"The Snake" is a song written and first recorded by civil-rights activist Oscar Brown in 1963; it became a hit single for American singer Al Wilson in 1968.[2][3] The song tells a story similar to Aesop's fable The Farmer and the Viper and the African American folktale "Mr. Snake and the Farmer".[4]

"The Snake"
Single by Al Wilson
B-side"Willoughby Brook"
ReleasedAugust 1968
LabelSoul City Records
Songwriter(s)Oscar Brown
Producer(s)Johnny Rivers, Marc Gordon
Al Wilson singles chronology
"Do What You Gotta Do"
"The Snake"
"Poor Side of Town"

In the U.S., the hit version of "The Snake" was released in 1968, on Johnny Rivers' Soul City Records. (Rivers had released his own version of the song on his 1966 album ...And I Know You Wanna Dance.) Wilson's single made the Top 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968 and, due to exposure on the UK Northern Soul scene, made the UK Singles Chart in August 1975 when reissued, reaching No. 41 in September.[5] The success of "The Snake" on the northern soul nightclub circuit has led to it being ranked 4 of 500 top northern soul singles and for it to appear on over 30 pop and northern soul compilation albums.[6][7][8] The song was re-released in 1989 as a B-side to a re-release of "Just Don't Want to Be Lonely" by The Main Ingredient.[2] Wilson's recording of "The Snake" was also featured in a Lambrini television advertisement in the UK.[9]

Chart history

Chart (1968) Peak
Canada RPM Top Singles[10] 38
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[11] 27
U.S. Billboard R&B 32
U.S. Cash Box Top 100[12] 32
Chart (1975) Peak
UK[5] 41

The song was featured in season 4, episode 25 of the television show Northern Exposure, "Old Tree". It was sung by Cynthia Geary in her role as the character Shelly Tambo. The episode originally aired on May 24, 1993.[13]

Use by Donald Trump


The song gained renewed attention during the campaign for the 2016 United States presidential election. Republican candidate Donald Trump read its lyrics at several campaign rallies to illustrate his position on illegal immigration, claiming that the decision to allow people claiming refugee status to enter the United States would "come back to bite us", as happened to the woman who took in the snake in the song.[14] Oscar Brown's work has been described as "a celebration of black culture and a repudiation of racism".[15] Two of Brown's seven children asked Trump to stop using their late father's song, telling the media: "He's perversely using 'The Snake' to demonize immigrants" and that Brown "never had anything against immigrants".[16] Despite a cease and desist letter, Trump has continued reciting the lyrics at rallies including in June 2021,[17] and in September[18] and December 2023.[19] At a rally in Ohio March 16, 2024, Trump again read "The Snake," calling it "a very accurate metaphor, and it's about our border, it's about the people we have coming in, and don't be surprised when bad things happen, because bad things will happen."[20]

See also



  1. ^ a b Breihan, Tom (May 3, 2019). "The Number Ones: Al Wilson's "Show And Tell"". Stereogum. Retrieved June 19, 2023. ... and it became a cult favorite on the Northern Soul scene, the pre-rave phenomenon where British kids would ... spend all night dancing to obscure R&B records.
  2. ^ a b "The Snake". discogs.com. August 14, 1974. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  3. ^ "Al Wilson: Expressive singer of 'The Snake'". The Independent. April 24, 2008. Archived from the original on June 18, 2022. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  4. ^ Gates, Henry Louis Jr.; Tatar, Maria, eds. (2017). The Annotated African American Folktales. Liveright. ISBN 9780871407566.
  5. ^ a b "The Snake". officialcharts.com. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  6. ^ Roberts, Kev (2007). The Northern Soul Top 500. Goldsoul Entertainment Limited. ISBN 9780955751905.
  7. ^ "Northern Soul Top 500". rocklistmusic.co.uk. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  8. ^ "The Snake – Al Wilson". All Music. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  9. ^ "Lambrini – Just Wanna Dance". tvadmusic.co.uk. October 31, 2007. Retrieved January 28, 2014.
  10. ^ "Item Display – RPM". Library and Archives Canada. September 30, 1968. Retrieved October 23, 2019.
  11. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  12. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 10/19/68". Cashbox Magazine. Archived from the original on October 25, 2019. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  13. ^ Internet Movie Database. "imdb.com". Retrieved January 1, 2023.
  14. ^ "Donald Trump Reads Lyrics From Al Wilson's "The Snake" About Syrian Refugees". ABC News. January 13, 2016. Retrieved January 14, 2016..
  15. ^ Rosenberg, Eli, "‘The Snake’: How Trump Appropriated a Radical Black Singer’s Lyrics for Immigration Fearmongering", The Washington Post, February 24, 2018.
  16. ^ Caleb Ecarma (February 25, 2018). "Daughters of 'The Snake' Author Slam Trump For 'Perversely Using' Poem 'to Demonize Immigrants'". Mediaite. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  17. ^ Bolies, Corbin (June 27, 2021). "Trump Grumbles About the Military and Recites Song Lyrics at Ohio Rally". The Daily Beast.
  18. ^ Lewis, Kaitlin (September 20, 2023). "Key Moments From Donald Trump's Iowa Rally". Newsweek.
  19. ^ Layne, Nathan (December 16, 2023). "Trump repeats 'poisoning the blood' anti-immigrant remark". Reuters.
  20. ^ "Former President Trump Campaigns for Bernie Moreno (reads "The Snake" starting at 26:07) | C-SPAN.org". www.c-span.org. March 16, 2024. Retrieved March 19, 2024.