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The Joker

by

Steve Miller Band



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

The line in this song, "I speak of the pompatus of love," has baffled listeners for some time. Greil Marcus provided the best explanation we've seen in a 2002 article for Los Angeles Magazine titled "In The Secret Country." The word "Pompatus" does exist in the Oxford English Dictionary, and it means "to act with pomp and splendor." Miller most likely heard the word on a song called "The Letter," which was recorded by the Los Angeles Doo-Wop group The Medallions in 1954. It was written by their lead singer Vernon Green, who was 16 at the time and crippled with polio. The song contained these lyrics:
"Let me whisper sweet words of dismortality, and discuss the pompatus of love. Put it together and what do you have? Matrimony."

The Pompatus Of Love is the name of a 1995 movie starring Jon Cryer, and Cryer tracked down Vernon Green to ask him about these lyrics. Green defined "Dismortality" as "Words of such secrecy they could only be spoken to the one you loved" and "Pompatus" as "A secret paper-doll fantasy figure who would be my everything and bear my children."
Miller drew associations to some of his other songs in the lyrics to this one. The line, "Some people call me The Space Cowboy" is a reference to Miller's 1969 song "Space Cowboy." The line, "Some call me a gangster of love" is a reference to his song "Gangster of Love." The line, "Some people call me Maurice" is a reference to Miller's 1972 song "Enter Maurice." In that song Miller also sings about "The pompatus of love."(thanks, Patrick - Tallapoosa, GA)
Miller got the line at the end, "I really love your peaches want to shake your tree, lovey dovey, lovey dovey..." from "Lovey Dovey," a 1953 song by the R&B group The Clovers. That song's co-writer was Ahmet Ertegun, who later became head of Atlantic Records. Ertegun sued Miller for plagiarism. Miller recalled to Mojo magazine in 2012: "To me, it was an old blues double entendre, but I had to give him credit. I don't mind having Ahmet's name beside mine though."
Miller won a lawsuit against rap group The Geto Boys when they used this without his permission in 1990. In 2000, he let Shaggy use the bass line from this on his hit, "Angel." A year later, Miller let Run-D.M.C. sample "Take The Money And Run."
The line "I'm a midnight toker" is a marijuana reference. Many stoners related to this song, and in 2012, Spin magazine named it the most commercially successful pot song of all time.
This finally hit #1 on the UK charts in 1990, thanks to its inclusion in a Levi's jeans commercial.
In the TV show Friends, Joey has an imaginary friend named Maurice whose occupation is "Space Cowboy." (thanks, Patrick - Huntington, NY)
Homer Simpson sings this (poorly) on a second season episode of The Simpsons where we flashback to him driving to school.
Steve Miller told the story of the song in an interview with Mojo November 2012: "I got this funny, lazy, sexy little tune," he recalled, "but it didn't come together until a party in Novato, north of San Francisco. I sat on the hood of a car under the stars with an acoustic guitar making up lyrics and 'I'm a joker, I'm a smoker, 'I'm a midnight toker' came out. My chorus! The 'some people call me the space cowboy' and 'the gangster of love' referred to earlier songs of mine and so did 'Maurice' and 'the propitious of love.' You don't have to use words. It was just a goof.

I produced myself. Nobody pushing us around. That 12-string acoustic I played, it was made by Epiphone's last master guitar-maker. I forget his name, sorry.

The basic rhythm track, when we cut it I was very precise with the bassist, Gerald Johnson about the line he should play. Then there's the slide guitar sound, which I put through a Leslie speaker and a wah-wah pedal, among other things."
Steve Miller Band
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Comments (41):

