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Play Little David

by Joni Mitchell   Printer-friendly version of this lyric

Play Little David
Play Little David, play
David he would sit in some dark corner
Seemed to melt the shadows with his eyes
And the song that he was playing
Was nothing less than prayin'
And nothing more than sayin' "I'm alive."
Won't you play, Little David
Play Little David, play

David he would send them notes a-flyin'
Some that laughed and some that felt like tears
He would play them fast or slowly
Play them high or lowly
But they always come out holy to my ear
Won't you play, Little David
Play Little David, play

I don't need no Sunday sermon
Need no Sunday shoes
When I hear Little David playing
I got religion through and through

David he would send them notes a-flyin'
Some that laughed and some that felt like tears
He would play them fast or slowly
Play them high or lowly
But they always come out holy to my ear
Won't you play, Little David
Play Little David, play
Won't you play, Little David, play Little David, play
Won't you play, Little David, play Little David, play

© 1966; Gandalf Publishing Company

Additional information:

*Footnotes

Here is Joni's introduction to this song from her performance at The Wisdom Tooth in Detroit on November 15, 1966:

This is a song about a friend of mine [David Rea] who lives in Toronto, Ontario – actually he’s an American and he’s up there avoiding the draft. If you all read the Fifth Estate - the cartoon on the front page of the latest one is something about a woman who said “I didn’t raise my son to be a Canadian”… that’s the punchline. (laughter) Spoils the whole joke for ya. Anyway, David’s up there hiding and in his spare time he’s being an accompanist for Ian and Sylvia. So you get an idea that he’s a very very fine guitarist.

And in Toronto, they have a village there too called Yorkville and they have a professional Hoot on Monday nights at the Riverboat club there. And most of the people who are in town who aren’t out of town working come down and play and David comes down and sometimes Ian and Sylvia – well usually just Ian by himself comes down - and Gordon Lightfoot comes down. It’s really a great thing on some nights, there are some bad nights but a lot of times they have groovy hoots. And when David goes down there and plays by himself it’s really something to see because you realize he’s more than just a backup man who sits in the shadows and doesn’t get much of the glory or the recognition. And one of my favorite things that he does is he tells a story that I think he identifies with a whole lot about another little David, and he accompanies himself on the guitar and he plays all sorts of musical things that are kind of like Peter and the Wolf where he illustrates different parts, you know, he has a part for David and a part for each of the other characters - but minus all the musical trimmings his story goes something like this:

Seems that once upon a time there was a young musician named David and he used to sit every day in the courtyard of a very prominent local neighborhood king and play his harmonicas - that’s what he played, he played mouthharp – and he had a whole bag of them in all different tunings, he had an A harp and a B harp and a C harp and a D harp and an E harp and an F harp and a G harp… and that’s all. And so he’d sit there and play and hope that someday the king would ride by and discover him and make him part of the royal combo (laughs). Well sure enough one day the king did ride by and he said “Well little David, son, you played pretty well there but it seems like the prophets have different things in mind for you. You see I just had a visit with them and they said that you’re a fine musician but yonder in those hills lives a fellow by the name of Goliath and he hasn’t given us any trouble yet but we think he’s going to and the prophets say that you’re the man – unlikely as it seems ha ha ha - to go out and slay him.”

So little David looked up all wide-eyed and he said “Gee I don’t.. I don’t wanna go kill him ‘cause I haven’t even met him yet and for all I know I might even like him and besides that my mother was a pacifist and my father was a pacifist and uh… I’ve got flat feet and (laughter) if you want I’ll get a note from my psychiatrist (laughter).

But the king looked at him and said “Little David, you’ve been drafted.” So little David was drafted and off he went to find poor old Goliath and to kill him and he’d been on the road about two days when all of sudden the sky in front of him went all black and he heard coming down the road and thump and a thud and a thump and a thud and he knew that was Goliath coming. So he kind of chickened out at that point and he jumped into the nearest ditch and sort of covered himself over with leaves and things like that and he had hoped that Goliath wouldn’t discover him but Goliath wasn’t so dumb and he said “Fe Fi Fo Fum, I can smell ya little David” (laughter). See, because Goliath had an extra-large nose and plus that musicians we all know belong to the great unwashed (laughter) so there wasn’t much of a problem.

So he picked up little David between his thumb and his index finger and he pulled him out of that pile of leaves and he kind of dangled him in the air and he said “Little David, the prophets tell me that you’ve been sent out to kill me.” So, little David remembering what he was supposed to say said “I challenge you, Goliath”. And there he was, carrying only his trusty little bag of harmonicas which a lot of people confused with a slingshot. And slapped the ole Goliath on the wrist a couple of times and Goliath just said “ha ha ha, doesn’t hurt a bit” and then he… all this time he was carrying over his shoulder a big, ugly looking axe. And at that point he took this axe down off his shoulder and he opened up the case and he commenced right then and there to tuning it. David took out his A harp, ‘cause that’s the key that the giant was playing in.

And so the challenge began and they played the best part of an afternoon and when the day was done they decided that they really liked each other after all and they didn’t need the king’s old combo – that they would go off because they’d read in the paper that Noah was conscripting people, you know, to go on board and they thought they’d have a little difficulty - mainly because they didn’t match too well in size and because they were both male – but they figured that they could pull it off somehow, maybe the giant would go in full drag or something (laughter). So that way they could play in his royal combo on the boat. And first of all they dug a big pit and they put a tombstone on it which said “Here lies Goliath, Rest in Peace” and then they went off to join the Peace Corp (laughter and applause).

That’s the little David story and this is my song for him now that you know a little bit about him.
 

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Play Little David has been recorded by one other artist

Big Yellow Taxi (from "Treasures Of Joni Mitchell" - 2008)
» [more information on recordings by other artists]

Comments on Play Little David

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PhilipKort on 2012-Nov-21 at 16:42:48 GMT-5:
I have listened to a 1966 recording of Joni singing Play Little David and I think she has such a beautiful sweet voice. I have been listening to Joni for years now, yet she can still amaze me with gems like this.