Right Place, Wrong Time

Album: In the Right Place (1973)
Charted: 9
  • Easily the most recognized song from Dr. John's long and varied recorded output, "Right Place, Wrong Time" is a pivotal track that marries the legacy of the good doctor's New Orleans rhythm-and-blues ancestors to the bold funk that dominated black American music at the time of the record's release. This musical apotheosis marked a new height for Mac Rebennack, a New Orleans session musician since the 1950s, who'd reinvented himself as Dr. John, The Night Tripper in the late 1960s, in theatrical homage to the Big Easy's voodoo traditions. A Top 10 chart success in 1973, the tune momentarily elevated Dr. John in the public consciousness from "musician's musician" to pop star.

    In a Songfacts interview with Dr. John, here's what he told us about the track: "That was my life for a long time. At the same time I was in the wrong place at the right time, and the right place in the wrong time, too. That was the problem. We're always shifting those gears."
  • "Right Place, Wrong Time" opens the similarly titled LP In the Right Place, Rebennack's sixth album under the Dr. John persona. Whereas Dr. John's previous album, 1972's Dr. John's Gumbo had paired him with producer Jerry Wexler in an affectionate tribute to classic New Orleans rhythm and blues compositions of the 1950s and '60s, "Right Place" enlisted the production talents of NOLA's own Allen Toussaint, in a far more contemporary setting. Adding to the disc's funk credentials, was the inclusion of the New Orleans Soul talents, The Meters, who were merely a few years removed from instrumental hits like "Cissy Strut," and only a few years away from mainstream success like a Saturday Night Live appearance and opening on tour for The Rolling Stones. The combination of Dr. John's growling vocals and blues piano with Toussaint's tight arrangements and The Meters in-the-pocket groove proved to be a funky alchemy of the first order. "We were making fun music, and doing it at our pace," Toussaint said.

    Of musical interest, too, is Rebennack's continued tribute here to his musical ancestors in the stride piano part that comprises the song's bridge.
  • Lyrically, "Right Place, Wrong Time" is standard blues fare, documenting in ironic one-liners the singer's propensity for misfortune. In the tune's weirder moments, Rebennack fuses this blues-based sense of the absurd with a psychedelic sensibility in line with the late '60s mood that saw Dr. John's emergence. He calls, for instance, for a little "brain salad surgery" to fix his ailing mind, articulated here as "refried confusion."
  • While "Right Place, Wrong Time" was Dr. John's lone rise to the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100, the song has been ubiquitous in American popular culture for decades since. Notably, director Richard Linklater used it to evoke the 1970s on the soundtrack to his period piece, Dazed and Confused.
  • The line "just need a little brain salad surgery" in this song provided the title for the Emerson, Lake & Palmer album Brain Salad Surgery, which was released later in 1973.

Comments: 4

  • Cachiva from HoustonIt's "hob nob down the street"
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyR.I.P. Dr. John, born Malcolm John Rebennack, {November 20th, 1941 - June 6th, 2019}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 16th 1973, Dr. John performed "Right Place, Wrong Time" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was in its second of two weeks at #11 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; eight days later on June 24th it would peak at #9 {for 2 weeks} and it stayed on the chart for 20 weeks...
    And on July 7th, 1973 it reached #6 {for 1 week} on the Canadian RPM 100 Singles chart...
    He had three other records make the Top 100 chart; "Iko Iko" {#71 in 1972}, "Such a Night" {#42 in 1973}, and "(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away" {#92 in 1974}...
    Dr. John, born Malcolm John Rebennack, will celebrate his 75th birthday in five months on November 21st {2015}.
  • Dave from Wheaton, IlGood song from the Night Tripper.
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