I'll never forget this song. When it was new & beginning its climb up the charts (before it hit #1 later), it was on my car radio when I bought a new 1974 Cadillac Eldorado & was driving it home from the dealership. I was enjoying the song when mention of "the pompetus of love" came on & mystified me. What the heck? I certainly never heard of this throughout my education. Then, the radio went haywire & I couldn't get it to come back on. Had to go back to the Cadillac dealership & have it repaired that day. But it started me wondering about "the pompetus of love." Then I thought why bother finding the answer! I enjoyed the song as it later hit #1. Steve Milleeris very talented and I've followed his career for decades. He's written some gems. However, I'm a musician myself and know enough not to call this song tripe. That's just foolish ignorance. I still hear this song from time to time on the oldies stations on satellite radio. Still get a chuckle out of it!
- Rocky, Fort Smith, AR
Hey, I finally learned the meaning of "the pompatus of love" and more importantly the word "pompatus" (to act with pomp and splendor). Back when this was #1, my big brother used to call me "the pompatus of love" and I was very aggravated at him. I even blackened both his eyes. For a girl, that's not bad! haaa! And he was 6'3" and 200 lbs. back in 1973. He & I were still in high school and rocking it out to "The Joker." A fine fine song by one talented musician----Steve Miller! Rock on, Stevie boy
- Rotunda, Tulsa, OK
WOW! After all these years, I can finally rest my mind about the origins of "the pompatus/pompatous of love." Anyway, I've been a fan of The Steve Miller Band since the 70's & they are all exceptional musicians. Way back when many fans were still wondering what was "the pompatus of love," I could've cared less, but at my workplace many co-workers began asking this on our coffee-breaks. Then it bloomed into an all out bizarre thing (this was back in the early 70s). Even my brother began wondering what the term meant. He settled on "prostitute" without even researching it. What a waste of time! Then I got hooked later in the early 90's. By then, my neighbor's teenagers hounded me for the answer, knowing I was a "baby-boomer rocker." Another generation of kids wasting their time on this! haaa! Wel, thank the Lord there are some knowledgeable resident-scholars on Songfacts.com who know it all.
- Raunchy, Tulsa, OK
There is nothing like your friends singing this song badly on Guitar Hero.
- Allen, Concord, NH
This is an awful song that appeals to trailer park inhabitants and smokers of cheap pondside weeds. I've heard that Steve Miller was sick of writing great music that didn't sell very well. He found his market with this unoriginal tripe.
- earl, jefferson city, MO
I had no idea what a "toker" was when I first heard it (age 10). I decided he must be saying "talker" and didn't understand what that had to do with him being a gangster of love.
- esskayess, Dallas, TX
This song song also means he is a stoner. Midnight TOKER.
- Phoenix, Denver, CO
Someone neglected to mention that this was also the funny song from the end of "The Love Guru".
- Merlin, Lawrenceville, NJ
The pompitous of love is a reference to a novel exploring homosexual love by the English writer E.M. Forster. It features the phrase "Pompitous of Love" in relation to the title character.

Miller also introduced Maurice and the pompitous of love on "Enter Maurice". Neither this album nor Rock Love have ever been released on CD.

Funny to see how many explanations are wide of the mark and by how far.
- Matt, London, United Kingdom
The Final Lyrics of this song "You're the cutest thing I ever did see. Really love your peaches wanna shake your tree. Lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey all the time. Come on baby and I'll show you a good time" is actually the first lyrics of The Clovers 1954 #2 chart topper "Lovey Dovey" the song starts "Well, you're the cutest thing that I did ever see, I really love your peaches, want to shake your tree. Lovey dovey , lovey dovey all the time. Lovey dovey, I can't get you out of my mind."
- Moises, Miami, FL
Fatboy Slim covered The Joker on his 2004 album "Palookaville". Check it out now...:)
- Peter, Birmingham, United Kingdom
This song was also covered by country music artist Keith Urban as the encore to a concert in Paso Robles, CA for the CA Mid State Fair, where The Steve Miller Band had just performed the day before.
- Amanda, Arroyo Grande, CA
Let's settle the mystery once and for all: "pompitous" is a mispronounciation of the word "properties," as in "...the properties of love..." Steve Miller picked up on it with "Space Cowboy."
- Bill Bucolo, St. Pete, FL
i saw this on that 70s show. it was funny
- Jude, Toronto, QC
I was so glad to find the original 1973 video on YouTube
- Eddie, Acton, ME
A classic anywhere you go!
- Frank, Brampton, Ontario, Canada
The Steve Miller Band's lyrics in "The Joker" are kinda crazy. I don't know what they're about, really. All I can do is listen and enjoy. I can seldom tell what Steve Miller classic hits are about. That makes the Steve Miller Band, in a way, a mystery band. That is what a lot of bands are on Classic Rock stations. I am a joker; yes, I am a sinner, which we all are. I agree that Classic Rock is incomplete without the mysterious Steve Miller Band. You rock, Steve Miller!
- andrew, birmingham, United States
this song is my jam
i love to kick back and juct play the bass line endlessly for hours
- matt, Blacksburg, VA
Great song, but "Take the Money and Run" still rocks it.
- Daniel, Springfield, MA
The pompitous "word" is just hysterical in this song for so many reasons. As we all know, it's not a word (much like Neil Diamond making up the "word" brang in "Play Me"). What's even funnier is Miller stole the "word" from the 1954 song "The Letter," by, I believe, the Medallions. In that song, a "word" similar to pompitous is spoken, but it isn't pompitous. Miller years later would say he misheard the "word" but didn't realize it until well after "The Joker" was released. (Remember that this is the guy who rhymnes "El Paso" with "hassle" in "Take the Money and Run.") So pompitous is a made-up word of a made-up word. But it is definitely a classic!
- David, Youngstown, OH
This song has the longest fadeout i have ever heard. It starts fading out and then like a minute later you can still hear them singing really quietly. Most radio stations cut it off way before it gets to the end.
- Brandon, Peoria, IL
The Joker was released in 1973 and Clap for the Wolfman in 1974...for those of you that are keeping score.
- WIL, Milwaukee, WI
insane clown posse's protages twiztid covered this song on their album 'cryptic collection 3'.
- Obzcure, Auckland, New Zealand
hippie anthem? then its MY SONG! i L-O-V-E this song so much its one of my favorites.
- Izzie, lala, HI
The ultimate hippie song. I figured it sampled some of Steve Millers other songs becuase there was some hidden meaning. Gotta love the waa-waa
- Johnny, Los Angeles, CA
Possibly lifted by Weezer in their song "Beverly Hills". Sorry to be a such a zealot about this, but yeah, you know a song is good when all the new acts keep stealing it.
- Bluejay, Kearny, NJ
I live my life by this song
i am a spacecowboy gangster of love and maurice and i always speak of the pompatus of love
- Zola, Dublin, OH
For some interesting insights into the origins of the phrase "the pompatus of love" see here:
http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a4_065.html
- Martijn, Helmond, Netherlands
I freakin' L-O-V-E this song! I wanna marry it!
- AJ, Cleveland, GA
This song's famous reference to "pompitous of love" coincides pretty closely in time to the reference to "the Wolfman's pompitous of love" in 'Clap for the Wolfman' by The Guess Who. Anybody know whose "pompitous" came first? Just curious...either way they are both good songs.
- Cheyenne, Dallas, TX
what's all this stuff about Canadians and Americans. Personally, Canadians seem more laid-back. anyway, I think 'the Joker' is a great song. Pompitus, that's a funny word.
- Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC
Every acoustic bar act I have ever seen perform manages to squeeze this one into their set eventually. I have observed it to be the most widely covered song at the local level.
- Rob, Santa Monica, CA
Steve was quoted early on that he never thought this would be a hit. When he received his gold record for this single, he hung it above his washer and dryer. He did it as a reminder that just because he was famous and had a hit song, he still had to wash his socks and underwear like everyone else! I had a chance to meet him after a show a few years back, and he really is a regular, down-to-earth guy. I actually saw him helping his roadies load his gear into a truck after the show, so you know he doesn't consider himself some high and mighty superstar.
- Ace, Kansas City, MO
Steve Millers Greatest Hits album is a constistant top seller for record stores. It is way up there as far as all-time album sales.

