Learn The History Behind The Hit

The year is 1984. Pagers were hot. Terminator and Karate Kid have come out. It’s an amazing time to be at an HBCU. HBCU bands were just as popping as they are now, and at that time Cameo was one of the hottest funk groups out. Thankfully, HBCU bands always know what we want to hear! 

If you’ve been around HBCU bands at ALL in your life, then you know that there are some staple tracks. But nothing compares to the popularity of Cameo’s “Talkin’ Out The Side Of Your Neck.” Nothing! HBCU bands have been playing covers to the hit song since the year it came out. All you have to do is head to YouTube to find versions of the hit track from the HBCU bands you know and love. Jackson State’s Sonic Boom of the South, FAMU’s The Marching 100, Texas Southern’s Ocean of Soul, Norfolk State’s Spartan Legion, and Alabama State’s Mighty Marching Hornets are just a few bands that have covered the “Neck” hit. And in true HBCU style, you can count on flexible drum majors, skilled musicians, graceful dancers, and even the expressive flag team to join in the fun. But why does that song put us all in the right vibe? We just had to find out. 

There’s much more than nostalgia that moves these bands to keep the song alive. Simply put, the messaging of this politically-charged song is packing a punch. It’s about the tribulations of the poor, and the idleness of the politicians who are supposed to protect them. As one part of the song goes:

“All you people in Washington/ You better get it together or we won’t get it done/We sit by while you cuss and fuss/But guess who suffers? Nobody but us.” The year this song came out, the political atmosphere was chaotic. In November it was determined that Ronald Reagan had won the presidential election. The conservative president came to be known for policies like supply-side economics, and perhaps the strictest law yet for the war on drugs, The Anti-Drug Abuse Act.

From up on the hill, it may have seemed to politicians that the country was moving forward, but once again, many in black communities still felt that they had to fend for themselves. The system was called out in this song, and it was a statement made loud and proud. “Now some of the people, some of the time/But not all of your people all of the time/Tricky Dick, Ford too

Jimmy Mac Carter, Ronnie Reagan too/Hey, you talking out the side of your neck/Hey, you’re gonna get what’s comin’ to you yet.”

It’s no surprise that HBCUs couldn’t wait to pick this song up, because HBCUs were started created by bold activists. When Black people were not welcomed to be college-educated anywhere else, HBCUs were established boldly to make a way out of no way. Simultaneously, they called out the oppressive systems and government entities that tried to keep them down. They did it for the good of their own community, and against the ill wishes of any outsiders. As a result, the messaging of Cameo lives through our HBCUs today: there’s no need to sell dreams, when we can realize our own.