Musical musings

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Master Member
It occurred to me this morning that, while "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" by the Hollies is a terrific song, it also betrays rather an ignorance of the American law enforcement system. Consider, if you will, the following.

Saturday night I was downtown
Working for the FBI
Sittin' in a nest of bad men
Whiskey bottles piling high

Bootlegging boozer on the west side
Full of people who are doing wrong
Just about to call up the DA man
When I heard this woman sing a song

Now, while I grant you that it's possible this is a joint federal/local investigation, it strikes me as rather unlikely that he would be working for a federal agency like the FBI, and calling a local district attorney. For that matter, why is he calling the DA before making an arrest? For that matter, is he even an agent? Or is our protagonist more like an informant, in which case, calling the DA makes even less sense?

As a side note, prohibition hasn't been in effect since 1933. So, either the song is intended to take place prior to 1933, or, again, it makes no real sense. I suppose it's possible that the establishment in question could be under surveillance for selling liquor that had been illicitly brought into the country without paying appropriate tariffs, but that seems less like a matter for the FBI, and more like one for the United States Customs Service (which was the then-current customs agency at the time the song was written).

I saw her heading to the table
Like a tall walking big black cat
When Charlie said I hope that you're able boy
Cause I'm telling you she knows where it's at
Then suddenly we heard the sirens
And everybody started to run
A-jumping out of doors and tables
When I heard somebody shootin' a gun
Well the DA was pumping my left hand

And a-she was a-holding my right
Well I told her don't get scared
Cause you're gonna be spared
I've gotta be forgivin' if I wanna spend my living
With a long cool woman in a black dress
Just a 5'9 beautiful tall
Yeah, with just one look I was a bad mess
Cause that long cool woman had it all
Had it all
Had it all

Again, it's confusing that the DA would personally be at a raid. I could understand federal agents working in conjunction with local law enforcement (e.g. Treasury or FBI agents leading a group of uniformed police), but the DA is a prosecutor. Actually, I'd expect an assistant district attorney, or ADA, to be at the bust if anyone from the DA's office was there, but nobody should be there in the first place.

It also doesn't really make sense that this presumably lowly informant is going to be able to tell the DA to go easy on this woman. All we know of her is that she's attractive and she can sing. What if she's the one behind this illegal operation? I doubt very much that she'll be spared if that's the case. But, on the other hand, perhaps he'll convince her to testify against whoever is supplying her with the illegal liquor, in exchange for freedom to live out her days with the protagonist. But then again, why would she want to? This guy is the snitch who's responsible for busting the place that provides her with a livelihood. It's rather presumptuous of him to expect her to be grateful to him after he's played an instrumental part in shutting it down.

Although now that I think of it, he really wasn't instrumental in shutting it down. He didn't even get to make the call to the DA, because he got distracted. So how did the cops know to come bust the place at all? Was there some pre-arranged setup where, if he didn't call by X time, they'd come roaring in with sirens wailing and guns blazing? Did his failure to call because he got distracted by a pretty gal actually cost people lives? What makes him think the DA will give a fig for his promise of protection to this woman, if he wasn't of any use in the first place?

Really, I just don't think the Hollies thought this through. I mean, transport the song to the UK and it makes even less sense. He'd be working for MI-5, but calling a Crown Prosecutor, who then attends the scene where the local constabulary will have already arrested the perpetrators. Or is that something that regularly happens in the UK, where MI-5 and the CPS work together with local coppers to bust criminals for anything other than, say, terrorism? Maybe the song would make more sense in the UK if "DA man" was replaced with "DI man."

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Master Member
It was during prohibition, and the DA was concerned that his cops were on the local mob boss's payroll, so he worked out a deal with the FBI to use some of their agents. If it was before "wires" had been invented, then, it probably was as you theorized - if he didn't check in, the DA would send in the troops. He was personally leading the raid not only to send a strong message and build his political reputation, but to make sure everything was done by the book, as he'd seen mob lawyers jump on any procedural error, no matter how small, to get their clients off.


Master Member
Hmm. Still seems like a stretch to me. And I still see no reason for the DA to pardon a woman who may very well turn out to be a co-conspirator.

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