Check out the link in the other post for the story on "pompitous of love"-- lifted from a spoken section an early r&b/rock song.
- Matt, Charleston, SC
Thi song has been covered by k.d. lang on her superb 1997 release, "Drag".
A very beautiful version: the lyrics, so much.. masculine, combine quite sexily with kd's voice. Listen to it.
- Aiden, Roma, Italy
This song was also in a "King of the Hill" episode. Hank recalls this song being played at his bachelor party, followed by Bill's bachelor party, then Dale's. Later in the episode, Boomhauer's brother has his bachelor party, and the song is played again.
- Chris, Santa Barbara, CA
For the real lowdown about "the pompitous of love", see www.gangster-of-love.com (the unofficial Steve Miller Band page). Also, 'Gangster of Love' from Miller's "Sailor" album was written by Johnny 'Guitar'Watson (And it's well worth trying to find other records by the quirky Mr. Watson)
- Don, Sebastopol, CA
When this song hit the No.1 slot in the UK in September 1990 (following its use in a popular Levi's ad), it wasn't without controversy - there was a tie on sales with Dee-Lite's "Groove Is In The Heart" that week. As "The Joker" had been one place lower in the chart the previous week, it was deemed to have had greater increased sales, and was therefore awarded the No.1 position, and, amazingly, held onto it the following week despite again being behind "Groove Is In The Heart" on midweek sales. "The Joker" then remained on top for another two weeks before being dethroned by Maria McKee's "Show Me Heaven".
- Dave, Cardiff, Wales
This was also used on an episode of that 70's show's 100th episode or "that 70's musical", Hyde Donna Eric and Kelso sing this while sitting in the circle smoking pot. Later on Hyde, Eric and Fez argue over who the space cowboy is. This episode also guest stars roger daltrey.
- leigha, New York, NY
It was in the Simpsons episode where Homer and Marge reminisce about how they met. In the beginning of the flashback, Homer is driving to school and he changes the radio station and this song is playing.
- Gonny, FakeTown, GA
The "Gangster of Love" is also a Steve Miller song, like "Space Cowboy" and "Enter Maurice."
- Matthew, New York, NY
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