Sitting on Top of the World

"Sitting on Top of the World" (also "Sittin' on Top of the World") is a country blues song written by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon. They were core members of the Mississippi Sheiks, who first recorded it in 1930. Vinson claimed to have composed the song one morning after playing at a white dance in Greenwood, Mississippi.[1] It became a popular crossover hit for the band, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.[2]

"Sitting on Top of the World"
Sitting on Top of the World single cover.jpg
Single by Mississippi Sheiks
B-side"Lovely One in This Town"
Released1930 (1930)
RecordedFebruary 17, 1930
GenreCountry blues
Songwriter(s)Walter Vinson, Lonnie Chatmon

"Sitting on Top of the World" has become a standard of traditional American music. The song has been widely recorded in a variety of different styles – folk, blues, country, bluegrass, rock – often with considerable variations and/or additions to the original verses. The lyrics of the original song convey a stoic optimism in the face of emotional setbacks, and the song has been described as a "simple, elegant distillation of the Blues". In 2018, it was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or artistically significant."[3]


The title line of "Sitting on Top of the World" is similar to a well-known popular song of the 1920s, "I'm Sitting on Top of the World", written by Ray Henderson, Sam Lewis and Joe Young (popularised by Al Jolson in 1926). However the two songs are distinct, both musically and lyrically. Similarities have also been noted between "Sitting on Top of the World" and an earlier song by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, "You Got To Reap What You Sow" (1929)[citation needed] or that the melody is from an unidentified song by Tampa Red.[4][5]

In May 1930, Charlie Patton recorded a version of the song (with altered lyrics) called "Some Summer Day"[6] During the next few years renditions of "Sitting on Top of the World" were recorded by a number of artists: the Two Poor Boys, Doc Watson, Big Bill Broonzy, Sam Collins, Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, and Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. After Milton Brown recorded it for Bluebird Records the song became a staple in the repertoire of western swing bands.[1]


Lyrically "Sitting Top of the World" has a simple structure consisting of a series of rhyming couplets, each followed by the two-line chorus. The structural economy of the song seems to be conducive to creative invention, giving the song a dynamic flexibility exemplified by the numerous and diverse versions that exist.

Harmonically the song differs from a standard 12 bar blues, and though the original has a clearly bluesy harmonic feeling, including blue notes in the melody, there is some disagreement about whether it is really a blues.

"Sitting Top of the World" is a strophic nine-bar blues. Bar nine provides rhythmic separation between stanzas, the end of one stanza and the relatively large pickup at the beginning of the next.[7]


The numerous versions of "Sitting Top of the World" recorded since 1930 have been characterized by variations to the original lyrics, as recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks in 1930.

"Sittin' on Top of the World", recorded by Howlin' Wolf in 1957 (and published under his birth name Chester Burnett), is a well-known and widely used version of this song. This was the version recorded by Cream in 1968.[8]

Howlin' Wolf shortened the song to just three verses. The first and third verses are similar to the second and fifth verses of the Mississippi Sheiks' song. The middle verse of Howlin' Wolf's version – "Worked all the summer, worked all the fall / Had to take Christmas, in my overalls" – was an addition to the 1930 original, but had previously appeared in a version recorded by Ray Charles in 1949.

The 'peaches' verse has a long history in popular music. It appears as the chorus of an unpublished song composed by Irving Berlin in May 1914: "If you don't want my peaches / You'd better stop shaking my tree". The song "Mamma's Got the Blues", written by Clarence Williams and S. Martin and recorded by Bessie Smith in 1923, has the line: "If you don't like my peaches then let my orchard be". In her version of "St. Louis Blues", Ella Fitzgerald sang, "If you don't like my peaches, why do you shake my tree? / Stay out of my orchard, and let my peach tree be". In 1929 Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded "Peach Orchard Mama" ("... you swore nobody'd pick your fruit but me / I found three kid men shaking down your peaches free"). In later years lines using similar imagery were used in "Matchbox" by Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis; "The Joker" by the Steve Miller Band; an early version of "Pipeliner Blues" by Moon Mullican; and, most directly, "If You Don't Want My Peaches, Don't Shake My Tree" by Fox. Ahmet Ertegun was able to convince Miller to pay him US$50,000, claiming authorship of the line in his song "Lovey Dovey". This verse and its ubiquitous usage is an example of the tradition of floating lyrics (also called 'maverick stanzas') in folk-music tradition. 'Floating lyrics' have been described as "lines that have circulated so long in folk communities that tradition-steeped singers call them instantly to mind and rearrange them constantly, and often unconsciously, to suit their personal and community aesthetics".[9]

Recordings by other artistsEdit


  1. ^ a b Cary Ginell, Milton Brown and the Founding of Western Swing, University of Illinois Press, 1994, p. 284 - ISBN 0-252-02041-3
  2. ^ 2008 Grammy Hall of Fame List Archived June 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "National Recording Registry Reaches 500". Library of Congress. March 21, 2018. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  4. ^ Calt, Stephen; Kent, Don; Stewart, Michael (1992). Stop and Listen (Album notes). Mississippi Sheiks. Yazoo Records. p. 4. 2006. the composition of the song is problematic (the melody was first recorded by Tampa Red).CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  5. ^ Tampa Red also recorded "You Got to Reap What You Sow" in 1929. Fancourt, Les (1994). It Hurts Me Too (Album notes). Tampa Red. Indigo Recordings. p. 3. IGOCD 2004.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  6. ^ ‘Some Summer Day – Version 2’ Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine, The Bluegrass Messengers web-site.
  7. ^ The Musical Frameworks of Five Blues Schemes. Nicholas Stoia. Ph. D. Thesis/dissertation. City University of New York. 2008. pages 155, 159,160
  8. ^ a b c Howlin' Wolf interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  9. ^ Carl Lindahl, 'Thrills and Miracles: Legends of Lloyd Chandler', Journal of Folklore Research, Bloomington: May-Dec 2004, Vol. 41, Issue 2/3, pp. 133-72.