by Brian Smith
South Carolina-born Don Covay grew up on gospel (dad was a Baptist minister), but it was Little Richard who convinced him he’d find the true light by going secular. (Richard had also helped Covey supercharge his live show—it became rife with sexual tension for girls—and even christened him “Pretty Boy.”)
By 1965, the year this ditty and its same-titled album dropped, The Stones had already tackled Covay’s sweet “Mercy Mercy” on Out of Our Heads, and Chubby Checker took his “Pony Time” to numero uno. But it was the stunning confluence of Covay, Stax studios, Booker T. & the MG’s and this tune (co-written by Steve Cropper) that set the album's tone and feel. (The album contains other Covay-Cropper killers including dirty grinder “Sookie Sookie” [huge for Steppenwolf in ’68] and northern soul raver “Iron Out the Rough Spots,” which spotlights a true soul takedown by the Memphis Horns.)
With its injured-pride lyric of gender misunderstanding and a classic New Orleans-via-Allen-Toussaint bounce (that bass!), the brash “See Saw” lands hard. Its guitars stutter, its horns blip, and that frog-swallowed answer-back vocal is an hilarious hook that'd stand on its own. Covay’s lung-bursting shouts and swoons will always be a sublime showcase for a voice Jagger had always wished he’d had.
Aretha Franklin made a funked-up hit of “See Saw” in ’68.