Great songs live forever. It’s true of Fatboy Slim’s 1999 smash Praise You, an instant classic that still sounds fresh nearly a quarter century along, and it’s true of Take Yo’ Praise, Camille Yarborough’s 1975 funk-soul civil rights hymn, from which Norman ‘Fatboy Slim’ Cook took the a capella introduction that forms the heart of his pop classic. That gorgeous, treacle-sticky melody is still there on Praising You, a new collaboration between Fatboy Slim and Rita Ora, though it’s now Ora’s voice that’s carrying the tune.
“When I’d made my version, I went to Camille to clear it,” Cook said in conversation with Ora for an exclusive Big Issue feature. “Sometimes when you’re talking to a different artist from a different generation, they go, ‘What’s this all about?’ She just went, ’Oh, that’s wonderful’.”
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She did indeed. Yarborough, who was working as a professor in the Black Studies Department at City College of New York when the song was a hit, was delighted that her voice had found a whole new audience. Though she still occasionally performed music and poetry, she had long fallen out of the full-time entertainer game, settling down to a life as a teacher and author (her award-winning children’s book, Cornrows was published in 1979). Praise You renewed interest in her work, leading to a new album, Ancestor House, in 2003.
Take Yo’ Praise is the centrepiece of Yarborough’s debut record, The Iron Pot Cooker, a blend of fiery spoken word and sultry, simmering soul, funk and gospel, based on her one-woman show Tales and Tunes of an African American Griot. Though it flew under the radar at the time (“people didn’t want music with a political message anymore, they just wanted to dance… boogie, boogie, disco” she told The Herald in 1999) it has since been recognised as an important work, the centre of a Venn diagram between Gil-Scott Heron, ’70s Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone and Mavis Staples. It’s well worth seeking out, and easy to find on your streaming platform of choice.
As for Take Yo’ Praise itself, Yarborough says it was written “for all the people who had come through the Black civil rights movement, who had stood up for truth and righteousness and justice, because human beings need to praise and respect one another more than they do”. It’s also a notably steamy love song, written for her boyfriend at the time, a mood Rita Ora’s version leans into. The track might have remained overlooked, had reissue label Ace not commissioned Cook to remix another song appearing on the same compilation. The rest is history.