The Joker

Album: The Joker (1973)
Charted: 1 1
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  • 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 contains these lyrics:

    Let me whisper sweet words of dismortality
    and discuss the pompatus of love
    Put it together and what do you have?

    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." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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 (as is the "toke" in Brewer & Shipley's hit "One Toke Over The Line" from 1970). 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 chart in 1990, thanks to its inclusion in a Levi's jeans commercial. In the spot, a guy rides a motorcycle into an office building and rolls up to an attractive worker, who puts on a pair of 501s and gets on the back of his bike as he takes her away.
  • In the TV show Friends, Joey has an imaginary friend named Maurice whose occupation is "Space Cowboy." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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."
  • Original Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley covered this on his 2014 solo Space Invader album. He explained his decision to record the song to Guitar World magazine, saying, "It was the record company's idea, to be honest. And I was a little resistant when it first came up. But then I thought back to my 1978 solo record, when [producer] Eddie Kramer's assistant said to me, 'Why don't you try this song?' And it was 'New York Groove.' At first I said, 'I don't want to do that,' and it turned out to be my biggest hit. So maybe history can repeat itself."
  • Miller's subtle approach to the wah-wah pedal earned him the #16 spot on Guitar World's 2015 list of greatest wah solos of all time.

Comments: 50

  • John from Manchester UkInterestingly, i just watched the Joan Baez Documentary when she said when as a schoolgirl she loved the lyrics. " i really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree" and This was in the mid 50's , so was this expression well known back then, and Stevie just borrowed it
  • Mountain Man from Co Sp CoRelaxing song I like country most
  • EamonHe actually wasn't a midnight toker. It turns out his VCR was just flashing 12:00.
  • John from UkIt is a standard chord progression and bass jazzed up a bit. Just listen to angel of the morning from 1968 before 1972...
  • Dsp from Cincinnati, OhAllen Toussaint - "Soul Sister" - 1972... check it out...same chord progression, similar bass line, unmistakable same groove. I don't believe Mr. Toussaint received a dime from Mr. Miller.
  • George from Vancouver, CanadaI'm rather surprised there's no mention of the Stealers Wheel origin of the "Stuck in the Middle with You" lyrics, a year earlier than this one came out. You have the Stealers Wheel song on this site, with no mention of a connection to The Steve Miller Band. . . Quite the slipup on an otherwise excellent knowledge resource site.
  • Bill from Gearhart, Oregon, Usa4/29/2017 In the following comment, of course I meant "one of the Medallions recited" rather than "the Medallions sang." You can hear it at The word "pulchritudes" is still clear as a bell!
  • Bill from Gearhart, Oregon, UsaIt's time to cut the endless string of misunderstandings about the line "the pompatus of love." Back in 1954, the Medallions sang the following verses in "The Letter":
    "Let me whisper sweet words of this mortality
    and discuss the pulchritudes of love."
    Both "mortality" (meaning the human condition in which we hapless lovers find ourselves) and "pulchritudes" (meaning beauties, beautiful things) are fancy English words derived directly from Latin. Whoever wrote those lines had heard the words in school back in the days when even public high school teaching was of a higher quality than anything we see in education today. Most of the Medallions may not have known those meanings, but the words sounded good and fancy enough for their purposes. Subsequent imitators didn't even recognize the words, had never heard the word "pulchritude," misunderstood and mispronounced it, and thought it was a made-up word. But it started out as perfectly acceptable English — back in 1954!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyToday {December 17th, 2015} the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame announced its 2016 inductees, the newest members will be Steve Miller, Deep Purple, Chicago, Cheap Trick, and NWA; they will be inducted into the HoF on April 8th, 2016 in New York City...
    And exactly forty two years earlier on December 17th, 1973 Steve Miller's "The Joker" was at #6 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, just under three weeks later on January 6th, 1974 it would peak at #1 {for 1 week} and it stayed on the chart for 20 weeks...
    Between 1968 and 1993 he had twenty Top 100 records; five made the Top 10 with three reaching #1, his other two #1 records were "Rock'n Me" for 1 week in 1976 and "Abracadabra" for 2 weeks in 1982...
    He just missed having a fourth #1 record when "Fly Like An Eagle" peaked at #2* [for 2 weeks} in 1977...
    * The two weeks that "Fly Like An Eagle" was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "Love Theme from 'A Star Is Born'" by Barbra Streisand.
  • Rocky from Fort Smith, ArI'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!
  • Rotunda from Tulsa, OkHey, 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
  • Raunchy from Tulsa, OkWOW! 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 who know it all.
  • Allen from Concord, NhThere is nothing like your friends singing this song badly on Guitar Hero.
  • Earl from Jefferson City, MoThis 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.
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxI 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.
  • Phoenix from Denver, CoThis song song also means he is a stoner. Midnight TOKER.
  • Merlin from Lawrenceville, NjSomeone neglected to mention that this was also the funny song from the end of "The Love Guru".
  • Matt from London, United KingdomThe 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.
  • Moises from Miami, FlThe 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."
  • Peter from Birmingham, United KingdomFatboy Slim covered The Joker on his 2004 album "Palookaville". Check it out now...:)
  • Amanda from Arroyo Grande, CaThis 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.
  • Bill Bucolo from St. Pete, FlLet'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."
  • Jude from Toronto, Qci saw this on that 70s show. it was funny
  • Eddie from Acton, MeI was so glad to find the original 1973 video on YouTube
  • Frank from Brampton, Ontario, CanadaA classic anywhere you go!
  • Andrew from Birmingham, United StatesThe 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!
  • Matt from Blacksburg, Vathis song is my jam
    i love to kick back and juct play the bass line endlessly for hours
  • Daniel from Springfield, MaGreat song, but "Take the Money and Run" still rocks it.
  • David from Youngstown, OhThe 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!
  • Brandon from Peoria, IlThis 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.
  • Wil from Milwaukee, WiThe Joker was released in 1973 and Clap for the Wolfman in 1974...for those of you that are keeping score.
  • Obzcure from Auckland, New Zealandinsane clown posse's protages twiztid covered this song on their album 'cryptic collection 3'.
  • Izzie from Lala, Hihippie anthem? then its MY SONG! i L-O-V-E this song so much its one of my favorites.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaThe ultimate hippie song. I figured it sampled some of Steve Millers other songs becuase there was some hidden meaning. Gotta love the waa-waa
  • Bluejay from Kearny, NjPossibly 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.
  • Zola from Dublin, OhI live my life by this song
    i am a spacecowboy gangster of love and maurice and i always speak of the pompatus of love
  • Martijn from Helmond, NetherlandsFor some interesting insights into the origins of the phrase "the pompatus of love" see here:
  • Aj from Cleveland, GaI freakin' L-O-V-E this song! I wanna marry it!
  • Cheyenne from Dallas, TxThis 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.
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, Scwhat'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.
  • Rob from Santa Monica, CaEvery 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.
  • Ace from Kansas City, MoSteve 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.
  • Matt from Charleston, ScSteve 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.
  • Aiden from Roma, ItalyThi 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.
  • Chris from Santa Barbara, CaThis 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.
  • Don from Sebastopol, CaFor the real lowdown about "the pompitous of love", see (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)
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesWhen 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".
  • Leigha from New York, NyThis 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.
  • Gonny from Faketown, GaIt 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.
  • Matthew from New York, NyThe "Gangster of Love" is also a Steve Miller song, like "Space Cowboy" and "Enter Maurice."
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