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Divine Symmetry I 13 I All shook up…

Back in 2016, during my song-a-day tribute to Bowie, when I got to “She Shook Me Cold” (click on the bolded words to link to my entry back then), I pointed out that “all rockers who came out of the late 1960s and early 1970s were contractually obliged to do at least one song about being shook.” I mentioned Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck who covered, “You Shook Me,” AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Whole Lot of Shaking Going On” (which was from the 50s). But my scope was far, far too narrow.

There are a great many “shook” songs, but there are even more (and better known) shake songs— “Shake It Up” by The Cars; “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Bill Haley & His Comets; “Shakin'” by Eddie Money; “Shake It Up” by Bad Company; “Shakin’ Street” by The MC5; “Shakedown Street” by the Grateful Dead; “Shaking the Tree” by Peter Gabriel; “Twist and Shout” by just about everyone and, of course, “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift. This list hardly scratches the surface. Aside from “love” and, maybe, “baby,” “shake” and its derivatives has to be one of the most oft-used words in rock music.

Of course, the word has different meanings in different contexts, but there’s an obvious link between the most common meaning and what the phrase “rock and roll” actual describes. Think of the meaning of the term beyond its use as a genre label– the music inspires rocking and rolling and… shaking. And, of course, rock music has been especially sexual since its inception– going back to Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis, so while the Grateful Dead and Peter Gabriel were not singing about sex in their ‘shake” songs, Bowie, AC/DC and led Zepplin surely were. “Shook” meant, “had sex with” in their usage. The connotation is so ingrained that I think it’s there even when the overt usage of “shake” carries a different meaning (once again, in draw your attention to Taylor Swift).

But shaking has more to do with the rock and roll lifestyle than sex. Shaking covers sex, drugs and rock and roll– all three. Iggy Pop and the Stooges use “shake” as synonymous with “sex” on “Shake Appeal,” but elsewhere on the album, Raw Power, are the lines, “If you’re alone and you got the shakes; So am I, baby, and I got what it takes” (Bowie produced the album). The dual use of the word was deliberate as the overall album paints a picture of a debauched lifestyle amidst a world on the edge.

Bowie would bring things around full circle with his shaking dancers in the video for “Blackstar.” The dancers, evocative of the dancers he used in “Fashion” many years earlier, are not shaking with sexual energy or withdrawal symptoms– their movements seem to be a synchronized death rattle, or worse, an involuntary nervous response from corpses that have already lost life but can’t stop shaking. The song doesn’t use the word, but the concept and physical movement is so connected to rock and roll that Bowie uses it as the ultimate outro.

And this doesn’t even get into use of the term “milkshake…”

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