HEARD it, my first reaction was ‘Oh my goodness! How in the world can I possibly stand onstage and sing those same notes, and those same lyrics, over and over again?’! You know, ‘I’m the one who had your babies – ha-ha-ha-ha’! I mean, it’s different when it’s being recorded and you’re just pushing the button! But then, once I got used to the idea, I became excited all over again! And actually several other people have sampled the song since, though with them it’s been the onstage version I did on the (1973-released) Live At Montreux album that seems to have got more attention – I guess because it was more spontaneous. Which, as I say, is something that HAPPENS in my live performances! And I particularly liked the St Germain version, which had more of a jazz flavour to it.”Marlena Shaw
Other Woman of the Ghetto Samples
According to whosampled.com, 46 songs sample Shaw’s 1973 version of “Woman of the Ghetto”. It’s no wonder, seeing it’s such a great song with important lyrics.
The St Germain version Shaw talks of comes from “Rose Rogue“, the leading track from his 2000 album Tourist. This song also samples the Live At Montreux version of “Woman of the Ghetto”, but this time it’s the line, “I want you to get together.” St Germain’s version indeed has more of a jazz flavour, compared with Blue Boy’s dance-pop sound.
Remember Me Samples
“Remember Me” has also been covered and sampled. In 2008, Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala performed the song as part of their live sets. They released a cover of “Remember Me” on the B-side of their “Sundown Syndrome” single in 2009.
In 2010, Gianni “Luminati” Nicassio from the Canadian indie pop group Walk Off the Earth released a song on YouTube called “Jammin’ a Hammock“. This version of “Remember Me” features Luminati lying in a hammock playing three instruments and singing Shaw’s lyrics.
In 2012, British musician Daley sampled “Remember Me” in his own composition, also named “Remember Me”. Jessie J sings the refrain. In 2013, South African group Goldfish sampled the song in their track “Three Second Memory”.
Remember me? I’m the one who had your babies, I
I’m not sure if you’d considered these samples as being from the “Remember Me” original, “Woman of the Ghetto”, or Blue Boy’s “Remember Me”. However, I’m feel pretty confident in describing “Woman of the Ghetto” as the “Remember Me” original. Also, I think it’s important not to lose Shaw’s original message as it becomes so heavily sampled. I recommend you listen to more of her music, then revisit the sampled versions.
Check out more 90s tunes and their unknown originals here.