Song of the Week – Sock it to Me Baby, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels


I’ve been a fan of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels since they released their first hits back in the mid-60s. My idol Bruce Springsteen was also a big fan, adapting Ryder’s hits into his famous final encore number, “The Detroit Medley” (which you can hear on the No Nukes: The Muse Concerts for a Non-Nuclear Future album).

Oddly, Springsteen’s medley leaves out my favorite Ryder hit – today’s SotW “Sock it to Me Baby” (#6, 1967). Put this one into the Restored category.

“Sock it to Me” is a wild, sweaty dose of Rock ‘n Soul. It has all of the best Detroit has to offer musically. It rocks with MC5 like intensity (check out the guitar break after each “Sock – it, to me baby” section), it has a Motown beat that makes dancing irresistible, and it has that subtle sexual tension that is present in so many of Rock and Roll’s best songs. Ryder’s performance is a damned good imitation of James Brown. And somehow when that slide whistle comes in it sounds just right despite my instinct telling me it should be corny (as it is on Procol Harum’s campy “Mabel”).

This is a party record if there ever was one.

When I began to write this post I wondered when the phrase “sock it to me” first came into the 1960’s lexicon. It was a popular catchphrase often used by Judy Carne on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In that first aired in 1968. Then there’s the “sock it to me” background vocal on Aretha’s “Respect.” That was recorded on February 14th, 1967; a little more than a week after Ryder’s song was released on February 4th. So who used it first, Aretha or Mitch? It would appear Mitch, but it’s hard to tell for sure – the matter made a little more complicated since both artists were based out of Detroit. Who knows what each was hearing around town prior to their recording dates?

One last Fun Fact: Winona Ryder chose her stage name when she saw a Mitch Ryder album in her father’s record collection. Interesting, since Mitch’s real name is Bill Levise.

Enjoy… until next week.

9 thoughts on “Song of the Week – Sock it to Me Baby, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels

  1. Mitch Ryder was a staple of the early Detroit rock scene, probably my favorite early rock scene of all; I’ve read at least two books about it. (Sounds kinda dopey on the readback, “I’m totally an expert! I read TWO BOOKS on the subject!!!”)

    It was such an eclectic mix of stuff, back when everyone was still figuring out what rock ‘n’ roll was. Kind of like early punk, which I actually witnessed, before the rules and regulations hit and “punk” ultimately became a way to dress your cutesy six-year-old kids for school.

    In no particular order, there was Mitch Ryder, Iggy and the Stooges, Alice Cooper, MC5, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent – even The Romantics (?!?!?) joined in a little later on. Surely I’m forgetting someone important who I don’t like that much. Also, there were plenty of bands who were almost as big as those above at the time in Detroit, but never cracked nationally and are now pretty much forgotten (The Frost comes to mind).

    Mitch Ryder like MC5? Ehh, maybe kinda sorta. Maybe like a non-threatening MC5. Although, to be fair, if you wanna read (at least TWO BOOKS!!!), you’ll find that Mitch Ryder and his band had some pretty damn threatening moments live on stage and in life. By the same token, “Back In The USA” is about as poppy and non-threatening as the MC5 could be presented, even though it’s my favorite album of theirs.

    “Sock It To Me Baby” would actually fit perfectly on “Back In The USA.”

      • It gets better and better. I’ve now realized I only read ONE BOOK!. So, I am officially the most fraudulent early Detroit rock scene expert ever.

        That ONE BOOK!!! is “Detroit Rock City” by Steve Miller (not THAT Steve Miller – I know I’ve mentioned this here before because I’ve used that line before). It’s an excellent, very easy-read, oral history. It goes a little off the rails toward the end with later bands I don’t care about, but while it’s on (most of the book) it’s top-notch.

        What I thought was the other book is actually just a decent bit of “Please Kill Me” by Legs McNeil, perhaps the best rock oral history of all-time.

        Both are readily available for painless prices on Amazon.

        (And, by the way, the “at least” part of “at least TWO BOOKS!!!” was just me exaggerating, I guess.)

        • It is a commonplace that reading two books on a subject makes you an expert, because the vast majority of people will not have read one.

          This song sounds great, but it always seemed to me like a cop of the Atlantic sound, and was always diminished because of that, though if you were at a party you would not care one wit.

          And Tom is right about those guitars and the MC5. That’s a connection in energy.

          Winona Laura Horowitz and Bill Levine. Ryders in the storm.

  2. Absolute killer tune. The guitar is by Jim McCarty, who was later in Cactus, a pretty good band in the Heavy Blues style of the late 60s-early 70s.

    The oldest use of “sock it to me” is actually “sock it to them,” and is from 1866 in a book about the Civil War: “Now then, tell General Emory if they attack him again to go after them, and to follow them up, and to sock it to them, and to give them the devil”.

    Here’s some Cactus. Not as good as Sock it to Me:

    • One of the best things about the 1960s was that anybody could grab anything that worked and run with it. The cross-fertilization worked both ways too – Motown, Dionne Warwick and a lot of Jackie Wilson all did takes on “white” pop, to the enrichment of all. I don’t think I even knew that Mitch & the boys were white at the time. And of course many of the Atlantic/Stax musicians were white. Right, we were 12 year-old’s at parties and we didn’t care one wit. And that guitar sounded like nothing else, just a boss riff that had us air-guitaring.

      And the MC5 connection is not just energy but soul music. Check out Wayne’s moves, he’s doing James Brown – but not an imitation, more inspiration for his own thing.

  3. Wasn’t Cactus an offshoot of Vanilla Fudge? Whom I saw with Hendrix and the Rascals in 1969.

    Ryder was totally great, as was his band. way ahead of their time…great choice.

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