"Buffalo Gals" is a traditional song that dates back to the 1800s, where it was often played at minstrel shows. The "Buffalo" refers to the city of Buffalo, New York, but the lyrics were altered to fit the place where the song was performed. McLaren changed the refrain from "Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight" to "Buffalo gals, around the outside."
McLaren was the manager of The Sex Pistols and Bow Wow Wow, leading them to the forefront of the British punk scene. Ever the opportunist, when McLaren heard rap music emerging from the US, he capitalized on the opportunity and released this song, which featured McLaren calling lyrics in a Square Dance style.
This was credited to "Malcolm McLaren And The World's Famous Supreme Team." It was the first of several UK hits for McLaren, who also charted with "Soweto," "Double Dutch" and an adaptation of "Madam Butterfly."
In the 1984 BBC documentary Beat This! - A Hip Hop History, McLaren explains that he was in New York looking for a support act for Bow Wow Wow when he went to an outdoor concert (known as a "Block Party") by Afrika Bambaataa and Zulu Nation. This is where he was exposed to hip-hop for the first time and discovered the scratching technique he would use on this song.
In the liner notes for Duck Rock, McLaren wrote that this track was "recorded with the World's Famous Supreme Team and Zulu singers backing them up with the words 'she's looking like a hobo.' The performance by the Supreme Team may require some explaining but suffice to say they are DJs from New York City who have developed a technique using record players like instruments, replacing the power chord of the guitar by the needle of a gramophone, moving it manually backwards and forwards across the surface of a record. We call it scratching."
This song was groundbreaking because it helped introduce England to hip-hop culture. Not only did it sound like hip-hop (but with a white, British MC), but the video showed breakdancing (courtesy of the Rock Steady Crew) as well as rapping, scratching and graffiti.
Trevor Horn, who was a member of Yes and the Buggles, put together the beats, scratches, music and McLaren's rap to make the song. Horn was on the bleeding edge of electronic music and had all the latest gadgets. He told Sound On Sound how it came together: "I'd bought an Oberheim sequencer and drum machine, a DMX and a DSX. I told the World's Famous Supreme Team to tell me their favorite drum beat. It took a couple of hours for them to actually communicate it to me, but once I'd got it, that was "Buffalo Gals": 'du du - cha - du du - cha.' That was done on this DMX and DSX and they just scratched on top of that."
In the US, this was a club hit and did well as a comedy record, getting lots of airplay on the Dr. Demento radio show.
In 1946, Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed sang "Buffalo Gals" with it's traditional lyrics in the movie It's A Wonderful Life.
In 1998, McLaren released a new version of this called "Buffalo Gals Stampede."