How I wrote ‘Rabbit’ by Chas & Dave
One half of the much-loved Cockney duo, Chas Hodges reveals how their song was inspired by a US R&B hit
Dave Peacock and Chas Hodges are officially among the UK’s national treasures. Ever since their formation in 1975, the duo have combined elements of the Cockney knees-up singalong with boogie-woogie piano to create a sound that’s uniquely theirs. Their popularity has continued to grow, and a supporting slot opening for The Libertines in 2004 introduced their music to a whole new generation.
Their ‘rockney’ songs such as Snooker Loopy, Gertcha and Ain’t No Pleasing You are packed with humour, clever wordplay and melody, but their best-loved track is undoubtedly Rabbit. First released in 1980, the song’s appeal is as strong now as ever, so much so that a rabbit-shaped vinyl version was released for Record Store Day in 2013.
Here, Chas recalls how the song came about…
“In the old days me and Dave used to go away quite often and write together. We’d hire out a remote cottage somewhere and put ourselves away for a week or so. We were in a cottage down in Sussex, and Dave had an idea based on an old word for a person who spoke too much, a ‘jaw-me-dead’. So I said, ‘It’s all right but it sounds a bit too old-fashioned, can we modernise it a bit?’
“We talked about it and I said ‘How about a modern take on You Talk Too Much by Joe Jones?’ It was an American record that was out years ago and it went ‘You talk too much, you worry me my pet, you talk too much, you worry me to death, you just talk, you talk too much’ and I said, ‘How about we do an English version of that and change jaw-me- dead to put a bit more Chas & Dave into it?’ We batted it about and came up with the idea of ‘you rabbit’, as in the Cockney rhyming slang, rabbit and pork – talk.
“We’d finished the whole song and were in the studio mixing it, and just in the middle Dave started going ‘Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit’ and I went, ‘That’s a good idea,’ but he thought it was too fast for us to use in the song. That’s when I came in and said, ‘Hang on a minute, there’s got to be a way we can do it. How about if you do the first and the third rabbit and I do the second and the fourth?’ I thought it could be done like a reggae offbeat. Anyway, we went back down into the studio and we tried it two or three times. It got gabble-y once or twice but, eventually, we got it perfect and knew it was gonna work.
“Dave initially said ‘We can just do it on the fade-out,’ but I said, ‘No, it’s too good for that, we’ve got to come straight in with it’. So we actually did it that evening, we spent another couple of hours overdubbing it and it just really made so much difference. It gave it the gimmick that we were after and then we finished that evening, but it all came together at the last minute.
“Funny enough I was never mad on the line ‘You’ve got more rabbit than Sainsbury’s.’ I came up with that and I was going to throw it out as quick as I thought of it, but Dave thought it was a great line. He was just so enthusiastic about it and that happens quite often. It was kept in because Dave really liked it. He made a good choice because so many people have picked up on it since. A few years ago Mark Lamarr, who’s a mate of ours, went into Sainsbury’s and asked if they sold rabbit. They said yes they do, but only in cat food. It’s quite comical really.
“A lot of people think it’s about my wife as she can rabbit a bit, but it wasn’t inspired by anyone in particular. It was aimed at blokes as much as anybody – there’s a lot of blokes who can’t stop talking. We got loads of people saying they bought it for their mother-in-law… I think all of that helped to get it up the charts.
“It’s a song that has a universal appeal and we really didn’t see that at the time. It appeals right across the board, to all ages. I always get a thrill if a kid picks up on a song like I did when I was young, because kids are honest. They either like it or they don’t – there’s no ‘This is trendy, this ain’t trendy’. So to me, if kids pick up on it then I think I’m doing it right. A lot of infant classes get them marching round the classroom going ‘Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit’ and of course, they see it as a little fluffy rabbit. They don’t picture someone talking too much!”