Tox Tunes #27: Poison Ivy (The Rolling Stones)

August 15, 2010, 3:29 pm

Unfortunately, the original of this Leiber & Stoller classic by The Coasters is not available on YouTube, but The Rolling Stones’ cover from 1963/1964 makes a great substitute.

This seemingly simple  ditty can be understood on at least three levels. In my youth, I took it at face value, as describing a nasty encounter with Toxicodendron radicans.

Later, I realized that the lyrics were actually about a dangerous femme fatale, possibly named Ivy, who will “really do you in, if you let her get under your skin”.

Finally, in the oral historyHound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography (2009), Jerry Leiber revealed what should have been obvious all along:

“Pure and simple, ‘Poison Ivy’ is a metaphor for a sexually transmitted disease — or the clap — hardly a topic for a song that hit the Top Ten in the spring of 1959.  But the more we wrote, the less we understood why the public bought what it bought.  It didn’t make sense, but it didn’t matter. We were having fun.”

She comes on like a rose
But everybody knows
She’ll get you in Dutch
You can look, but you better not touch
Poison Ivy, Poison Ivy
Late at night while you’re sleepin’
Poison Ivy comes a-creepin’  around

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